It’s no surprise that people have been playing more multiplayer games recently.
Steam has recorded over 20 million concurrent players, whilst games like Elder Scrolls Online, Fortnite and Apex Legends have been seeing massive spikes. It’s fantastic that the World Health Organisation has recognised that games can be a force for good, and is working with the industry on the #PlayApartTogether initiative.
But what else is happening out there? Are there emerging patterns of behaviour that could potentially help us make innovative multiplayer games in the future?
As an ex-board game designer, gameplay mechanics have always floated my boat; how people react when ‘rules’ and restrictions are introduced, how they compete, cooperate and socialise. The restrictions being imposed on us now are influencing our everyday behaviour, encouraging us to seek different ways to be sociable.
We see children playing online educational games over WhatsApp, university students at home but still playing Cards Against Humanity, and grandparents playing chess with their grandchildren over Skype (which is absolutely adorable, until one of them flips the board and rage quits…) And witness the popularity of Netflix Party which allows viewers to watch the same show at the same time wherever they are, with the ability to pause the show and “chat.”
These behaviours show that people are willing to engage with technology in new ways.
Can we learn from these interactions, and combine them with the renewed spirit of community and cooperation that (I hope) will be prevalent as we emerge from the current crisis, to build some innovative multiplayer experiences? Sure, millions are already playing accessible quiz games, superbly crafted PvP shooters, and great co-op games – from the amazing split-screen A Way Out, to fun-fests like Borderlands that can really sing when played cooperatively.
But imagine a multiplayer experience that is truly accessible, and cooperative at its core. Where players, whatever their age, ability or access to hardware, can band together, combine their skills and work together towards a common cause.
Some players play on console, and are joined by players with no traditional games experience (but have a smartphone and an abundance of skills could help in a quest). And others just come along for the ride, showing their support, and being part of the collective conversation.
Everyone on the same adventure, pulling on the same bit of rope, no matter how young or old, veteran gamer or those who have never played a game before.
Could be fun, right?
While we think about games, please spare a thought for the many people who have much more pressing things on their minds. I consider myself very lucky to be working in an industry where remote working works, and for a company that has gone above and beyond when it comes to prioritising the well-being of its staff.
Conference-calling amongst stir-crazy teenagers is a minor inconvenience compared to the real problems that are facing many people out there at the moment.
Roger Cheung has been developing games of one kind or another for over 25 years. He’s head of future development for The Multiplayer Guys, now part of Improbable, who are development partners for many triple-A online multiplayer franchises, with customers including Zenimax Online Studios, Mediatonic and 2K.