There are all kinds of games in our midst, but it is very likely that most of you who are reading these lines have at least one recurring title in your “recently played” list. A game that, for sure, has some kind of multiplayer component that makes you return to it as if it were a refuge from the world. Today we want to talk about that kind of massive games and how they get us to return to them.
While the single player video game continues to have an undeniable weight in the video game industry, it is impossible to ignore the multiplayer game as an integral part of our environment, especially in modern times. Yes, works like The Last of Us: Part II have come out recently, are based on individual experience, and have broken all kinds of records, being one of the most awarded titles in the history of our environment. But even so, the numbers that the work of Naughty Dog has moved cannot be equated, in the long term, to the numbers that make multitudinous phenomena such as the well-known day after day Fortnite from Epic Games, The Undying World of Warcraft of Blizzard, or the temperamental League of Legends de Riot Games.
Video games that appeal to the individual player, although decisive for the development of the medium, once finished and placed on our shelves have it terribly difficult to reach the level of influence of long-term multiplayer titles, the commonly called “social games” , or “games as a service”, a term so distorted that it is almost difficult to write it to refer to it. However, we should not detract from these video games. Very few can reach the status of the three titles we have cited, and their constant development has kept them relevant for many years, with many more to come.
But how did they get there in the first place? What do multiplayer titles do to stay relevant for so long? What are games like Fortnite or World of Warcraft doing to make us return to them? In this text we are going to investigate these questions, without the hope of fully answering them, but with the illusion of shedding some light on them.
The foundations of every good video game
Multiplayer titles, in addition to having to deal with the problems and difficulties of approaching individual video games, have to be capable of build a player base around them to function; This, as you can imagine, is not an easy task, but it is the first red line that every multiplayer title must overcome.
A solid gameplay is the base on which the other elements of a work are createdTo achieve this goal, a video game must be able to attract a new population of players and have it for as long as possible in an organic way, something that is usually achieved through attractive premises and retention mechanics, two key pieces that, however, must always be supported. in solid gameplay. It may seem obvious, but the gameplay itself that articulates every title is the material on which the rest of the elements of a long-distance video game are built. A title that we cannot catch, or a game as a service whose gameplay is not satisfactory from the start, will never be able to form a community around them that allows them to spread over time, the main objective in this kind of video game regardless of how well you take care of other sections.
We have seen this example hundreds of times, in the form of titles that do not finish curdling among the population of players even despite having interesting premises, attractive promises, or large budgets that support other sections, a relatively high-profile example could be that of The Culling 2 from Xaviant Games, one of the first Battle Royale to gain popularity which, due to its poor approach, could not compete with the numbers that began to forge games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
But not only are these types of errors attributed to works with bad gameplay, there are titles with solid mechanics that, due to redundancy, or for simple lack of interestThey have not been able to create a good community around them; Works like LawBreakers, by Boss Key Producctions, or Darwin Project, by Scavengers Studios, are two good examples of video games with solid mechanics that could be fun, but failed to catch on with the players. In short, a title that is fun, in the most mechanical sense of the word, will have it. much easier when it comes to building on it derivative mechanics of the long-haul video game, those that will truly grow the player base of a work of these characteristics in the long term.
The role of player interactions
The foundations of every multiplayer title begin with its gameplay and are built around it, always relying on its player base, but much of the “fault” that this player base remains active depends on the player-videogame interactions Y player-player interactions, the latter are derivatives of multiplayer titles and are decisive when it comes to enriching the experience of a title that involves several players at the same time.
A multiplayer will want its massive interactions to be as numerous as possibleDaniel Cook, developer of multiplayer titles for smartphones, developed these ideas on his personal blog throughout a text in which we are going to support ourselves here, a reading that, on the other hand, we highly recommend, as long as you do not have problems with English. Throughout the text, Cook talks about the different types of relationships and game interactions between users, as well as what their characteristics are; Collecting part of what is dealt with in said text, we could group these interactions into the following exclusive groups:
- Interactions synchronous vs. asynchronous. Synchronous are those that both players perform at the same time, like the confrontations that we usually see in genres like Battle Royale, while asynchronous are those that do not take place, necessarily, at the same time, being potentially longer, but less interactive.
- Interactions long duration vs. Of short duration. Short duration ones are the most common, and they conclude with the game activity itself, like your teammates in a Rocket League ranked game. Those of long duration usually involve some type of clan and / or longer grouping.
- Interactions reciprocal vs. independent. These types of relationships tend to attend to the social facet of a multiplayer title, and they usually include systems such as friendship, messaging or commerce within a multiplayer title.
Ideally, a team of developers with a long-range game in mind will want these kinds of interactions to be as frequent and abundant as possible, especially if they have positive connotations; whereas, if its connotation is negative – for example, a duel between two players where one will lose – the most interesting thing would be to dilute its effect with mechanics that quickly return the player to action, such as a quick matchmaking in the case of a competitive interaction , or a restraint in the case of an unfortunate social interaction. It is important to understand that these interactions they are exclusive with each other within the same activity, an action cannot be synchronous and asynchronous at the same time; but it is not within a video game. For example, in a long-distance game like Destiny 2 we have the six types of easily identifiable interactions between its different areas or systems, from the game world itself and its lobbies, to the Crucible and its confrontations. It is also interesting to understand that these kinds of categorization only affect the game itself, communities outside a video game, but based on it, have their own dynamics and peculiarities, many of them highly positive for a video game; but that, due to their characteristics, will not be discussed in this text.
The return mechanics as a claim for the player
New content is considered a return mechanicHaving talked about how the gameplay is the basis on which the rest of the systems of a multiplayer game are built, and how these systems are based on interactions between players, it is time to ask what is the “ace up your sleeve“that many titles use to not only create their communities and player bases, but also to maintain them over time. The two main tools that are commonly used to achieve this goal are segmented progression through resources and calls “return mechanics” inside a video game.
As we saw in our text dedicated to skill trees in video games, where we talked about segmented progression, the general objective of this is to make the mechanical development of our avatar -or of our interaction space within a game- fragment throughout our playing time. When we talk about mechanics of this type segmented by resources, we refer to to the way the player copes to such fragmentation. For example, in a game like World of Warcraft, our progression is divided into our equipment and our abilities, the latter being surpassed thanks to the playing time, but to get the equipment we must adapt to the limited attempts of the dungeons and their random loot. Recent games, like the popular Genshin Impact, also base much of their progress on this type of system.
The return mechanics, however, are somewhat more complex and difficult to define. Within them would enter any content that may be attractive to the player, resulting in his return to the title under the promise of being able to enjoy said content. Items such as rewards for “daily login” in a title could be a return mechanic; but so is new content of, for example, an expansion, update, or new content. Permanently developing this type of content is essential for the long-term development of a long-distance title, and its correct presentation, introduction and modification represent the strongest type of “hook” of the return mechanics.
We have left several things in the pipeline while we discussed the elements that make up the gaming experience of a multiplayer title, but, without the intention of lengthening this text, which is beginning to be somewhat extensive, we wanted to lift our fingers from the keyboard for now and let this topic rest to return to it later from, perhaps, another perspective. At this point, and to definitively close this textIt only remains to ask you, our readers, which of the aforementioned elements are more important when deciding whether to return -or not- to a multiplayer title.