What make a multiplayer game stand out?

There's a lot of great discussion on this site about the qualities (and failures) of single player games, but I'd like to know what you think it takes to make a multiplayer game stand out.

I'm not necessarily talking about the best designed multiplayer games - I'm talking about the ones that have an almost meme-like snowball effect. Team Fortress/2, Starcraft, Counterstrike, Modern Warfare, DOTA/League of Legends. What are the universal traits that link this sort of phenomenon, and what do you think will happen in the future?

In my opinion, Natural Selection 2 is one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made. But because it's still more of a niche game, there are even hardcore gamers that have never heard of it. So I recently switched from it to Starcraft 2. While I don't feel that Starcraft 2 is even one of the best RTS's out there, the dedicated community and ranking system actually elevate it in some ways above games that may offer better gameplay but lack the same enthusiastic following.

What is it though? Of course there are many factors, but which ones do you feel are the most important/significant? Ranking systems? Accessibility? Or is it simply the chaotic whim of some Gnostic demon?

One thing has always stood above when it comes to elite multi-player:

Easy to learn; hard to master

Every one of those games you listed (I am assuming DOTA/LOL because I've never played them) are games that anyone who has played a game can pick up and learn. However, there are a variety of factors that can tip the game to you/your teams favor that not everyone can do. It's what separates the good multi-player from the great ones. All other reasons lead to that one right there.

tippy2k2:
One thing has always stood above when it comes to elite multi-player:

Easy to learn; hard to master

Yep, that's pretty much it in a nutshell.

Almost any multiplayer experience can be fun for a few minutes or an hour just purely based on the fact that it's often fun to do things with other people. Beyond that, however, there needs to be depth. There needs to be some sort of growth that learning and experience provide.

Another key element that's sort of related is balance. There needs to be something that makes the experience balanced for those involved such that there isn't an "I Win" button that trivializes all of the depth. This doesn't necessarily mean that there can't be anything powerful or even potentially broken, but it means that if the game has that, it needs to be balanced with that in mind. Take Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3 for example. Anyone who actually plays it knows that it's got some very powerful (and in some cases broken) mechanices and character combinations, but the game is balanced around that being the case with the "brokenness" being available to everyone with a fairly large variety of characters.

Any game with a proper sense of Balance. And relatively unique weapons.

This is why my favorite shooters of all time have always been the Halo games.

Good customization helps too. Even if I can't see my character, I put a lot of effort into pimping myself out. Halo Reach and 4 does it well, but unfortunately 343i went a bit backwards with the designs in the latter.

I tend to like MP that doesn't feel tacked on, it doesn't really matter if it does anything new per se, but it does need to feel like the developers took their time to make something worth playing and not something they just slapped on just for the sake of having it.

My favorite MP games this gen have been Red Dead Redemption, All-Stars, Killzone, Mine Craft, Smash Bros, and COD.

I like fighting games A LOT more than I thought I ever would. The fast paced ones like UMVC3 or BlazBLue anyway, I can't stand watching any Street Fighter. It bores me to tears because nothing freaking happens.

Meanwhile OH LOOK AT THAT DOOM SWAG! :OOOOO

A fighting game just needs an interesting cast, fun mechanics and ehhh, i'm not asking for "balance" in characters... I'm asking for the least amount of brokenness possible.

WESSSSSKKKKEEEERRRRRRRRRR!

I mean making everything balanced runs the risk of making everything mediocre and boring. Like how X-23's ground game and mobility is AMAZING compared to the entire rest of the cast. Best ground dash in the game by far.

I'm still convinced that Arakune is unbeatable forever in BlazBlue. I mean what the fuck is his Free Win Mode supposed to be?

I hear Injustice has no blocking in the air. Oh dear. This will not end well.

Overall I suppose there needs to be a decent amount of depth to things. Character matchups, movesets, how to cover weaknesses etc etc and hopefully not a broken meta. Everyone using double Models in old MW2 pre patch. My GOD were they broken.

Funny how MW2 was my most played and most enjoyed CoD game multiplayer in the series. It was so gosh darn broken it was a pleasure to play. Infinite Care Package glitch, zero reloads on your weapons, the hacked lobbies with all manner of broken shit going on etc etc. Not to mention the maps were all good.

Just as a disclaimer, I started playing Vergil BEFORE everyone discovered he was Broken Tier. MUCH before. So I didn't wuss out and pick Mr Top Tier because that's what the pros did.

#hipsterglasses

For me the most is how much polished, balanced and consistent it is. If a weapon seems to do massive damage one time and then it does nothing it really annoys me.

Most Rockstar games have this problem, even Max Payne 3 to some extent, they really should have added bullet trails for the player to be able to see the bullets spreading. Most of the times you shoot and nothing seems to happen because of the way the bullet spread works, it takes a lot of practice to understand how it works in that game since it never shows how much it spreads (no spreading reticule, bullets holes are barely noticeble, etc...)

GTA IV had bullet trails but they were very unrealiable as they were a lot slower then the actual bullet (it used hitscan)

Hats.

Hats seriously make a multiplayer game, they add so much depth and enjoyability that you wouldnt imagine.

Something easy to learn and hard to master makes it stand out to me, I like being able to be creative and play my own way and make some kind of successout of it. An example is Bad Company 2, where there's a tool for every job and campers are removed by letting you blow everything to pieces, you can do whatever you want and if you want to dick about you can.

It needs to be well designed, finely balanced, easy to pick up and play, but with a certain level of mastery available to those who persevere.

Call of Duty really struggles with this nowadays in part because of the killstreak system and perks but they're never going to go away.

I also don't really like levelling systems. I really don't like get X kills with gun to get Red Dot sights, then have to do that for every gun in a class, just give me the red dot for the friggin class.

Free Healthcare
Really Good Bacon
Other
Ninjas
Pirates
Keeping with the planned trilogy

Being a good game in the first place helps

The Wykydtron:
Snip!
#hipsterglasses

I haven't looked at Injustice, but blocking in the air CAN be bearable, depending on the game. Street Fighter has no air blocking either, it takes some getting used to, but the game is balanced around fighting on the ground compared to BlazBlue and ESPECIALLY Marvel. I know what you mean about picking Vergil before his discovery as broken. I did the same and a friend of mine did with Wolverine in vanilla.

OT: As people have said, I think it requires a degree of depth, a feeling of balance and be relatively easy to pick up and play. Some kind of comeback mechanic can also help, just to even the differences in skill.

Street Fighter 3 and Street Fighter 4 are both very good fighters, but I'd say 4 is much better to bring someone into the fighting game scene. It's more forgiving, has a special super meter that only fills when you're hit and has shortcuts to perform certain moves. This makes it MUCH easier to pick up and play, but has all kinds of powerful and difficult to pull off combos for the more skilled player.

I think good multiplayer is born from facilitating not forcing cooperation, take team fortress for example the classes are so well balanced (vanilla is anyway) that cooperation comes naturally medics heal heavies, snipers kill heavies, scouts cause distractions, engineers set up turrets and teleporters, pyros check for spies etc etc. Each classes naturally plays in a way that makes you work together and if anyone tries to solo it each class has flaws that make them easy targets

In this day and age, a multiplayer game that features split-screen/offline play and bot matches in addition to online functionality, that would make it a stand-out. Fighting games do this by design but First-Person Shooters never seem to do this anymore. There's a reason I spent 100+ hours playing Duke Nukem 64 as a kid. I get that Halo is made to sell Xbox Live but there's no reason it couldn't have had bot matches considering the AI was sophisticated enough to board and, jack vehicles in addition to fighting among itself.

Not being realistic, or you know in a modern world with regenerating health or super serious nonsense.

Which is probably why TF2 is so amazing because there's not been much like that since Unreal 2k4 and Quake

tippy2k2:

Easy to learn; hard to master

Every one of those games you listed (I am assuming DOTA/LOL because I've never played them)

there is probably not a single phrase that could be worse when you are trying to describe Dota and LoL than "Easy to learn; hard to master"

because they really aren't

"You are going to be constantly reminded of how much you suck for about 1-3 months (if you learn). If you read this guide and use your brain and be actively aware of how bad you suck, you can easily shave time off of your complete noob status. You could even make some kids think that you're really good, but only if they are bad."

just to quote one of the most popular starting guides for one of the two games

Luca72:
Team Fortress/2, Starcraft, Counterstrike, Modern Warfare, DOTA/League of Legends

Well, being free never hurts. Counter Strike, DotA, Team Fortress all started out as free mods (add Day Z and Battlefield: Desert Combat aka 2 into that list as well). A cost of £0 really helps a good game spread.

Captcha: hand over fist

I like to see multiplayer utilize new or underused concepts.

Assassin's Creed has probably my favorite multiplayer of this generation because it's so simple, yet really tense at the same time. Go stab this dude but be careful 'cause there's a dude trying to stab you. And it works really well.

Luca72:
There's a lot of great discussion on this site about the qualities (and failures) of single player games, but I'd like to know what you think it takes to make a multiplayer game stand out.

I'm not necessarily talking about the best designed multiplayer games - I'm talking about the ones that have an almost meme-like snowball effect. Team Fortress/2, Starcraft, Counterstrike, Modern Warfare, DOTA/League of Legends. What are the universal traits that link this sort of phenomenon, and what do you think will happen in the future?

In my opinion, Natural Selection 2 is one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made. But because it's still more of a niche game, there are even hardcore gamers that have never heard of it. So I recently switched from it to Starcraft 2. While I don't feel that Starcraft 2 is even one of the best RTS's out there, the dedicated community and ranking system actually elevate it in some ways above games that may offer better gameplay but lack the same enthusiastic following.

What is it though? Of course there are many factors, but which ones do you feel are the most important/significant? Ranking systems? Accessibility? Or is it simply the chaotic whim of some Gnostic demon?

I'm right there with you about Natural Selection 2 (although I also think Syndicate (2012)'s co-op was fantastic so I'm not making any bets that people will take my tastes in MP seriously). Honestly, I think it's a combination of accessibility, competitiveness, community, support by the developer/publisher, and advertising via both marketing and word of mouth. In the end, most of the best multiplayer games are also designed in just such a way that they are very addictive and have a mix of grinding met with skill based gameplay. Especially DotA games, that require weeks worth of practice to get good at, and practically haze you depending on the community. As a result, it works just like hazing with a sorority, making you think that you must really like it to get into it. At least, those are my guesses for the moment *shrug*

Ljs1121:
I like to see multiplayer utilize new or underused concepts.

Assassin's Creed has probably my favorite multiplayer of this generation because it's so simple, yet really tense at the same time. Go stab this dude but be careful 'cause there's a dude trying to stab you. And it works really well.

Agreed. Like, instead of Dead Space 2's competitive multiplayer, why not have a DayZ style Dead Space game with a space station and/or ship and/or planet with players fighting each other and their corpses becoming necromorphs. Add in servers having admins who can spawn more necromorphs and scripted events like boss battles as raids or drastic environmental shifts (maybe vent the air from a ship unless they can hack a node, or have several tanks charge through an area, or poison gas necromorphs have grown and are poisoning the air while you weren't looking, etc.). Then we'd see some really divergent play and naturally occurring horror moments with the already fantastic gameplay.

I'd say what it really comes down to is network effects. They are popular because they are popular. A bigger playerbase means it's easier to find games online, there are more guides to help you play better, there are more forum discussions about it so you're more likely to hear about it and try it. If it's still selling many copies it will probably be supported by official patches too. And of course, you're more likely to have a friend or two that play it.

Games achieve that status in one of three ways:

1) They are early examples of their game type, ideally the first. Street Fighter 2 was the first brawler where you had a big selection of characters. Counterstrike was the first of its type. Dota was the second MOBA. Being free helps, but only if the playfield is empty.

2) Marketing. As a general rule, if you hype the hell out of a game you'll probably get a large number of players quickly as long as it's not terrible. That's why EA has a huge marketing department. It is impossible to be unaware of when the next COD or Battlefield is being released, there are ads on the sides of buses and everything.

3) Luck. Starcraft was one of many RTS games of its' time, but some TV company in South Korea decided to televise it and it became huge there. They could have televised Age of Empires or Total Annihilation and made those huge but they picked Starcraft.

Of course, being good games also helps, but I don't think it's as important as it should be. COD always seems to be popular despite hoorible mechanics like killstreaks.

Honestly, I don't think there is a universal trait intrinsic to the games themselves. Rather, I think it's that they cater really strongly to a very widespread feeling or type of play that people are looking for when they play a game.

Fighting games typically do not offer great online experiences, which is why the fighting games that do provide a great online experience stand out. Today's fighting games suffer from laggy netplay and lack of content.

I like Tekken Tag Tournament 2 because it subverts this trend. It is a fighting game that not only plays well online, but also goes beyond the typical barebones online fighting game experience. TTT2 features teams/clans, pair play, statistics tracking, player match lobbies, and more. These things may not be new to other competitive genres, but they certainly are to fighting games.

I hope other developers try to follow Tekken Tag Tournament 2's example. It's about time the fighting game online experience be modernized.

Parakeettheprawn:

Ljs1121:
I like to see multiplayer utilize new or underused concepts.

Assassin's Creed has probably my favorite multiplayer of this generation because it's so simple, yet really tense at the same time. Go stab this dude but be careful 'cause there's a dude trying to stab you. And it works really well.

Agreed. Like, instead of Dead Space 2's competitive multiplayer, why not have a DayZ style Dead Space game with a space station and/or ship and/or planet with players fighting each other and their corpses becoming necromorphs. Add in servers having admins who can spawn more necromorphs and scripted events like boss battles as raids or drastic environmental shifts (maybe vent the air from a ship unless they can hack a node, or have several tanks charge through an area, or poison gas necromorphs have grown and are poisoning the air while you weren't looking, etc.). Then we'd see some really divergent play and naturally occurring horror moments with the already fantastic gameplay.

Natural Selection 2 has some of the elements you are wanting. The Aliens can destroy power nodes plunging sections of the map into darkness, there is an organic 'creep' that can grow everywhere and one player can become a 'commander' and drop items such as health and armoury stations for other players to use as well as give orders.

I think the multiplayer needs to function properly. I loved Mass Effect 3's multiplayer, but at the end of the day it was still broken with clipping, connection issues and other breakings. A good example is CoD. Despite complaints, the engine is still solid and everything works fine. You can feel the impact and the actions work. Compare that to Battlefield, where half the time I don't know if the person I'm shooting at is friendly or not, I clip through walls and can't jump through the same windows others can't. It's quite fun but it's a mess.

For me, Multiplayer game should have some sort of "Friends value" e.g. it's fun to play with friends! For example, Call of Duty have no Friends value for me since there's no need to cooperate and everyone might as well play on his own. Battlefield 3 have a little more, it's always fun to get together on tank or helicopter and get rolling. But Dota 2 have the highest friends value hands down. When all 5 of you cooperate on Skype and then make one successful team-fight and win after 75 minutes of being underdogs... that feeling is just something else.

SkarKrow:
Hats.

Hats seriously make a multiplayer game, they add so much depth and enjoyability that you wouldnt imagine.

Something easy to learn and hard to master makes it stand out to me, I like being able to be creative and play my own way and make some kind of successout of it. An example is Bad Company 2, where there's a tool for every job and campers are removed by letting you blow everything to pieces, you can do whatever you want and if you want to dick about you can.

It needs to be well designed, finely balanced, easy to pick up and play, but with a certain level of mastery available to those who persevere.

Call of Duty really struggles with this nowadays in part because of the killstreak system and perks but they're never going to go away.

I also don't really like levelling systems. I really don't like get X kills with gun to get Red Dot sights, then have to do that for every gun in a class, just give me the red dot for the friggin class.

I don't mind Battlefield's leveling system for guns because there's a lot of guns to choose from and each one works different from the rest. And because they work differently, different scopes have a different feel on each gun so they force you through the scope line-up again. Ya, it's really frustrating starting out with a gun that has terrible iron sights, but it's only 10 kills till you get a scope of some sort. I'm mostly all about the RDS, but I use an ACOG with the M16A3 because I can hip fire pretty damn accurate with that gun up to the distance I'd need some actual zoom. I probably wouldn't have tried that scope with that gun had they not forced me to use it.

And I really hate CoD's killstreak bonuses. I'm already dominating, I don't need anymore help! Just feels like a cheap win.

OT: Heavy emphasis on teamwork makes a great multiplayer.

Or a game that has the intricacies of chess.

rasputin0009:

SkarKrow:
Hats.

Hats seriously make a multiplayer game, they add so much depth and enjoyability that you wouldnt imagine.

Something easy to learn and hard to master makes it stand out to me, I like being able to be creative and play my own way and make some kind of successout of it. An example is Bad Company 2, where there's a tool for every job and campers are removed by letting you blow everything to pieces, you can do whatever you want and if you want to dick about you can.

It needs to be well designed, finely balanced, easy to pick up and play, but with a certain level of mastery available to those who persevere.

Call of Duty really struggles with this nowadays in part because of the killstreak system and perks but they're never going to go away.

I also don't really like levelling systems. I really don't like get X kills with gun to get Red Dot sights, then have to do that for every gun in a class, just give me the red dot for the friggin class.

I don't mind Battlefield's leveling system for guns because there's a lot of guns to choose from and each one works different from the rest. And because they work differently, different scopes have a different feel on each gun so they force you through the scope line-up again. Ya, it's really frustrating starting out with a gun that has terrible iron sights, but it's only 10 kills till you get a scope of some sort. I'm mostly all about the RDS, but I use an ACOG with the M16A3 because I can hip fire pretty damn accurate with that gun up to the distance I'd need some actual zoom. I probably wouldn't have tried that scope with that gun had they not forced me to use it.

And I really hate CoD's killstreak bonuses. I'm already dominating, I don't need anymore help! Just feels like a cheap win.

OT: Heavy emphasis on teamwork makes a great multiplayer.

Or a game that has the intricacies of chess.

Of course different stuff works in different ways and one assault rifle doesnt work like all the others, scope or not. I wouldn't use a scope with the F2000 for example because the recoil is horrendous, but that was in BC2 as well, and there an unlocked attachment was universal to a class, and I really liked that because it rewarded experimenting with new guns more than me having all the attachments for the M416, FAMAS and L85 and then not really needing to bother trying anything else ever on that class.

It also irks me that it's based on kills, in Battlefield it shouldn't be based on kills, Battlefield isn't about kills it's about teamwork and moving the rewards to be based entirely around kills takes away from that. I'd honestly just quite like to be given all the toys the way BC2 did it but maybe give me them a bit faster. I just felt it encouraged more experimentation, I was more willing to find a use for a gun if I already had a red dot that worked and such, and I found good ways o use most weapons in BC2 as a result.

And grr killstreaks. I did like the scorestreaks in MW3, that were mostly non-lethal things like UAV, EMP, care packages, etc, but Treyarch went and made those reset when youd ie anyway and took away the more risky and tactical gamestyles they encouraged.

Bad Jim:
I'd say what it really comes down to is network effects. They are popular because they are popular. A bigger playerbase means it's easier to find games online, there are more guides to help you play better, there are more forum discussions about it so you're more likely to hear about it and try it. If it's still selling many copies it will probably be supported by official patches too. And of course, you're more likely to have a friend or two that play it.

Games achieve that status in one of three ways:

1) They are early examples of their game type, ideally the first. Street Fighter 2 was the first brawler where you had a big selection of characters. Counterstrike was the first of its type. Dota was the second MOBA. Being free helps, but only if the playfield is empty.

2) Marketing. As a general rule, if you hype the hell out of a game you'll probably get a large number of players quickly as long as it's not terrible. That's why EA has a huge marketing department. It is impossible to be unaware of when the next COD or Battlefield is being released, there are ads on the sides of buses and everything.

3) Luck. Starcraft was one of many RTS games of its' time, but some TV company in South Korea decided to televise it and it became huge there. They could have televised Age of Empires or Total Annihilation and made those huge but they picked Starcraft.

Of course, being good games also helps, but I don't think it's as important as it should be. COD always seems to be popular despite hoorible mechanics like killstreaks.

Good post! You're absolutely right about the popularity snowball effect. The RTS industry goes a certain way, produces Starcraft, continues to evolve while Starcraft becomes a phenomenon, then a large portion of RTS's turn around and start to mimic Starcraft.

The only one point I'd disagree on is marketing. I think there's an inflationary effect to a highly marketed game. It draws in a ton of players very quickly, but just as quickly loses those players to the next thing. Games like Starcraft, DOTA, Counterstrike, all developed their following before marketing became a large factor. The next big EA or Infinity Ward or whatever multiplayer game will be something on everyones radar and it will draw in a huge player base. But I don't see people enthusiastically playing those games for years. Instead, people will hopscotch from one game to the next.

The type of game I'm talking about is the multiplayer game that catches on like a sport. Basketball and football wouldn't work as well if the rules were dramatically changed every two years. COD players seem all too eager to jump from one franchise entry to the next, while you still have people playing CS 1.6 and Brood War. It's also the reason Starcraft 2 is such a conservative update to the franchise, and why LoL is still about minions, lanes, and bases.

I suppose the right place and the right time (and the right price and the right game engine :P) are probably the biggest factors in popularity.

What do you guys think of esports venues like Twitch.tv? I'm loving the hell out of their NS2 and Starcraft offerings (getting to hear TotalBiscuit host entires tournies is a beautiful thing), and I always thought if Tribes: Ascend had a bigger presence on it it would have gone a lot further.

Ed130:

Parakeettheprawn:

Ljs1121:
I like to see multiplayer utilize new or underused concepts.

Assassin's Creed has probably my favorite multiplayer of this generation because it's so simple, yet really tense at the same time. Go stab this dude but be careful 'cause there's a dude trying to stab you. And it works really well.

Agreed. Like, instead of Dead Space 2's competitive multiplayer, why not have a DayZ style Dead Space game with a space station and/or ship and/or planet with players fighting each other and their corpses becoming necromorphs. Add in servers having admins who can spawn more necromorphs and scripted events like boss battles as raids or drastic environmental shifts (maybe vent the air from a ship unless they can hack a node, or have several tanks charge through an area, or poison gas necromorphs have grown and are poisoning the air while you weren't looking, etc.). Then we'd see some really divergent play and naturally occurring horror moments with the already fantastic gameplay.

Natural Selection 2 has some of the elements you are wanting. The Aliens can destroy power nodes plunging sections of the map into darkness, there is an organic 'creep' that can grow everywhere and one player can become a 'commander' and drop items such as health and armoury stations for other players to use as well as give orders.

Agreed -- I got to try NS2 during the Steam Weekend (and I plan on getting it in the future), but that's more of a direct, TDM style PvP scenario. What I'm suggesting here is far more DayZ, with players only able to communicate via RIG comms or direct verbal communication. A loss of communication could mean the communications array(s) are down, or that someone just got taken out, or that they're being silent for a reason. Stealth, scavenging skills, and finesse would be just as important as resource management and upgrading your gear as in regular Dead Space -- there could even be character progression like Dust 514, where you invest experience points in certain skills, taking you weak in everything to having certain specializations thanks to your RIG. The server admin is just a cherry on top, able to screw with you and make everything turn on its head just when you think things are going your way.

I know I'm just spit-balling here, but it's something I've been hoping for for a while now.

 

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