Game Developer

Casual Multiplayer Gaming

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Until recently I wasn't sure if casual multiplayer gaming was possible. In my experience, multiplayer gaming required a serious investment of time and energy. Even with the simple multiplayer flash games you have to choose a user name, set some options, read the instructions (I don't want to look stupid in front of the other players), choose a room in the lobby and then ask to play with some one or more other people. At which point I often wonder, since I've not played the game before and so am probably rubbish at it, will they wish they'd said no when I asked to play with them?

But I spent most of yesterday afternoon playing Zwok, a multiplayer game that is so simple, and so much fun, I figure there may be something to learn from it. (And if I do learn from it I won't have to write off yesterday afternoon as wasted time). So here's a brief summary of my thoughts so far.

  • Joining the game is very simple - just click the guest button (here called "quick play") and you're in.
  • There is no lobby, no decisions to be made, no worrying what others think and if they'll play with you - having clicked the guest button you are dropped straight into a game. It couldn't be any simpler - click one button and start playing.
  • The game is played in two teams of three. As a player you're not totally reliant on your team-mates (as I got better I won some games with little or no help from my team-mates) so it really doesn't matter how bad you are when you start out.
  • The game play is very simple - throw stuff at the other team. We all understand that and have enough experience with gravity in the real world to figure out roughly where our chosen missile will land.
  • Games last between two and five minutes, so it's perfect to slot a few games in at lunchtime.
  • Registered users get to design their own character, build a reputation and gain access to some additional styles of missiles, but the game-play and fun are not limited for unregistered users.

So, in a nutshell, make it as simple as possible to start playing. I know we apply that to single player casual games too but I've not seen it applied so effectively to a multiplayer game before. Add to that the standard "make it fun" and "make it short" and it sounds like a recipe for a successful casual multiplayer game.

Finally, one sour note in the game - who thought it would be a good idea to show the message "You have been kicked out of the game for poor performance" when your network connection is too slow or unreliable? I can't be the only one to have thought the other players had decided I wasn't good enough to play with them.

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