Make a good game? Check. Make your money back on the game? Check. That’s a success, right?
Gun Monkeys, a wicked fast one-on-one multiplayer action game with procedurally generated levels, comes from Size Five Games and was released on June 28 for $10. It’s received good reviews, players who try it seem to like it, and my time spent with it produced a thumbs up. Starting yesterday, though, it’s $5.99, and one purchase nets you a second copy, an offer retroactive to day one.
Turns out, there’s a good reason for that.
“So, Gun Monkeys needs players in order to play it,” said designer Dan Marshall, as he broke the news to his community. “You need other people milling around. At times, the servers are quite busy, you can quite happily play for hours. At other times, they’re dead, because everyone who owns a copy of Gun Monkeys is at work or at school or sleeping or playing Rogue Legacy. You have to sell HYPER-LOTS of copies in order for the servers to have anyone in them, triply so if you’re trying to get a game at 4am. This is a fact I now know that I didn’t really appreciate before.”
I tried to find a match at 6 p.m. CST, right around the time you’d think people would be hopping on and hanging out, and it took a good 15 minutes before I was able to get anything going.
While this isn’t the first multiplayer game Marshall has created--Gun Monkeys is actually a remake of his first game, Gibbage, from way back in 2006--he didn’t anticipate some curve balls. Given his pedigree as a designer, one well-known for the humorous adventure games Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please!, he was surprised at how many people simply balked at the idea of sitting down and playing a multiplayer-only game for any segment of time.
“No matter how good the reviews were, it felt like people just had this reluctance to try it,” he said to me over email. “Which is odd, I wasn’t expecting multiplayer to be such a barrier anymore...”
Real talk: I know what kind of players he’s talking about. I’m not a multiplayer person, so even though I’m a fan of Marshall’s previous work, Gun Monkeys flew under my radar. By design, multiplayer requires more than yourself to have fun, which isn’t the case in, say, Rogue Legacy. Relying on others may have generated enough friction to cause Gun Monkeys serious problems.
“It's not so much resistance,” he said to me later. “I'm projecting on to people here totally, but to me it feels like maybe there's an added barrier with multiplayer games, an added level of setup that makes it just that bit more bother. I trimmed all that out as much as I could, you can be in a game in seconds, and because the levels are procedurally generated there's no arguments over which map or to play or whether or not everyone gets jet packs, or which variant you're playing. Its a surprise for everyone, BAM here's your lot, deal with it. But I guess there's no knowing that until you've played it. But yeah, it definitely feels, to me at least, like there's been a reluctance to get involved, and hopefully the change in price helps stop that.”
"Fuck it, let’s see what happens. The people who have bought the game and are enjoying it deserve for it to have a bigger audience so they can play more."
The game does not feature a single-player component of any kind, nor can players spend their time practicing against A.I. opponents. That request is a common comment he hears from players. If including bots was as simple as clicking a checkbox, he probably would have done it.
“'You should add bots' is the one I get,” he said. “As though adding AI to procedurally-generated levels is just a completely trivial thing! And yeah, goes completely against the core design, the very ethos of the game, which is this amazing, fraught, 1-on-1 experience you share with another person. Playing against a bot, no matter how lifelike, just doesn’t cut it. It’s a shared experience, that’s what makes Gun Monkeys magic, when someone catches you with a crafty bombs and a very rude word slips out of your mouth...there’s no replicating that offline!”
The lack of more things to do when another player around may remain a legitimate complaint for players, but without the option to build anything in a reasonable amount of time, Marshall was forced to examine the more realistic choices on front of him. The idea of letting down the players who did take a risk on his game seemed worse than holding steady and hoping for the best. Dropping the game’s price to nearly half its original asking cost was not a move he made lightly.
“So, I just did it,” he said. “Fuck it, let’s see what happens. The people who have bought the game and are enjoying it deserve for it to have a bigger audience so they can play more. It’s one of the magical things about being an indie dev: I’m making all this up as I go along, and I can make potentially-stupid decisions on a whim like that. I have no idea how it’ll turn out, isn’t it exciting?”
Shockingly, Marshall told me he's probably going to make a single-player game after this.