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A Multiplayer Game Isn't Much Fun Without Multiple Players

Less than a month after launch, Gun Monkeys needs to attract more people willing to blow each other up. Designer Dan Marshall explains his price drop and buy one, get one free experiment.

Make a good game? Check. Make your money back on the game? Check. That’s a success, right?

Matches in Gun Monkeys take just a few minutes to resolve themselves. One monkey enters, one monkey leaves.
Matches in Gun Monkeys take just a few minutes to resolve themselves. One monkey enters, one monkey leaves.

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.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Avatar image for noibn
Posted By noibn

I was one of the early adopters who paid full price and tried playing when absolutely no one else was ever online... I'm not complaining, I'm just saying that because of that experience, I completely understand why he did this, and I commend him for it. It's exactly what was needed in order for Gun Monkeys to have any chance whatsoever of being successful (as a game, not financially). I haven't played the game in a while, but hopefully it is now doing better due to the changes, because it had potential.

My main issue is that even with this price drop, I think the price is still too high. There just isn't enough to the game to justify anything higher than that, and it kind of gets old pretty quickly regardless. The price should be under $5 and come with an extra copy, or at the very least should have some type of single player component. Just my opinion.

Avatar image for enigma_2099
Posted By Enigma_2099

So the only mode available is multiplayer? Hmmm... maybe you shouldn't have solely focused on it.

Avatar image for djou
Posted By djou

After reading this article I was curious enough to buy a copy, especially since I could give the extra code away to a friend who enjoys these types of games.

I can confirm that nobody plays this game. I've tried many times to find a match (different times of day and days of the week) and nothing. The Steam chat group is barren and my friend, a casual gamer, hasn't found the time to set up a match.

This game looks fun but the game design logic is flawed in so many ways that I regret my purchase. The game doesn't have controller support, something this style of frenetic platformer needs. I would also argue with the game devs assertion that he couldn't put in practice matches. I don't need my practice match to be procedurally generated, just an example map with bots would be fine. Maybe that would mean programming bot AI, but you need to teach people the game, right now it doesn't even have a tutorial. At this point I've had it a week and don't know how to play it and haven't seen it in action outside of web videos.

I don't know if this type of game has a life on its own. It would be much more appropriate in some type of Sportfriends anthology package.

Avatar image for xander
Posted By Xander

I feel like if Towerfall was released on PC, this is what would have happened. Instead it was released on the Ouya. This is where Ouya shines, I think. Local multiplayer. Towerfall has made a name for itself because of this.

Now when Towerfall hits the PC, it will already have a community of fans required to make a multiplayer game successful.

Avatar image for trilogy
Edited By Trilogy

I've never even heard or seen this this game before until this article. Maybe that's a part of the problem?

Either way, I think it's a pretty cool strategy to give a copy of the game away with every purchase. A lot of my friends have been handing me steam copies of recent 4 packs of multiplayer games that they've purchased. (natural selection 2, worms, castle crashers, ect). There's something to the whole "geting a pack of games and handing them out to my friends" thing. I think it's a good way to spread word about your game. People like me are more likely to play a game if I'm playing it with some buddies.

Multiplayer is awesome!

Avatar image for cassus
Posted By cassus

See? This is why indie devs are loved, and why big companies are shunned like an Ewok with AIDS.

Avatar image for auron570
Edited By AURON570

Or... they could go free to play and add hats... #kappa

Avatar image for hockeyjohnston
Posted By HockeyJohnston

I pretty much exclusively play multiplayer games. But a player population that hasn't hit critical mass (Showdown Effect, Worms, etc.) can be a hassle to deal with. F2P in the DotA2 vein is the way to go.

Avatar image for jacobgray
Edited By jacobgray

I'm one of those people that finds absolutely no value in PVP games. My work life is stressful enough, and most of the time I play games to relax. Anything "multiplayer-only" is a non-starter, as I don't need the stress of a deathmatch game, and I can only sometimes find fun in co-op games, as I generally don't want to have to rely on other people to make a game fun. When I want interaction with friends, that's what real life is for.

Avatar image for killaclause
Edited By Killaclause

I have been playing this for a little bit now too and it is hard to get a game. Every time I play I think it is a lot of fun but waiting in-between for a game or playing the same person over and over gets a little old.

Avatar image for flashflood_29
Posted By FlashFlood_29

Would ya look at that. Someone who knows what needs to get done to benefit the gamers and themselves

Avatar image for bisonhero
Posted By BisonHero

@shivoa said:

This seems to be a not-uncommon strategy for smaller/indie multiplayer games. Also see titles like Frozen Synapse, Achron, or The Ship (two free on that one) for this '2 for 1' way to push numbers up.

I think there's a right way and a wrong way, though.

Gun Monkeys is lowering its price, and actually giving away a free copy of the game. Frozen Synapse costs $25 up front for its "2 for 1" arrangement. I think Frozen Synapse is great and all, and not to malign its developers or anything, but there is no way that a single copy of FS is worth $25 or even $20; hell, $15 each might even be kinda pushing it a little. They're sorta just forcing you to buy 2 copies, and charging you the sum of 2 copies of the game. It really doesn't feel like you're getting a second copy "free" or anything.

I like the way that Gun Monkeys is implementing that idea much better.

Avatar image for bigbob
Posted By BigBob

I almost never buy multiplayer-centric games. I don't like playing with strangers because they have a tendency to be assholes, but it's hard to get my friends to play a game too. So I play single-player only games. Then people look at me weird when I say I don't like Call of Duty.

Avatar image for colourful_hippie
Edited By Colourful_Hippie

Nice use of "real talk", Patrick. Good stuff.

Avatar image for karkarov
Posted By Karkarov

@yukoasho: Damn well said. Personally I hate buying multiplayer specific games and the only time I do is when I have a group of friends nagging me to do it. This way I know I have 2-3 people who want to play it now so I will at least get a few weeks out of it before everyone I know has moved on.

Avatar image for donfonzie
Edited By donfonzie

I like the way the guy thinks. He is more interested in making his players happy, then immediate financial gains.

Avatar image for yukoasho
Edited By yukoasho

Yeah, I can't bring myself to play a multiplayer-only game, and it's just for this reason.

For a multiplayer game to have a community, it has to sell a bunch.

For a multiplayer game to sell a bunch, it needs a community.

That leads to the very simple fact that multiplayer-only games can only really get popular by sheer luck. People who love multiplayer tend to be pretty dedicated, which is why Street Fighter IV is always the big show at EVO and why more people play Call of Duty or Counter-Strike than, say, Red Orchestra. Seriously, there's people still playing Call of Duty 2 on 360, and there are people who won't even go to Counter-Strike: Source from 1.6.

Then there's the issue of trying to get a game on after the community has moved on. There's niches, like the Counter-Strike 1.6 people or folks still playing hardcore Super Turbo, but for the most part, these games don't have much of a shelf life. Call of Duty still has a great, arcade-like single player campaign, and Black Ops 2 has taken Combat Training offline so that's always an option, something I hope to see in all future CoD games now that West and Zampella are gone. Hell, you can still get a fighting game going, either against the CPU or with your buddies, long after the FGC has moved on. That's not true for games like this, that are ONLY multi, particularly only online multi.

Hell, I can't even stand it when multiplayer gets tacked on to a single player game. Seriously, how many people are still playing Tomb Raider multiplayer? Single player games may not be suitable for the "software as a service" model the EAs of the world want so badly to be the mainstream, but you're less likely to have people be hesitant to come in. After all, you've always got yourself to play with.

Avatar image for itssexytime
Posted By ITSSEXYTIME

Reminds me of Plainsight. Pretty neat robot deathmatch game but it never really captured a playerbase.

I feel like with the fact that most people own a lot more games, it's harder to devote the time to smaller multiplayer games. Frozen Synapse is pretty much dead right now; I tried to play it right after the red DLC came out and couldn't find any games much to my chagrin. Red Orchestra 2 and Natural Selection 2 are two of the biggest exclusively multiplayer games made by smaller devs, and they're still relatively tiny playerbases. You saw this a lot with source mods a few years back too, but it seems to have extended into commercial games as well. I remember really fun mods like Eternal Silence, Sourceforts or The Hidden becoming ghost towns. This may just be nostalgia, but back in the day I remember even unpopular mods always having some players around. With Steam sales providing a wider breadth of options and games like DOTA 2 and LoL requiring immense dedication from players while also being absurdly popular and you can quickly see how these games can't develop a dedicated playerbase. It seems like a lot of multiplayer games live very short lives and then die out much faster than they used to.

That said, I don't think set up or multiplayer are inherent barriers. Day Z is notoriously inapproachable for a few reasons (Annoying install, Arma2's jankiness and complex controls) but still managed to garner an utterly massive playerbase because of the idea and intrigue of the mod.

Avatar image for juggaloacidman
Edited By JuggaloAcidman

@syzygyeolith: Dude! Your picture with the mustache made out of cats is EPIC!!!

Avatar image for syzygyeolith
Posted By syzygyeolith

There is plenty of great multiplayer-only games in my steam library I've fired up and played with bots, but for me the bottom line is I really don't have any interest in playing with other people online. While I live in Australia, and have a high ping as a crippling handicap, the bottom line is it feels like poor way to spend my time - versing strangers online, who usually have no interest in talking. I'd much rather play something single player that has a story and an 'end'.

Plus I'm just not very competitive - why cant we all just get along?

Avatar image for eccentrix
Posted By eccentrix

I think it's just the art style that I don't like. Either that or the platforming element, but I'll happily play a 1-v-1 game that isn't an RTS or fighting game.

Avatar image for shaunage
Edited By Shaunage

This is why people need to stop making multiplayer games, frankly. I don't just mean indie developers, I mean basically every game that isn't Halo, COD and Dota. It's just pointless because nobody plays them.

Avatar image for turhaya
Posted By Turhaya

I don't think it's so much of a barrier, it's more of a commitment. When playing online, I usually only find myself playing very few of them at any one time. I'm mostly playing Warframe right now for my go to online multiplayer game and even with 3 million registered players, some levels are absolutely barren if you try to just play with randoms. It probably doesn't help that Dota 2 is absolutely massive and most people on Steam are playing it. At its peak today, it had roughly 318 thousand more players Civ V which is the second most played game.

Right? Am I the only one who is surprised by the popularity of Civ V? I've been thinking of it as a game that caters to a niche audience since Civ II and seeing it was second only to Dota 2 the other day kinda blew my mind. It's THE classic hardcore turn-based strategy PC game. What?(!) As a lifer when it comes to one more turn, I feel validated.

Anyway, yeah for me it's totally a commitment thing as well. Try not to spread myself too thin across too many multiplayer games or I'll just never finish my singleplayer ones! Just about the only multiplayer-only game I'll play mindlessly without friends is TF2. Dota 2 is my current MP fav, but sometimes you just need a singleplayer game like Civ V where you can go at your own pace and not have other humans dictate your experience and just chill.

Stuff!

Avatar image for djou
Edited By djou

This game should be right up my alley, but as Patrick mentioned I'm the exact person that let this slip by my radar. For me to commit to a online-only game I need to know there is a robust multiplayer community and that there are so many folks raving about it that I can find a decent game whenever I pick up and play. This caveat has hindered me from playing dozens of games from Monaco to Frozen Synapse to Dota to any fighting game. The fact that this isn't even practice sessions to help me learn to play before I go online to get slaughtered is doubly bad. The learning curve is too steep for something that should be pick up and play. This isn't a game like Left for Dead or Counter-strike that can fall back on genre mechanics at least I don't get that impression from the gameplay videos. The trailer also doesn't do the game favors, there isn't a single mention of the multiplayer element and I still don't get what the game is. Maybe if there was a demo I could try before I buy but as it stands I don't know if I would ever buy this game.

Avatar image for fisk0
Posted By fisk0

This is the reason games with bots will always win in my heart. Gears 3 in my opinion has nailed it. The multiplayer is fantastic. Then years from now I know I can flip it on and play a map full of competition and fun. Bots forever...,

Yeah, there's also the issue that games like these, with really a small player base, aren't exactly friendly to new players to just jump into. Most of the people who still play it have done so for a long time, so you'll just end up losing match after match without getting to understand the mechanics, something bots can help you ease into. I for one played UT99 against bots for years before I started jumping into random servers, and I still kinda prefer to do that since real people never want to play any of the fun maps or modes.

Moderator
Avatar image for degiggles
Edited By DeGiggles

Yup, been loads of fun when i could get a match. Gave up after a week... guess I will be giving it another shot real soon...

Avatar image for onedollarwilliam
Posted By OneDollarWilliam

I fall into the camp that ignores multiplayer game out of hand, and after taking a bit of time to honestly consider why I boiled it down to a single element: Embarrassment. I don't, generally, think that I am very good at playing games. Part of it is almost certainly in my own head: I thought I was really bad at even single player FPS's until a friend explained to me that the mouse sensitivity slider has an actual function, but whenever you start a new game it takes some time to get up to speed*, and it makes me deeply uncomfortable to think that my huge pile of initial losses will be viewed by other people. This is, of course, my brain playing tricks on me again. Thinking that the player on the other end is mocking me to all his friends (because he is able to chat in Google Talk and still kick my ass), or even cares about my existence beyond having someone to play against. Still, as in so many areas of life, the feeling of being judged on your failures is very difficult to overcome, and usually keeps me from joining in multiplayer games (also, finishing my novel, starting a podcast, and posting to forums more often). These might just be my personal issues, so I'd love to know why everyone else who says they ignore multi-player does so?

*This is one thing I have loved about Rogue Legacy. The changes in stats are small enough individually that it seems like I am getting better at playing the game, not just brute-forcing it. If it's true that's great. If it's not, at least they hid it well enough that I feel that way.

Avatar image for tourgen
Posted By tourgen

They could give me 30 copies for $1 and I'd still not support a multiplayer only game.

yep.

Avatar image for morello
Posted By Morello

@deusoma said:

Saying that adding bot AI is difficult is totally reasonable. Insulting people for wanting bot AI just makes him sound like a total dick.

He didn't insult anyone, and certainly not in any of the text quoted here, all he said is that the concept of bots goes completely against the idea of the game.

As far as multiplayer-only games go, obviously it relies totally upon people being available to play against, and with Dan moving so quickly to try and get the sustained player count up to a workable number hopefully people can enjoy the game for a long time - being 1v1 should help. Not only does the fact he made this decision so quickly help the game, but more importantly that he could implement the change and get the extra keys out immediately. That's the benefit of being a small developer and having a platform like Steam (if you're able to get on to it).

Avatar image for fonkymucker
Posted By FonkyMucker

Nice read @patrickklepek

I can't think of a bigger risk to take than to make a multiplayer only game.....much less a indie one. The window for meaningful gameplay is so small.

If your lucky you will capture an active audience on release, and that momentum could last weeks. But the thing about people who love playing competitive multiplayer games is that everyone has that "favorite game" that they will eventually return to. Chances are that player was just looking for a quick fix, and now will go back to their Call of Duty, Team Fortress, Counterstrike, or Battlefield.

Glad he was able to make his money back, and would be interested to see if giving free games away will fix the problem of a dwindling userbase.

Avatar image for mrcraggle
Posted By mrcraggle

I don't think it's so much of a barrier, it's more of a commitment. When playing online, I usually only find myself playing very few of them at any one time. I'm mostly playing Warframe right now for my go to online multiplayer game and even with 3 million registered players, some levels are absolutely barren if you try to just play with randoms. It probably doesn't help that Dota 2 is absolutely massive and most people on Steam are playing it. At its peak today, it had roughly 318 thousand more players Civ V which is the second most played game.

Avatar image for catlicker
Posted By Catlicker

Scoops, you tha man!

Avatar image for hi_im_rob
Edited By hi_im_rob

It sucks that you can't do quicklooks, bombcast etc but glad you're able to do more of this stuff @patrickklepek ! Keep it up.

Avatar image for aetheldod
Edited By Aetheldod

He is right ... I disdain the idea of multiplayer only games D: I have a very small patience for that , and this years had been didrected towards Banner Saga : Factions which was amazing I spent 80 hours in it and was F2P.

Avatar image for onyxghost
Edited By onyxghost

This is the reason games with bots will always win in my heart. Gears 3 in my opinion has nailed it. The multiplayer is fantastic. Then years from now I know I can flip it on and play a map full of competition and fun. Bots forever...,

Avatar image for cikame
Edited By cikame

The only multiplayer games i play are cod, cs, killing floor and tekken, for fighting games my primary opponents are friends, for cs and cod the communities are huge enough finding players is never a problem.
As for killing floor, well i have no idea how but for years i've been able to find people playing, there isn't a huge number of servers but join an empty one and people follow, i was so confident in this behaviour that i now rent my own server as sort of a thank you, and it's always full of people :S

Competitive multiplayer isn't something i can just do without feeling like i've wasted my time, unless it's an established franchise like cs which has history, a simple game like gun monkeys just doesn't cut it.

Avatar image for deusoma
Posted By Deusoma

Saying that adding bot AI is difficult is totally reasonable. Insulting people for wanting bot AI just makes him sound like a total dick.

Avatar image for kdr_11k
Posted By KDR_11k

Well, it's not much of a surprise. If you aren't a huge title like COD there will be difficulty keeping an online community alive. That's why so many indies and smaller studios go for F2P when making multiplayer games, it's the only way to maintain any sort of playerbase. With a paid game you'll lose most players after 1-2 months and after that nobody will want to buy it either because it's dead. I've played plenty of smaller MP games and it has always been the same, the community just collapses rather quickly. It also doesn't help if the game is among the 99% of games that have exponentially decaying sales and stop attracting new blood.

Also SP is mandatory. I think one aspect is that people don't want to go online without knowing what they're in for and a tutorial isn't going to cut it.I know Section 8 Prejudice has more of an SP campaign than regular Section 8 did purely because they learned from the first game that MP alone doesn't sell. And mind you, those games have decent bots (I even see them lauded a lot, the experience vs bots and real people differs drastically so I wouldn't call them great but they do the job of filling out the player roster).

Avatar image for hippocrit
Posted By hippocrit

@patrickklepek for the win. Tons of great content since the Mid-West move!

Avatar image for danlongman
Posted By danlongman

I don't really care for multiplayer games myself, Though after reading this article I will pick it up and give it a try.

Also @patrickklepek I am loving all your long form content. Keep these articles coming! <3

Avatar image for markwahlberg
Posted By MarkWahlberg

I thought this was what Australia was for.

Avatar image for cmblasko
Posted By cmblasko

That's why you don't make competetive multiplayer games - big or small, the game is going to be barren within a month, especially if it's download only multiplatform titles, that always baffles me, like the western multiplayer shooter. How naive do you have as a developer to think people are going to keep playing their game? Their generic multiplayer game. Unless you are gargantuan like Call of Duty and maybe battlefield, it is a project doomed to die.

Counter-Strike.

Avatar image for bacongames
Posted By bacongames

I really like Marshall's work and still highly anticipate The Swindle but yeah, I too categorically dismissed the game because I was disinterested in a focused one-on-one competitive multiplayer only game. For me, I think a lot of my interest in multiplayer is either predicated at least upon the cushion of teams, and more importantly the added element of persistence.

And yet I can still go back to UT and Quake 3 and love the hell out of them despite the lack of those two things (although team play and mode options are still a strength of UT). So maybe it's less to do with the category and more to do with this 2-D arena game in particular. At least purely based on what I've seen of Gun Monkeys, I'd rather play Tower Fall or BariBariBall.

So yeah, I guess I did look at it and say nah before now that I think about it.

Avatar image for grissefar
Posted By Grissefar

That's why you don't make competetive multiplayer games - big or small, the game is going to be barren within a month, especially if it's download only multiplatform titles, that always baffles me, like the western multiplayer shooter. How naive do you have as a developer to think people are going to keep playing their game? Their generic multiplayer game. Unless you are gargantuan like Call of Duty and maybe battlefield, it is a project doomed to die.

Avatar image for canseesea
Edited By canseesea

I've got to be honest, I think he's wrong when he says it's about barriers. There absolutely are people who would just rather not play multiplayer games. Not everybody plays games to "win" something, and in multiplayer games (especially competitive games) that is the only goal. Multiplayer-only is a huge negative for me, and personally free to play games are the only experiences without single player that I'll try. This goes extra for smaller games where you can't reliably say that there will be any community to speak of three weeks after launch.

Avatar image for robotsquad
Posted By RobotSquad

I can only speak for myself, but I definitely avoid multiplayer only games.

Avatar image for christaran
Posted By ChrisTaran

They could give me 30 copies for $1 and I'd still not support a multiplayer only game.

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