Single Multiplayer

Lincoln Bergeson

May 19, 2018

The majority of today's top selling video games are multiplayer (source, source).

But a lot of game studios are deterred from making multiplayer games because they need such a big community. No one wants to get online if no one's online.

What kind of multiplayer games don't require a certain size of player base at launch? One idea I have is a multiplayer game with a mode that you can play against yourself. This might not work for PUBG or Overwatch, but there's a certain category of game it could be great for.

This is a mostly unexplored design space. But, there's a few precedents. Here are a few ways I could think of that game designers have created a single-multiplayer experience.

1. Time Trials

Racing games have been doing this for a really long time. First you race around the track by yourself, and then you race against your past self in the form of a ghost. There are effectively two players: current you and past you (or more, if there's more than one ghost). But both players are you.

How could this work for other games? The concept of a "ghost driver" works for any game where your objective is to get through the level as quickly as possible. Super Mario Bros, Doom, Call of Duty -- any game with a timed mode can easily be made into a single-multiplayer game.

2. Strategy

Bobby Fischer, considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, was known to play chess against himself on occasion. Playing as both sides forced him to choose the best move for either side, an interesting mental exercise. (Although taken too far it can lead to insanity, at least according to Stefan Zweig.)

Chess is a game of perfect information. You always know everything about the board that your opponent knows. What you don't know is what your opponent will do next, which is the crux of strategy games. Playing against yourself is basically an exercise in exponential possibilities. No one could ever explore every possible move in every theoretical game of chess, so as long as you do something different each time, the game can be vastly different.

The only good example of this that I've seen of this is Josh Sutphin's Fail-Deadly, where you play as both sides in an RTS. Your goal is actually not to win, but to delay the stalemate long enough for your nukes to load. If either side wins, you lose. Really interesting game, which was supposed to get an iOS/Android version but was ... canceled? Disappeared? Not sure.

3. Mirrors

In some games, the opponents mirror your moves. This is the case in Karmbat, a tank fighting game in a symmetrical arena where your enemy mirrors your every move. If you're shooting them, they're by definition shooting you.

Another interesting example of this that I've read about is Echo, a game where your enemies learn from what you do and use it to kill you. It's not a direct mirror, and I haven't played it so I'm not sure if it's an exact mirror, but it's obviously enough to make you reconsider doing anything fancy.

I really haven't seen any mainstream games (besides racing games) do this kind of thing. I wonder if there is a way to make a multiplayer game like League of Legends have a compelling play-against-yourself mode.

What do you think? What other modes of single-multiplayer are there? Leave a comment below!

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