I want to offer the excuse for the gorilla that it was already wounded, but that's overkill even for a healthy gorilla.
It's not often you see a zebra kick the crap out of a gorilla.

Multiplayer Manifesto

Much of our hope for this site was that it would attract readers smarter than us to generate superb discussions in our forums. From these, we would harvest ideas for articles. I kind of shot myself in the foot by misconfiguring our emails for a few months (though we think that’s fixed, so if you tried to sign up for a forum account and didn’t get an email, try again!), but today we have such an article.

KYakerDude started us off with this post about what multiplayer-relevant, reasonably objective features (presumably mobile) games may have. These are useful for identifying which games might appeal to someone seeking multiplayer games which suit their preferences without simply relying on a reviewer’s general impressions of the quality of the online play. This list was later supplemented by JammaTal, TheDukester, HardCo, and Blackfyre. Here’s what they came up with:

Asynchronous/turn duration options
App badge
Buddy list
Game end display
Handling of player drop-out
Stability of servers
Ease of switching between games
Player ranking/ELO
Player rating (behavior)
Filtering by expansion
Size of online community
Multiple local players in an online game
Online play with some AI players
Private games
Ease of starting a game
Undo without cheating
Option to block players

Technically, I didn’t lose in the first round, but only because I got a bye.

For myself, asynchronous play is always highly valuable, especially if the app badges work reliably. Virtually everything else is of lesser importance, though not of the same importance for every game. Eclipse, for example, desperately needs a replay or log of other players’ turns. But I’m interested in using this list for two purposes: first, to get your feedback on what you’d like to see us mention in reviews of games with multiplayer play, and, second, to work backwards from the set of features we tend to value to infer what sorts of games we have in mind. Games like Draw Something or Hearthstone feature some of these qualities, but some are irrelevant. So, to some extent, we’re cultivating tastes for the sorts of games we find most engaging, but there’s also a danger that we’ll ignore some options we’d really enjoy if we take that too far.

But, of course, these are just the easily-checked features (though the tendency to patch games post-release might change them, and server stability and online community size might well vary even without patches), and a simple list doesn’t help us determine their relative importance for different games. Not only that, it doesn’t include features we’ve not yet seen but might like, were some clever developer to include them–I think built-in tournament support would be awesome, as would post-game use of the AI’s state-evaluation algorithm to give the player a sense for when they totally blew it. (“Give me a sense for when I totally blew it”, is obviously what I have in mind, there.) But it’s hard to have a sense for how difficult some of these would be to implement. For example, Titan HD has an option to assist players’ memory by showing everything you could have derived, had you been paying attention. That’s tremendously helpful, but also eliminates one of the skills which matters in face-to-face play. Because it’s so rare, it’s hard to know for any particular game whether including something like this would be a good use of developers’ time, either because of technical challenges or warping of the game experience.

Ah, the double-edged sword of video game chat. But double-edged swords were apparently largely unproblematic, so maybe not a great analogy?

What would you like to see mentioned in reviews of multiplayer games, and what sorts of multiplayer experiences do you seek? Are these objective measures valuable in capturing something that matters, or do they contribute little beyond a general characterization of the experience? Should we be more consistent about recommending a beverage or musical pairing? Personally, I find Ascension is best complemented by a lightly-sweetened iced tea, your broadly appealing, everyday beverage, while I like sipping Old Tyme Cream Soda while playing Titan. Sadly, I haven’t seen Old Tyme for sale anywhere for over a decade, but, like the skeleton in The Last Unicorn guzzling Schmendrick’s “wine”, I remember.

Notable Replies

  1. Cool to see this post get turned into an article.

    I would like to see mentioned in reviews these things:
    App badge
    Buddy list
    Game end display
    Stability of servers
    General comment on the ease of setting up and switching between online games
    and beverage pairing

    I agree that some features are more or less important depending upon the game but to me these are important for all mobile games.

  2. Eclipse has got replays, and after an update they are working great now.

    what Eclipse desperately needs is better server stability and password protected private games.

  3. Sorry, I was unclear. I recall the singing of the praises of the replay from an Eclipse thread a while back (and a narrative workaround from before that). I was just trying to contrast games like Eclipse or Twilight Struggle with games like Patchwork or Tokaido, which show you other players' turns but don't really need to, as the game state is legible enough without.

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