Dan Marshall has a message for indie developers out there: Don't make online multiplayer games. The developer of the online multiplayer game Gun Monkeys posted a cautionary note to his peers today on his blog in an attempt to dissuade them from following in his footsteps.
"The TL;DR is really: if you're an indie developer, don't make multiplayer games," Marshall said. "There are exceptions, naturally, but by-and-large the number of customers you're ever likely to get simply isn't there to support it."
Marshall said the expectations people have for online multiplayer games are immensely difficult to meet. They want to log on at any time of the day and instantly find a match with opponents of a similar skill level. After Gun Monkeys launched and players reported long waits for matches, Marshall attempted to ameliorate that concern in an unusual way. If a player was left waiting for a Gun Monkeys opponent for a few minutes, the game would automatically generate a Steam key for them to give a friend. Despite the allure of free games and a raft of positive reviews, Marshall still had problems keeping Gun Monkeys' servers full.
"I don't want to be completely negative, I just think as indies we need to be aware that the numbers Titanfall sells in order to be a constantly-playable online game eclipses anything we could possibly hope to achieve," Marshall said. "It's a case of being very, very boringly realistic."
For those developers undeterred by his message, Marshall also offered some points of advice. He suggested online game developers make sure to build hype before launch. If the game comes out and people report any empty servers, that will only discourage others from jumping on, creating a self-perpetuating problem. Other points of advice for online game makers include adding bots to meet player expectations, buying advertising, and providing continued post-launch support for the game, if possible.
"I kept fixing bugs and tweaking gameplay for a few months, because of course, but there comes a point where you're aware you need to get on with a new game in order to keep your company afloat," Marshall said. "Adding new maps and characters and stuff seems like a sensible thing to do, but if the game doesn't have the numbers already, what is it really going to achieve?"
Ultimately, Gun Monkeys covered its own costs, so Marshall said it was successful from one perspective. However, he added it "immediately got forgotten about."
"And that's the saddest bit for me, because it's genuinely a brillo little game that deserved a lot more attention," Marshall said.