The amount of fun derived from a multiplayer game is usually directly proportional to the respective game developer’s talent. A game studio has to truly understand what multiplayer elements gamers want, and how to implement those components efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, many development teams struggle with one or more of the multiplayer design aspects. Too many times a game ships with a technically solid, but boring and uninteresting multiplayer, or an engaging and fun experience riddled with bugs, glitches, and balance issues.
It takes more than just netcode and killstreaks to design an awesome, timeless multiplayer experience, and gamers (at least, MP1st editors) have come to recognize the talent, creativity, and design prowess of these five development teams as being the best in their field.
Bungie made the list even though they only have one real series under their multiplayer belt (we’re not counting their earlier Mac titles). It would be redundant to dwell on the studio’s console success, but their dedication to solid and technically sound multiplayer game modes have earned them scores of fans, praise, and imitation. How many games after Halo implemented a 2-weapon inventory system? A lot. Shoulder-button grenade throwing? A lot. Bungie’s Halo games are guaranteed to be technically sound and dynamic experiences. What few bugs may crop up (sword-flying, super-bouncing, etc.) are quickly squashed, and Bungie continue to support their games far after release (after passing the buck to 343 this past year, we assume Bungie will keep up the trend of post-launch support with their upcoming title, rumored to be a massively multiplayer shooter).
Valve is PC gaming. 12-year-old Counter-strike 1.6 is played daily by more gamers than most shooters released in the past three years. One of the main reasons Valve’s games build up such dedicated fanbases is their support and content patches. Team Fortress 2 was released in 2007. Since then, the title has received a staggering 245 patches and updates on the PC and Mac. The overwhelming majority of these updates are not to fix bugs or issues, but to add new content (free of charge). Valve offers fine-tuned and balanced multiplayer games that somehow never become dated. Yes, Counter-strike 1.6 looks like an older game; however, the gameplay and balance put many current shooters to shame.
Do we really have to explain this one? World of Warcraft. Diablo. Starcraft. The list goes on and on; even taking the studio’s polarizing DRM and connectivity requirements into consideration does little to hamper the love gamers have for Blizzard. Blizzard have consistently produced fun and balanced multiplayer games that provide a refreshing contrast to the plethora of shooters on the market. Their games are unique, balanced, and engaging for both casual and hardcore players. Not many studios can have a game in the professional-players market (Starcraft) as well as a title that is played worldwide by kids, adults, men, women, old, and young (World of Warcraft).
DICE has a kung-fu grip on the full-scale warfare game market, and for good reason. Other developers have made valiant attempts to create games that mimic and recreate the intensity of the battlefield experience, but most have failed (or, at least haven’t come close to the success DICE have had). Marching through 4 different eras, and including a number of core titles and spin-offs, DICE’s Battlefield games have set the bar for realistic, yet accessible warfare. The games provide balanced, objective-based experiences that encourage teamwork and cooperation, eschewing the “one man army” style of play employed by many of its competitors. The games often require a number of early patches and updates that address balancing and network issues, but due to the scale of the playing fields, it’s hard to point too much criticism at DICE’s team.
Mario Kart is still an easily playable and infinitely satisfying multiplayer title. Which iteration, you ask? All of them. It doesn’t matter. They are all supremely balanced (well, as long as you are okay with the series-standard rubber band AI) games that offer both a competitive edge and a casual, fun-filled atmosphere. Super Smash Brothers is another series that created a light-hearted, yet emulous atmosphere. Nintendo are masters at creating accessible yet deep multiplayer experiences, even if these two series are the only indicators.
As always, these opinions are held in the highest esteem by the MP1st editors, and we would love to hear yours (whether they mesh with ours or not!). Let us know which developers you think create the best multiplayer games, and which ones…fail.