There are 135,000 games in the iOS store today and for every game developer, discovery is more difficult than ever. While there are some new platforms on the horizon, most developers feel stuck as none is well placed enough to really become the next platform story. Worse, the “fast follow” mentality of some of the more predatory publishers has made developing games perilous for indie game makers. How long will it be before they all take a look at the startling success of Ridiculous Fishing, and inundate us with fishing games?
The current issue for developers is not one of innovation. There is always the possibility to create new game mechanics, but when everyone is doing the same thing, that advantage drops quickly. Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Flight Control, Zynga Poker, FarmVille and many other now-famous games are examples of low-hanging-fruit (as viral gaming). Unfortunately, their dramatic success inspires other developers to get involved. 400 games about cutting fruit or other objects, piloting planes or boats into dock, and so on, all start to look identical after a while. Developers either need a new platform or an innovation so strong that they rise above the crowd.
If most of the low-hanging-fruit has been picked, the power belongs to the gatekeepers. The only recourse left to developers is to find an edge. In our case, we believe that real-time multiplayer is the edge the industry is looking for.
It may sound simple, but making real-time multiplayer gaming work on mobile devices is an incredibly tough technical challenge. It’s not as simple as saying “just add multiplayer,” which a few projects are trying to do. Game developers must also maintain the game states and progress of thousands of players, manage latency issues, and design games that work best within a mobile format. Latency issues can crop up when there is too much stress on the server, due to a combination of several factors. Managing latency means making sure everything is running smoothly to provide users an even playing field. For a real-time multiplayer game to really sing, it has to be built to do so from the ground up- especially if you want to be able to run 1000-player tournaments.
That is the future: millions of players online, in real-time, playing together.
Most other game companies (particularly in smart device platforms like iOS) are not geared toward solving this kind of problem. For years they have been trying to solve a different problem – asynchronous play – and they’ve done a great job. They simply don’t employ the kind of engineer who is able to do multiplayer at scale. However, asynchronous gaming is now at capacity with titles ranging from Zynga’s -Ville games to Supercell’s Clash of Clans.
In our estimation, there is tremendous pent up demand for real-time multiplayer games. Games that are run on our platform such as Word Rack on Facebook or Match-Up! on iOS, regularly see engagement rates that are twice or three times industry standard. We have games that are played for over an hour every single day, and in some cases played obsessively. In a little over a week, some Match-Up! players have already played their way to 750,000 chips and given very positive, 5-star reviews.
A tectonic shift is about to occur from asynchronous, single player to real-time multi-player. The shift is driven by the following:
Widespread 4G and ubiquitous WiFi facilitates real-time in a way that was impossible just a few years ago. A player can play a game in Atlanta against another in Seattle and only experience lag at one-tenth of a second; short enough to never notice.
The critical-mass issue has been solved. With a million iOS and Android devices activated around the world every single day, and a device population that stretches into the billions, you can always find someone to play against with no wait times.
Turn-based games have largely tapped out. Waiting for your Words With Friends, Draw Something or Letterpress buddy to take his turn can be a very disappointing experience. With real-time multiplayer gaming, there is always someone new. Launch the game and you’re immediately into the action.
Lower threat of saturation: If developers can’t duplicate the underlying technology, they can’t duplicate the game.
Cloud services like AWS (Amazon Web Services) make server scaling and bandwidth incredibly affordable. For our first one million tournament entries our bandwidth costs were a measly $9.42. That’s right. Nine dollars and forty-two cents. In total.
Real-time multiplayer is incredibly social. I don’t mean your friends bugging you on Facebook to send them FarmBucks, I mean actively social. Real-time games form tribes of committed players who want to befriend each other, compete against one another and find a community in which to participate. I know when I’m competing in a tournament against players around the world, I’m closer to people than I was when playing alone.
My team and I have made a very big bet building a team and technology to do what no other company has been able to do. It’s our edge, and one that we think will revolutionize the industry. Match-Up! went live on March 14 and our next real-time multiplayer tournament games will go live in April. We are working on many other projects to launch over the course of this year, and looking to work with great people who believe that some day soon, games will be real time all the time.