Mobile Mavens

Is there any room for indie games developers to get in on the battle royale trend?

Is there any room for indie games developers to get in on the battle royale trend?

Since first appearing in James Howard’s comic play All Mistaken or the Mad Couple in 1672 the term battle royale has always carried with it a sense of grandeur. The “royale” may be included in the phrase as a mere intensifier, but it gives us the meaning of a battle fit for a king.

So it is perhaps fitting that battles waged in such battle royale-styled games as Tencent’s PUBG: Exhilarating Battlefield and NetEase’s Rules of Survival are equally grand, with 100 players fighting it out for survival and to be crowned the last player standing.

However, it did cause us to wonder. Do the studios behind these games need to be equally as grand and large-scale or is there room for indie developers around the world to get in on the trend? Luckily for us in times like these, we have a fantastic cast of mobile mavens to call upon.

Specifically, we asked them:

Is there any room for indie developers to get in on the 'battle royale' trend?

How risky is it for indies to create a big multiplayer game and what advice do you have for those who attempt it?

Aaron Fothergill Co-founder Strange Flavour

Ah the “I want to write an MMO” line. Whatever games developer forums or groups you’re on, there’s always a post from someone new who’s never written anything along the lines of “I’ve got a great idea for an MMO, how do I code it?”

From an indie game standpoint though I think it is actually feasible (although not for a newbie developer who doesn’t know how to code yet), it just depends on how you plan for the scale of the MMO.

MMOs have been going for a lot longer than most of us realise. Even in the very early days of computers there were play by mail space exploration/battle games where you would sign up from an ad in a computer or fantasy games magazine and write in with your fleet moves for the week/month.

The hosting company (i.e. a man in a shed, ostensibly with a mainframe, but more than likely just an Apple) would work out everybody’s moves, resolve all the battles and post back the results. There are still web-based equivalents of that going nowadays, although turns are a little faster.

If you consider all the types of MMO, then there are certainly some variants an indie dev game can do. We’re actually working one into Fish! at the moment.

It’s a version of the multiplayer mode we did in early versions of Flick Fishing, called FishNet, where you create a game and get a five or six letter code. Anyone who uses that code in the game joins your FishNet and the hosting server keeps tabs on who’s caught the biggest fish as you all play.

For Fish! we’ve simply expanded it with team codes so that you can create or join a team and every week and month the server lists the teams that have caught the biggest fish or biggest overall catch and gives them in-game prizes.

It’s not a huge load of real-time data, but the scores are updated live and feasibly it can scale to a very large number of players. (The Flick Fishing version of FishNet ran a couple of million players on the Xserve on top of Freeverse’s office fridge.)

There’s also the .io type games that were big last year. Unity even does a tutorial on how to make them and set up their servers, so it’s certainly within the bounds of an indie dev to do something massive multiplayer online, it's just down to where you’re focusing the resources.

My advice, consider where you’re going to spend the development time. Is it going to be graphics heavy and real-time (which gets expensive fast), or something edgy, fun and simple that can be hosted easily?

There’s probably a viable range inbetween depending on your skillset. If you’re doing battles in a ‘rooms’ style, where each play zone has a limited number of players for instance, you can probably get away with quite a bit scale-wise in your network and game code as you can design it to a set player max (or adjust the player max down to suit).

Tanya X. Short Creative Director Kitfox Games

MMOs are maybe a bit foolish for your first game, or maybe even for your hundredth, but we should all be a little bit foolish when we're dreaming.
Tanya Short

I agree with Aaron, my gamer-heart was actually forged in MMOs and in many ways they still offer some of the deepest unexplored gameplay potential.

Now that there are more accessible networking plugins and support than ever before, I absolutely hope more indies get into multiplayer design and start innovating the heck out of it, though battle royale seems a bit late to the party at this point.

A second golden age for weird massively multiplayer could be on the horizon if we're all brave enough. Let's all learn from A Tale in the Desert and Subterfuge and the cool stuff going down over at SpryFox, like Beartopia.

To be completely explicit, I'd specifically encourage indies to innovate in the under-explored massively co-op or massively asymmetrical game design areas as there's a lot of ripe fruit there to be harvested.

MMOs are maybe a bit foolish for your first game, or maybe even for your hundredth, but we should all be a little bit foolish when we're dreaming.

Pierre-Luc Vettier CEO Zero Games Studios

Is there any room for indie developers to get in on the 'battle royale' trend?

I think there's room for indie mobile developers in all trends. Since six or eight years, we've seen indies trying to develop MMOs, Rocket League-inspired games, multiplayer FPSs and Minecraft clones.

With each new trend on console and PC, some indies tries to follow it and recreate it for mobile and sometimes it works pretty well.

If you're a mobile developer who likes a new popular game on console or PC and you see there's no such game following the trend on your device, trying to re-create a great experience you had is very tempting, and that's normal.

It may be a bit late for the battle royale trend right now, but I'm pretty sure there had been a place for indies in this segment a few months ago. But if you miss a trend, you just have to wait for next one and be more reactive.

How risky is it for indies to create a big multiplayer game and what advice do you have for those who attempt it?

I can't give any advice about how to make a big multiplayer game as my technical knowledge is a bit limited, but as far as I know, It's less risky to create this kind of big games than before thanks to a lot of tools that didn't exist many years ago.

But it's still something complicated which requires an experienced (or mad) team as constraints of real-time multiplayer games can have a huge impact on design and performance of your final product.

NetEase's Rules of Survival quickly got in on the battle royale trend on mobile

Molly Heady-Carroll Co-founder & Lead Artist Arcane Circus

Is there any room for indie developers to get in on the 'battle royale' trend?

Innovation can come from anywhere, especially smaller devs who are more willing to take risks. The original trendsetter, PUBG, came from a mod so it would be silly to deny there is room for indies in the trend.

I am curious to see how long-lasting the battle royale game mode will stick around. Will it be the next death match or horde mode? I guess it depends how much it is embraced by games.

If battle royale becomes as common-place as the other modes mentioned previously, it will transform into a staple in gaming. In that case, battle royale will be so expected in shooters of all sizes, it won’t even be notable anymore.

How risky is it for indies to create a big multiplayer game and what advice do you have for those who attempt it?

The original trendsetter, PUBG, came from a mod so it would be silly to deny there is room for indies in the trend.
Molly Heady-Carroll

We are actually in the process of developing a multiplayer game of our own right now. Creating a multiplayer game is certainly coming with its own unique challenges but I wouldn’t say it is really more risky than creating any other new game independently. (Unless you’re planning to make a World of WarCraft-like MMO on your own, don’t do that!)

There is a lot of potential for Indies to stand out by creating mobile games. There is a very interesting article by Reptile Games, the creators of Lethal League, (love that game! Play it if you haven’t by the way!) who had this to say about indie multiplayer games (They are talking about Steam but I think the same is true for mobile indie games):

“On Steam, the value of online multiplayer should be clear. Humans are endlessly more interesting than any game, with the right stimuli (which is where a game comes in). Online also makes a game stand out between many other independent titles. But it seems to work like a kind of multiplier, meaning the base game still matters most.”

There are lots of tools and plugins that can help a smaller team along with punching above their weight and creating a multiplayer experience (Firebase, AppWarp Cloud, Photon Engine).

I would advise developers to take care to create a game within their team’s means and resources. If there are things you are not able to do, see if there is a tool or a person that can do what you need for a price you can afford.

If you can’t find anything, you might want to change the scope of the game you are working on. Plan carefully! Challenging yourself is good, but jumping into the impossible doesn’t make anyone happy.

Ben Murch Co-Founder Perchang

Is there any room for indie developers to get in on the battle royale trend?

"There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat. Well, I don't cheat. And although I like to think we have some pretty smart people here in this room, it sure is a hell of lot easier to just be first," said Margin Call.

I promise this will be my only answer I start with a quote. Totally promise, possibly. Anyway, Jeremy Irons in that film had a really good point. Groundbreaking games are "first," then come the copycats, the pretenders, the "cheats".

We've already seen a whole load of titles that try to rip PUBG directly for a quick buck. The smarter ones are developers who capture a trend and develop it into something unique.

This is where indie developers can excel. We are small and nimble enough to try out new ideas and throw them away just as quickly.

However, I feel it goes against why developers go independent in the first place. We do this to try our own ideas, invent genres, to boldly go - well; you get the idea. We don't do this to copy what's gone before. So, perhaps the question should be "Why would an indie dev get in on the trend?"

How risky is it for indies to create a big multiplayer game and what advice do you have for those who attempt it?

This depends on a lot of factors. What platform are you using? What game type are you creating? How do players interact with the game?

PUBG is a big multiplayer game, but then, so is Words With Friends. Think primarily about the cost of developing and then running your game and if it's too much for you to handle, think about partnering with people who can foot the bill and make it possible to create your title. Think about your hook.

Just copying PUBG and setting it in space probably won't set the world on fire. However, if you throw in a new gameplay hook which re-invents how it plays, you may stand a chance.

Overall, I'd say big multiplayer games are highly risky for indies, but be brave because you know what they say about big risk.

Tanya X. Short Creative Director Kitfox Games

 

Has anyone else tried One Hour One Life that just came out this week? It's a really interesting experimental co-op MMO that every multiplayer designer should try out.

It innovates in new ways to encourage player-to-player mentorship, alliances, and identity. Now if I can figure out what milkweed looks like, maybe my next mom will be proud of me. 

Dan Menard CEO Double Stallion

I think the battle royale is a neat trend, and many developers will be hopping onto the bandwagon, but I'm not sure how much of the success of PUBG can be attributed to simply the game mode versus a myriad of other factors.

PUBG is periods of crazy high action punctuating a largely quiet/empty game world. There isn't a player lurking around every corner but it feels that way. A lot of the copycats seem to get that wrong.

NetEase's Knives Out

Regardless, there are infinitely many possibilities within the genre, just like how new MOBAs are still coming out after DOTA initiated the trend.

Nathan Fouts Founder Mommy's Best Games

Is there any room for indie developers to get in on the 'battle royale' trend?

Working off of what Tanya said, One Hour One Life is a great idea and a great indie move. There's probably room in the battle royale/MMO area for an indie, but the concept would have to be different. Also, Jason Rohrer is a treasure of a designer.

How risky is it for indies to create a big multiplayer game and what advice do you have for those who attempt it?

Indies shouldn't follow the rules of how a "big multiplayer game" should be. They need to change the rules or make new rules, and then they won't be shackled by the massive amount of work a traditional multiplayer game requires.

I think we all know trying to go head-to-head against Fortnite on all fronts would be a mistake for most. Putting a new twist on it and picking an interesting, but workable art-style for a very small team would be a better start.

Maybe a battle royale format in a couch-co op game? Or couch-co op games, but they are somehow modified asynchronously by other players?

Travis Ryan Studio Head Dumpling Design

Is there any room for indie developers to get in on the 'battle royale' trend?

Hear me out; 100 battle royale games are dropped onto an island.

While no trend is exclusive domain to bigger developers - smaller developers can and will always challenge trends, taking limited resource to focus and craft something new and unique - the battle royale format specifically proposes some unique challenges.

Playerbase is everything to ensuring a good gameplay experience, which means hefty running costs and logistics just to get out of the gate.

How risky is it for indies to create a big multiplayer game and what advice do you have for those who attempt it?

It’s no riskier than creating single player games these days, provided you design/build with scalability/flexibility in mind; early battle royale mods or even Minecraft started out as relatively small, indie projects that grew and were shaped with an audience.

Smaller developers can and will always challenge trends, taking limited resource to focus and craft something new and unique.
Travis Ryan

At some point last year we (Dumpling) made a pivot toward making new types of multiplayer games for a whole bunch of reasons. Primarily because these are the games that we play and enthuse about - we also assumed making multiplayer games would be more fun to develop, which they are.

Also, by moving to a more responsive development model, particularly on mobile, we can iterate and create alongside an audience, releasing a core experience and not really knowing how it will grow. Sounds super exciting, right?

AR Smash Tanks! was our first, we focused on local shared-space multiplayer via AR, with an eye on expanding it to online multiplayer once the player base grows to a sufficient scale to ensure a good experience.

We’re still in the thick of that process; re-evaluating the pricing model (currently premium, a death knell for multiplayer?) and expanding platforms (Android soon!).

If it doesn’t work out, we’ll apply our learnings to the next multiplayer thing and bring back any new learnings to the older projects.

I believe that scalability around a multiplayer core is key, not only regarding building a multiplayer product but also marketing it; every change, every addition is a story for your audience and a chance for them to get involved.

Staff Writer

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