As part of Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #2, Mediatonic Games' senior game designer Arran Topalian gave a talk on demystifying developing multiplayer games.
Topalian noted that now is "sort of a golden age for multiplayer games", given that server costs have fallen and cloud computing has made it easier for games to add large-scale multiplayer.
Getting into the design aspect, Topalain first identified premise and mental models as being a key place to start when designing your multiplayer game.
A mental model is "how we simplify complexity", and these models can come with emotions attached - therefore, a premise attached to a pre-existing mental model can lead to players more quickly understanding a game, as well as help designers plan how their experience will work.
As an example, Topalian turned to Yahtzee With Buddies and its Family Feast mechanic. In it players are encouraged to play Yahtzee to build recipes with other players, something which ended up resonating quite well with the audience.
Next, Topalian turned to prototyping and playtests, noting that while it can cost more time and effort to prototype, it can pay off by making development easier in the long run and help you understand your game better.
Playtesting also plays into this, with Topalian turning to thatgamecompany's Journey, a game focused on gentle cooperation but saw playtesters acting aggressively towards each other thanks to a "push" mechanic that was abused in early tests.
Regarding playtests, Topalian suggested running them without voice chat or even having players in the same room as each other if you're testing a game that will be played online, and without chat as a key pillar of the experience.