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Synchronous mobile games, have you done it?


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#1 sushiisumii   Members   -  Reputation: 111

Posted 02 July 2012 - 05:21 AM

Hey guys, I wanted to kind of open up conversation about what I feel like is a big lost opportunity in games today.

It's pretty amazing to see all these great mobile games out there now (especially ones created by a shoe-string budget with a team of two/three) and to see how far we've come in terms of technology that enables us to build these games with relatively low costs.

One of my biggest peeves about mobile games today, is the lack of good real multiplayer gameplay. I don't mean (excuse the bashing a bit) these Zynga social, share with your friends "multiplayer" games, and not quite the turn-based Draw Something's. I mean REAL synchronous multiplayer gameplay on my phone. The kind that you see dominating the computer world, any RTS, racing game, MMORPG, etc.

(before I go any further, I am going out there to say that bluetooth does NOT count. I do not play with my friends on my phone in person. How is that fun? I have a ps3 instead for crap like that. I'm talking about multiplayer over 3G/4G/wifi)

It seems like most indie game devs avoid ever going in that direction (I'm talking only about mobile here), because it's somehow way too difficult, or way too costly (in terms of dev time / people) to produce good synchronous mobile games. Yes, it is a lot of work that does require a big deal of specific knowledge, but I don't think this type of gameplay should be something inaccessible to game devs just because of a low budget (isn't that all of us..?) I can't even name 10 truly good synchronous mobile games that weren't made by some gaming giant like EA with a million dollar budget.


So I wanted to know what you all think about this situation. Have you ever tried making a synchronous multiplayer game (mobile or otherwise)? What were your biggest pains, takeaways from it? Was it worth it? Or why did you choose not to? What is it that you wish you had (dev tool/platform/etc.) that could make it all worthwhile for you?

I want to see what we can all learn from each others' stories and experiences, and try to spread a bit more knowledge about making multiplayer games.



DISCLAIMER: My company Soragora is making real-time multiplayer technology for games. This is NOT intended as spam or anything like that, but rather we're trying to learn more about the real problems game devs face today.

Sponsor:

#2 Olof Hedman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2737

Posted 02 July 2012 - 06:09 AM

Afaik, the main problem with mobile multiplayer is latency.

This has for a long time effectively sunk any notion of doing "real mulitplayer" on a mobile device, you just can't do it (well) when you have very unpredictable, up to several hundreds of ms in latency.

Even 3G is pretty crappy in this regard, specially when you are in a busy area.
Sure, it can work great in the lab, but in real life, I often have problems just accessing the web...

Would be great though if some company could put a couple of thousand man hours into making an easy-to-use library that is well tested under extreme conditions, and then sell it to the rest of us ;)

#3 ddn3   Members   -  Reputation: 1269

Posted 02 July 2012 - 01:52 PM

Mobile multiplayer games have 2 barriers right now the latency of 3G and the inconsistent connectivity (ie dropping connection and widely varying bandwidth throughout). 3G is basically horrible what dial up was to the PC. 4G there is some hope there, basically once 4G is widely adopted then u will see a surge in multiplayer games since it will be much easier to implement on a 4G network. Sure people could play only on wi-fi but really not very mobile if u stuck in a wifi hotspot. Sure u might use it at a coffee shop but your sharing the wifi there and its almost as bad as 3G. You could make a bullet proof 3G network library but 3G is on its way out, the window of opportunity for such a library is very small, maybe if it was released 2 years ago i might have been viable.

[EDIT: to answer your question, i did make a synchronous mutliplayer moible game (Word Droppings) but I'm also a network programmer by trade so it was no biggie for me. Like most mobile developers you have to use 3rd party networks to get the matchmaking and packet routing to work through the firewalls, routers, etc..]

-ddn

Edited by ddn3, 02 July 2012 - 01:55 PM.


#4 alnite   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2067

Posted 03 July 2012 - 07:45 AM

It's not the funding. As people have suggested, network latency is one the biggest issues here. The thing about mobile network latency is not that 3G is slow, the latency can spike dramatically depending on users locations. One moment is full 3G speed, the next moment it drops to 1 bar just because user is standing next to a tall building.

The second issue is the market. Mobile gamers aren't typically the kind that prefers to sit down and play for a few hours of multiplayer games like PC and console players. They are the on-the-go type. They launch and run apps during those idle moments while waiting for the buses/trains/planes. Run app, click a few buttons, and close. This is why games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are massively popular. Launch, play a few rounds, close.

Third is money. With network carriers cap the bandwidth to 2GB/month, cellphone users are very cautious of any apps that are using huge amount of network data.

Fourth is the battery issue. Multiplayer games will drain batteries fast. Who wants to have their phones died in the middle of a trip because they spend too much time on gaming? I have a streaming video app. It's a pretty impressive as it streams videos live, but I *rarely* use it because of the battery + connectivity issues. If you tell me to have it run while it's plugged in and use wifi spot, I'll rather grab my laptop (better quality and faster).

#5 sushiisumii   Members   -  Reputation: 111

Posted 04 July 2012 - 07:27 PM

Latency and dropped connections definitely seem to be the biggest issues at hand, I wholeheartedly agree.
alnite, you mention the type of market for most of these mobile users. I agree that there's a big sector of that who play games in a very "on-the-go" way for a few minutes here and there.

What I find interesting at the same time, is that there seems to be lots of studies out there supporting the fact that mobile gamers are more and more playing at home, (possibly on their home wifi) and for longer periods of time. That's not to say that everyone is doing that, but I can definitely see the market for these types of games opening up very soon.

Cost of bandwidth and especially battery, are very large concerns as well. At the same time, I don't see that stopping many of the more "intensive" games from becoming popular (talking about battery here). It's definitely an issue all intensive games share, but I wonder if its as big of a worry than we might think.


ddn3, did you deploy your own centralized servers or did you use 3rd party services for all matchmaking / leaderboards / etc? Sounds like you designed it with direct peer-to-peer connections and you used 3rd party services for NAT punch-through, etc? What did you use? Something like RakNet?

Edited by sushiisumii, 04 July 2012 - 07:28 PM.


#6 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 04 July 2012 - 07:46 PM

How do you feel about mobile multiplayer like Draw Something? It's not quite just abusing social networks to claim that your game is "multiplayer". It's legitimately multiplayer, but designs itself around the shortcomings of the mobile platform nicely.

#7 sushiisumii   Members   -  Reputation: 111

Posted 04 July 2012 - 08:09 PM

way2lazy2care: (nice name btw)
I think multiplayer turn-based games like Draw Something are great for what they provide. They are legitimately multiplayer as you say and don't "abuse" social networks for the claim of multiplayer. They are totally valid, and a great type of game that, like you mentioned, works great with the limitations of a mobile platform. I brought up Draw Something not to bash on it (perhaps my wording / placement was wrong in the way I initially stated it), but rather to make a comparison to real-time synchronous games.

There is a big distinction between turn-based games and synchronous games, so much so that they deservingly should be classified differently. I think they're great, I play tons of turn-based multiplayer games (both on my phone and computer), and they definitely bring a uniqueness to the table. I just think something more can be done with synchronous games.

I always find it slightly ironic that a platform designed to connect people, at times seems so disconnected.

#8 davepermen   Members   -  Reputation: 1007

Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:15 AM

It's a platform that connects both trough space, and trough time. Synchronous games don't do the second (just as phone calls, which is why people often prefer sms and similar stuff).

I often only have short moments where I can really focus on my phone. And surely, those are NOT the moments where my friends have time.

So I'm connected with them trough asynchronous games, because I can play with them in times, where we can't really spend time together.

That's different with pc / consoles. There, you schedule time for it, anyways. And you can do so in similar timeframes as your friends (typically, evenings, weekends).


So while I understand your irony, it's mostly something you imagine. Online phone games connect me more than online pc games. They connect me trough space AND time.

And I don't like online multiplayer anyways. I grew up sitting side by side when playing multiplayer. THAT connects people. splitscreen FTW!

One can do that with phones, too.
If that's not the help you're after then you're going to have to explain the problem better than what you have. - joanusdmentia

My Page davepermen.net | My Music on Bandcamp and on Soundcloud


#9 ddn3   Members   -  Reputation: 1269

Posted 05 July 2012 - 11:59 AM

We didn't deploy our own servers we used a 3rd party network API called Casmul, which was sold to PlayPhone so it's called PlayPhone API now, but it's still the same API. We used it for matchmaking and packet routing. You'll find that due to the heterogeneous nature of the mobile networks, you can't make point 2 point connections between players 90% of the time. You need a matchmaking and routing service which was what Casmul did for us. I think you can probably use GameCenter now on the iOS devices, at that time GameCenter wasn't out of beta yet.

Good Luck!

-ddn

#10 alnite   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2067

Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:56 PM

What I find interesting at the same time, is that there seems to be lots of studies out there supporting the fact that mobile gamers are more and more playing at home, (possibly on their home wifi) and for longer periods of time. That's not to say that everyone is doing that, but I can definitely see the market for these types of games opening up very soon.


There's always a market for everything, but is it always worth the effort to make it? There are multiplayer games out there, but can the sales offset the cost?

Where have you read/heard these studies from? I have heard studies of more people using tablets at home (similarly mobile, but not cellphones). They are two different devices.

I'm not discouraging you or anyone from building a multiplayer game on mobile. Multiplayer games are already a challenge, and you will run into more challenges of building one for mobile devices.

#11 heshiming   Members   -  Reputation: 203

Posted 21 July 2012 - 07:28 PM

Besides technical obstacles, I think sync games are rare because of the ways people are using mobile devices.

If the game is fun, people are likely to sit in front of TV screen or computer for hours. They are looking for some serious entertainment. Thus they'll ask their friends to join, like watching a movie together. You take 15 minutes waiting for all people to arrive, and 15 minutes to setup before playing.

Mobile entertainment has a much shorter time slice available. Games tend to be casual and single player oriented because people are more likely to play it for several minutes rather than hours. If the game is pretty good, they'll come back but the game play time is till sliced into minutes. So it'll be a big job to ask your friends when all you want is 5 minutes of game time.

The design of a few word arrange games and games like draw something almost proved mobile games are more suitable in an async way. MMORPG can still be fun though.




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