We have all heard about Fortnite, COD, GTA, Apex Legends, PUBG, Overwatch and - especially in the children’s world - Minecraft and Roblox (specifically their multiplayer modes). These games have the capacity to keep preteens, teens and adults coming back again and again. For those who don’t actively engage in this type of gaming, it may feel repetitive or that there is nothing new to enjoy, so I wanted to share some thoughts about the power of multiplayer gaming and how it’s growing bigger everyday. And how it’s not the ‘same’ game after all.
If we look at peak concurrent players, multiplayer games are leading the pack, with Fortnite pulling in the most. During the Astronomical Concert by Travis Scott, 12.3 million people flocked to the game to watch it. This is followed by League of Legends (8 million players) and Crossfire (8 million), again both multiplayer formats. When it comes to revenue, the story reads the same; Fortunly (2020) found that 85% of game industry revenue is from free-to-play games, of which the top ten games that have at minimum got a free to play element are multiplayer. So okay; multiplayer games are big and they aren’t going anywhere. Now, let’s dive into repeat playability.
In almost everything you will hear the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, and that is one of the main reasons we see a lot of repeat playability. Children and teens are encouraged to build their in-game skills, learn new tricks/ways to play, and this can lead to them ranking up on the leaderboard. Whether that be a ranking system, or on a more personal level against friends and family. This is also a key reason why children and teens will watch gameplay on YouTube; they want to learn new tricks, find new hideouts, and new ways of improving their own gameplay. Although not exclusively, a lot of children also don’t even play the games they watch. If you are interested, I wrote an article about this before which you can read here.
There are benefits to children’s development too - it can build core life skills like patience, perseverance and resilience; it’s very much that ‘fall down and get up again’ attitude that this repeat playability can encourage. Whilst in excess it can lead to tendencies of never getting off their console/PC, if moderated, multiplayer gaming can have some really positive outcomes.
You will find that multiplayer games have regular updates to keep the game fresh. Whilst for many there is a loyal fanbase, momentum can be lost. If we look at the MAUs on Steam for Among Us (understanding this isn’t the only platform Among Us is played on), we can see the highs and lows from when it became a huge trend (we all remember Congresswoman AOC playing, right?!) up to now, where it’s not performing as well as it once was.
However, we see this with most multiplayer games; when a new collaboration, set of skins, an event, characters, and even new maps are released, those that may have lost interest are keen to come back and see what’s new. These updates can be so powerful that some events can bring in insane numbers of players; I have mapped out below the events for Fortnite which coincided with a higher search rate within YouTube.
These regular events and collaborations with top names (e.g. Travis Scott or Marshmello) are key to continuously driving interest. As well as events, we also see that other newly released content can keep a game fresh and exciting.
Other methods used can include creating new maps and new heroes/characters, as this encourages existing players to retain their love for the game universe, and gives those that may have dropped off a reason to come back and see what’s new. Overwatch does a great job at introducing new maps, but alongside this they often create new game formats. As well as the competitive game (where each win or loss affects your rank), they have the ‘Arcade’ which includes different types of game formats with the same heroes and within the same universe. From ‘Capture the Flag’ to ‘Mystery Heroes’ (where you don’t get a choice in what hero you play), it gives players something new to try. Some of their gaming formats change daily, so there is always something new.
So this repeat playability often goes back to wanting to win, wanting to be really good at what they’re doing. Also, multiplayer games will match you up with other people at a similar rank to you, and many are team-based, so there are many factors at play here that mean winning or losing is not determined. At KI, we often consider our Ages and Stages model when it comes to knowing what children are capable of depending on their age; that key period of 8-12 is where children are really keen to win, and it keeps them playing again and again.
With multiplayer games you don’t win them all. It’s kind of like football or any kind of sport: you are effectively playing the same game with the same rules, but you might be playing in a different ground or playing with a different team - there isn’t a guarantee that you will win. For many, that might be the simplest way to understand how teens and children (and many adults!) can play the same multiplayer game. This works the same way for eSports, for which some of the top games have their own dedicated leagues.
Another way to think of it is: it’s very much like the Premier League (UK) or the NFL (USA). Everyone has a favourite team and they want them to win - for example the Overwatch League has London Spitfire, Shanghai Dragons, New York Excelsior, and many other teams that come together from around the world. For one of the biggest (if not the biggest) eSports games Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (also known as CS:GO), the dedicated league, called ESL Pro League, regularly shares current fixtures and play schedules with teams and fans. Fans will watch these events and cheer on their teams, very much like within traditional sports.
Some fans will play the sport and some will just spectate - this is the same for multiplayer games with an eSports league. Understandably, CS:GO is an 18+ game, but the premise of eSport engagement is huge among games that children are engaging with too, namely Overwatch (13+), Fortnite (12+) and Hearthstone (7+), all of which have huge eSports leagues of their own.
My final point is that it’s not just about the game itself; gaming can be a really important platform for children to talk to their peers. If a child’s friends are all playing Fortnite, they will be keen to play as well - they won’t want to feel left out and children utilise gaming and gaming social platforms to support their socialisation and friendships.
During COVID, but also pre-COVID, children have been increasingly reliant on these comms platforms to chat to their friends. We saw games take note, for example Fortnite partnering up with House Party to make the social scene even more integrated, allowing kids (12+) to video call their friends whilst playing. Many safety features were added so parents had peace of mind, e.g. not allowing children to accept friend requests (would go to the parent to vet first) and not being able to see mature language. Whilst I understand a few parents may be wary of their children playing games, they do benefit from this type of socialisation if done in moderation. Like everything, moderation is key.
So, as you can probably tell, I think there are a lot of benefits to gaming and I have enjoyed it pretty much my whole life. It was a moment of escapism when I went through hardship when I was younger and now it still offers that same comfort. There is nothing like having a bad day and coming home to immerse yourself into this new world, playing with your friends, and taking a moment away from reality. So it’s understandable why children are playing games again and again; they’re building their in-game skills (and soft skills too!), socialising, but also taking a moment to escape from any of their own life stressors. Whilst gaming might not be the go-to for every child - it may instead be reading, sports, painting or something else entirely - it’s about children having a place to go, again and again, where they have fun and are happy. That’s what it’s all about right?