What issues can you expect when running multiplayer servers?

Multiplayer. Whether it’s your core gameplay or an added extra, it can be a huge opportunity for your game.

Image source: Taylor Vick on Unsplash

Multiplayer can add replayability to a game after the single-player campaign, give you an extra revenue stream or even establish your title as the next esport sensation.

But incorporating multiplayer servers into your game opens you up to a few potential pitfalls. And if you’re not aware of what laggy monsters could be lurking in the path, it’s all too easy for them to drag you into the darkness, where bad reviews and financial horrors live.

As an orchestrator, providing server capacity where it’s needed, we’re a native to this dark forest. We know the path. So here are a few of the issues you should watch out for.

1. The surge of too many players

You never know when your game might go viral. One streamer can suddenly create a spike in your number of players. Obviously, this is fantastic for sales. But if you don’t have the capacity to handle the sudden surge, you’ll either have long wait times, your servers will simply crash completely, or you’ll need to pay huge amounts to increase your capacity on the fly.

We actually saw this ourselves when we helped Chivalry 2. On launch day, they had twice as many players as they expected. It could have been a problem, had they not already considered it possible. In reality, our agnostic platform can automatically scale the capacity, without huge fees.

So when you’re looking for an orchestrator and server provider, you need to look at the fine print. What happens if you have more players? How do their fees break down?

2. Scattered players leading to laggy matches

Lag can happen for a number of reasons. But primarily it’s because the session is hosted on a server that’s simply too far away from the players. This seems obvious, but often the lag isn’t for the entire lobby. Instead, it’s more likely that one or two players were forced into the lobby because there wasn’t a better alternative.

For example, if you have players from France, Germany and, say, Africa, you can end up in a situation where you’re forced to pair those African players up with the European ones. And that’s definitely going to cause some lag issues.

An orchestrator is a platform that decides where to host those sessions. It’ll use data from the matchmaker, but the key is latency. Typically, studios have developed their own ways to discover latency. But we’re actually working on an open-source alternative called latency.gg.

Regardless of how you get the information, it’s important to check with your orchestrator about how they’ll handle the traffic from different locations. And how they’ll avoid filling lobbies with players that are too far away from the server.

3. Loose rules leading to unfair matches

It isn’t just lag that can lead to a frustrating match. The other issue can be unfair matches. While your orchestrator decides where to put players, the matchmaker decides who to put together.

We recently ran a webinar with Bruce Brown from Amazon GameLift Flexmatch about how matchmakers and orchestrators work together. He explained that it’s important to consider how many rules you use. You might think that the fairest rules include accounting for: how long the player’s been waiting, their skill level, their latency, their hardware, the character they prefer to pick, their preferred role, and their preferred language.

But the more rules you have, the longer it’ll take to find a match. Start simple. And then you’ll probably want to slowly relax these rules over the search, so that it doesn’t take too long.

Bruce also talked about how important it is to test those rules. They need to be representative. Skill is a good example for this. It isn’t linear; people actually fall somewhere on a bell curve. There are very few players at the top and bottom. So you need to make sure you test with this in mind.

4. Multiplayer games on mobile devices

One area that often confounds studios is when they release a game on a mobile device. What might have worked absolutely fine with a static PC or console game, suddenly doesn’t work quite so well. How do you pair players up on a battle-royale when one of the players could be on a train, constantly moving further away from the actual session?

The answer is to work with the telcos themselves. If the orchestrator can partner up with the telco and use their infrastructure, hosting the sessions near or inside the cell towers themselves, this is going to drastically improve the latency.

Make sure you’ve considered the issues

When you climb Everest, you don’t necessarily need to know everything yourself. You go and hire a guide to help you — someone who’s made the journey many times before. Likewise, you don’t need to know exactly how to avoid all the dark dangers of the multiplayer forest. But you should definitely look for a partner that can lead the way.

If you’d like to learn more about anything we’ve discussed here, whether that’s about our work with Chivalry 2, how important latency is or how your orchestrator and matchmaker can work together, we’d love to chat.

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