The Conundrum: Single Player or Multiplayer Apps

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What Multiplayer Means in Apps

The majority of the multiplayer apps we see in app stores are asynchronous multiplayer apps. This means that the gameplay doesn’t require for players to be online at the same time. Simply put, the gameplay is turn-based. Commonly cited examples of asynchronous gameplay are apps like Words With Friends and Letterpress.

This seems like a simple concept, but what are the main differences? What about the advantages and disadvantages?


Single Player Apps


  1. Single player apps are easier and cheaper to make.
  2. There’s no limit to gameplay design and mechanics.
  3. There’s no waiting for other players to take their turns or worrying about other players abandoning a game session.
  4. The storyline is much more immersive than multiplayer modes. This is especially true with RPG, MMO, and other campaign-based multiplayer apps. Players are also able to learn more about the characters, design, and dynamics of the game in single player mode.
  5. The rewards are immediate and exclusive to a single player.
  6. There’s a sense of control for players.


  1. Gameplay can appear linear and predictable.
  2. Single play mode can limit multi-directional thinking due to lack of input and support from other players. This is quite evident in game planning.
  3. Players may not see the need for internet connectivity during gameplay. Single player apps that require online sessions can be cumbersome for those that are just want to pass time while on a break or traveling.


Multiplayer Apps


  1. It is easier to gain engaged users, especially if the multiplayer app’s design is that of a social co-op gameplay. Also, co-op and competitive plays improve the gaming experience not only because of the in-game interaction but also because of the skills and reflexes needed.
  2. The frustration of failure is lesser (in co-op plays). The added experience of other players can also aid in achieving the reward of either completing a level or performing a task more efficiently. The sense of accomplishment in competitive plays is also amplified by the very thought of winning against real players.
  3. Multiplayer apps allow for casual gameplay with the basic functionality and storyline of real-time games made for consoles and PC. Most multiplayer apps don’t have immersive storylines, which just plays well with mobile players’ behavior.
  4. You can intentionally design the game to give each player a unique gaming experience. The storyline and ending can basically differ depending on a player’s decisions and play style. This is something that is difficult to properly implement in single player mode.


  1. One weakness in the multiplayer gameplay is when players need to depend on each other in real time. This gameplay works well for other online platforms like PC and console. Not much for mobile apps. Mobile games like this generally struggle to scale in terms of users and design.
  2. Some games are just best played alone. Social gaming popularized “help-a-friend” co-op type of games wherein players can easily jump over hurdles in gameplay as long as they have friends willing to bail them out. Levels are sometimes intentionally gated just for this purpose. This is frustrating for many since such a feature does not have any real correlation with the aims of the gameplay.
  3. Another problem is synchrony. Though a majority of multiplayer apps are asynchronous, these apps’ designs still call for players to interact within the gameplay. Sometimes, you need to wait for forever before a friend answers to your requests or take their turns in the game.
  4. The lack of other people to play with is also a problem. A lot of multiplayer games have AIs that mimic or take the place of real players. One example is the AI for the Facebook game Criminal Case. Players can create teams whose members can share some in-game items and give a number of hints. What these members can share depend on how active they are in the game. The problem with this setup is when only a few or even none of your friends are playing the game. Hints aside, the AIs can’t give the three reports necessary for you to progress in the next case. Only your teammates can do so, so you need to wait it out for about three days. This setup causes a lot of players to lose interest very fast. If they want to play a similar game, they’d rather go to the game that their friends are also playing.
  5. The development of multiplayer apps demands more resources compared to single player apps. This is especially true with real-time multiplayer.

Right now, most apps both have single player and multiplayer modes. But not all games need multiplayer modes, even if you build it into the game’s design. Most of the time, the addition of a multiplayer mode doesn’t affect the core game. It tends to appear that there’s really nothing to gain in playing multiplayer mode aside from the social aspect. This often makes or breaks turn-based multiplayer games. The game needs meaningful turns done in a reasonable amount of time. This is, of course, difficult to fulfill in reality.


Word and board games are now mostly multiplayer but there are also a lot of misses in the implementation. Sometimes, the asynchronous multiplayer mode doesn’t just make sense. Gameplay will slow down and become less compelling. Examples are games like Angry Birds, Head Soccer, and Asphalt 8: Airborne. The same is true with games with synchronous multiplayer modes.

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