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Mobile multiplayer 101: Your ideal tech stack
DEW SMITH / UNITY TECHNOLOGIESContributor
Mar 14, 2022|10 Min
Mobile multiplayer 101: Your ideal tech stack

This blog takes a look at the impact of the pandemic-driven growth in multiplayer games, what players want to see in a game, and the tech that studios need to think about to support that.

When it comes to multiplayer games, the industry, players, and developer needs have grown and changed drastically over the last few decades:

  • In the mid-1990s, multiplayer gaming started out as LAN parties and couch co-op in basements.
  • In the 2000s, multiplayer gaming experiences moved off the couch and out into the world – connecting individual players across vast distances.
  • By the 2010s, most of the population had powerful gaming devices right in their pockets – their mobile phones. Players who wanted to game on the go no longer needed a separate device for their portable gaming adventures.

Now, in 2022, the category has changed again and so have the needs of developers in order to meet new player expectations. Read on to explore all the tools you need to build your ideal mobile multiplayer tech stack.

Timeline showing the history of multiplayer
What kinds of mobile gaming experiences do gamers want?

The most popular multiplayer genre on mobile today is the casual kind – with puzzle (55%) and card games (53%) reigning supreme. However, there is also strong demand for all the other genres you expect to see on console and PC storefronts.

For example, 46% of all gamers who play a MOBA game play on their mobile device. Similarly, 39% of RTS gamers play on their mobile as well.

Chart showing breakdown of multiplayer game genre by percentage of players

So gamers want multiplayer mobile experiences. The real question is – how do you deliver them?

The “MVP” multiplayer tech stack

At Unity, we think about the multiplayer tech stack in three core pillars:

  • Creation of your multiplayer game.
  • Connection of your players.
  • Empowering player communication.
Table showing the Multiplayer products available from Unity Gaming Services
Creation

First, you need to ideate and build a game and that’s where the multiplayer stack begins: Creation. This category includes all the tech and solutions you need to actually build fresh multiplayer experiences for gamers.

Critical solutions in the creation pillar include an engine to actually build your game, and a netcode solution to handle the networking.

Connection

As multiplayer games are becoming a more popular avenue to connect with others (even those who wouldn't have traditionally considered themselves gamers), crossplay has become more of a priority to developers and players alike.

We believe that platforms should not be a barrier in providing accessible social experiences for people – but instead be a gateway for those experiences.

And so, developers like you need sophisticated technology to connect their players not only across the globe, but across the platform divide as well.

The key solutions in the connection pillar include a hosting solution to connect your players – either a relay or a dedicated game server based on your game’s needs – and a way for the players to connect in-session, with a matchmaking or lobby solution.

Let’s take a quick look into how your game might choose which options are best.

Table showing server options between Relay and Dedicated game servers

For hosting, a relay server is a great choice for games that:

  • Are relatively small-scale, with around 2–12 players per game session.
  • Are cooperative rather than competitive as relays have little in terms of cheat mitigation.
  • Have a smaller budget, as this is a more cost-friendly option to connect players as you don’t have to pay for hosting.

A dedicated game server, on the other hand, is a great option if your game:

  • Has a wide range of player scale, supporting anywhere from single digits to dozens of players at a time.
  • Is cooperative or competitive as it has more cheat mitigation.
  • Has a larger budget to cover hosting costs.

In terms of connecting players in-session, there are two major options: A matchmaking service or a lobby service.

Table showing Matchmaker options (Lobby and Matchmaker)

A lobby is a player-driven way to create gaming sessions – one player makes a lobby, shares an invite code to others or joins an open lobby list, and other players can join at their leisure. Think games like Jackbox or Among Us.

Alternatively, a matchmaking solution does more behind the scenes – evaluating things like player skill and region to automatically match players for a game session. This is a more popular route for FPS games.

Communication

With the rise in popularity of games over the decades came the rise of in-game communication, with more than three-quarters of multiplayer gamers using tech to communicate with other players in the session. Unfortunately, there has also been a parallel growth of toxic behavior in online gaming communities.

As more people started playing multiplayer games this last year, 68% of gamers expressed that they felt there was a surge in toxic behavior, with a majority of gamers either witnessing it or experiencing it themselves.

But a big part of multiplayer gaming is the social connection it provides, and so the challenge appears to promote positive and accessible communication in your multiplayer games.

To do this, you’ll need technology solutions to empower positive player communication and grow engaged and healthy online communities.

Expanding your tech stack
Image showing the "MVP" of Multiplayer Tech Stack - Creation, Connection, Communication

This stack above shows the “MVP” of a mobile multiplayer tech stack – how to create your game, connect your players, and allow them to communicate.

But we’re not done yet.

Improving the player experience

Putting together any kind of multiplayer is one thing – but what about delivering a truly greatmultiplayer experience? That opens our stack up to a new category – solutions built to improve the player experience. Things like friends lists, anti-toxicity software, leaderboards, and more.

In late 2021, we ran a study that asked gamers to tell us their must have features in a multiplayer game, and here’s what we found:

  • 36% of gamers want quick matchmaking
  • 35% want the ability to join a match or party with friends
  • 30% want a cheater-free environment
  • 29 % want to form a party with people met in-game
  • 27% want no harassment or griefing

Based on the above stats, you may want to add services like friends lists, in-game parties, and anti-cheat software to your game to improve the player experience. Ultimately, it’s up to you to find the right mix of tools and services to deliver the player experience you want for your game.

Improving the developer experience

There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes that can be improved and streamlined by developer-focused solutions. For example, an analytics tool to monitor the player experience and figure out what content to build next to keep your audience engaged.

That opens the door to a content delivery system, which will help you roll out your new content for players – like seasonal gear or special events.

And how can you keep building this new content? By funding your efforts. That’s where monetization services come in to help support you while you bring your vision to life.

If this is starting to feel like an unwieldy tech stack then don’t worry, lots of providers bundle their solutions into helpful categories that will help keep you from juggling too many vendors. That was the idea behind launching Unity Gaming Services – to provide a one-stop platform that's free to get started and has all the solutions you need to build your game.

Conclusion

One of our main goals at Unity in 2022 is to invest more in building out the ideal tech stack for multiplayer game developers – which is why we’ve launched a few new products within our Multiplayer Suite, like Relay and Lobby.

We’re excited to see where mobile multiplayer gaming goes next and ensuring that our solutions are viable, useful and accessible for mobile developers is core to all of our multiplayer tech stack work in 2022.

These services flesh out our existing suite of Multiplay (dedicated server hosting) and Vivox (player communication) to empower creators of all sizes. If you’re interested in checking out any of these services, head to our multiplayer suite page to learn more.