Creating a multiplayer-centric game is always a significant risk, particularly for an indie developer.
Titles like Call of Duty, League of Legends and Dota 2 don't have to worry, because they have established communities surrounding them who will latch on to any new installment or update to the formula, and even slightly lesser-known eSports titles such as TrackMania still have a significant audience to tap into. But indies need to work to get that audience, and they're not always successful.
As such, it was always going to be something of an uphill struggle for UK-based independent developer Size Five Games when it launched Gun Monkeys onto the PC and Mac marketplace. Taking the form of a competitive one-on-one 2D shooter with procedurally generated levels, Gun Monkeys was well-received by press and public alike on its release, with, Eurogamer fans will be pleased to note, a good number of 8/10 scores racked up. The game also sold enough to make back its development costs relatively quickly, which pleased Size Five frontman Dan Marshall a great deal.
There's been a bit of a problem, though. There's not enough people playing the game, which is something of an issue for a game that focuses on online multiplayer. The game does offer local play too, of course, but those who are hoping to compete against fellow monkey-jockeys from around the world are often being left disappointed when they're unable to find a game to join.
Rather than getting upset and throwing things, however, Marshall and the gang at Size Five have taken some bold steps to attempt to rectifiy this unfortunate situation, starting with a significant change to the way the game is being sold. Now, rather than just buying one copy, you'll automatically get a second to give to a friend, meaning you'll theoretically always have at least one person to play against. Secondly, the price of the game has been dropped to $5.99 for two copies, down from its original $9.99 per single copy. Everyone who has already bought the game will receive a second copy for free -- or two extra copies if they already bought the previously available double pack.
Marshall has taken this step extremely reluctantly, and notes that he is not doing this in an attempt to devalue the game. Rather, it's an attempt to make it a better experience both for those who have already bought a copy, and for those who have been on the fence about it.
"If you’re a loyal Gun Monkeys player, hopefully you understand this change is all to help keep those servers busy," writes Marshall in a blog post explaining the change. "I’ve come to the conclusion that the game’s multiplayer-only concept is a tough sell, so a pricing change is a necessary evil. It’s just not fair on the people who are playing and enjoying the game that they’re struggling to find people to play, so I’m doing everything in my power to remedy that. If you’re ANGRY, please do feel free to email me so we can discuss it.
"Here’s the takeaway from this, for any indie dev considering adding multiplayer to a game," adds Marshall. "The number of games you have to sell in order to have people playing constantly is HUGE. Hugerer [sic] than you think, even. Even hugerer than your revised figure. It’s massive, and it might not happen."
Sobering words, there -- but on the plus side, you can now get two copies of an extremely fun multiplayer shooter for significantly less than one used to cost. While it's a pity Marshall and the team has had to take this step, hopefully it will lead to the game's servers being more active than they have been.
Check out Gun Monkeys on Steam.