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Single player vs. multiplayer | A generational changing of the guards or a bifurcation of gamer behaviours?

Cover image for Single player vs. multiplayer | A generational changing of the guards or a bifurcation of gamer behaviours?

Photo: Markus Spiske

Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

Though the roots of the multiplayer mode go back decades, online multiplayer games have been taking the world by storm in more recent years.

Here is where things stand at the moment:

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57% of gamers prefer single-player over multiplayer games, compared to 22% who prefer multiplayer games. While the overall preference for the single player mode holds true across all age segments, the degree to which the single player mode is preferred differs significantly with age. For older gamer segments (35+), the single-player mode is mainstream and preference for multiplayer games remains niche. However, the younger the gamer, the less this difference is pronounced. Among gamers younger than 35 years old, the sum of those who prefer multiplayer games and those with no strong preference already surpasses the penetration of those who prefer single-player gameplay. It shows what the future of gamers will look like. Multiplayer modes are unlikely to take over the gaming world fully, but they will sit equally alongside the single-player genre. In doing so, multiplayer addresses a new gamer need / preference that has arisen over time. Alongside the traditional use case of escapisma pioneered by single player, multiplayer modes often cater to a different set of needs – increasing the ability to socialise, express, and coexist in a digital environment with peers.

There are a number of reasons for this age-defined dynamic. From having a reference to what each gamer grew up with during their formative years (20 years ago, multiplayer gameplay was less of a central focus in games than today), through to the slower reaction times of older segments putting them at a disadvantage online, and to older players having less time to allocate to gaming.

The rise of multiplayer modes will continue as it is supported both by the demand of consumers and the supply from games developers. For consumers, it provides an additional use case – the ability to socialise and self-express in the digital environment. For games developers, doubling down on multiplayer makes sense from the commercial perspective, as multiplayer gamers spend more time and money on games than single player preferring gamers. Therefore, there are significant tailwinds ahead for the growth of multiplayer games in the short to mid-term.

However, as this happens, those who prefer single-player gameplay may get left behind. Companies therefore need to think about how to strike the right balance.

 

Games companies need to be aware of both distinct segments and understand their key characteristics to optimise product roadmaps and marketing strategies effectively and not leave money (or users) on the proverbial table.

MIDiA is publishing a report profiling the multiplayer vs. single-player gamer segments next week. Get in touch if you would like to get a hold of it and discuss its implications for your particular case.

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