The popularity of multi-player games makes perfect sense given that they satisfy many of the player desires laid out in Chapter 1, What Players Want. Many developers see the most immediate advantage of multi-player games as the ability to replace AI opponents with real humans in order to provide much deeper and more unpredictable adversaries. This increases the amount of challenge a game can provide, and allows a game to stay compelling for a much longer period of time. Unlike game AI agents , player opponents will learn as they play. As players improve, so too do their opponents, and thus the players desire to be challenged is met. An even more significant advantage to having human opponents is the ability for the players to socialize; anyone who has played a board game can tell you how important socializing among the players is to that experience. Indeed, many people play multi-player games exclusively because they want to socialize with the other people playing, not because of a fundamental love of gaming.
The presence of real players for opponents brings with it a tremendous change in the players perceived importance of playing the game; instead of just winning or losing the game in private, through their social component multi-player games make each win and loss a public affair and thus significantly more meaningful. The potential for bragging rights goes up tremendously for a multi-player game since players now have someone to brag to, as does the potential for shame at a resounding defeat. Regardless of whether they win or lose, the potential for glory and shame can make playing a multi-player game a much more emotional experience than engaging in a single-player experience. Regardless of win or loss, the players ability to socialize in a collaborative and social game such as a massively multi-player RPG can lead to emotionally charged alternate realities, where players can get married and will mourn the passing of a friend when they stop playing the game.
Finally, having real people playing the game with you can help make the game significantly more interactive since dealing with other humans is always a much more dynamic experience than interacting with a computer alone. Looking at all the wants that multi-player games satisfy makes the success of these games hardly surprising. They provide for players a challenge, a social experience, the potential for bragging rights, a significant emotional payoff, and a deeply interactive experience. When working on multi-player games, it is important for game designers to keep these strengths in mind and make sure their designs play up the qualities that players are looking for.
Multi-player games are so strong at satisfying what players are looking for that they open up entire new areas of game design and development, allowing the use of mechanics that simply do not work in single-player games. Even if an AI is incredibly smart and challenging to play against, players will still not want to socialize or role-play with it in the same way they will with a human. Indeed, when creating a multi-player game, taking a single-player game and forcibly converting it to multi-player can be extremely limiting and will prevent the final game from achieving its full potential. It is important to remember that a multi-player component is not always an improvement for a given game: some titles are ideally suited to being single-player, just as other games can only work as multi-player experiences.