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Say you have a multiplayer-only game in which players are randomly paired head-to-head against a random online player...

How do get such a beast off the ground?

You need enough players online at all times such that any random player game request will be paired with someone else's request.

Chicken and egg ... You need players to play but without players to play no players will play!

How do I reformulate the problem to make this work?

This happened to me a while back and I haven't come up with anything useful since. https://github.com/fictorial/Rock-Paper-Scissors-World-Masters-iOS

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4 Answers 4

You, the rest of your team and maybe friends should play the game a lot in the beginning, always making sure there is a player online.

If it's a game with no involvement between the players that make them do choises, record people's games and play them back to the next player. E.g:

You vs. Player A, record player a

Player B comes a long later, play back player A's game against him and record player B.

This seems much more realistic than bots, and they actually will play against other profiles.

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1  
That's actually quite smart, except if user input depends on real life opponent input. Does this actually happen in commercial games? –  Jake May 8 '12 at 5:19
    
I think it happens in multiplayer tetris (facebook) if you don't specify an opponent. I can pause the game and continue play as I like without anyone noticing, it seems. –  Matsemann May 8 '12 at 5:23
    
Yes, I was online playing constantly at the beginning. I also tried to recruit people and it almost seemed to work. Unfortunately bots are out since this was for iOS in particular... I'd need N iOS devices for N bots. –  z8000 May 8 '12 at 6:02

That is the million dollar question :)

I assume your funds are limited.

I suggest:

  1. get as many of your friends, family and former enemies to play - beg if you have to
  2. advertise a little (on something like google ads, or facebook) to get some new players. target your adds very specifically. spend a few dollars per day at least.

2a On google, target by keywords to get players that you think will like your game

2b on facebook, target players who have liked or have interest in similar games - ie, if they like that game, they must like my game

  1. spend the time to go on forums and groups of players that will like your game on tell them about it, nicely, don't spam

  2. add social interaction to the game and, mostly importantly, give people benefits, or something they want, in order to reward them for sharing your game on facebook, twitter etc More on this here http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/GregBala/20120322/167136/How_little_changes_made_a_big_difference__case_study_in_one_aspect_of_game_design.php

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The answer is simple and hard at the same time: Make a good game that people want to play, and talk about it. If they do, they will come and they will advertise it for you; if not, then they won't and no (sustainable) amount of effort will bring them back.

If your game is not free to play (subscription or up-front payment), then you might need a kind of demo/trial phase to let people experience the game for themselves.

Either way, involving the potential players has never hurt a game. Talk to them via social media. If your game is still in development, give them teaser material, like (parts of) new artwork, if applicable, or just your thoughts on game design, or technical problems that popped up (don't let it get too dry though).

People are always happy to try something new, especially if it's free, and if you tickle them in the right way in that early phase and keep up the quality, then this problem will solve itself.

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Agreed. If the game isn't fun, the idea of asking friends and co-workers to play is pointless if not annoying. "Please come eat the bad food at my restaurant so it looks full" would be a variant. –  Tim Holt May 8 '12 at 16:33

In your case I would say if there is no one to match, just put some AI against the player. The player won't be able to tell the difference.

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2  
Yes they will, eventually - or at least they will begin to doubt your game. Players are not idiots. –  doppelgreener May 8 '12 at 5:51
    
I guess maybe a notice like "Do you want to play against AI while we matchmake you?" Once matchmaking has been made a notice could pop-up for discarding the AI game and going into pvp mode. –  kaoD May 8 '12 at 10:48

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