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I'm developing a multiplayer game, played between 2 players. But in these types of games, there can only be 1 winner and 1 loser for per match. So for each player who wins, another player had to lose. This means that roughly 50% of all players in the game are having a bad time (losing more than they win).

In a single-player game, it's easy to solve the problem of "50% of players lose more than they win." You just make the game easier to beat (reduce difficulty). Unfortunately, you can't do this with a multiplayer game, since players' opponents are other players. I don't know if there's a way to control the difficulty of a multiplayer game, but is this even possible?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Make losing fun too? \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Aug 4 '16 at 16:01
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So players in a competitive game either have fun or lose. Why not both? Losing doesn't have to feel bad, or rather, you can have fun without winning.

A lot of team-based games do this by de-emphasising the win/lose outcome itself, and provide lots of alternate goals (and even meta-goals). Your team may lose but maybe you topped the scores. Or you made the most assists, pulled off that one crazy play, or simply had fun socially interacting with other players. There are many ways to appeal to different players, a good game knows this and appeals to their target audience.

In Bartle's taxonomy of player types, the kind that care most about winning would be killers. But note that there are other player types who are motivated by other factors. For example:

  • Achievers may care more about statistics, or achievements, and not about one particular match outcome
  • Socialisers may care more about things like role playing, or chatting about memorable game moments
  • Explorers may care more about their own meta-goals, like learning new strategies, so they may enjoy losing if it's part of their learning experience

But if you assume we're just talking about killers, and restrict the problem to 1v1 competitive games where there's an inevitable winner and loser, there are a few things you can do to minimise the pain of losing:

  • Matchmaking. Make sure players don't play too many games against tough opponents and become upset from big losing streaks. Your good players will appreciate it too by not having to play many boring easy games.
  • Rubber-banding. While this is controversial and is not appropriate for all games, it does improve the experience for less-skilled players by keeping them in the game, and not letting them fall too far behind. Likewise, look at ways you can prevent good players from getting too far ahead and becoming dominant. There are many ways to achieve this: arena shooters like Quake have level designs that place the best powerups far apart and in exposed areas, making it impossible for players to camp a single position and dominate with good powerups.
  • Randomness. Add chance-based elements to your game, so that less-skilled players can occasionally win despite being out-classed. Even a little bit of randomness goes a long way, as it exploits psychology to keep less-skilled players in the game, waiting for the next time they "get lucky".
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Many competitive multiplayer games rank their players and then match players of similar ranking.

That means bad and inexperienced players will only play against other bad and inexperienced players while the pro's will only play against other pro's. When a player wins or loses a lot of games in a row, their rank changes accordingly and they are again matched more evenly. The goal is that everyone wins about 50% of all matches they play.

A common ranking system is ELO which was originally developed for chess but can be used with any game with two players and a clear win/draw/loss outcome. There are also variants of it which can be applied to games with more players or which allow to also factor in how decisive a win was.

You can also use a league system like in professional sports. Put your players into tiered leagues and in regular intervals move the top x% of all players of a league into the next stronger tier and the bottom x% into the next lower tier.

As a side-effect, such a ranking system adds another gamification system to the game because players can now measure their long-term success by looking at how their rank improves over time.

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You could handicap the winner. Make him a little slower, make it a little harder to aim, make it so that the camera shakes for him a bit when he runs, make it so that his rate of fire is a little slower, and so on. Of course the people who get handicapped will probably get mad over it but if they are winning by a huge amount it might actually make the game more interesting for them.

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You could try implementing interesting cheats or other interesting things for the looser.

In competetive games there is a factual winner and a factual looser.

You could let the looser have some fun by giving him cheats, when he admits he is outclassed or has lost.

When someone then uses those cheats they should give both players kind of a fun experience, but the looser still gets a loss in his game history and for ranking purposes.

This would only work in 1v1 though, otherwise this is impossible to implement.

Or you could make achievements or secondary game objectives.

Eg. if you have an ingame currency, the loosers gets a bonus for the amount of time he held on against a superior opponent.

Or try to portray the loss in a good light in some way. Gather different stats and point out the ones that were above average for the playerbase or the player himself.

Give the player a replay of the game so he can watch his opponent and learn, and encourage him to do so, eg. by giving him ingame currency for watching his own replays.

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