Today is a very big day for Offworld Trading Company – the multiplayer is now free on Steam!
Offworld was born as a multiplayer game, inspired by my own multiplayer experiences with a variety of economic-minded games, like Belter, M.U.L.E., and Age of Empires. Mohawk started the game’s development with multiplayer, usually playing the game at least once per day and usually never playing under the same rules twice. If someone came up with a great idea – like picking one’s HQ after starting the game – we figured out a way to test it out the next day.
Once Offworld came out on Early Access, the multiplayer community became the backbone of our testing and feedback group. We ran a number of tournaments (organized by my wife who remains a dedicated player to this day) that were the crucible for deciding which ideas did and didn’t make it into the final game. This community has stuck together for years now, the best place to find them is on the official unofficial Offworld Discord server.
However, multiplayer games are hard to make work because they have the biggest gap between games that take off into the stratosphere (League of Legends, Fortnite) and games that die off spectacularly from the negative feedback loop of a dying userbase (rhymes with Jawbreakers). There is very little middle ground between those two extremes, which is why multiplayer games have increasingly moved towards free-to-play as the default model as a hedge against the possibility of the player base death spiral.
Offworld never had quite this issue because the game has robust single-player, with a dynamic campaign and competent AI. Having said that, players who went to look for a multiplayer game often couldn’t find one, which is a tragic situation for a game built from and built for multiplayer. The obvious solution was to move to a free-to-play model for multiplayer, but of course, that could mean many different things.
I’ve had a long-running love–hate–fear relationship with free-to-play games; indeed, I even made one! However, after they did end up either eating or expanding the industry (depending on one’s perspective), it is clear now that there are different types of free-to-play games and different reasons to use the model. Our model is the simplest, dumbest available. Multiplayer is free, and we are developing new DLC and retrofitting old DLC to be mutually exclusive so that players can buy whatever parts of the game they like. The most obvious purchase is the base game itself, which unlocks all sorts of things, but there are other attractive options which can be bought and played without the base game:
- Blue Chip Ventures, a series of scripted scenarios and challenges that help teach the game
- Market Corrections, three scripted campaigns that give access to that side of the game
- Limited Supply, an alternate version of Offworld which takes away the market in favor of resource puzzles
There’s even a cosmetic-only set of skins for special buildings called Conspicuous Consumption. (See, we were thinking ahead!)
I’m very curious to see what will happen. In the two hours since the free version came out, our player base has already quadrupled. Hopefully, multiplayer games will now always be available for budding tycoons.