Single-player? Multiplayer? …or a Bit of Both?
When it comes to gameplay, “single-player” and “multiplayer” may sound like opposing categorizations—and yet they can actually describe the same game. This post will cover the basics of both single-player and multiplayer game modes, ultimately explaining how a blended style of play is perfect for skills-based mobile gaming that gets the next generation to “lean in” to career pathways at a young age.
Before we move on to that perfect blend of game modes, let’s first take a look at what it means for a game to be single-player or multiplayer. These two terms probably sound self-explanatory, and, simply put, they are: a single-player game allows for just one player in the game environment at a time, while a multiplayer game is designed to host more than one. However, as obvious as that distinction might seem, there’s no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to either of these categories. It turns out that the mixed space in the middle combines the best of both.
Keep reading to find out not only how these different modes can work together but also why that’s crucial for skills development.
A multiplayer game can look like Among Us or Fortnite, in which your experience is fully determined by the presence and activity of other players. In the cases of these two games, the term “multiplayer” makes sense for even the most uninitiated gamer: you control your character while other people control theirs, and you either work together or work against each other. Seems simple enough, right?
But not every multiplayer game sees you running around the environment with other players in real-time. A multiplayer game can also look something like Words with Friends. It relies on alternating gameplay, so Player A might make a move at 2PM, and Player B might not respond until 2AM. Even though a turn-based game like Words with Friends doesn’t guarantee the synced presence of two or more active players, it’s nevertheless considered multiplayer, because people are playing directly “against” one another.
Meanwhile, a single-player game can be something like digital solitaire or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although they differ drastically, they share a commonality: it’s just you, the person in control of the screen, making decisions and implementing changes in the game. Again, seems simple.
Then you get a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s primarily called a single-player game, but it also includes a feature to invite distant users to your island. When two or more players connect virtually through this feature, they’re hosted in a multiplayer function of a single-player game.
Blending a single-player focus with multiplayer features
That idea of mixed modes—specifically a single-player game with multiplayer features—hits a sweet spot for mobile games geared toward skills development and career growth. Here’s how:
1. Self-measurement. Your experience and success during a level don’t depend on other players. This independence accurately represents your skills and what you’re learning (not what your playing partner knows), which maintains the integrity of skills-based gaming.
Why this matters: The absence of direct multiplayer meddling ensures the credibility of meaningful badging, leaderboard stats, and more.
2. Competition. Regardless of the lack of real-time competitive or cooperative gameplay in single-player, players of a blended game are nevertheless connected through contest and not left entirely alone. With a single-player game that contains multiplayer features like a global leaderboard or weekly competitive challenges, players can see how they stack up against the rest of the field without actively playing with or against another person.
Why this matters: Thanks to multiplayer features, despite solitary gameplay, players can still feel connected to something beyond their own experience and be inspired and pushed by a sense of competition.
3. Pacing. The game is always right where you left it when you need it, because simultaneous play isn’t necessary. You don’t have to wait for other players to join, and you’ll never feel slowed or rushed through gameplay and content.
Why this matters: The blended approach allows players to work through levels at their own pace, which is crucial for learning (and measuring that learning).
4. Flexibility. Short on time or patience? A base game mode of single-player guarantees that you’ll never get locked into a match. The portable, versatile essence of mobile games means that sessions can be played practically any time—anywhere—and the time-agnostic nature of this single-multiplayer blend gives you further freedom to play when and how you need to.
Why this matters: For a game targeting our up-and-coming workforce (that is, an audience of middle and high schoolers), flexibility is key. When the school year gets hectic, players need to be able to pick up a game and put it down quickly, and they can do that easily with single-player rounds.
The best of both worlds for skills development
In short, playing a single-player game containing multiplayer features means that your work is your own and your enjoyment of the game doesn’t rely on strangers, yet the stimulation of outside competition isn’t lost in the absence of “live” multiplayer rounds. For games focused on developing skills and fostering careers, this combination of the independent play of single-player and the competitive environment of multiplayer really does bring together the best of both worlds.
What is your favorite game mode or style of gameplay?