Out of all the things that indies do right, very few of them succeed at a successful, competitive, long-lasting online multiplayer community. The trend of MOBAs that have been popping up tend to fade out pretty quickly, the 1v1 indies have mostly scattered players with pop-in-pop-out attendance, and there’s a small handful of indie FPS games that have somewhat successful communities. So when I first visited the lively community of a simple capture-the-flag game entitled TagPro, I was curious as to what made the game so competitive, so addicting and fun that Major League TagPro was a thing.
Four hours later, my curiosity was satisfied.
TagPro is a simple 4v4 capture the flag game that doesn’t require any heavy hardware whatsoever. It runs completely in-browser with no add-ons or fancy graphics, so you can play it on any computer with a web browser. Finding a match almost always takes less than a minute. The coding for TagPro’s matchmaking is impeccable. Sound impressive? We haven’t even gotten to the design of the game.
After just a few games, the brilliance of TagPro is pretty obvious. All you can do is move with the arrow keys. There is no power-ramp, no classes of balls with different stats, and no perks or burn cards. Just a few power-ups and your own juking skills. Your basic TagPro arsenal isn’t in-game weapons or player boosts, but your ability to predict the positions of your opponents. It’s whether your team can communicate with each other in an efficient way. It’s how good your map awareness is. It’s whether or not you can pull off a sick juke to get the third capture.
You get better at the game by understanding how other people play it. This takes out the traditional goals of being able to twitch faster, memorizing keyboard shortcuts, and practicing muscle memory until you’re reciting button commands in your sleep. You just have to understand your opponent’s play style as well as you understand your own. Through this, TagPro’s skill ceiling is never-ending. There are always new players with strategies that you can’t predict, or new strategies that you might find you want to adopt.
Nintendo’s famous Mario Kart series is a great racing game. Why? Because rubber-banding (a common racing game concept that gives players in the back of the pack an advantage) is built directly into the mechanics of the game as usable items. In TagPro, the game is balanced because human prediction is never 100 percent accurate. You might think you know how to juke a player, but you’ll never be sure it will work. Humans are predictable, but not infallible; TagPro will always be a balanced multiplayer game because of this.
But if you’re a game designer, you want to know why this is popular. You want to know why a multiplayer game that’s primitive in every area (besides networking) is getting media coverage, while your multiplayer game is not. Is TagPro just a fad, a dumb little web game that will fade out and be forgotten, or is it something else entirely?
TagPro is an amazing game. Take another look at it. A game that uses the arrow keys and cruder-than-crude graphics is an amazing game. A game with mechanics that you can learn in literally 60 seconds is an amazing game. Game designers don’t have to go all-out and have some grandiose, awe-inspiring scope for a game’s multiplayer! Just focus on what you think is fun, and what you think people will enjoy playing. Don’t overthink things. Don’t freak out over the smallest details. In the multiplayer arena, less is always more. Make things easy to learn and impossible to master. But, if you take one game development note away from this article, make it this one: Your scope does not need to be big for your game to be big.
Now, go play some TagPro. I’ll see you on Origin, ballers.