Why I created "The Peerful Project"
For years now, I've been thinking about ways to create accessible local multiplayer games.
Everyone I know loves these games ... but only once you've somehow managed to convince them to try one.
Everyone has different obstacles and excuses:
- "But I don't understand controllers"
- "But our computer isn't good enough"
- "But I don't have money for those expensive games/controllers/consoles"
- "But games are too hard"
- "But I'm not that competitive"
- "But I'm not into gaming"
Creating and playtesting games for years showed me that these concerns -- for the most part -- were valid. Games (and the necessary hardware/devices for multiplayer) are expensive, and oftentimes complex and intimidating to the non-initiated.
Until, a few weeks ago, something clicked.
Everyone around me had no problem playing the Jackbox games. Even those who did not like or play any games.
The Jackbox games are social party games, which you start on the computer, but require each player to play on their own smartphone. One of their biggest hits was "Drawful": you draw something on your phone, all pictures are displayed on the big screen, people must guess what they represent.
Apparently, using smartphones solved the issues. People already had a smartphone. They used it, understood it, were maybe even a little addicted to it.
So I thought: what if we use smartphones as controllers for games?
The Jackbox games are mostly turn-based. You only press a button/draw something/type something occasionally. Signals are somewhat delayed, but it doesn't matter.
I wanted to see if a real(time) game was possible. One where you could use your smartphone like a controller, as if you were playing an actual game. Constant input, instant feedback, all that good stuff.
After many search sessions and experimental (mostly failed) games, I finally found the solution.
I dubbed that solution "The Peerful Project".
What is The Peerful Project?
It's a collection of free local multiplayer games, which can be accessed in your browser, and which use your smartphone as the controller.
The game is hosted on a computer (or any big screen that is visible to all players). You simply open the browser, type the URL, and click "Create Game!"
Once the game is created, people can type the same URL on their phone, join the game, and you're already playing.
The games can be anything, so long as browsers (and smartphones) are capable enough to run it.
Updates are immediate. I've found that players forget after a few seconds that they are actually playing over the internet and are actually holding a phone. By that time, they are in a flow, playing the game like they would any other.
Why should anyone care?
As stated above, my goal is to help hesitant people overcome that first hurdle. I estimate that nearly 90%-95% of people thoroughly enjoyed the (cooperative) multiplayer games I made them play, yet it was a struggle every time to convince them.
(My mother took three or four tries before she finally admitted: "okay, now that I can work with the controller, these games are actually a lot of fun!")
Additionally, I want to make people play games together. These days, I find the world is growing lonelier and more isolated by the minute. Yet, everyone agrees that love, friendship, and undertaking fun activities with your loved ones are what brings happiness. They always say "I wish I could spend more time with family" or "".
So why doesn't everyone play boardgames or computer games? Why pass on such great opportunities? I want to create games that facilitate and encourage these great social and loving movements, and that's why I'm making this project.
Okay, so why is this better than other games?
This system has tons of advantages:
Quick and easy to start, no matter your hardware or situation. (It's literally 5-10 seconds to start and connect.)
Forces games to be simple, elegant, and accessible to anyone. (I will explain below that it's hard to make anything that's truly big or complex.)
Supports nearly any player count without problems (solo games are fine, inviting ten players to your party is fine, so long as they all bring their own smartphone)
Still plays like a real game and can do (almost) all of the same things
- The smartphone even offers additional functionality: for example, I can change the screen to match a situation in the game. Or I could use the shaking mechanism in phones for gameplay elements.
Surely there are disadvantages?
Of course, there are disadvantages:
It's only local multiplayer. So no playing together with your distant relative who lives on the other side of the world.
There are certain limits (in terms of performance and possibilities) on browsers and smartphones.
Creating a (good) game this way is hard. You need to setup the right signals, create two separate interfaces (computer and smartphone), balance the game for all player counts, et cetera.
- A personal disadvantage: I cannot earn income from it, as it's just a tiny website, and it's near impossible to prevent people from just copying everything.
If you want cutting-edge games, or very large and complex games, or you don't want to meet with people in real life -- by all means, choose a different game.
Otherwise, I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and early (play)tests support this.
What kind of games can we expect?
I am quite experimental -- as the existence of this project shows -- but not necessarily in the way you'd expect.
All games are family games, suitable for all ages. Accessibility is a key point, with simplicity and elegance being one of my top priorities. (I must admit, though, that this is really hard and I'm still learning.)
These games always support many player counts. (This is a habit I picked up because I come from a large family.) Regularly, they offer a solo mode as well.
All parts of the game are custom made -- art assets, music and soundtrack, any special game systems, everything. It makes the game more cohesive, allows me great freedom and flexibility, and I always want to learn and improve.
I also, however, need to be innovative in some way to motivate myself for a project. Each game I make needs to do one really special thing, which is usually also the "hook" or the "elevator pitch" that sells the game.
For example: I have an idea for a hidden role game. Some players are thieves, some are police. There's one shared screen, which is the map of a city. But on everybody's individual smartphone, they get another screen that shows what's around them. Thieves try to hide from the police and steal without getting caught, the police tries to catch them. Meanwhile, you can send secret chat messages to other players on your phone as well, to coordinate your strategies!
Another example: I have an idea for a game based on sound. You need to judge based on sound (volume, direction, pitch, etc.) where you are and what is happening. Maybe you can even walk around the room (with your phone in your hand) to explore and hear different parts.
- I don't know if these ideas work. I need to try them out, which means
- sometimes a whole month is "wasted". But if they work, man, it's awesome
How often can we expect games?
As I write this, there's only a single game in the project ("Pizza Peers"). That was my test game, my experiment to see if the concept was even possible, let alone fun and accessible.
Luckily, the concept proved worthy!
I have at least five strong game ideas outlined at the moment, which I will be creating whenever I have time to spare. I honestly think these kinds of games are the future, and I am very excited about the possibilities.
Creating Pizza Peers took me 2 weeks (including marketing, art, custom soundtrack, etc.) working fulltime. I suspect other games take 1-2 months, working on them beside my regular job and studies.
Where does the name come from?
The technology used by these games is called peer-to-peer.
Essentially, it establishes a direct connection between your phone and your computer. As long as you're on the same Wi-Fi, or relatively close to each other, this means it only takes \<10ms to send and receive signals. That's quick enough to never be noticeable.
What other technologies do you use?
Here's a quick overview:
Node.js for the server side.
A (free) server from Heroku.
The Phaser.io library for creating browser games.
- And standard Web Sockets for making your first connection to the game server.
The source code for all games in the project is online, so you can check out any parts for yourself.
Well, eh, play these games!
Or just play more local multiplayer games in general!
If you have trouble convincing people, try my games, or tell them "it's cooperative; we win and lose together!" (almost always works)
If you have ideas for the project, never hesitate to tell me.
If you have other feedback or find bugs, also let me know.
I am but one man, I cannot test everything. I am also a mere human, which means I make mistakes.
If you like this project, please support me by donating, or buying some of my work, or simply sharing the news with other people.
I earn no income from all these games. It's a passion project. I also refuse to add advertisements or things like that, especially because these are family games and kids will be playing them. Yet, it costs a significant amount of time and money to create these games and keep them online.
So any help is greatly appreciated.