Multiplayer games were all over the place over the past decade when it comes to focus. When the 2010s roared out of the time gates, the games industry was still trying to replicate World of Warcraft’s success with all sorts of MMO clones. Eventually, though, it became clear that was never going to happen, not even for Blizzard itself. That’s when we began seeing rapidly shifting trends, from Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) to survival games; then it was briefly the time of hero shooters before battle royale games came to steal everyone’s dinner.
Even beyond these trends, there were surprise stories from independent developers such as Rocket League and Path of Exile, which is heartening for the future of multiplayer games, where we hope players won’t be separated anymore based on their platform of choice. Without further ado, though, here’s our Top 10 list.
Epic’s title had a very peculiar history. First announced in 2011, the game went through a slow development phase that didn’t necessarily bode well for the game’s release. The core gameplay was meant to be a Player-versus-Environment (PvE) cooperative experience reminiscent of Minecraft mixed with Left 4 Dead. This is how the game eventually launched in 2017 as a paid early access, but then this mode was renamed ‘Save the World’ once Epic came up with the Free-to-Play Battle Royale mode.
The rest is history. Fortnite Battle Royale has managed to entertain hundreds of millions of players, eclipsing any other online title and entering the realm of cultural phenomenons. In fact, the game now hosts all sorts of in-game events, from concerts to blockbuster movie previews. Regardless of how you may personally feel about it, Fortnite simply couldn’t be taken off any multiplayer games list.
Before Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was the breakthrough battle royale game. Sure, there was H1Z1: King of the Kill before it, but it was nothing on the level we’ve seen with PUBG.
Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene, who had come up with the DayZ: Battle Royale mod and then was a consultant for Sony Online Entertainment on H1Z1: King of the Kill, managed to refine his battle royale formula into something so compelling to attract dozens of millions of players across various platforms. The PC/console game turned out to be the top-grossing ‘premium’ (non-F2P) title for two consecutive years in 2017 and 2018, while PUBG Mobile continues to beat Fortnite on mobile devices for number of installations.
While his creature continues to entertain plenty of battle royale fans who prefer a more realistic shooter experience when compared to Fortnite, Greene is now working on an entirely new project with the eyes of the entire industry on him.
Truth to be told, the first version of Final Fantasy XIV would be topping any charts for the flop of the decade. However, Square Enix managed to stage the greatest comeback in the history of multiplayer games for its flagship MMORPG. They did everything right, choosing to take down the game (with a memorable apocalyptic in-game story event to boot) in order to essentially remake many aspects of Final Fantasy XIV. Naoki Yoshida successfully led the incredibly ambitious undertaking and to this day the resulting game, re-released in August 2013, continues to attract millions of players with new story-focused expansions and continuous updates.
GTA Online launched a couple of weeks after the incredibly successful release of Grand Theft Auto V. It didn’t make a huge splash at first, but Rockstar kept improving it over time and it did so without requiring players to pay a dime for additional content.
This strategy proved to be extremely successful, as GTA Online became a literal gold mine over the years for Rockstar and Take-Two. In fact, six years after the original release there was a new activity peak recently after the release of the Diamond Casino & Resort content update.
These days, there are plenty of ways to have fun in GTA Online. The Heists stick closer to the game’s Grand Theft Auto roots, but there are also all sorts of racing modes, Battle Royale inspired modes, survival modes, and even lots of custom game modes devised by players.
One of the biggest surprise hits on this list, the arcade-style sports/racing game made by Psyonix built upon the earlier Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars to deliver an exciting and highly replayable multiplayer experience.
Over four years after the initial launch on PC and PlayStation 4, Rocket League is now available on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, too, and all platforms are part of the same cross-platform matchmaking pool. If you’ve never jumped in yet, consider checking it out – it’s simply a blast to play, very easy to pick up and yet full of nuances.
The latest Rainbow Six entry is just one of several multiplayer games on this list that didn’t have the best launch. However, Siege became the poster child for Ubisoft’s games-as-a-service (GaaS) business plan. The developers, who had managed to nail the tactical FPS core gameplay, doubled down on fixing and improving the game while releasing new content such as operators and maps.
The constant stream of improvements, many of which had been suggested by the game’s community, led to massive increases in the player base over the years. Last we heard, in February 2019, Ubisoft said Rainbow Six Siege had registered over 45 million players since its December 2015 launch. The game is also one of the top shooters on the eSports scene and there are no current plans for a sequel, though Rainbow Six Quarantine is meant to be a PvE focused spin-off due to release in 2020.
Path of Exile
Another incredible success story comes from the land of down under. Indie studio Grinding Gear Games dared to go toe to toe against Blizzard’s Diablo with Path of Exile; not only did they live to tell the tale, the free-to-play action RPG thrived so much that Grinding Gear Games got purchased by Tencent and now there are both a sequel and a mobile port on the way.
Beyond the signature maze-like skill tree of Path of Exile, which provides a huge amount of customization for your character’s progression, the game’s success can be explained by fair monetization, regular content additions (the so-called Leagues, most of which are temporary) and the developer’s capacity to listen to the community’s feedback – three critical aspects in most of the titles on our multiplayer games of the decade list.
Blizzard is not known for failures, and yet that is precisely what happened at first with Project Titan. The game was supposed to be an MMO shooter capable of becoming the next big thing after World of Warcraft’s inevitable slow decline. However, Titan was eventually scrapped after seven years of development as its own developers failed to find the fun factor.
Still, a fraction of the team was tasked with salvaging as much as possible from the failed project and so Overwatch was born. The MMO’s classes became the heroes while the design concept pivoted to a teamwork-oriented ‘Hero Shooter’. Borrowing a few elements from MOBAs and shooters like Team Fortress, Overwatch turned out to be yet another huge hit for Blizzard as the game surpassed over a billion dollars in revenue just from in-game microtransactions (thus not counting the game’s retail revenue). Overwatch 2 is now on its way, rumored to be launching in late 2020 and featuring a proper PvE mode this time around, which is expected to further boost the player base.
The latest iteration of Sony’s flagship racing game, GT Sport is another title that may have disappointed more than a few franchise fans at first, particularly those who missed the full-fledged single player experience found in previous Gran Turismo games. However, Polyphony Digital stuck to its online multiplayer vision for GT Sport and that is one area where the game absolutely excelled over its competitors. Thanks to the huge emphasis on sportsmanship and a fair competitive environment (after all, GT Sport’s ultimate challenge is to win the official FIA Championships), the game proved to be a huge hit in the racing subgenre for multiplayer games.
The developers also eventually reintroduced a traditional single player campaign and added a ton of free cars and tracks over the years, making it hard not to recommend GT Sport at this point in time.
We could hardly complete this list of multiplayer games without mentioning Minecraft. Mojang’s sandbox game is of course playable in single player mode, but it’s hard to deny that Minecraft is at its very best when played with friends. Thankfully there are many ways to do so: LAN play, split-screen (on consoles), official online servers and player hosted online servers (the so-called Minecraft Realms, which support user-made addons and maps).
Furthermore, there is cross-play available now (with PlayStation 4 support added very recently), so you can play with your friends regardless of the platform they’re on.
Needless to say, a great many more multiplayer games released in the past decade are potentially worth your time. We had to pick just ten, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mention a few more below.