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Why ‘Pyre’ Doesn’t Have Online Multiplayer — and Why That’s Not a Bad Thing

One of the developers spoke with Ben Lindbergh and Jason Concepcion

(Supergiant)
(Supergiant)

Pyre, a new game from the studio that created Transistor and Bastion, came out this week and is receiving rave reviews. It’s a colorful, unique game that the developer, Supergiant Games, describes as "a party-based RPG in which you lead a band of exiles to freedom through ancient competitions spread across a vast, mystical purgatory."

After similarly positive reception for Transistor and Bastion, Pyre looks like it will be Supergiant’s third hit in a row. Yet despite what the studio’s name would imply, the team that works there is small. Super-small. Just 12 people make up the team that worked on Pyre, and that nimble crew is part of why Supergiant is able to bring such a distinct vision to their games, but it does also come with some limitations. Though Pyre does have a multiplayer mode, it’s local-only. The studio didn’t invest in online functionally, in part because it would have been outside the capabilities of the small team. On the latest episode of Achievement Oriented, Greg Kasavin, a developer at Supergiant, explained why the studio passed on an online mode and has no plans on growing the crew.

"We had no animator on Bastion," Kasavin explained, describing the days when the team had just seven members. "Any time we needed an animation of any sort, we had to quite literally call in a favor to one of our friends who typically had like a full-time job working at some other studio or something like that. … It’s hard to depend on that if you want to keep making games for a long time."

Released in 2011, Bastion was the studio’s first game, and Supergiant quickly realized that it couldn’t keep operating on that small of a scale. The company didn’t exactly explode in size, but the team grew to its current, 12-person size, which Kasavin says was Supergiant "basically completing our team."

"It’s really important to us to stay small. If we were to grow, it would really change this place entirely," he said. "Everything about how we operate is contingent on us being small and people having their own discipline to focus. That gives people a tremendous amount of ownership, it also puts a big burden on them for responsibility. But it feels really good to be able to have a big part in a production like this."

With Pyre, the studio made its first foray into multiplayer, but there is no online mode. If you want to go head-to-head with a friend, they’ll have to be in the same room as you. As more and more games focus on online play, it’s a curious decision, but one that made sense for Supergiant.

"If you look at any successful [online] multiplayer game released in the last five, probably even 10 years, just about all of them, the online multiplayer is probably at the center of that game’s development. … To do it properly is a tremendously huge investment that can be absolutely worth it, but with everything else that we were doing on Pyre and this already being, by a significant margin, the biggest game our team has ever made, we were like, ‘Nope. That is not happening.’"

Kasavin doesn’t mince words here. He thinks that if the team had attempted to pull off an online mode, it would have been a disaster.

"It was out of reach for us. And if we did it, the whole game would have been worse, and the online play probably would have been terrible."

Kasavin doesn’t see online play coming anytime soon, either, but he hasn’t totally closed the door to that idea.

"If Pyre becomes the next overnight sensation and all a sudden dethrones PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Steam or whatever, I’m sure we would look very carefully at things like online multiplayer. But it’s really kind of dictated by the reality of the game’s reception and what the player community kind of most wants to see out of it."

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.