From re-creations of noughts and crosses to all those incarnations of Pong, the very earliest video games shared a common trait: they were designed to be social, multiplayer games. It's the preferred method of play for many of us. Even when we play solo we like to share the experience.
Playing together has provided many with their fondest video game memories. Some may have lost serious coinage to a Street Fighter 2 machine, others might remember split-screen Goldeneye with cardboard contraptions cordoning off each player's view, for others it'll be long nights spent playing Halo online.
While drawing up our list of the best ever multiplayer video games, we looked at those that defined the industry, those that offered something different and those that have stood the test of time.
We very nearly included Mount Your Friends on our list too, because it's brilliant but mostly because it'd be funny. We thought better of it, but seriously, what does it take to get Mount Your Friends on PS4?
In no particular order, and with series grouped together, here's our list..
Pong might not be timeless in the sense that today's youth would play it and fall head over heels in love with it (presumably they'd be mystified) but it's timeless in that it's as simple a competitive thrill as they come. It's tennis, for two (as was Tennis for Two) and the most popular version of an idea many cracked in the industry's earliest days.
Mario Kart is one of the most consistent video game series out there. It's almost a genre unto itself, with its various imitators not coming close to Nintendo's greatest heights with the series. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the latest game in the series for Nintendo Switch, is the best of them all, a perfect example of everything the series does so well, from its pulsating races to its nerve-shredding Battle Mode.
The Street Fighter series has certainly had its share of ups and downs, but its reputation and recent quality (with the excellent SF4 and SF5, which is getting there) still mark it as the pinnacle fighting games. The enduring appeal of Street Fighter 2 as well, which is soon set for a Nintendo Switch version, also speaks of how iconic Capcom's series has become. There's a good reason Street Fighter caps off Evo each year.
Building on the genre-creating and genre-defining work of Wolfenstein and Doom, Quake took first-person shooters into the world of 3D. It had a single player campaign, but its multiplayer side was enormously popular. It was fast, frantic, used dedicated maps and was one of the very earliest esports. It's legacy is enduring, and hopefully the upcoming Quake Champions can live up to that. Also, most importantly: ROCKET JUMPS.
What Quake did for first-person shooters, StarCraft did for strategy games. Blizzard's RTS is a monolith of the genre, a game that remains, 19 years on, one of the most popular games in the world even when you discount its sequel. StarCraft is about to get even more popular to, with this summer's remastered version.
Starting out life as a fan-made mod for Valve's seminal shooter Half-Life, Counter-Strike eventually surpassed the exploits of Gordon Freeman in both its longevity (obviously) and popularity. Adding a layer of realism to shooters, CS quickly found a huge following that's only grown since with the releases of CS: Source and CS:GO.
World of Warcraft
There have certainly been many successful MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), like Guild Wars, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Final Fantasy 14, but none have been as wildly successful as World of Warcraft. The first game on this list to focus on co-op over competitive play, World of Warcraft was foremost about community, and its a community that has endured. Despite dwindling subscriptions in recent years, World of Warcraft remains enviable in the industry.
Picking up Quake's mantle in many ways, Halo's place on this this list comes thanks to its intrinsic link to the rise of online multiplayer on consoles. Halo 2 was the flag-bearer for online play through Xbox Live, and a regular feature for many years after its release even during the following the enormous success of Halo 3, ODST and Reach. Halo's co-op campaigns, played locally or online, is also, aptly, legendary.
Pro Evolution Soccer
Pro Evolution Soccer is, at its very best, better than Fifa. Now that's out of the way, we can talk about why PES makes this list. The popularity of sport games is among the very few sure thing in the video game industry, and for the best example you need only look at the world's most popular sport. PES is the pinnacle, reflecting all the joys of the beautiful game itself.
Left 4 Dead
For our money, Left 4 Dead and its excellent sequel are the finest zombie video games not to bear the Resident Evil name. Often games feature undead enemies because they're simple to program, and in these titles Turtle Rock Studios and Valve lean into that, making the rotting hordes a pleasure to hack and blast your way through with up to three friends, making the real challenge their quantity and more souped-up kin. Two of the best co-op games ever.
Journey's beautifully deft use of multiplayer may not serve how thatgamecompany's ethereal odyssey plays directly, but it enhances the experience immeasurably. Scarfed figures who happen across one another don't communicate through voice chat, but through chirps and whistles. Some will part ways by choice others will lose each other and wonder how, the beauty of it is in how such a simple mechanic can make such an impact.
Call of Duty
Call of Duty is an entertainment juggernaut bought habitually by millions each and every year. They buy in their droves primarily for the multiplayer, which has proven itself over the years to be the most consistently great of any modern shooter franchise. Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2 delighted on PC, but it was Modern Warfare in 2007 that radicalised console shooters with its perks and customisation options. From Black Ops to Advanced Warfare, COD's competitive side continues to deliver.
League of Legends
Mobile Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games are a huge business, with both Dota 2 and League of Legends easily among the most popular video games in the world. The strategy titles see teams fight it out with sets of specific, unique heroes they level up from scratch during each game. Selecting the right hero, and the right abilities, is paramount, creating a game with immeasurable possibilities that hundreds of thousands play every day. Given it's the more popular game of the two, League of Legends makes our list.
Anyone who argues that video games are the devil's work and corrupting our youth will not have an answer for Mojang's Minecraft. Wholesome and innocent, Minecraft is a game about discovery and creation, and it encourages players to share in both. Not many games ask players to create together rather than destroy each other, and fewer still enjoying even a slither of Minecraft's success.
The most recently-released entry on this list is here on for the execution of its first year on sale (no debuting shooter series has been handled so well, but that's Blizzard for you) and the promise of what's to come. Making use of MOBA elements, Overwatch is a hero-based shooter with a cast fo exceptionally well-realised characters.Call of Duty, Battlefield and Star Wars will all continue to be very popular multiplayer shooters, but Overwatch is something different, and it will be around for a long time to come.