In the age of the Xbox Series X and PS5, it’s easy to forget that mobiles remain the most popular route to gaming — but given that there are more active mobile phones on the planet than people, it’s not hard to understand why.
Mobile gaming generates more annual revenue than the music and film industries combined, and now contributes to more than 50% of total gaming revenue worldwide, according to recent statistics. Apple, of course, has had a large part to play in achieving that figure. When you consider the amount of iPhones in the world — over 2 billion have been sold since Steve Jobs first introduced the original iPhone in 2007 — it’s no wonder that so much time and money has been spent developing an extensive ecosystem for iOS gaming.
Multiplayer iPhone gaming, in particular, has proven a popular way to link up with friends and challenge players from all corners of the globe, and it’s a piece of the industry that has only grown in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, players are looking to take their mobile gaming experience online.
Here, we’ll help you navigate the world of multiplayer gaming on iOS, from Among Us to Call of Duty.
What is Game Center?
If you’ve ever owned an Apple product, you’ll likely have noticed (and possibly ignored) the Game Center app.
Game Center used to be a pre-installed app on iOS devices and was essentially Apple’s online social network for multiplayer gaming — like Xbox Live or PSN, but for iPhones. You could use it to launch multiplayer matchmaking, add and invite friends to play games, compare leaderboards and track achievement progress.
Now, for devices using iOS 10 or above (which we figure is most iPhones out there), Game Center isn’t a default app loaded into your home screen but more of a service you can access via settings. The app is gone, but its functionality is still there.
That means Game Center continues to allow online matchmaking, linking up with friends and so on, it just no longer has a dedicated app. You can also still receive notifications from the service as you would have previously (by heading to Settings > Notifications > Games).
What is Apple Arcade?
Apple Arcade is the company’s dedicated gaming subscription service available on devices running iOS 13 or later. Though most iPhone games can be purchased through the App Store, Apple Arcade offers players the chance to enjoy exclusive games without being interrupted by the common pitfalls of mobile gaming — namely in-app purchases and relentless advertising.
The service is priced at $4.99 per month (with a one-month free trial available to test it out) or $49.99 per year (around £37 or AU$ 65). Apple Arcade’s focus on family-friendly gameplay means it’s light on multiplayer titles when compared to the general App Store, but it’s worth clarifying the difference between the two (made more confusing by the still-breathing Game Center) when looking for the best multiplayer gaming experience on iPhone.
Top multiplayer games for iPhone
With the Apple jargon out the way, you’ll be wanting to read up on the best multiplayer games available on the App Store. It’s worth bearing in mind that there are literally thousands of multiplayer-compatible titles out there, but we’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of the best paid and free iPhone multiplayer games to make finding that hidden gem a little easier.
InnerSloth’s sleeper mega-hit found fame during lockdowns around the globe in 2020, giving players a fun, family-friendly (and free!) way to bring board game-style drama to the small screen. The premise is simple — up to ten players (or ‘crewmates’) must work together to identify a sneaky imposter on board a spaceship. It’s essentially a sci-fi version of Cluedo.
Available on the App Store, Among Us for iPhone lets you play locally and online in both public and private game modes, and offers a hilarious way to pass the time with your friends.
As Apple’s long-running feud with Fortnite developer Epic Games rages on, battle royale heavyweight PUBG remains alive and kicking on mobile.
PUBG Mobile is a free-to-play multiplayer shooter that pits players against each other in a fight to be the last man standing. With regular online events and frequent file updates, the mobile game is as well-tended-to as its console counterpart, and its HD in-game voice chat offers players a way to connect with others which is rarely seen in mobile games.
Mario Kart Tour
Hysteria ensued when Nintendo brought its beloved Mario Kart franchise to mobile in 2019. For free, players can jump into the overalls of their favourite characters and race across some of the game’s most iconic tracks.
You’ll need to jump through a few hoops to access multiplayer modes (like creating a Nintendo account and playing a few solo races), but Mario Kart Tour offers a few ways to hit the track for competitive multiplayer fun. You can play locally with up to seven others in custom rooms or jump into races against other online players, while Mario Kart Tour Gold Pass subscribers also have access to member-only online races, which require more advanced racing skills.
Call of Duty: Mobile
A list of multiplayer games on any platform wouldn’t be complete without a Call of Duty title, and Call of Duty: Mobile brings it home for the franchise on iPhone. The free-to-play shooter was developed by TiMi Studios and published by Activision, meaning it’s a fairly faithful rendition of the franchise’s famous run-and-gun action.
Players can jump into ranked and unranked online matches of standard game modes including Team Deathmatch and Search and Destroy, or can opt to play a mobile version of Call of Duty’s acclaimed battle royale mode. It’s no less chaotic than its console counterpart, though, with matches featuring up to 100 players. A zombie game mode was also briefly introduced to Call of Duty: Mobile in 2019, but Activision pulled it and are working on refining the experience to make the mode more suitable for mobile devices.
Words with Friends
Perhaps a little less glamorous than the previous entries on this list, Words with Friends is nonetheless compelling. While Scrabble GO offers a more authentic word-based board game experience, Words with Friends has been around since 2009 and packs the mobile pedigree to reign supreme as the best of its kind on the App Store.
Players take turns building words crossword-puzzle style, and can challenge opponents through Facebook or be randomly assigned via a matching system. Words with Friends also allows up to 40 games to be played simultaneously, using push notifications to alert players of their turn — handy for when you’re fighting a verbal battle on multiple fronts.
Ah, Kahoot! — the multiplayer mobile game of choice for teachers across the globe is actually a great platform to connect with friends and family, too.
Kahoot! allows you to create custom quizzes to host your own virtual trivia nights. The free version of the game lets you set up quizzes for up to 10 players with multiple choice or true or false questions, while Kahoot! Plus will let you limitlessly increase that number (for classroom use, we presume) for $9.99 per month (around £7 or AU$ 13).
8 Ball Pool
A classic of the iPhone multiplayer scene, 8 Ball Pool remains one of the most active mobile gaming communities despite being released way back in 2010.
At any moment, thousands of players are online and chalking their cues, so you’ll have no trouble matchmaking to take on a random opponent. 8 Ball Pool also makes it super easy to challenge your friends — simply search their username and invite them to shoot some pockets.
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Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.
Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.