9,000-player games are right around the corner, and here's what one looks like

(Image credit: Midwinter Entertainment)

Scavengers does the usual multiplayer thing pretty well. It's a unique spin on large scale competitive multiplayer, like battle royale meets a survival game meets Far Cry. For the rundown on what Scavengers is and why I think it could be a surprise multiplayer hit, check out my video preview

But Scavengers also has an upcoming experimental multiplayer mode that I'm not even sure how to define. Developer Midwinter Entertainment is using Scavengers to play with multiplayer design at a scale like I've never seen. After my last preview round in the base game, I was invited to a weekend ScavLab test session, where over 1,700 live players joined the same game at once with thousands more virtual players waiting in the wings to see if we could burn it all down. Here's how it all went. 

We don't play a traditional Scavengers match, where the population is limited to 60 players. I mean, it'd be a mess with this many people. Instead, we're talked through something like a theatrical event. It felt like the first day of summer camp, with a few giant test admins growing and shrinking at will, roaming the snowy mountainside. 

With booming voices, they begin shepherding over a thousand players through some simple social activities. We're asked to use our emote wheels to wave a blue stick for yes and a yellow one for no. "Is electronic music the best kind of music?" the tree-sized man shouts. A sea of yellow. There's no dedicated emote for clarifying that while I don't like the bulk of popular EDM, experimental acts like Aphex Twin and Actress are some of the finest—never mind.

(Image credit: Midwinter Entertainment)

"Everyone from North America over here with me!" shouts another giant avatar. Another: "And everyone from Europe over here with me!" The crowds spilt, a couple dozen stragglers left running around aimlessly, like they'd lost connection with the hive mind. I'm hoping we'll sort by favorite colors next, but instead the test leaders play tennis. With us. They're equipped with a force push ability, and send dozens, sometimes hundreds of players flying across the scene at once. Two large glowing men, playing catch with the proletariat. To think anyone said games aren't political. 

After the admins' cackling stops, we're guided to a cliffside. Meteors fall from the sky and crash into the mountainside, a towering—like, literally tower-sized—yellow admin emerging from the impact of one. It's Josh Holmes, co-founder and CEO of Midwinter Entertainment. He talks for a while, thanking the community before announcing Scavengers' Early Access release date.

And then we're let loose again, this time down the mountainside. Crouchsliding in Scavengers maintains momentum like Apex Legends or Tribes, and the pants are apparently made of an as yet unknown form of frictionless matter that allows the wearer to glide across any surface unimpeded. Thus, my ass became a snowboard and the mountainside, SSX Tricky. OK, so there's no trick system, but Scavengers' light cel-shaded look sure reads as SSX at a glance, except it's SSX on your butt with 1699 or so other players sliding down the mountain with you. 

There are boost pads, ramps, deadly red splotches to avoid, and data canisters to collect. We're working towards a collective goal, something like one million data canisters, and it goes by quickly. A network of jump pads sends players bouncing back up the mountain for another run, but I take pause to soak in the surreal scene. The sheer amount of players and spectrum of efficiency between them all spreads all 1,700 of them out just so. It's almost as if there's a continuous line of avatars sliding down the mountain and flying through the air back up. But it's not replay data or AI controlled ghosts—every single one is a human. A brain. A body. 

VIDEO: Hands-on with Scavenger's competitive multiplayer mode. How it works and what we think so far. 

This is weird. I'm into it. 

We form a conga line that stretches the entire length of a frozen lake. Our little gods play tennis with us again. Then the admins spawn in tens of thousands of monsters from the sky and equip everyone in the lobby with spiked clubs. We're told to split into two groups. One will 'hold the line' while the other breaks through and guides an admin to the dropship. Unfortunately, there is no Revolution! emote.  

We manage to hit a total population of 9600 or so

Watching the strange social dynamics of a crowd that big is fascinating, like teachers trying to corral kindergarteners up when the recess bell rings. Some stragglers in the distance, picking grass, ignoring every request, some excitable players failing to hold the line, sprinting out to the monsters the moment they appear, and the resolute teacher's pets like myself holding the line as instructed, tragically obedient to the bone. The scene descends into chaos before long, with everyone vying for a piece of monster. Their HP isn't balanced for a crowd of 1,700 players, as the admins quickly realize. The collective body of players washes over the mobs of fleshy creatures. Earth is squeaky clean. An ideal monster apocalypse outcome, really.   

Before we leave, the admins want to push the testing environment and spawn in thousands more virtual players. While they aren't people with bodies and brains, the environment registers them as players. We manage to hit a total population of 9,600 or so, the admins apologizing to the live testers for any stress on their local machines. I have a 3080 and Scavengers has DLSS support, so while my internal resolution blurs a bit and my fans whir up, things stay surprisingly stable, even during the 15th wave of monster rain, thousands of virtual players enacting prerecorded routes and behaviors. 

There's no word on when it'll open up to the public, but Scavengers is something to keep an eye on, even if you're not interested in the primary multiplayer mode. The ScavLab is going to be a fascinating playground for huge multiplayer experiences, whatever that entails. I expect more crouchslide courses, collective goals, and monster slaying. But I'm most looking forward to how Midwinter carves out interesting social experiences. How do you gamify mob mentality? No clue, but I'm excited to find out.

James Davenport

James is stuck in an endless loop, playing the Dark Souls games on repeat until Elden Ring and Silksong set him free. He's a truffle pig for indie horror and weird FPS games too, seeking out games that actively hurt to play. Otherwise he's wandering Austin, identifying mushrooms and doodling grackles.