Females typically mate with more than one male despite the costs incurred, thus questioning Bateman's principle. A series of genetic benefits have been proposed to account for the evolution of polyandry, including the acquisition of viability genes for offspring. The ‘intrinsic male quality’ hypothesis suggests that polyandry increases the probability that females produce offspring sired by males that bestow high viability on their offspring. Heritable variation in viability is the basic requirement for the occurrence of this genetic benefit. By using a half-sib breeding design with a species of cricket in which polyandry is known to increase hatching success, we present clear experimental evidence that intrinsic male quality contributes to embryo viability. Despite recent support for the evolution of polyandry based on compatibility of genotypes between males and females, we show that hatching success is not determined by an interaction between paternal and maternal genotypes but rather that sons inherit paternal genes that influence the viability of eggs laid by their mates. Moreover, our data implicate a potential role for indirect genetic effects of male accessory gland products on embryo viability. Additive genetic contributions to embryo viability may be an important factor underlying the frequently observed benefits of polyandrous behaviour.