Social and Cooperative Gameplay

This entry was posted on Jan 11 2011

One thing I can count on Ant for is interesting a new things to read.

Recently, Ant sent me a link to an article about Asymmetrical Cooperative Gaming. It’s a really neat idea. Basically, it is creating games that are a fusion of genres in which players of different kinds of games can play together in the same space at the same time. It reminds me of a project that one gentleman at SIEGE was involved in.

In that project, players were supposed to assume different roles in which to command a starship. One person would be an engineer, another a pilot, another the captain, another a gunner, and so forth. All players had to be involved in order to play. As impossible as it may be to believe, the project didn’t get far.

And that is too bad. It’s a good idea. And the game talked about in the article sounds like fun.

It’s not a new idea, either. You talk to any gamer and ask them what their dream game would be, and it is almost invariably a game that does everything. They want to kill things, and build things, and they want the things they do to be persistent, and the want to own a shop, and farm, and solve puzzles, and run a town, and command an army, and take over the world, and be the bad guy, and take down the bad guy, etcetera, etcetera.

Of course, when you talk to game makers, the answer is that such a game is not possible, too hard to build, or simply not feasible.

Well, I think such genre-bending games are possible. There are no physical or mental reasons why they would not be. What I think is the problem with such games such as the one mentioned in the article and the unnamed starship project is one thing, synchronicity.

See, we don’t do everything at the same time in order to get things done. We do things when we are able to or when they are required of us. True, there are tasks in which things need to be done in tandem, but most things do not require that. Think of an office worker. Most jobs in an office are dependent upon other people in the office. Each person needing something from the others in order to get things done, but none of those things are ever delivered, or even worked upon at the same time. Each worker gets their piece to where it needs to be whenever they do, and usually by a certain time (hopefully). When the task at hand is completed, all of the workers share in the experience of having the task or project done, no matter when they contributed their piece.

Asynchronous cooperation and competition, I believe, is the future of (and, if you played games on BBSes, the past of) gameplay. For example, a friend of mine’s stepfather used to play the same RPG she did on the original Nintendo. She would go and further the story, but when she wasn’t playing, her stepfather would spend all of his time trading items from port to port. When she would get back to her game, she would have a bunch of money to help her in her quest and further the story. When she stopped, her stepfather would have more ports and goods available to trade in and with. They were both playing the same game, and they were both gaining the joy of accomplishment, but they were involved in two radically different activities.

Think of what this would mean if this principle were applied to modern MMOs and guilds. Many different players with many different gaming styles and preferred genres could share the same successes and experiences, without having to resort in gameplay that does not appeal to them, or during times that are not convenient to them. This would not only increase the audience of the game, but also increase the emotional investment of players, as they would have an even larger group that they are connected to within the game.

Now, imagine that same MMO, but now, everyone has to do their parts at the same time. Imagine an office where all tasks had to be worked on at the same moment. Both fall apart and are way to complicated to design elegantly, but, if you take the synchronous actions out, things slide into place. That is why I believe that asynchronous play will lead the charge in the future of multiplayer games.


About jkempf

James Kempf, CEO of Cliché Studio, has made two games for Mercury Retrograde Press, learned from managing the comics at Criminal Records that John Stewart is the best Green Lantern, and once happily played a 12 ft. dwarf in Rifts.