Putting The Players Back In Multiplayer

Putting The Players Back In Multiplayer


There’s an old gaming saying that claims
playing something with other people automatically makes it more fun, but is it true? Well, errr,
yes, but things are actually a little bit more complicated than you might think, see,
recently, I decided to give World of Warcraft a revisit so I could grab some footage, and
despite the fact that I was having a fun time blasting dinosaurs with magic and running
around on a cool jungle island,at no point did I really feel like I was actually getting
anything out of the fact that I was playing a quote “massively multiplayer game”. Sure, there’s other people wandering around
that sometimes try to kill you, and you can do stuff like dungeons with other players,
but I never really felt like I was meaningfully engaging with them, all the story bits and
the quests, the bits of the game I most enjoyed were difficult or impossible to experience
with other people, most of the time you just get shunted into your own little instanced
area so no other players can get in the way. Even in the overworld, I found myself more
willing to wave to my sworn enemies in the oppisite faction than fight them, because
actually trying to kill eachother was more hassle than it was worth for either of us.
As far as I was concerned, world of warcraft may as well have been a singleplayer game.
And that’s a bit of a shame, right? Multiplayer games have so much unique and cool stuff to
offer us that it was a bit depressing to be playing a perfectly good one that just wasn’t
taking advantage of the format. That’s when it hit me. Playing a game with other people
doesn’t make it more fun, what does, is interacting with them. For example, in the indie crazy golf game
Golf With Your Friends, the default mode pretty much just permits players to putt in perfect
parallel, never really interacting. The game is fun enough like this, but if you turn on
collision, letting balls bump into each other, suddenly, you open up a whole new layer of
the game. Sabotaging other players, blocking them with your ball and having to work around
the fact that you might inadvertently knock someone into the hole creates a bunch of new
and interesting challenges that can’t be solved by simply learning the course, you’ve
got to contend with other humans trying to screw you over as well. Golf with collision
enabled is a much more fun game, all thanks to the addition of some good old fashioned
interaction. So let’s start at the beginning, how do
we get players to interact with eachother at all? Because despite how fun player interaction
is, a lot of games slip into the trap of discouraging it, by making working alone more powerful
than competing OR cooperating. In civilisation-style 4X games, a common strategy
is to build a few very densely populated cities in a defensible area, and then spend the whole
game researching how to get to space and win the science victory without ever really going
to war, or expanding very far or doing much trading because spending resources in ways
that might actually affect other players are resources spend not winning the game. Whilst
defensive, reactive strategies are a good thing, by rewarding players for not engaging
with the other people in the game, they miss out on all the cool stuff mutliplayer games
have to offer. The trick, then is to actually encourage players
to do these things by making engaging with other players the only way to win. Take a look at Offworld Trading Company, a
competitive economic strategy game. In offworld trading company, everything is set up in such
a way that ties everything you do to other players. Resource deposits aren’t evenly
spaced, you’ve only got a limited number of tiles you can claim, and your base gradually
demands more and more essentials like food and water as it levels up. This inherent imbalance
creates natural monopolies on certain key resources, like steel, which is used to make
buildings, as well as a dependance on players who produce the essentials like oxygen for
your colonists, because any resources you don’t make yourself, you’ve got to buy
off of other players, and prices will fluctuate based on demand. This means that in order to make enough money
to buy out your competition, you’ve got to pay constant attention to what your opponents
are doing. Is there a big demand for chemicals because the other players are doing research?
Well then you can make a boatload by making them yourself and selling to meet the demand.Has
one player completely committed into making food?- it’d be a shame if you tanked the
price so they were swallowed up by debt, wouldn’t it? Are green and blue leading the pack? Why
not cut them down to size by targeting green’s supply lines with a pirate raid and then blaming
it on their competition, starting a black market war. By dishing out lots of tools to mess with
other players, and rewarding players that do, Offworld trading company creates an organic
social ecosystem that’s unique to each game, fuelling the cutthroat capitalist aesthetic
they’re going for. Cooperative games can also encourage interaction
in the same way, look at Deep Rock Galactic, which is awesome at intuitively getting people
to work as a team. The key to this is the way it cleverly splits tools up between the
classes so that no-one has a specific job, and instead you’ll all have to combine forces
in order to work efficiently. For example, the scout is amazing at zipping around the
caves with his cool grappling hook but he’s got pretty much no tools that help the rest
of the team catch up, that job falls to the engineer who can make platforms, gunner who
can do ziplines, and the driller who can make tunnels. Similarly, when it comes to bashing
alien bugs, teamwork is essential to not getting eaten. The engineer’s turrets are great
at holding an area, but he needs to be defended whilst they’re getting set up, the Driller
can deal with small swarms with his flamethrower, and smash the armour on big guys with his
drill, but his damage output is actually quite low, and so other classes need to take advantage
of the openings he creates. Such as the scout, the scout, who has massive damage potential,
but only against enemy weakpoints, requiring the driller to open them up, so the scout
can blast the aliens in the bum for the killing blow. If there was a single class with all the building
tools, one class that could fight enemies and nothing else, ect, then deeprock would
be a much less interesting game, as there’d be no need to coordinate between players,
you’d just all do your jobs independently. But by engineering things so that the only
way to optimise finding loot, getting around or killing enemies is to work together to
overcome the limitations of your toolset, deep rock galactic creates a whole new tactical
level and a great sense of camaraderie out of synergising your equipment between encounters,
and communicating effectively enough so that this doesn’t happen. Ouch. But encouraging players to interact is only
the beginning, once you’ve got players engaging with each other you need to test those social
skills in order for them to feel the sweet thrill of victory from coperating or competing
succesfully. We were here, a co-op puzzle game, is an amazing
example of this in action, instead of giving each player specific shortcomings that encourage
them to team up, it instead gives each player half the problem each, and tasks them with
communicating with each other to make sense of incomplete data. The explorer gets the
context and mechanics of the puzzle, whereas the librarian has all the knowledge of how
to actually solve it. You’ve probably seen this puzzle a million times before, walk across
the room in the right way or you die- but things are a little trickier when there’s
no way to work it out yourself. Solving this puzzle involves communicating
symbols to the player in the library, who finds a matching book, and then reads out
the instructions to you- it’s a brilliant test of your communications skills because
it requires you to work together to bridge the conceptual gap between each other’s perspective.
Early on, trying to describe this symbol that looks like a box with a hook in it was a real
challenge, but as me and my teammate got on the same wavelength, we ended up both immediately
agreeing this one looks like a robot in a canoe- by the end of the game we were super
in sync, and it felt awesome to have forged that connection. In Factorio, a great industry building survival
game, sees you gradually organize and optimise a factory to one day get into space, and adding
multiple players to the mix creates a really fun dynamic that somehow works well in a game
originally designed for playing alone. Multiple engineers at once means squabbling over precious
resources, having to work around people who’ve designed the factory in ways you wouldn’t
and frantically working together to avoid cascade power failures because SOMEONE didn’t
supply the steam engines with water. Organising people is just another optimisational problem
to solve, and so multiplayer fits really neatly into factorio, with the addition of multiple
players basically just adding more depth to the experience. In a multiplayer game, you
don’t just master the mechanics coded into the game, but also the people you’re playing
with. Duck game would be a competitive example of
the same concept. The game, which besides being about ducks, is also really focused
on mindgames, bluffing, and all sorts of other high level social interactions. Oh- by the
way, in this footage we’re using a few mods, and I’ll put a list of them in the description-
yeah it’s that thing no-one ever reads. See, in duck game, movement is incredibly
fast, and almost any damage will kill a duck instantly. Even for seasoned players, the
game is just too quick and too punitive for simply reacting to what you can see to be
a viable strategy. Instead, you’ve got to try and predict what
your opponent is going to do and act accordingly, and that’s good because Duck game offers
a bunch of ways to bluff, mess with or disrupt other players in ways that aren’t just shooting
them, you can trap people in nets, pretend to throw the pin out of grenades, disarm your
opponent by lobbying something at them, set people on fire, smash a window and run away
or fake your own death to name just a few. Because the game is so lethal, disrupting
and psychologically manipulating other players in order to open up a chance at a lethal kill
is a really important strategy, and this is an important part of the design because it
forces players to play in more interesting ways than just running at eachother firing
wildly, and it also creates these awesome moments of mental payoff where someone acts
exactly as you predicted they would and you get to pull off an awesome maneuver or kill
them with a trap. Of course, everyone else is trying to do this too, and that means super
tense mexican standoffs and insanely awesome gambit strategies are not just common, but
encouraged, meaning you get to see them a lot. By making dealing with other people the winning
strat, we can encourage players to interact, and once they’re interacting, we can create
a bunch of unique challenges by having the main source of difficulty come not from the
mechanics, but from the other players and the best mutliplayer games us this to create
a single experience that everyone playing can share. Designing multiplayer games is fundamentally
different to designing singleplayer ones, the role of a developer in a solo game is
of host, inviting the player to experience everything a game has to offer, and pushing
them in the direction of the cool stuff. But in multiplayer titles, the developer takes
a bit of a back seat, and instead, the game needs to serve as a catalyst and backdrop
for fun that players are going to have on their own. The jackbox series games illustrate this concept
beautifully by having player generated fun front and centre at all times. Whether it’s
the joke slinging quiplash, or the robot rapping mad verse city or the fast-paced pitching
game patently stupid, not only does the win condition involve appealing to or manipulating
other players, but simply being a part of the game is fun as well.This fun can take
the form of creating elaborate in jokes involving geese in trench coats and obscure bands from
birmingham in the 90s, or winning easy points by making fun of the fact I have a silly youtube
channel, getting to laugh along with the people you’re playing with creates a collaborative
experience that singleplayer games just can’t offer. In Monster Prom, a multiplayer dating game
where you have to try and smooch scot the werewolf and other characters who are objectively
incorrect choices, there’s actually relatively little player interaction, but the game does
a great job of making the players feel like they’re a group of highschool friends by
getting them to argue over dumb topics, and giving them opportunities to sabotage or help
each other’s romantic conquests. All this helps to flesh out their characters, creates
alliances and rivalries and generally adds a lot of depth and charm to what’s otherwise
a pretty dumb game. Even duck game, which I’m mentioning twice
because I’ve played a lot of it and it’s really good, caters to less skilled players
by having effective play create a bunch of funny scenarios that are great to watch unfold
thanks to its surprisingly detailed systemic mechanics. Trapping someone in a net from the net gun,
or accidentally running into your own net leaves a player to hop around pathetically
as they try to escape, mashing buttons in order to break out before someone picks them
up and lobs them off the edge. Rocks, boxes and even the corpses of other ducks will kill
if they land on someone’s head, leading to some awesome moments when someone finally
pulls off the legendary rock takedown, against someone actually using a real weapon. My personal
favourite is setting someone on fire, because it’s a really effective strategy, but you’ve
got to immediately run away from the other player’s now doomed, flaming duck as they
take a little while to die, and if they touch you, you get set on fire too, leading to these
whacky chase scenes as your enemies try to take you down with them. I think the key here, regardless of if a game
wants players to work together, against each other or both, is that it has to bring them
together, not drive them apart. Just giving players chances to communicate,
like emotes, taunts or a dedicated quack button can add layers of social nuance that can turn
what are ultimately pretty simplistic games into experiences with more playtime to offer
than the longest RPGs or the biggest strategy games, because the potential depth of human
communication is almost limitless. Multiplayer games can be so much more than
single player games you play next to someone else, but we need to approach them in such
a way that promotes empathetic understanding of other people, and a willingness to work
with other people to create an experience, cooperative or competitive, that’s more
than the sum of its parts. And if there’s anything that gamers and people on the internet
have historically been great at, it’s making friends, and understanding alternative points
of view. Hang on a minute. Hello and thanks for watching! I’ve been
struggling through several technical difficulties to get this one out, a CPU failure and now
my monitor is on the way out so hopefully it’s been worth it. Before I get to the
regular thank yous, an extra special thanks to all the people who helped me get footage
for these games, because this video was a bit of a weird one. Turns out talking about
multiplayer games is hard and THAT’S why no-one does it. But what kind of end of video wrap up would
this be without me reading out the list of my top-tier patreon supporters who aaare: Alex Deloach
Aseran Auno94
Baxter Heal Brian Notarianni
Calvin Han Colin Haman
Daniel Mettjes Derk-Jan Karrenbeld
Feetsalot Jessie Rine
Jonathan Kristensen Joshua Binswanger
Leit2 Lucas Slack
LunarEagle1996 Macewindow54
Patrick Rhomberg ReysDad
Samuel VanDer Plaats Strategia in Ultima
Yaron Miron Chao Thanks to all of you for being cool cats and
continuing to support the channel, and I guess thanks to you folks for watching and being
cool… dogs? I’ll get back to you on that, anyway bye!