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Developing Games with Player Interdependence

Sep 21, 2023 | Serious Game Development

The allure of multiplayer games isn’t just about graphics, storylines, or action-packed sequences. It’s about the rich tapestry of social interactions they offer. Whether you’re teaming up with old friends or forging new alliances, multiplayer games provide a unique platform for social connection. But what makes these interactions so compelling? The answer lies in the concept of player interdependence.

The Social Player Experience

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of player interdependence, it’s essential to understand the broader context of the social player experience. Many of today’s games feature multiplayer modes or are entirely centered on social play, adding an additional layer of social experience. This isn’t just a design whim; it’s a response to a deep-seated human need for connection. Studies have consistently shown that players derive more enjoyment and positive affect from multiplayer games than from solo experiences. This heightened enjoyment stems from the satisfaction of social needs and various socio-psychological effects, such as emotional bonding.

Defining Player Interdependence

At its core, player interdependence is about the degree to which players rely on and are influenced by each other’s actions to achieve a game’s objectives. In most multiplayer games, there’s always some level of interdependence due to the shared goal of winning or progressing. However, the depth and nature of this interdependence can vary widely, influencing the overall social experience.

Designing for Player Interdependence

There are several approaches to fostering player interdependence:

  1. Complementarity and Coupled Interactions: This involves designing games where players have distinct roles and abilities that complement each other. A prime example is “Overwatch.” In this game, players choose from a roster of heroes, each with unique abilities. The game is designed so that certain heroes complement each other, making team composition crucial. For instance, a tank character like Reinhardt can provide a shield, while a healer like Mercy can keep him alive. This complementary design encourages players to work together and choose heroes that best support their team.
  2. Level Design: The structure of game levels can be crafted to necessitate collaboration. “Portal 2” in its co-op mode exemplifies this approach. Players must work together to solve puzzles using their portal guns. Many of the puzzles are designed in such a way that they cannot be solved by a single player. Players must coordinate their actions, such as one player creating a portal for the other to jump through, to progress through the levels.
  3. Interface Design: This pertains to how players interact with the game and each other. “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” is a standout example of this approach. One player tries to defuse a bomb while the other players (the “Experts”) guide them through it using a manual. The catch is that only the defusing player can see the bomb, and only the Experts can see the manual. This forces players to communicate effectively, describing what they see and guiding each other through the defusal process.

Challenges and Considerations

While player interdependence can enhance the social experience, it’s not without its challenges. Balancing is crucial, especially when players have asymmetrical roles. It’s essential to ensure that all players feel valuable and that no one role dominates the gameplay. Additionally, while interdependence can foster collaboration, it can also limit individual autonomy. Players might feel restricted if they’re too reliant on others or if their success is too intertwined with their teammates.

Moreover, trust plays a pivotal role. If players don’t trust their teammates or perceive them as incompetent, it can lead to frustration. Be mindful of these dynamics and design experiences that strike the right balance between collaboration and autonomy.

In Conclusion

Player interdependence is a powerful tool in the game designer’s arsenal. When executed well, it can transform multiplayer games into rich social experiences, fostering communication, trust, and camaraderie. However, like all tools, it requires careful handling. Game designers must be attuned to the challenges of interdependence and craft experiences that balance collaboration with individual autonomy.

In the end, the goal is clear: to create games that not only entertain but also connect us in profound and meaningful ways.