Keep it Together: Encouraging Cooperative Behavior During Co-Op Play
Patrick Redding, of Ubisoft Montreal, has formerly worked on Far Cry 2 (ie, best first-person game), previously directed the co-op component of Splinter Cell: Conviction. He is now the game director at the new Ubisoft Toronto studio. He started by making a distinction between player cooperation as opposed to systemic cooperation. He referenced a blog post entitled Tahrir: The Game, posing the hypothetical scenario about making a game dealing with non-violent revolutions. "There's a misunderstanding that [...] through the fabric of the twitterverse" that revolutions are somehow giving rise to these revolutions, but that's a fallacious thought. Revolutions start from within a country with people dealing in high-stakes, dangerous situations banding together and forming strong social bonds with one another.
"Players become invested in the success of a collaborative partners" because of that ongoing process of negotiation with other players. It converts selfish motives into those associated with the collective goal of the group.
Redding went on to talk about Minecraft and a server he played on with a bunch of friends -- but, on this server, he actually rarely sees any of his friends on this server. It's largely a server with people building things of their own will. A few weeks ago, he took a break from the game and "it wasn't really a hard break to take." He then signed on a few weeks later, though, and he opened the server and was greeted by these giant land masses and statues and in his absence his friends have created some amazing Inception-like cityscape. "Players respond very, very positively to this collective agency."
"Why do players cooperate?," Redding asked. "How do we achieve the conditions in which shared intentionality" arises in large, big-budget AAA games. Redding went on to discuss the lessons he learned in the co-op component of Splinter Cell: Conviction.
The first big lesson is that "players will work together to optimize system input." In the detection model for Splinter Cell: Conviction, "2x the players [does not equal] 2x the detections" since the players end up working together for their common cause, despite that this is theoretically very possible. The next lesson Redding and his team learned is that "Shared intentionality promotes individual self-expression." At the high-level, players developer strategies. At the mid-level, they create individual, lower scope plans. At the low-level, players make riskier choices in co-op than they do in single-player. And, in mastery, players in co-op are more willing to explore optional paths because they "know that they have a more reasonable chance of regrouping with their team and trying another approach if it doesn't work out."
"Players derive satisfaction from meaningful cooperation" and this meaningful cooperation results in players enjoying the game more. So much so, that players are much more willing to forgive flaws of the game than they are in single-player.
Redding then goes into formal design tools and starts looking for genre-agnostic design tools and tools that are systemic. He starts this discussion with "cooperative dynamics," using the same notion of dynamics as Clint Hocking talking about on Wednesday. "Dynamics are what deliver the final game experience." Redding lists some of the dynamics that they used in Splinter Cell: Conviction, such as "gating/tethering" (a very prescriptive dynamic), "'exotic challenges" ("altered camera/controls for some players"), "punitive systems" and "buffing systems," "assymetric abilities," "survival/attrition," and "combined actions." In explicating the "combined action" dynamic, Redding elaborated with a definition I really liked: "Any game challenge attacks a discrete set of player skills: precision, timing, measurement, management, tactical choice, strategy, puzzle-solving." Beyond this, the solution to the challenge is largely left to player choice.
Redding closed with some of the lessons that he and his team learned from their experience on Splinter Cell: Conviction.