[Veteran designer Pascal Luban (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) continues
his series on the "megatrends" of the gaming industry, this time tackling multiplayer - from co-op and griefing to addiction. To read
his first article in the series, click here. To read the second article, click
To claim that multiplayer gaming is a major trend of
our industry would be to state the exceedingly obvious. Nevertheless, the
consequences of this trend are deep enough to warrant an analysis of the
phenomenon. As such, let's review the areas affected by the whirlwind that is
New needs in quality control
In single-player games, progression is linear; the
player "wins" the current level and reaches the next one. Everything
(the scenario, the promise of new weapons, etc.) is set up to encourage him to
continue onward. The player therefore spends little time in each level.
This situation is inverted in multiplayer modes,
wherein the same levels are likely to be played hundreds of times -- often by
the same players! Any bugs and/or weaknesses in level design quickly become
apparent in such a situation.
The need for extensive testing and playtesting will
increase as publishers will be compelled by the market to release impeccable
products. What might be the consequences of this on game design?
Playtests are likely
to have more influence on the design of game than they currently do. Playtests
carried on at early stages of the game development can bring major benefits to
the production of the game. Playtesting not only offers the opportunity to
correct design errors, but also the possibility of giving birth to new design
ideas while there is still time. Playtesting therefore represents an
opportunity for improvement and risk reduction.
Having set up and managed the playtesting cell of the Ubisoft Annecy, France studio for the
development of the multiplayer mode of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, I
was able to directly measure the contribution of playtesting to the quality of
the final game. Playtest management is likely to become a specialized function
as it requires specific skills.
Development of cooperative games at the expense of competitive
The first multiplayer games tended to place players in
opposition to one another. True, pretty much all of our card and board games
work that way, after all... but this form of gaming was soon limited largely to
skilled players. A novice or ordinary player generally cannot hold his own
against a seasoned gamer. Constantly losing is surely not the best way to spend
Microsoft/Epic's Gears of War
The arrival of cooperative gaming modes has allowed
players of different skill levels to have fun together. I think it is one
of the main reasons for Counter-Strike's success, where
players of any level are playing together as a team. A game like Gears of War owes part of its success to
its option for allowing two players to fight alongside through the single player
If a multiplayer game wishes to please the mainstream,
it must definitely support one or more cooperative modes. This is even truer in
certain cultures where cooperation is more valued than competition.