How would the experience of playing local multiplayer games online affect them, mechanically, socially, or otherwise? What about physical proximity is important to the way local multiplayer games are played? How might the design decisions have been influenced by local play?
Local multiplayer has been a long-standing popular game genre. It builds an experience in which players enjoy games with their friends in person locally, which is not found in other genres. Therefore, many local multiplayer games focus their mechanics on building interpersonal dynamics that create fellowships as their main aesthetics.
What makes local multiplayer games unique is the fact that players usually enjoy them with real-life friends rather than strangers or online friends. Thus, interpersonal relationships become a critical element in the experience of games, and game designers must consider them while making design decisions. Given the fact that players would like to have fun with their friends rather than harshly compete against each other, which means most of local multiplayer players are mainly “socializers” instead of “killers” or “achievers”, player designers should ease the competitiveness and raise the cooperative and social elements in the game. For instance, Overcooked initially had a life system in which if the players fail to deliver dishes for 3 times, the game is over. However, this system makes the players blame on each other and feel upset when they lose, thereby breaking the fellowships the game intended to create. Thus, the designer of Overcooked revises his design to a scoring system which never lets the players lose, thereby creating better fellowships.
Communication is also an inextricable element in local multiplayer gameplay. It gives a sense of teamwork and fosters the “fun” between players. In order to make communication critical in game dynamics, information asymmetry is a method that is commonly used. For example, Spaceteam builds its experience entirely on information asymmetry and the following communication between players. In Spaceteam, players can only win the game by communicating with each other because they all have commands that they cannot execute and buttons that they do not know when to execute. The same principle applies to Overcooked, too. Although, technically, players are able to perceive all information in the game, in real gameplay players only focus on their specific jobs, cutting tomatoes or cooking soups, leaving other players’ demand and supplies unnoticed. They are simply too busy to worry about others since the mechanics want them to be so. The players just have to shout out to let others know that they need more sliced tomatoes. Hence, that is also a form of information asymmetry that encourages the players to communicate with each other.
Local multiplayer differs from online local multiplayer mostly in regards to the lack of confidence between players. Designers simply cannot assume that all players who are put into random matchmaking can form a harmonious team. Such lack of confidence can be attributed to the lack of communication -- possibly a result of the fact that not all players have mics and language differences -- and the disparity between player types which results in a situation where “explorers” and “socializers” just hardly get along with “killers” and “achievers”. Despite the choice given to players that they may team up with their friends, it is unrealistic for designers to not consider the experience between strangers. An example for that would be Helldivers. Helldivers is a four-player online co-op twin-stick shooter in which players can team up with their friends or matchmake with strangers, and in online matchmaking the experience is often frustrating, because different players have different skill levels and play styles. In order to make up for the flawed experience caused by the lack of confidence between players, most of its objectives must be allowed to be achieved by a single player in its design decisions, though it is a co-op game. Thus, unlike Overcooked and Spaceteam, which, due to their information asymmetry design as stated above, must be played with teamwork, Helldivers does not contain any information asymmetry.
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