If you mention cooperative game design, people come out of the woods to mention that they like co-op, but hate playing with bossy people. Fixing this is the El Dorado of games, apparently. How do you fix the dominant player problem in cooperative games?
Honestly, I think the answer is, "You can't." Actually, on second thought my answer is "Don't play with jerks." This goes for all games, not just cooperative games. But, that isn't a very satisfying answer. It wasn't my goal with my sci-fi cooperative game to fix the dominant player issue, but one of my initial ideas has turned into something that might act as a solution.
Basically, instead of hiding from the problem, I'm going to lean right into it. But, more on that in a second.
I wrote a little about my co-op game on this previous post. But, the quick refresher is that you're going to be on a team of space explorers discovering new planets for human colonization. One of my first ideas for the game was to have Traits for your characters, as in personality/emotional traits.
I've been a developer of The Sims games for the majority of my 7 year career, so to say The Sims is an influence on my design efforts is an understatement. One of my favorite features from The Sims 3 was Traits. The Sims is much less about being a game and much more about being a platform with which to play stories. Marketing would kill me for saying this, but really it's a massive digital dollhouse.
I try to be unique with my designs, at least in one or two ways. So many cooperative games have classes. It's fairly standard by now. Classes more or less dictate what you will be doing. If you aren't leveraging your class, you tend to fail. I thought Traits would be interesting more as a modifier on how you conduct or choose your actions. You're thinking, "Snore, traits are in every RPG ever, Grant." Yes, they are. You can also see them in recent games like the Kickstarter hit (and hopefully post-KS hit) Story Realms.
Then, my idea evolved. My friend Eric with Games and Grub asked me the inevitable "How are you fixing the dominant player problem." I ignored it first, but then I began thinking about it. It began to stew.
Then, I started writing a list of Traits in my notebook for a brainstorm. The first one I wrote was Hot-Headed. Then it hit me. What if being a hot-head wasn't just some token flavor with a thematic gameplay tie in? What if you had to be a hot-head? Or the geek? Or the overly logical guy? Or the loyal friend? What if that IS the game?
I then began to think about how simple, deep, and rich the gameplay of The Resistance is. Really, it's all about players acting out their roles in this small, quick, easily understood story. So, I ask you to think about my Personalities less as a D&D modifier and more of a social construct for a new game. A tall order, I know.
Think about your favorite stories. Why do we still talk about Aliens, or Firefly? Why do we attend conventions to hear the actors speak? Yes, the action was cool, but most importantly, we loved the characters, how they overcame their worst habits, and how they are somehow at their best when they are most themselves. I want to try to abstract this into a game.
At the beginning of every game every player will be given a Personality. Perhaps randomly, perhaps pre-set based on the scenario. This information will be contained on a card that will succinctly explain who they are.
The game will be built around this so it isn't just tacked on encouragement. This will be a core feature. Hopefully next post I can discuss the board design, equipment, and traits further. I plan for this to be my game's killer feature, its special sauce, or as my marketing department says, "the X."
Thoughts? Interesting? Snooze?