Everybody thinks their friends are awesome. Having a goal, punching it in the throat, and getting shit done is awesome, too. And clearly, based on the fact that you’re reading this on a website dedicated to video games, they’re pretty awesome. So bringing friends, a common goal, and video games together should be TRIPLE AWESOME.
But it’s not. Maybe double awesome, at best.
You see, one problem has followed around cooperative play like an overly talkative NPC – actually getting your friends together for that game you guys promised to “only play as a team.” Sure, in that glorious time as a teenager, where you’ve got a driver’s license and a part-time job to fuel your antics, getting a team together to eviscerate the Locust or hit the mean Streets of Rage presents only a minor obstacle. Make the terrible choice to become an adult, however, and suddenly things fall apart.
Even in the age of smartphones and constant Twitter updates, coordinating time for hangouts can be a monstrous ordeal. People have stuff to do. Jobs, shopping, cleaning the house, doctor’s appointments, kids, sleeping, and all sorts of other lame things clog up the days, pushing those wonderful co-op sessions farther and farther into “maybe some other time” territory.
Until Draw Something changed the game a few months ago, that is. The Pictionary-on-the-go design, throwing drawings back and forth via iPad or iPhone, removed the time limitations for each turn, letting amateur artists get to their creations on their own schedule. If a friend happens to pay attention enough, games could run quickly, but otherwise falling into a pleasant distraction a few times a day. More ambitious, or addicted, players could have multiple games running simultaneously, ensuring a constant flow between themselves and anyone willing to doodle.
So how did this change co-op? Simple. You can finally play when your friends aren’t around/actively playing and still keep your bro-pact to tackle the title together.
Of course, Draw Something isn’t the first game to use the internet and delayed turn responses to enable play without friends on hand. A few Facebook board games and other iPhone apps like Words with Friends have used similar systems, though almost always in a competitive focus.
Bringing that always-at-hand, turn-based aspect into cooperative play earns Draw Something special recognition. The sudden fame and outrageous peak of 15 million active players only two months into the game’s life proves just how infectiously successful the model could be.
The possibilities for adapting this delayed co-op/multiple simultaneous games approach into other genres should strike indie developers with wide-eyed wonder. It perfectly encapsulates the true power of smartphone gaming — fast, controlled bursts of fun anywhere and with anyone. So what else could be designed to play like this?
How about a turn-based RPG where players delve through dungeon challenges with a partner and level upon completion, yet have freedom to visit towns or strike out on adventures with others simultaneously? Or a puzzle game akin to Myst that allows players to explore areas/experiment individually, then come together to compare notes and put their ideas into practice? Let’s not forget about multi-app functionality, allowing people to talk on their phone while playing as a built-in feature.
Anything that encourages gamers to play in tiny section, with multiple friends, and allows breaks between games could be adopted to fit this style. And if you want to play with a buddy at hand, and can actually manage it, then delayed cooperative works just as well.
Finally, playing with your friends while also ignoring their dumb faces can be managed efficiently.