It looks like the Twitch Plays Pokémon experiment has become the catalyst for an entirely new genre of game. Its name? “Crowd play.”
Where the Twitch Plays Pokémon event used a game that was never intended to be played in such a manner, Poor Ugly Dwarf‘s Yon Hardisty is attempting to design a retro-style shoot-’em-up, Dick Starr Conquers Mars, with crowd-play mechanics specifically in mind (it’s also being crowdfunded via Indiegogo).
In this case, a player controls the ship of Dick Starr, while the chat audience makes decisions that affect power-ups, weapons, and enemies. What was Poor Ugly Dwarf’s motivation for tackling this new genre of play?
“When ‘Twitch plays Pokémon’ came out, it lit a fire under our team lead, Jean Ames, who had been wanting to revisit one of our favorite past games, Galactic Patrol. The idea for Dick Starr was born,” Hardisty said. “We watched the development and release of ‘Choice Chamber’ very closely and we began to see that there might be a new genre of gameplay opening up here. One that gave a whole new twist to collaborative play.”
Choice Chamber is another crowd-play game that reached its Kickstarter funding goal this last April. Similar to Dick Starr Conquers Mars’ concept, audiences affect the items and enemies of a platform game.
Leaping into a new genre
Even on paper, crowd-play seems to present a lot of interesting design challenges. Developers learn early in their careers that the player will always try to do what you did not expect them to. Designing around what a set number of people will attempt is one thing, but imagine potentially hundreds of thousands pushing the boundaries of the game at the same time? Now allow those same hands to determine weapon systems and enemies.
Hardisty explains how Poor Ugly Dwarf is attempting to handle this issue, “Game balance is always a challenge and bringing in a voting mechanism makes it even more of a challenge. … However, with Dick Starr, we have control of which power-ups and power-downs will be offered for voting based on leveling. So, for example, we are not going to offer an über-powerful weapon on the first level, but it might become a vote option on the 10th level.”
There’s also a question of who the audience for crowd play is and what would motivate them to dig into this style of interactivity. Hardisty seems to think that the evolution of livestreaming will provide the answer, “Broadly speaking, we see two types of Twitch broadcasters: those who are only about playing the game, such as tournaments or gameplay tips, and those who are about engaging with their viewers.
“We feel Twitch will continue to grow more and more towards the viewer-centric broadcasters. It is a real-time social platform and we plan to offer social broadcasters a way to better engage and interact with their viewers. There is an opportunity here for viewers to have a real sense of participation … a chance to see if a new kind of engagement can grow the play experience that will extend Twitch play time as well as frequency.
“For the engagement players, this is going to bring them closer to their viewers and we think that will be the big joy factor.”
It looks like a fun experiment with Pokémon Red has not just opened the door for a new game genre but perhaps even the future to social media interactivity?