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Asymmetrical Gameplay as A New Trend in Multiplayer Games and Five Design Patterns to Make Engaging Asymmetrical Games

by Margaret Wong on 07/22/21 10:15:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 


Asymmetric multiplayer games, a genre of games where there are two or more groups of players with different objectives and gameplay mechanics, has recently gained popularity among gamers. The nature of this type of game generates specific design challenges that seek a balance between the two entirely different styles of gameplay and player identity. I was curious about how studios create engaging asymmetric multiplayer games and thus studied about ten games of this type to summarise five possible design patterns. (Among us, Identity V and Dead by Daylight are three major subjects being studied, some other games are given as examples.)

Asymmetry in Number of Players
Not only the gameplay mechanic and victory conditions are asymmetric, but also the number of players is asymmetric. In Among Us, there are more initial number of crewmates than imposters for any total number of players. In both Dead by Daylight (DBD) and Identity V (IDV), there are initially four survivors playing against one killer in the game. A similar trend is observed in some other examples of asymmetric multiplayer games as well, for instance, Crawl which is a 1 vs 3 game, Friday the 13th: The game which is a 1 vs 7 game, Nemesis Realms which is a 1 vs 4 game and Secret Neighbor which is a 1 vs 5 game etc. Furthermore, the number of players in the majority group tends to decrease over the playtime. In quite a lot of the games, the value of each survivor’s life becomes more crucial to their victory as the number of their teammates decrease. This asymmetry contributes to the unique experiences in gameplay for both groups of players. The majority group enjoys social interaction and collaboration which was found to be a huge contribution to the enjoyment of the players. On the other hand, the minority group enjoys the satisfaction of eliminating the players in the opposite group and or hiding their identity from others.

Crawl as a 1 vs 3 asymmetric multiplayer game

Asymmetry in Power
The second pattern is that the power of the players is asymmetric as well. For example, when comparing a crewmate with an imposter in Among Us, only the crewmates can be killed by the imposters. Also, only imposters can shut the doors while the mobility of crewmates are passively limited by this and have nothing to do with the mobility of any other players. It is also the same in DBDIDV and many other games that the killer player is the only player able to attack and eliminate the other players while the survivor players can only stun the killer or try to escape from the killer. This kind of ‘over-power’ helps to balance the difference in the number of players among the two groups. A similar pattern is observed in other examples of asymmetric multiplayer games, such as Deceit where only the infected group of players can transform into beasts, see in the dark and kill the innocent group of players, Secret Neighbor where only the secret neighbour can disguise as a member of the intruder group and eliminate the intruders, and Daemonical where the demon player cannot be killed unless the human players completed the ritual and send it back to hell while the human players can be slaughtered by the agile and brutal demon. This asymmetry makes the games engaging to both groups of players by creating challenges, something that the players are always looking for in their gameplay experiences, to the majority group and brings benefits to the minority group when the two groups of players are in a 1 on 1 situation. This would also allow space for the evolution of strategies and techniques which was suggested as a factor for good multiplayer game experiences.

Create Uncertainty with Hidden Information
Uncertainty has been discussed as a primary factor in play and thus games. One of the design patterns about information is to create uncertainty with hidden information. In Among Us, to the crewmate players, everyone can be the imposters and they will never know who wants to kill them when they are not aware. Thus, the crewmate players will be vigilant in the game to prevent being killed by the imposters. In DBD and IDV, there is a range of abilities for both the survivor and killer players to choose from before starting the game while there is no evidence for any other players to know what the abilities are. This creates some sort of uncertainty to the opposite group players, for example, the ability ‘blink’ in IDV allows the killer to teleport for a short distance which may let the killer catch the survivor across a wall unexpectedly. Comparable design is also found in other asymmetric multiplayer games, like, Deceit where all the players including the infected ones look the same and Secret Neighbor where anyone who looks like the intruder can be the secret neighbour in disguise.

Allow Evolution of Strategies with Hidden Information
Another design pattern with the use of information is to create space for adaptation of strategies with hidden information. To a crewmate player in Among Us, every player other than themselves can possibly be an imposter as the identity is a piece of hidden information. Thus, imposter players can make use of this and try giving false information in the group during the discussion which may lead to the elimination of an innocent player and increase the chance of victory to imposters. At the same time, they have to avoid lying too obviously that other players can realise immediately. In DBD and IDV, besides the hidden abilities of killers, the survivors can also make use of that. In IDV, there is a trait that whenever the last cipher machine is decoded, half of the health of that survivor is restored. People make use of this to buy time. They get everyone ready right next to the gate so that they can start decoding the passcode of the gate immediately after popping the last cipher machine and the survivor with restored health gains one more chance to escape from the killer before being put onto the rocket chair. A similar pattern is utilised in other asymmetrical multiplayer games, like in Daemonical, though the demon is extremely powerful to execute the humans, dead human spirits unseen by the demon can float around to hint the surviving players about the location of the demon and tools for the ritual. One of the common consequences of the aforementioned development of strategy is that social interaction among players is promoted. Multiplayer games that engage their players with rich social interactions are considered as good multiplayer games.

The hidden identity in Among Us allows players to make use of it

Good Manipulation of the Time Element
In most of the games, time is well manipulated to make the game challenging to players, allowing time for players to gather information and achieve tasks. In Among Us, it takes time for the crewmates to work on the tasks which provide a window for the imposters to kill the crewmates. On the contrary, there is a cooldown period for the imposters after they have killed a crewmate so that they cannot kill two players consecutively within a second and thus have to kill carefully when there are more than one crewmates staying together. The cooldown period of killing also allows time for the crewmate players to observe and gather any information of the movement and actions of the other players and discover the corpse of the dead crewmate. In IDV and DBD, it takes time for the survivors to do the machines and the killer has to go around and eliminate the survivor players before they finish all the machines. The shorter the time that survivors take to complete all the machines, the higher the chance of their victory. In addition, the killers can utilise the abilities to increase their chance of injuring the survivor players but there is a cooldown period before the killers can trigger the same ability the next time which avoids the killers taking advantage of the skills all the time. In Deceit, another example of asymmetric multiplayer game, there are blackout stages of different lengths of time to allow the infected players to transform into the terror form and execute the innocent players after a set duration. Thus, a certain period of time is allowed for the innocent players to gather information and collect useful items before the blackouts. Manipulation of the time element also contributes to the development of strategy among players.

In conclusion, these possible design patterns contribute to the unique gameplay among the two groups of players, strategies development and encourage the social interaction between players to make the games engaging.

List of games:

  1. Among us (2018) — https://innersloth.com/gameAmongUs.php
  2. Crawl (2014) — https://store.steampowered.com/app/293780/Crawl/?curator_clanid=34196474
  3. Daemonical (2018) — https://store.steampowered.com/app/779100/Daemonical/?curator_clanid=34196474
  4. Dead by Daylight (2016) — https://store.steampowered.com/agecheck/app/381210/
  5. Deceit (2017) — https://store.steampowered.com/app/466240/Deceit/?curator_clanid=34196474
  6. Friday the 13th: The game (2017) — https://store.steampowered.com/agecheck/app/438740/
  7. Identity V (2018) — https://idv.163.com/
  8. Nemesis Realms (2018) — https://store.steampowered.com/app/716750/Nemesis_Realms/
  9. Secret Neighbour (2019) — https://store.steampowered.com/app/859570/Secret_Neighbor_Hello_Neighbor_Multiplayer/

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