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With the goal of attracting a certain kind (highly sociable, that is) of players, I have wondered what game mechanics require, or at least encourage, players to verbally (I'm assuming an advanced text chat system, with team and private channels, maybe even chat-bots) communicate with each other, if they want to succeed as a team, or at least get the best possible results, within a game.

I'm interested in anything that requires discussion; before, during or after a "match".

If it matters, it would be (mostly) a team-vs-environment game, but also allow some tasks to be achieved by players alone (team is offline), or the occasional PvP/GvG (I'm bored with the grunts).

Getting team players to talk (rather than argue!) to each other increases their "closeness", and so plays an important role as a long-term "retention mechanism".

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I don't think anything can ensure players talk rather than argue. There will always be the player who is sure they know best and will want to dictate, not discuss. –  Bobson Jun 19 at 14:08
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This is the start of a potentially great doctoral thesis in game mechanics and/or social behavior. –  TylerH Jun 19 at 15:14
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@Bobson: That's not specific to games, and I know there's successful academic work done to deal with such actors in collaborative settings. I'm not up to date, though. Could be interesting Q for CognitiveSciences.SE –  MSalters Jun 19 at 15:15
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When i play with good players, there is no need to talk. We all know the right way to win. –  Vektorweg Jun 19 at 17:14
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@Bobson You can't prevent anyone from arguing, if they want to. What I meant was that I'd prefer ideas/mechanics the encourage positive/friendly discussions, rather then just arguing/taunting. –  Sebastien Diot Jun 19 at 18:42

7 Answers 7

up vote 13 down vote accepted

A useful mechanic is to provide each player with only a part of the solution. This works especially well if certain classes can have information others don have. For example there could be a sort of "seer" class that can get information about the enemies that other players cannot. This means that the other players in order to succeed must have information from the seer. Another option is to require cooperation by making the game strategic, you can easily see that in a game like WoW players must first communicate who can "tank" and who can heal. This means that they communicate a bit before they attack and during the fight they might try to attack at the same time. What you should avoid if you want a lot of coordination is making action speak much louder then words, in team fortress for example it's often faster to inform your team mate that you are not a spy by shooting then by saying something, that means that players are not talking but taking actions (through that might not be so bad). Lastly it's important that the phasing is not so fast that the players cannot speak in (so if it required 2 seconds to get out a message in a fast fps then nobody is going to do it).

Another thing to to do is allow players to organize a form of groups/clans/alliances. If people are easily able to find the people they enjoyed working with again then they are likely to stick together in the future.

Additionally think about giving them items to trade with, this works especially well if certain items can only be used by certain classes, for example say we have a healer class who uses a healer staff. Let's say that this staff can be upgraded but doing so require a set of really hard to get items. These items drop at random time from all types of monsters. Of course now every player is going to find these items meaning that they can try to sell or trade them with the healers thus encouraging cooperation.

A last interesting mechanic I found a long time ago was where players would be able to "share" with others, sharing meant that they were giving a part of their xp to the players they were sharing with and meant informing the other player that that player had "fallen" meaning he was in dead and would require a healer to bring him back up. The healers were encouraged to do so because doing so would mean that players sharing with them would be quickly back on their feet giving them xp (this works well if your healer class is otherwise incapable of getting xp).

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Good point about FPS; being able to react instantly to events basically prevents you from "talking a lot" (unless the talking would be voice-chat rather then text-chat). In other words, my goal conflicts heavily with certain real-time game types. –  Sebastien Diot Jun 19 at 10:58
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About the first mechanic, this is very close to the formal concept of Secure Secret Sharing (see Wikipedia). About FPS, one of the best mechanic I have ever seen to promote collaboration is simply to make an objective-based game, with each class having different characteristics, and players have to necessarily team up to reach the goal. A good example is Enemy Territory, which was even more effective combined with the quick voice system (press 2 keys and you can ask/describe most situations you can be in as a player, like asking for a medic, or to give one's position to the others, etc.). –  user1121352 Jun 21 at 15:10

When you want players to chat with each other, you need to make sure that communication is rewarded and not punished.

When a player passes information via chat and as a result wins the game, this is a reward, and the player will communicate more often.

When a player passes information and they get nothing from it, they will not communicate this information anymore.

When a player tries to pass information via chat and gets killed while they are typing, they are punished for communicating and will avoid any communication in the future.

  1. Give players a reason to communicate. Do not give all information to everyone and make sure that a team can only be successful when they share information with each other. Give the players the ability to do awesomely overpowered things, but make sure they only work when they convince others to cooperate with them.
  2. Do not make your game so fast-paced that the players lose valuable seconds through communicating. Give them a few seconds now and then where they feel safe and have no other input to do, so they have time to chat without having a disadvantage.
  3. Allow the player to still do stuff while they compose a chat message. Preferably they should be able to start typing, switch back to the normal game controls with an easy and intuitive action and return to the chat prompt without losing what they already typed.
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As you express the desire to generate "closeness" I think it's important that the communication come with an emotional tone. Dry, business like communication, such as is promoted in tactical cooperation, doesn't always have the same method of generating closeness.

Consider how close you feel to colleagues at college/work and how that changes depending on how you interact and why you're interacting. Some people you only communicate with when things go wrong, some you only talk with around a water-cooler. Some you write;

"Hey, mate. The latest patch doesn't quite work. You got time to chat?"

and some you write

"The latest round of testing has brought some issues to light with the current patch. I have arranged a meeting for 12, please attend if possible."

There is also a requirement here to avoid alienation - this may come through putting certain players above others in any form of hierarchy. This may be structural, in that the game may require a team leader to make decisions etc, but it could also be the result of allowing player skills and equipment to become unbalanced within the game.

It is also worth considering the atmosphere and setting you are putting the players in. Often the tone of conversation follows on from the tone of the game. A light hearted game often breads light hearted conversation, while cold, serious tactical games often yield cold and serious communication.

Due to these reasons I think some of the simplest ways are;

  • Provide interesting things to find that players may want to show their fellow players. Often this can be accomplished through hidden areas/items, unique gear and unique set pieces. The keywords here really are "unique" and "hidden".
  • Allowing user generated content. It is often the case that players like to brag or show off. This can be alienating in a competitive sense (consider team play games where players can be ranked by performance) but with games like minecraft this alienation is mitigated (some jealousy and resentment can still occur).
    • Content generated as a team helps even more - working together on a project. This can also be the case in cooperative strategy or campaigns although the thing created as a team is a victory.
  • Cause unique emotional reactions. By this I really mean, surprise the player. A reaction "OMG" from one player often gets the secondary reaction of "What?" from another who wasn't in the same location and therefore ins't aware what happened. These kind of moments can help break the ice as well as give players something to reminisce about afterwards.
  • Give players breathing room in the game. Allow for breaks to discuss and chat. Games like borderlands have this by giving you room to chat about the last battle before the next begins and tactical discussion is often provoked during levelling up, trading gear, picking a mission and shopping.
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Lots of good points. "Consider how close you feel to colleagues at college/work." This made me laugh. Although I'll note that some office teamwork feels a lot like team-based FPS, for example, when you deployed a new version of your server-application on a cluster, and it fails to work, thereby locking out all your users. In that scenario, everyone present starts scrambling to find the bug(s) (this happens to me about every other month...). –  Sebastien Diot Jun 19 at 11:06
    
+1 for the last point, it's very important, yet often unconsidered. –  akaltar Jun 19 at 12:15

In order to get players to communicate with each others, we must first understand why players communicate in the first place.

People do not communicate for fun1, they communicate to share information. And here we have reached the essence of the problem, information. Players are much more likely to communicate when information is necessary to progress.

Information comes in many forms.
In MMOs it can take the form of planning and efficiency, when a dungeon is so difficult it requires good cooperation and coordination, which cannot be achieved without sharing information.
In puzzle games it can take the form of a puzzle's partial solution, where each player only sees a part of the puzzle and need to synchronize with each other in order to solve it.
In shooter it can take the form of troop positioning and movement, or maybe even tasks and objectives. What if only the leader knows what to do and where to go?

Getting players to communicate is much easier in a PvE game, than in a PvP one, why?
Because the CPU is always going to have the same difficulty within the same configuration, whereas a team consisting of human players is most likely going to be made of random people, basically a bunch of lone wolves; if they had strong players, the next team might have weaker ones.

Once the players have been conditioned to communicate in PvE, they will be more likely to communicate in PvP as well.
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So much for the design aspect of the problem, but what about the technical one?

There isn't much an engineer can do, but to ensure the interface is as comfortable and practical as possible. For the sake of argument, we will assume our game is a fast paced one.

Obviously, having an easy-to-use voice chat system is going to be very important in situations where people need to convey a lot of information in a short amount of time, or even in the heat of the battle. So let's talk about what we can do with the text chat system, for people who refuse to, or simply can't speak.

  1. A speech-to-text system would definitely benefit those who don't want to talk, but is expensive and difficult to implement properly, plus it would only benefit a very small part of your target audience; how many "sociable" players refuse to let others hear their voices anyways? However, speech-to-text does convey benefits that are hard to ignore, such as the ability for people to re-read what you were saying earlier.
  2. The game must remain more-or-less playable while chatting. Nothing is more frustrating than typing, then suddenly having to take cover; "enemy approaching from sdddddddddddddddddddd".
  3. Allow the player to say more with less, for instance using predictive text entry. A long string like: "enemy approaching from South" can be as short and easy as typing "e a f s" or "en ap from s".

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To summarize:

Make sharing information a necessity2.

Make sharing information as easy and comfortable as possible.


1: Actually, they do, but since that is not something a game dev can influence very well, we are simply going to assume that humanity is anti-social :p

2: This can be done by making the game too hard for a group of lone wolves to solve.

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While this overlaps some other answers, I think #3 is a new idea. Thanks. –  Sebastien Diot Jun 20 at 21:49

I want to point out a system that existed in one of my favorite shooter games, Battlefield 2142. Now, there's a lot of cross-over between BF 2142 and BF 2, so a lot of this applies to both, but I'll focus on BF 2142.

Battlefield, overall, had a system called the "Comma Rose", which, simply put, was a 'rose' of commands you could pop up on-screen, select an option, and your character would speak it for you(and put it in chat). If I remember correctly, you could hit 'Q' for your player rose, and 'T' for your squad leader/commander rose. Most commonly, people would use their player rose to say things like "Thank you!". In fact, when the rose was removed(I believe in BF3), the community raised a huge stink about not being able to thank people anymore. I want to repeat that: The community was upset about not being able to be gracious to fellow players! I can't remember off the top of my head everything that was on the 'Q' rose, but after using it for a while, you get used to it and for many people using it was second nature.

The 'T' squad leader/commander rose was far more useful. As a squad leader, you could hit 'T' to bring up the rose, and then left click to put a waypoint on the thing you're looking at. Which meant you could give commands to your squad members without taking your hand off your mouse to type, and you could do it while running their too! Commanders could do the same thing with way points, and they also had the ability to use their assets. Their assets included:

  • A supply drop(magical ammo crate + vehicle repair box),
  • orbital strike(AoE damage),
  • EMP(AoE technology disabler),
  • SAT-Track(Reveal all enemy units for commander on the entire map - the intent being that the commander relays that information to his team by 'Spotting' them, another feature entirely),
  • and UAV(reveal all enemies within a certain radius, and show it to all team members)

The T comma rose gave commanders access to all five of those without ever taking their hands off the mouse. I could be piloting a walker(bi-ped armored vehicle) as a commander, drop a supply crate to repair me and offer cover to allies in a street, pop a UAV to reveal nearby enemy positions, and call orbital strikes to kill enemies, prevent movements, etc, and I could do that in mere fractions of a second, while losing almost no ability to pilot the walker I was in. At the same time, I could be issuing commands to my squad leaders, and as soon as they accept the order, it would show up on their squad member's screens and give them a goal to strive towards.

I can't possibly praise this system enough. It's a shame it was swept under the rug without becoming more mainstream across more game genres. You have the ability to communicate between teammates, squad-mates, and even up and down command hierarchies. I could write a book on all of the benefits I gained from using the comma rose in Battlefield - it offered complex rewards and it was so ridiculously simple to use!

In the end, and other answers have touched on this as well, what you want to do is allow players to communicate without just giving them a text chat. Typing text is expensive to any player. They have to take a hand off their mouse, find their bearings on the keyboard, and then move their hand back to the mouse. That is an expensive set of operations in a time-sensitive situation.

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That sounds like a great idea! :) –  Sebastien Diot Jun 19 at 18:33

Require players to coordinate different tasks at the same time in order to encourage them to communicate.

For example, let's say you want players to kill two bosses in order to open a gate to continue.

The first team just has to kill boss A and then kill boss B on a linear path to open the gate. That team probably won't have to communicate in order to achieve that, unless those bosses have certain mechanics that require coordination.

The second team has to split up and kill boss A and boss B within 10 seconds of each other to open the gate. This team is much more likely to communicate because they have to decide who is fighting which boss and make sure they don't kill one of the bosses too soon.

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If players could benefit greatly from "closeness" in xp they are more likely to want it. An example would be allowing players to preform powerful combo attacks (that require two classes).. for instance one player has a long recharge "spill slippery oil on the ground" attack that makes monsters slip and fall while another has a magical fire arrow attack. Combine the two and get a fire pit but only if timing is right. If players need to time their moves to get better xp, they will need to plan and talk first.

Another example would be monsters that have a strong aoe buff and therefore are far more powerful when they are together.. The players would need to lure the monsters in different directions (divide and conquer).

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