Coop Gaming on the rise

Happy New Year! I hope that 2013 is off to a good start for you. I’ve been heads-down busy with great projects — completed a tablet coop game design,  started working on a crowdfunding project, and giving an Coop game design workshop internally to a large, international AAA games company  In my world, coop is on fire – so I wanted to take a moment and reflect on this rising trend.

2012 was an watershed year in coop gaming. Minecraft – a sandbox game with no tutorial, hints, badges, levelups, or assigned missions – became a massive worldwide hit, raking in $80M amd evolving into a platform used by middle-school educators to teach collaboration in the classroom.  Foldit – a science game that enlists players to solve real-world protein-folding puzzles – announced that a self-organized team of expert players had solved an HIV structural puzzle that had stumped scientists for 10 years. And Kickstarter – a crowdfunding website that combines the power of peer networks with coop game mechanics – raised more arts funding $$ than the National Endowment for the Arts.

What’s going on here? These innovative, genre-busting games and services are early signs of the coming wave of NonZero Gaming – games and services where people SUCCEED by banding together in service of a larger goal or cause. Rather than relying  on battles, leaderboards, and winner-take-all mechanics, NonZero games like Minecraft, Foldit and Kickstarter are built to enable cooperative partnerships, emergent teams, and collective action.

Why is this happening now?  The gaming industry is undergoing seismic shifts and major disruption – it’s rumbling with turmoil and instability. I see three key developments contributing to these shifts:

1) ubiquitious connected devices (platform shift)

The games industry was built on dedicated gaming devices AKA consoles, targeted largely at a young male audience.  Now we’re surrounded by smart, connected devices like PCs, mobile phones and tablets that ALL can play games. This shift has expanded – and dramatically impacted –  the overall gaming market. Take a look at these revenue projections:  console gaming (the dark blue area at the bottom) is flat; all the growth is happening in PC, social, and mobile.

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2)  all-ages, cross-gender playerbase (audience shift)

This platform shift is opening up new gaming markets & audiences. Health games like Brain Age and Lumosity are bringing in older, more mainsteam players. Seniors are one of the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook. And increasingly,  kids are online and playing games from a young age, often starting off with their parent’s mobile devices. Gaming is now an all-ages, cross-gender, multi-platform market – the nature of online entertainment is shifting to accomodate that.

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3) mutual entertainment – social networks & UGC (content shift)

Today’s digital gamers aren’t playing games in isolation; they’re immersed in a larger ecosystem where they’re entertaining each other via blogs, fansites, forums, social networks,and  photo-sharing. Take a look at these Neilsen stats; online gaming is one of the most popular activities – but it’s DWARFED by the time people spend social networking, which is all about mutual entertainment and UGC (user generated content). 

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These platform, audience and content  shifts are opening up new opportunities to create games that are universally appealing AND especially attractive to females – and that doesn’t mean MAKE IT PINK. That means connected, non-zero-sum experiences where you WIN by building relationships and partnerships, and SUCCEED working together a larger goal or cause. It’s what the world is ready for – and there’s a wide-open opportunity to create new types of coop games that blur traditional boundaries, and deliver experiences we haven’t seen yet. 

What about you? What coop experiences have you seen – or better yet, created – that are new and exciting? What’s on your radar?