Volition on co-op play in sandbox games

Saints Row 2 developer on the hassles of including cooperative mode in the game and why it was worthwhile in the end.

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Who Was There: David Bowring, designer for Volition, the development team behind the open-world games Red Faction: Guerrilla and Saints Row 2.

Co-op was tough to achieve in Saints Row 2.
Co-op was tough to achieve in Saints Row 2.

What They Talked About: Not only was Saints Row 2 critically well received, but it was also one of the few games in its genre to feature cooperative multiplayer. In his GDC 2010 talk titled "Co-Operative Design for Open World Games," Volition designer David Bowring said that any developers looking at potentially including co-op in their sandbox game need to be aware that they're in for "a lot of pain and suffering."

When it came to Saints Row 2's QA process, almost 37 percent of the bugs found were directly related to the co-op aspect of the game, Bowring said. "You have to bear in mind that every system you build has to be co-op-friendly and that every system touched could break co-op, and an enormous amount of bugs were created," he said.

So why do it? Bowring said despite the hassles, the inclusion of co-op in Saints Row 2 was very gratifying, with Volition’s figures showing that the people who played co-op generally played a lot more of the game. Bowring said most players also now have the expectation that games will feature some sort of multiplayer and that providing social content helps make a game more relevant as well as extend its shelf life.

Takeaway: Untethered open-world co-op is difficult to achieve, so Bowring’s advice to would-be open-world co-op developers is to design everything with co-op in mind right from the beginning.

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