We designed and built a prototype of an Audience Participation Game
for Twitch.tv that takes the spectator experience beyond the simple act of voting.
6 person team
Brand + identity
Starting in high school, Mafia became one of my favorite games to play at parties with both friends and strangers. What is for most people a fun, casual, borderline pseudorandom back-and-forth of largely baseless accusations is for me a rich instance of behavioral analysis and probabilistic judgments. But good Mafia games can be hard to come by due to the large minimum player size.
Mafia seemed like a logical starting point for designing and building an Audience Participation Game (APG) for the Twitch.tv medium. APGs are a nascent video gaming genre in which the audience has a say in the game's outcome. One weakness of these games, so far, is the interaction tends to be limited to sending commands or votes to a chatbot in a Twitch.tv stream. My team of six believed the influence and persuasion elements of Mafia could serve as a model to overcome the shortcomings of current APGs. Our resulting APG, Wolf Goes to School, leverages the game’s output to inspire lively discussion amongst audience members.
In Wolf Goes to School, audience members take on the role of a teacher tasked with figuring out which of their five students is actually an evil wolf in disguise. Each round, the audience is allowed to ask a question to all of the NPC (non-player character) students, who all give a response to the chosen question. Audience members then use this information to debate the identity of the wolf. This discussion culminates in a final vote to decide which student will be left at the playground that evening, under suspicion of being the wolf. If the class returns to find a wolf tied up the next morning, the audience wins the game, but if they return to find nobody, the class is down a student, and the game continues. Gameplay lasts a maximum of three rounds, at which point only the wolf can win.
We spoke with Twitch streamers to better understand their frustrations with audience participation games. Combined with observation of current APGs like Choice Chamber, it became clear that a major breakdown of this new genre is the forced overreliance on the Twitch stream’s chat channel for both audience interaction and game input. Although time constraints led us to keep the actual casting of votes in the chat, we drew the line here. As the interaction deisgner I focused on the audience interactions with each other, as well as the direct feedback the game itself provides to the audience.
The interaction design of the game serves to foster debate and influence. Typically, APGs don’t give realtime feedback of audience member contribution, so in Wolf Goes to School, current results are updated on the game screen as the timer counts down. As players sway each other’s opinions, players are permitted to change their vote, and the vote graph changes accordingly. The salience of vote standings reinforces the design decision to spotlight audience interaction because they are appropriately reminded they have the capacity for continual influence over the game (provided they keep chatting!)
Before coding the game, we went through two rounds of prototyping and playtesting. For our first round, we built an offline paper prototype of the game, creating scenarios for each character and presented them to a playtesting session at the OH! lab on the CMU campus. We quickly found out that our initial script was too predictable and that users could easily game the results. In addition, we found that once users walked through one or two sets of scenarios, the game was repetitive enough that it lost replay value.
We immediately went to fix this problem and created more randomized content that could fit each character. While we feared this change made the characters feel a bit less personalized, we also believed it made each playthrough of the game unique, significantly increasing replay value. We tested our new iteration through a chatting system (Slack) and had users get manual responses from a human and playtest as if they were part of an APG. We found that users were having a lot of fun and having lots of discussion with each other, quelling our fears about character identity.
Satisfied with our feedback from multiple iterations on the game, the team's developers focused on building the video game. Our team used Unity to create the video game and for game logic. In addition, we leveraged the Twitch API to connect to individual channels and stream the game. Users could type in commands such as “Kill” or “Info” and get specific information from our video game right in their chat window.
As the game was being coded, the designers brought the visual design of the game to life. I was one of two animators on this project - we animated the game’s cut scenes, as well as bringing to life all mouth animations. Learning how to animate multiple moving parts at different speeds was a challenge, but really helped to demystify the science behind keyframe animations. Since Wolf Goes to School was built in Unity, I also learned how animations are broken down into sprite sheets and called by the game’s code.
Coming from a competitive gaming background, it was really exciting to play a major role in designing and building a video game. The mechanics behind digital games had previously been a black box to me, but I now understand the many moving parts needed to ship a completed game. Additionally, the importance of the user experience (that is, the all-important Audience Participation part of the APG genre) made for a scintillating mix between game design and interaction design. I hope I have a similar opportunity to design another game in the near future.