Watching people do things can often be as fun as doing things yourself. It’s why it’s so popular to watch movies and sports and reality TV: there’s an appeal to seeing things play out that is different and valuable. Actually participating’s good, too, though! We’re seeing a middle ground of sorts develop in the world of streaming: watching without being entirely disconnected from the experience. And game makers are taking notice.
As the audience for game streaming has gotten larger and larger, developers haven’t hesitated to adapt their designs to make something more suited to that format. Sure, there’s the obvious stuff like the Jackbox Party Pack series and releases like Dead Cells that directly allow chat commands to interact with the game itself. But there’s also been a more nuanced shift toward games that work well as a viewed narrative and are more procedural and different every play than they are purely linear. After all, if it’s the same thing each time, watching someone play is more likely to replace a purchase than cause it.
Now, though, we’re seeing the next step: games designed less to be streamer-friendly and more to be friendly to an audience that has grown to love watching games as much as playing them. It’s now an appealing thing to make a game a little more passive and a little more geared toward the social aspect of watching things play out.
The games we’re seeing take advantage of this most are those like Erica and The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan. The two are games designed to be played in a single session, and ones that involve you in the decision-making but also spend more time showing you how those decisions play out than having you actively carry them out. They’re designed for you to get together with your friends and family and comment on them. Yes, there are choices to make in these games, but really they’re more about talking through the choices than they are the decisions upon which you land.
That both of these projects are coming from the world of horror film isn’t an accident. Viewing and commenting on scary movies is a tradition as old as scary movies, and the intersection of that with “chat culture” is fairly clear to see. It’s also long been about watching people of fairly average skill as they make poor decisions. And yelling at them about it! If watching streamers has prepared today’s players for anything, it’s getting joy out of calling people out for bad decisions.
It’s also not surprising that one of the projects, Man of Medan, is coming from Until Dawn developer Supermassive. That game basically stumbled into streaming success by having just this sort of appeal, and the team there has moved to embrace just that sort of thing in its subsequent projects. Man of Medan follows 2017’s Hidden Agenda, refining the sorts of interactions you have and returning from a party game of sorts to more of what worked so well for Until Dawn: making hard choices and watching them play out.
We’ll likely see even more explorations of this space, that let people watch while they play and play while they watch. These new ideas may or may not work, but trying new ways to tell stories is a great way to keep games fresh and interesting for longtime players and reach new watchers who wouldn’t otherwise give them a try.