Emergent Gameplay: The Next Big Thing?

After reading this article over at Gamasutra, I got to thinking, what is the next big thing going to be with gaming? My thought: emergent gameplay.

It is always interesting to see a game design that sets up the rules of play to allow for things to happen that the designers never planned for.

I recall one particular story I read a long time ago about a player who was playing a Star Wars based game that went something like this. The player was low on ammunition, and faced two enemies around a corner – a turret and some sort of other enemy. The player went around the corner and used his ‘force’ ability to pull an exploding barrel towards himself, pulling it between the turret and himself, which caused it to explode and take out both enemies. This is something that the game designers hadn’t necessarily planned for.

What I imagine one of the next successful games will use is some sort of emergent gameplay. Imagine a world with a limited set of resources and a set of rules controlling the players and the resources. I know at this point it sounds pretty much like any other game at this point, and to a certain extent, it is. It simply needs to have a broad enough set of rules to allow the players to develop their own kind of gameplay.

Like this, only more exiting.

It isn’t so much that the rules of play or the type of game is ingrained in the game itself – it’s that the players develop their own game with their own set of rules. Ever play in a sandbox as a kid? The kind of things you could do were only limited by the properties of the sand.

Sure, we have ‘sandbox’ modes of various games, but no one has really created a successful game with the purpose of creating an actual sandbox where players can do whatever they want.

So, that’s my prediction for ‘the next big thing’.

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One comment

  1. NobleJon

    I read the article. I think it tries too hard to pinpoint why Minecraft works. It makes sense: Gamasutra is a trade site, so that’s what its audience wants to know. But really, I’m seeing this more and more every day, and Minecraft is only one game. I think we’re getting back to the roots of gaming. Before things got big budget. Back when hobbyists made fun little sims and other hobbyists enjoyed them.

    I don’t think there really is a “next big thing in gaming.” I think we’re just seeing the cycle repeat. Hobbyists make fun games. Hobbyists get industry positions. Hobbyists make more games. Games have sequels. Sequels get stale. A new set of tools comes along. More hobbyists emerge. Hobbyists make fun games. Repeat. This isn’t a cycle on any sort of time table either. This has been going on for some time, and with the YouTube generation, more people are exposed to the cycle. But it’s the same thing. And it’s going on at several stages all over the world.

    “Sure, we have ‘sandbox’ modes of various games, but no one has really created a successful game with the purpose of creating an actual sandbox where players can do whatever they want.”

    That’s not true. Many games were exactly like that. Many of Will Wright’s early games were described as sandbox games decades ago, because they only had rules, world physics and elements essentially. They didn’t have goals. Those were made up by the player. It was only as they became more mainstream that arbitrary goals were added, presumably to connect with the audience, to hook them.

    “…the players develop their own game with their own set of rules.”

    That’s done all the time. You don’t need to make a sandbox game for that. It happens with any well-built game. Eventually the players create their own rules. It had been going on in Halo long before Halo 3 brought the Forge, and Halo wasn’t all that wide-open. There are many other games that do it too.

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