The 'Monopoly' Effect

Stuart Cheshire, April 1995.

The old Parker Brothers' board game Monopoly is fun to play, but it has one big drawback -- the first player to get knocked out of the game often ends up sitting around, looking bored, for an hour or more while the other players finish their game.

"Spaceward Ho!" is a great multi-player networked game for the Mac, but suffers from the same problem. Sometimes a player gets completely knocked out of the game long before the rest of the players have finished, and sometimes the opposite happens -- the last two players in the game continue to fight it out for hours, long after all the other players have finished and want to get on to doing something else.

I think that we should try to avoid this phenomenon in new multi-player computer games that we are designing now. In Bolo, no one is ever completely out of the game. If you are doing very badly, you can always form an alliance with a player who is doing well, and work for them. More importantly, for some reason that I don't fully understand, Bolo players never feel that they are doing badly, even when they are. Even players who are losing still find challenging things to do in the game right up until almost the moment that the game is finally over.

This is, I think, the key property a multi-player game should have. Players at all skill levels should have interesting activities to perform. Bolo certainly does not achieve this goal to the level I would like, but it serves as a source of ideas.

Imagine a multi-player networked version of Electronic Arts's game Syndicate *. Say one player is doing badly and has lost all of his agents. Rather than being completely out of the game at that stage, that player should still be able to participate in the game, but controlling civilians instead of trained agents. While the successful players are fighting it out with squads of heavily modified agents carrying heavy weaponary in one part of the city, this other player could be moving his civilians through the crowds of people, completely unnoticed, "persuading" people to join his syndicate. This player still has the chance of recruiting new people, and training them to become new agents to restore his place in the game. This player also has the possibility of "persuading" a high level enemy agent to defect to his side, which is more difficult but would also get him back to a dominant role in the game much more quickly.

In this way, even though the losing player would be defeated instantly in any head-to-head confrontation with one of the winning players, the game still provides interesting activities to perform, and the ever present possibilty for him to make a surprise comeback and regain power.

(I'm not giving any secrets away here. I have not been told of any plans to make a multi-player version of Syndicate, but it would be a great idea, don't you think? If you agree you could write and suggest it to Electronic Arts <> and if enough people show an interest maybe they might decide to do it.)

Update, August 1997

Sky Knyt at AOL sent me this information. It appears that in SynWars there is network play and you can disguise yourself as a civilian -- I don't know whether this idea was inspired by this web page or not.
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 01:18:31 -0400 (EDT)
To: cheshire@CS.Stanford.EDU
Subject: MP Syndicate

I'm hoping that I'm not the 300th guy to tell you this.... BUT a
sequel to syndicate was released called SynWars that has multiplayer
capabilities (and actually a way to disquise yourself as a Civilian)
just thought that you would like to know.

Sky Knyt
PS: Sadly though, as of this date, it is STILL a PC only game. what a

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