As games continue to focus more and more on compelling narratives and unique storytelling techniques, a new type of consumer is becoming common: The passive observer; someone who doesn't touch the controller, but instead watches the player make decisions — or helps make those decisions for them both.
Quantic Dream founder David Cage is familiar with this type of gamer, having heard from fans of Heavy Rain who played through the game with a "puppet master" who called the shots while another player held the controller.
"That was a single-player experience, but since the game was released three years ago in 2010, we've talked to many players who said 'Okay, this is the only game I played with a friend who doesn't like video games, with a girlfriend, my wife, my father, my grandmother,'" Cage told Polygon during an interview at Gamescom. "They all tell exactly the same story."
The studio's next game, Beyond: Two Souls, will feature two methods of catering to these observers. The first is to actually put a controller in their hands, giving them control of the game's second character, the ghostly entity known as Aiden. With a button press, the two players can pass control back and forth, utilizing Jodie — the game's main character, portrayed by Ellen Page — and Aiden to work their way through each scene.
It's an interesting idea, but the two can't play at the same time — so why not just have two players pass a single controller back and forth?
"That's what we thought initially, why not just pass it around," Cage said. "We tested it, and we realized it was a very different experience to just have the controller in your hands, and to wait for the second character to play. There are traditional video games doing the same thing — if you play Tekken Tag, for example, you play as a team but there's just one guy playing, and the other one is waiting for him to pass. It's exactly the same thing in Beyond, and we thought it created a very different dynamic."
"There's no reason why we can't talk about games."
The second method of incorporating those players was to do away with the DualShock controller altogether. According to Cage, one of the reasons passive observers don't get more involved with the game is because they simply don't know how to approach the controller's buttons, sticks and triggers. Using Beyond Touch, players will be able to control Jodie or Aiden using a simple touch interface on the tablet or smartphone of their choice. By giving them a familiar device, those players will become more than second-hand decision makers.
"It's about bringing people to the game sphere, but it's also about expanding our audience," Cage said. "You know, it was not really about sales and money, the thinking about it was not really 'How many extra copies are we going to sell with this feature.' It was much more, 'Okay, the copy's there, probably the gamer in the household has already bought Beyond, now can we create something where they can share their passion for games and this game in particular with people who don't play games."
Cage's hope is to extend an olive branch to those passive players. By giving them a narrative-focused game to play, a partner to play it with and a familiar device to hold, these viewers will feel less like viewers, and more like gamers.
"Think of your parents, are your parents gamers? Your grandparents? But can you share with them your passion with films and TV series? But not with games. That's the wall we're trying to break, to say, 'Look, interacting is fun, and we can share this passion together and just talk about games, too.' There's no reason why we can't talk about games."
Beyond: Two Souls launches on PlayStation 3 Oct. 8.