Party games are best played with people you know, gathered together in a room, where everything can take on a deeper, funnier meaning because of your shared experiences. Jackbox Games is capitalizing on that in Drawful 2, the sequel to the studio's 2014 drawing game, with a big new feature: the ability to write your own prompts.
It's the first time Jackbox has supported user-generated content in one of its games, and to hear the studio tell it, Drawful was the perfect title in which Jackbox could experiment with this feature. For a company whose games can be played by anyone with a smartphone, it's not surprising that the feature in Drawful 2 is designed with ease of use in mind. If the phrase "user-generated content" turns you off because it makes you think of creating LittleBigPlanet levels, fret not: If you understand how Drawful works, you can write Drawful questions.
In case you haven't played the original Drawful, here's how it works. Three to eight players are each presented with a word or phrase, and they have to sketch a drawing of that concept on their smartphone or tablet. Then the game shows each person's drawings to all the other players, who have to write down what they think the drawing is supposed to be. Finally, the game presents each drawing and every user-submitted answer for it — along with the right answer — and the players have to guess the original prompt.
Points are awarded to the players who guess correctly, as well as to the writers of wrong answers that people select instead. So while your answer might make everyone in the room laugh because it makes fun of that teacher you all hated in high school, anybody who actually wants to win the game won't pick it. That's why giving players the ability to write their own prompts is so meaningful in a game like Drawful.
The "ethos" of Drawful is to make it possible for "any crazy thing that any of the players in the room put in" to be the right answer, said Drawful 2 director Arnie Niekamp in a phone interview.
"And so [user-generated content] kind of gets us closer to that," Niekamp continued. "Because when you're playing Drawful, you're like, 'Well, someone put in a funny joke about Brad, this guy we're playing with, but that's not going to be the right answer.' But now it could be! Because you could've put in some dumb joke about your friend."
"it'd be difficult to make a Drawful prompt that doesn't work at all"
Niekamp told Polygon that players of Jackbox's games have long requested the ability to make custom content, but he and Evan Jacover, Jackbox's vice president of engineering, both explained that Drawful is uniquely suited to the feature. The questions in the Fibbage games, for example, involve actual facts — the developers have to do research in order to write questions, answers and "lie" answers, and then categorize the questions under fields such as "Johnny Depp" and "middle school." It's a complicated, cumbersome process that most players aren't likely to bother with.
Drawful "questions," on the other hand, are simply words or phrases.
"It'd be difficult to make a Drawful prompt that doesn't work at all," said Niekamp. "Like, you could write a bad Drawful prompt, but anything you put in there is going to be a possible Drawful prompt.
Jackbox also wanted to make the actual creation process as simple as possible. Since Drawful 2 and the studio's other party games are played primarily with smartphones, the developers didn't want people to have to pick up a controller and log into the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live or Steam just to be able to write questions.
Creation works similarly to the way you actually play Drawful 2. Players join a virtual game room from their mobile device as usual, and then anyone who's in the room can write prompts. When that's done, the game collects the questions into a content pack and generates a code for it. Anybody can enter that code into Drawful 2 and play that episode; Jacover likened the process to sharing Super Mario Maker levels on social media.
it's like sharing Super Mario Maker levels on social media
A drawback of Jackbox's implementation is that there isn't any way to search for user-created content packs within Drawful 2 itself. (The only identifying features associated with an episode's code are title and author fields; you can fill in whatever you want in those boxes.)
Jacover said that doing it this way not only simplifies the sharing process, it gets around technical requirements regarding user-generated content that Sony and Microsoft each mandate on their respective platforms. For example, a LittleBigPlanet level has to be tied to the PSN user who created it, in case the level's content necessitates banning the user. And it also must support the PlayStation 4's built-in features, like your PSN friends list.
"It all gets very complicated, and we saw it just becoming kind of a nuisance," said Jacover. "And we wanted it to just be a very clean, simple way for people to create and trade content."
Jackbox is introducing a slight complication to the act of drawing in Drawful 2: Players will be able to draw with two colors, not just one. This adds a "surprising amount of depth in what you can express" without making things too overwhelming, said Niekamp. With more than two colors, the drawings start to look "aesthetically bad" instead of "amusingly bad." Plus, it would risk making it too easy for players to successfully draw the prompt; without a level of mystery, the game wouldn't be fun.
Niekamp also confirmed that Drawful 2 will not offer an eraser, maintaining a core design tenet of the original game.
"the game is called Drawful for a reason"
"The game is called Drawful for a reason," said Niekamp. "And I think that some of the best things that happen in the game are when someone draws some line that they didn't mean to draw in their drawing, and that's the thing that everyone latches onto and tries to interpret as, 'Is there some special meaning in that weird extra third arm that that person has on their character?' when really it's just a straight line.
"If you could erase that, that takes out some of the fun."
Those debates over potentially extraneous, unintended lines only get more heated as the amount of players grows. The original Drawful debuted in The Jackbox Party Pack, a collection of games that followed the release of Fibbage earlier in 2014. Niekamp said that Jackbox didn't realize until the launch of Fibbage that it had accidentally created a game that worked really well as a livestreamed title as well an in-room experience.
After the success of Fibbage on Twitch, Jackbox made an effort to build streaming-oriented features into the games in both Party Pack collections. The studio is allowing 10,000 people to join a game as audience members, who can participate by voting on guesses, for Drawful 2. The game also allows the player in charge to censor answers and drawings, as a way to prevent online trolls from ruining the fun.
In addition, Jackbox hopes that popular Twitch streamers will take advantage of the custom prompt feature. They could create a Drawful 2 pack full of, say, inside references that only their regular viewers would understand. Jacover said that Jackbox is also considering the idea of working with livestreamers, as well as game studios, to promote custom episodes and themed packs as recommendations, either within the game or on mobile devices.
"In many ways, [it's] a bit of an experiment for us, to see how people are going to use this and how we can best allow the fans of our games to interact with them in this way," said Jacover.
Correction: The original Drawful did not have any kind of audience feature. We've edited the article to reflect this.