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Sliding Scale of Cooperation vs. Competition

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When designing a multiplayer game, whether tabletop or computer, the rules may allow/encourage different levels of cooperation and competition between the participating players.

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Enforced Coordination

All players are on the same team, opposed only by Murphy's Law and the Random Number God, and must coordinate their actions to win. The game rules are designed to put uncooperative players at a disadvantage (up to a quick defeat for the entire team), and may explicitly prohibit hindering other players in any way. An important trait of such games is that all players only ever win or lose them together.

Tabletop Games
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue: The players must coordinate their movements and actions across the burning house to get enough victims out of the fire before the house collapses.
  • Pandemic: The players must coordinate their movements across the board to prevent and contain the recursive spread of disease outbreaks. While the original Pandemic only contains Enforced Coordination gameplay, the expansions introduced variants that turn it into Fixed Teams.
  • Mice and Mystics is an atypical Dungeon Crawling board game that dispenses with the Game Master. Instead, all players must work with each other against the Game System (which simulates the GM's typical duties, such as moving enemies and randomly placing traps) and odds that are stacked against them.
  • Bloodborne has players work together to complete a series of objectives on a time limit. Players who complete objectives and get rewards don't have to take them, they can instead hand them over to a different player to help the whole team. As such, a player who doesn't cooperate or actively sandbags the team will likely be seriously underequipped (as nobody will want to hand them items), die easier, and be left to their vices while the other three players actually work together. This likely means less blood echoes as well since said player isn't likely defeating a lot of enemies and surviving to get back to the lantern. Should said player get kicked from the table, the other players can simply play their character with no changes to gameplay.

Video Games

  • Left 4 Dead: Coordination with your teammates is a must because you're constantly being attacked by Special Infected who can disable you and kill you dead if you don't have somebody watching your back. Wander away from the group? You're dead. Ignore your teammate who just got pinned to the ground by a Special Infected? He's dead, and now you're dead because he wasn't around to save you when the same thing happened to you.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes took a note from its predecessor (see "Emergent Competition" below), and requires cooperation between all three Links in order to beat every stage. Instead of grading players individually, all rewards except for the material gained at the end are shared between the three players. The game also discourages griefing by making it so all the Links share the same heart pool, allowing players to blacklist griefers, and, if they disconnect, rewards the other two players compensation rupees for the griefer wasting their time.
  • Starcraft 2 has the Co-op mode where two players complete objectives against the AI. You can completely ignore your ally's base as you compl-... oh never mind, when their base falls, you also lose the game. You better make sure to focus on helping both of you, because if your ally loses everything, you lose too.

On-Paper Cooperation

As in the "Enforced Coordination" category, players win or lose together, but the game does not require coordination. While all players exist within a shared imaginary environment of the game, anyone can strike out on one's own, as if playing a single-player game, without instantly endangering everyone else. The game may still prevent players from hindering each other, however.

Tabletop Games
  • Arkham Horror: The players lose if the Ancient One awakens and win if they manage to prevent it in time.

Video Games

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat'em-up games such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Project, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time: Players team up to walk to the right and beat on Foot Soldiers and other baddies, but gameplay is not significantly different than single-player and no particular coordination between players is required.
  • The same is true of the Final Fight and Streets of Rage series, as well as most other entries in the genre.
  • Super Mario Bros. 3: Playing two-player is advantageous because upon losing all your lives, you only have to replay the levels in the world that you initially beat note ; the levels beat by the other player will stay cleared unless he gets a Game Over as well. Other than that, however, it's just a hot-seat mode in which players take turns tackling levels exactly as they would in single-player, and they can even steal each other's turns and cards by engaging in battle between levels.
  • Diablo. Multiplayer plunks the players into a shared dungeon, but there is no particular advantage to sticking together and combining efforts rather than splitting up and tackling the enemies separately, meeting up occasionally to trade loot.
  • Journey (2012): The goal is to reach the mountaintop, and while you and the Companion (another, randomly connected player online) can help each other by recharging each other's scarves, nothing prevents you from wandering off on your own in opposite directions.

Emergent Competition

The players can only win or lose together, but some elements of the game (like explicitly keeping individual scores) encourage competition among them. Crucially, however, this competition is not endorsed by the rules and exists primarily in the players' heads.

Video Games
  • Dynasty Warriors: In the co-op, both players have the same goal but invariably compete with each other for higher kill counts.
  • Elsword: The game automatically marks players who don't contribute much in dungeons for a kick vote. In theory, this prevents AFKing players and nudges the rest to contribute in the dungeon play, but as a side effect, players try to out-contribute each other, creating endless discussions of "the best PVE character" and lots of character rebalance updates, and forcing players to get better gear. Essentially, it turns PVE play from cooperative to competitive.
  • Zig-Zagged in the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer: All players have the same goal of surviving eleven enemy waves, completing objectives, and killing as many enemies as possible, but the game keeps each player's scores separately. This added a competitive element to the gameplay, but it was negated by the mechanics of giving points for damage, not kills and of distributing XP and money rewards evenly among all players after the match. However, later patches introduced Challenges, some of which specifically require kills to complete, which, in turn, added explicit competitive dynamics, such as kill-stealing, to the game.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures: Players interact simultaneously in a shared environment, moving from one room to the next, trying to reach the end of each level. But at the end of each level, a score is given and players are rated based on items collected, damage taken, and enemies defeated, and a "winner" is declared.
  • Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon: In the multiplayer mode "Scarescraper", players work together to reach the goal on each floor. At the end of each floor, a bonus game occurs in which players race to collect red coins before a short timer runs out. If all four red coins are collected, a bonus item is given to one player. Each player has a chance to receive the item, but the chance is greater for a player who collected more red coins. So players typically compete to individually collect as many red coins as possible, while still allowing the team to collect all four.
  • New Super Mario Bros. Wii: There's ostensibly little reason not to cooperate, as the game gives out as many powerups as there are players and there's no real reward for Griefing. However, Video Game Cruelty Potential is taken further, as the slightest bump can send another player into a Bottomless Pit, and it's all-too-easy to accidentally take an extra powerup that gives you nothing but meaningless points but screws another player out of an extra Hit Point. On the OTHER hand, as long as one player remains alive, they can revive dead teammates ad nauseam. Four-player matches tend to careen wildly from one end of the Sliding Scale to the other, from a free-for-all of players killing each other off in a never-ending cycle of revenge, to cheering for the sole remaining player to stay alive long enough to revive the rest, only to go right back to stabbing each other in the back as soon as possible.
  • Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge: In multiplayer mode, players work together to complete the mission, but they also compete amongst themselves to get the highest score and to be the one who captures the thief.
  • The Jackbox Party Pack: "The Devils and the Details" from Party Pack 7 revolves around a family of devils trying to live like humans in a suburban neighborhood. Players must work together to complete chores (including "challenge tasks" themed around a typical human activity or stock sitcom plot) and meet each day's quota of "family points", while also boosting their personal scores with "selfish tasks". Too much selfishness will cause a family emergency that drains points from the family score, and which everyone will have to deal with before they can get any more chores done. If players miss their quota too many times (or on the third and final day), the game will end prematurely with a loss. If they succeed, they're graded on their overall performance and the highest-scoring player is awarded the title "World's Bestest Demon".
  • Mario Kart Tour: Some races split the players up into two teams, with an overall winner being declared between the teams based on the average placement of each team member. However, the players' scores (which are the main things that matter in terms of rewards) are still determined individually, with no benefit for being on the winning team. Therefore, in practice team races are basically still free-for-alls, with the added complication of certain items not affecting your teammates as easily.
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land has the Help Wanted minigame, that can be played in co-op. Whoever gets the most points is the winner, but a draining meter enforces that both players serve their customers quickly for if it runs empty, both players lose.
Western Animation
  • Played for Laughs in The Simpsons when Mr Burns learns that Homer tricked him into paying for his bowling team to enter a tournament, and decides to allow it on condition that he be allowed to play as well, which they reluctantly agree to despite Burns being a terrible player. Thanks to the accidental help of Otto, the played Burns replaces, Burns manages to win the final round and the team win the tournament...only for Burns to declare that he "won" the game and is taking the trophy himself, justifying himself by claiming that teamwork will only get you so far, and that the "truly evolved" person will snatch victory for themselves at the last minute.

Treacherous Teammate

All players are on the same team... except the Traitor, who secretly works to subvert the team's efforts. Crucially, unmasking the traitor isn't an Instant-Win Condition—the players still have to beat Murphy's Law and the RNG to win (though the Traitor does technically "win" if they lose). Some variants of Social Deduction Game employ a hidden traitor.

Tabletop Games
  • Shadows over Camelot: The Traitor is determined at the start of the game by drawing so-called "loyalty cards"—though it is possible that no player draws the traitor card in a given game. If exposed, the traitor cannot continue to play normally but can still play mean tricks on the others, turning the game into an explicit Asymmetric Multiplayer competition. For groups of three players, it is recommended that the players don't check their loyalty cards until several turns into the game to give the loyal ones a head start.
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill: The game starts out cooperative until roughly a third of the way through the game, at which point a traitor is randomly assigned, meaning that not even the traitor knows they're the traitor until this point. In most scenarios the traitor is revealed right away, but occasionally their identity is kept a secret.
  • Dead of Winter puts players in the shoes of Zombie Apocalypse survivors who must cooperate to survive in various disaster scenarios. In addition to a group goal, each player has a secret agenda, assigned randomly by drawing cards—and while some of them can run contrary to the group goal, one available agenda is explicitly the Traitor who can only win by ensuring others' loss.
  • Liberatores has a variation with three different agendas: the efforts of the Liberatores (who win if they assassinate Caesar and restore the Republic) are undercut by both Agents (who win if the assassination is thwarted) and Competitors (who win if Caesar is assassinated and the player has sufficient power to become the new dictator).
  • In Saboteur, the players take the roles of dwarf miners working together to find gold, except for the saboteurs who win if the round ends before the gold has been found.

Game Shows

  • The Mole. A team of players tries to win contests in order to add money to the pot. However one of the players is The Mole, who is doing his/her best to cause the team to lose contests. Each week one of the players is sent home. Whoever is the last player remaining (other than the Mole) gets what's in the pot.


  • The Zombie Apocalypse game the main cast plays in Weregeek turns out to belong to this type: one of player characters is actually the infection vector who reveals herself when only two survivors are left—to murder the remaining uninfected one.

Team vs. Lone Wolf

A mix of the Traitor and Fixed Teams gameplay, where the opponent is known to the other players from the start, but often gets gameplay advantages to compensate (such as their location being hidden from the other players). Unlike the "Treacherous Teammate", defeating the Lone Wolf may well be the main goal of the Team and their Instant-Win Condition.

Tabletop Games
  • Scotland Yard: A group of detectives travel through London in pursuit of "Mr. X". Mr. X's location is hidden for most of the game, but he shows himself at certain points.
  • The "Bioterrorist" variant from the Pandemic supplement "On The Brink". One of the players is a bioterrorist who is trying to spread the disease that the others are trying to stop.
  • Fury of Dracula, where one player plays Dracula and everyone else plays a hunter trying to stop Dracula.
  • Many Dungeon Crawl boardgames (e.g. HeroQuest, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Super Dungeon Explore) feature a Game Master who controls the monsters and is actively pitted against the players, as opposed to the "In-game conflict, out-of-game fun" of role-playing games.

Video Games

  • Dead by Daylight: One supernaturally-empowered killer versus four cooperating survivors who have to escape.
  • Friday the 13th: The Game: One player is the supernaturally-empowered Jason Voorhees out to kill all the camp counselors, the rest are counselors who have to work together in order to escape the map.
  • The Hidden (a Source mod): An invisible player with superpowers is pitted against a spec ops team sent to kill him.

Informed Minority vs. Uninformed Majority

This is similar to the Traitor gameplay, except multiple players are the "traitors" here: They know who they are (informed minority) but other players don't (uninformed majority). To facilitate communication between IM, such games may divide turns into phases: In phase I, everyone participates in the gameplay; in phase II, only the IM communicates, while the UM is locked out. The winning conditions are defined for IM and UM separately and when one group wins, the other loses. Many Social Deduction Games are of this type.

  • The parlor game Mafia and its derivatives, The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow and Werewolf (1997): All players are "citizens" (UM) but some are additionally mafiosi/werewolves (IM). During the night phases, the latter eliminate one citizen from the game; during the day, everyone votes to eliminate a suspected mafioso/werewolf. The IM wins if they comprise a half of the remaining players; the UM wins if the entire IM is eliminated.
  • Battlestar Galactica (the board game based on the eponymous series): One or more of the players are secretly Cylon agents and must hinder the human players in their tasks. During long space jumps, the loyalty cards are dealt again and the previously loyal human players may join the Cylons. Unmasked Cylon agents continue the game as explicit enemies.
  • Resistance (board game): A slight minority of the freedom fighters are actually government spies trying to subvert La Résistance's operations, and the loyal resistance members win by succeeding at more operations than the spies foil (and vice versa).
    • Avalon, a King Arthur-themed reskin, adds in a number of special roles where some majority roles actually are (partially) informed, and some minority roles may be uninformed:
      • Merlin is a good player who knows all of the evil players. If good wins, though, the evil players get to assassinate a good player after some open discussion amongst themselves, and if that person is Merlin, evil wins. So, Merlin can't outright say who they are or be too obvious, because then good will lose.
      • Percival is a good player who sees who both Merlin and Morgana (an evil player with no other special powers) are. He doesn't know which is which, though, and has to deduce which one is Merlin as the game is played and help Merlin get good teams picked.
      • Mordred is an evil player who's hidden from Merlin but known to the other evils (though all the other evils know is that Mordred is evil, not that they're Mordred in particular).
      • Oberon is an evil player who isn't revealed to the other evils and doesn't know who the other evils are.
  • Secret Hitler introduces a twist: Players are liberals (UM) or fascists (IM). One player, however, is Hitler. While Hitler is on the fascist team he does not actually know who else is, making him the only uninformed player in the minority. The other fascists (who know everybody's roles) have to subtly communicate to Hitler that they are on his team.
  • The Jack Box Party Pack: "Push the Button" from Party Pack 6 features a team of humans trying to find out which of the other players are aliens in disguise. Players must complete a series of tests in which they answer a prompt, with alien players getting a wildly-different prompt from humans, but aliens also get a number of "hacks" they can use to throw the humans off. Human players must figure out who the aliens are and then call a vote to see who gets Thrown Out the Airlock, aliens must trick the humans into killing off one or more of their own.
  • In Among Us, a team of Ambiguously Human astronauts must complete a series of tasks in a sci-fi scenario (a moon base, a starship, or a space station). However, one to three other players are Impostors who must kill off the other players without getting caught. The Impostors win if they kill off Crew Members until the Crew no longer have a majority, or sabotage the station without the Crew repairing their sabotage in time; the Crew Members win if they complete all their tasks (and dead Crew can still finish their tasks as ghosts) or catch and execute all the Impostors.

Fixed Teams

The players are divided into two or more teams and must cooperate within them to prevail over the other team(s). The composition of the teams is determined and, crucially, known to everyone before the game starts, and the same winning conditions usually apply to all teams. Switching teams mid-game may be possible but is usually discouraged with heavy penalties.

Tabletop Games
  • Star Wars X-Wing: The players are allied either with the Republic or the Empire and must cooperate within those factions.
  • Avalon Hill's Third Reich. If multiple players control the Axis countries, Allied countries or both, then it is imperative that they cooperate with each other or it is certain that the opposing side will win. For example, even though the American and British players will be competing with the Soviet player for objective hexes at the end of the game, they must still fund the Lend Lease program to assist the Soviet player or the Axis players will defeat the Soviet Union and win the game.
  • In Saboteur 2 the players take the roles of dwarf miners working together to find gold, but only one team of miners (blue or green) wins when gold is discovered. Plus, the saboteurs win if the round ends before the gold has been found, the boss wins if either the blue or green team wins, and so on.

Video Games

  • Team-based matches (deathmatch, capture the flag, etc.) are common in multiplayer video games, primarily shooters. It is often possible to change teams during gameplay but such practice is usually discouraged by the rules.
    • MOBA games: 5 vs. 5, no mid-game team changing or player switch-ins. If someone disconnects, you get a middling compensation of their money/items at most. The strictness of team matchmaking is one of the causes of genre's infamously toxic playerbase; having one missing or bad teammate heavily stacks the game against their favor.
  • World in Conflict is a rare Real-Time Strategy with team-based multiplayer: In each multiplayer mode, eight USSR players are pitted against eight U.S./NATO players to gain control over the map. Crippling Overspecialization and Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors force players to cooperate closely within each team.
  • The Splatoon games have players matched on 4v4 teams. Taken even further during Splatfests, where all players in a region of the world specifically pick one of two teams (three teams in Splatoon 3), and every victory helps their specific team possibly win the Splatfest of their world-region. Once a team is chosen, you cannot switch sides for the entirety of the 72 hour Splatfest.

Dynamic Alliances

The players are allowed, expected, or even encouraged to form alliances with each other in the course of the game, but only one player (rarely, one alliance) can win it in the end, while everyone else loses. Kingmaker Scenarios are very likely in this kind of games.

Live Action TV

Tabletop Games

  • Risk: The basic rules neither prohibit, nor encourage player alliances, which means that they are formed and broken just as easily in gameplay, since only one player can win (by eliminating every other player from the map).
  • Diplomacy: The players are encouraged by the very nature of the game to form alliances among each other but these are not enforced in any way by the rules, and only the first player to control over half the board wins.
  • Munchkin: Even though two players are allowed to team up to beat a monster together, both ultimately only look after their own interests. And only the first player to reach Character Level 10 wins.
  • In Monopoly, de facto alliances are likely to occur as players are more likely to offer better trading terms to those they perceive as less of a threat. While the rules prohibit lending money between players or offering "free passes" to land on property without paying, there Ain't No Rule against giving another player a gift which just happens to be the exact amount they owe you in rent, which they then pay back to you, nor against promising to make such a gift in the future in exchange for concessions in the present. Of course, the fact that these agreements aren't bound by the rules of the game also means that there Ain't No Rule against breaking such agreements, and any alliances are by definition temporary, as there can only be one winner.

Video Games

  • In DEFCON, players may form and break alliances at-will, but there is only one winner per game. In one mode, the whole world starts the game in a single alliance, yet this peace is all but guaranteed to fall apart in minutes because alliances have nearly as many downsides as war.
  • Empire Earth II added a Last Man Standing to its skirmish mode, where alliances can be made (and broken) with individual players, but as soon as only allied players are left the players return to hostile status. This can create strange situations where a player can see two of his allies trying to kill each other, and waiting for one to win so he can get back to fighting (if he doesn't simply break off one alliance).

In-Universe Examples

  • In the Community episode "Digital Estate Planning", the study group plays a super-immersive video game with VR helmets, 8-bit graphics, and Wide-Open Sandbox complexity. The game was designed as a free-for-all with the first person to reach the end winning the Hawthorne fortune. However, the study group almost immediately decides that Pierce is the rightful heir and they cooperate so that he can win it. Then they find out that there is another player who is competing against them so it ends up being a team competition.

Free-for-All Competition

Every player competes against everyone else, with no motivation to form alliances or rules to enforce them.

Tabletop Games
  • In Euro Games (a.k.a. German-style board games), players generally have little incentive and potential to form alliances, and while communication and trade are encouraged, everyone ultimately only looks out for oneself.
    • Settlers of Catan: The first player to reach 10 score points wins the game.
    • Lords of Waterdeep: The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
    • Small World: Everyone fights everyone for the place under the Sun and the player with the most points after N turns wins.

Video Games

  • At the end of a LittleBigPlanet level, the scoreboard counts up who got the most points, so people may be inclined to go for the points instead. Alternatively, some levels may tip the scales in other directions instead, but mostly in the community.
  • Free-for-all deathmatches are the oldest type of multiplayer shooter gameplay.
  • Fighting Games, except for rare team-based ones (like some settings of Super Smash Bros.), usually fall under free-for-all.
  • Counter-Strike: In the popular mod "Gun Game", even though players belong to one of two teams (like in the vanilla game), and most servers are set up so that players can't hurt teammates, or else so that players are punished for hurting teammates, there is little incentive to work cooperatively, since only one player wins the Gun Game, and does so by getting as many kills as possible, which encourages kill stealing.
  • Mario Kart (excluding the team-modes that exist in certain titles) all players are on their own. You don't want anyone to take first place except you, so you will likely want to strike anyone and everyone in front of you with whatever items you gain. Even if two players coordinate to take out the person winning, they'll inevitably want to take each other out at some point to win.

Meta-Category: In-Game Conflict, Out-of-Game Fun

In role-playing and narrative games, the players may technically play against the Game Master or even against each other, but there is no real "win condition": Everyone's goal is to have fun and they only "lose" if the game turns out to be boring.

  • Any Tabletop RPG ever created. Except Rune, of course—that one falls somewhere between Dynamic Alliances and Free-for-All.
  • Fiasco: The goal of the game is to create a cohesive narrative of people's lives going down the drain, and players are encouraged to cooperate in making each other's characters as miserable as possible.

Alternative Title(s): Sliding Scale Of Cooperation Versus Competition