Playtest for “Breakout” Zoom Game

“Breakout”: Designing a Game for Zoom

I was tasked with developing a new game that could be played with 3 players in Zoom. This simple, hands-on exercise was a fantastic way to begin implementing and thinking about the formal elements of game design.

💡 Inspiration: How can Zoom help and hurt real-time collaboration?

With Zoom being our medium, I wanted to take advantage of the unique constraints and features that it had to offer. I was inspired by both verbal and visual communication in Zoom, i.e. how the simultaneous text chat and video stream offered unique ways of hiding and sharing information. Despite being in the same breakout room, players could hold private conversations with ease and communicate via voice, screen sharing, and text. Exploring how these could both help and hurt real-time collaboration was the inspiration for my game, Breakout, where players needed to work together to figure out the ‘secret password’ to escape the room.

Concept for virtual collaboration, via Spatial

👩‍🏫 Let’s get started!

Requirements

  • All players will need to be Zoom Background enabled and have a stable internet connection (you will be searching for images in real-time!).
  • This can be played with 3+ people, but 3–6 players is recommended.

Objective & Player Dynamics

Teammates work together to guess a word chosen by the host. Once the teammates converge on a guess, the game is over and the host reveals the correct answer. If they fail to guess the word or do not agree on the final guess, then the host wins. If they guess the correct word, the team wins.

This player setup is an example of unilateral competition. (One might consider this more of a cooperative set up, but since the host can initially strategize by picking a difficult word, unilateral is more descriptive. ) The objective is closely aligned with “outwit” gameplay, which you can read more about here.

Setup & Rules

The rules are based on a simple guessing game but are modified to fit collaborative Zoom gameplay:

  1. All players must mute themselves.
  2. Every round, each team member will use the private message feature of Zoom to ask the host a single Yes/No question.
  3. With that information, the team member must now find an image that visually communicates that information to their team. Next, they will use the Zoom Background feature to set their background to that image. Note: Teammates cannot speak to each other or use the text chat. It’s all visual, so choose a good image!
  4. The round concludes after all team members have set their background image.
  5. These images all communicate information about the word. Teammates must think through the images and work together to converge on a single guess.
  6. If a team member feels confident in their guess, they can use “✅” (the nonverbal feedback feature) to indicate this to their team. Players can revert this at any time if their confidence changes as new information becomes available.
  7. If any team member does not have the “✅” active, another round begins. Return to Step #1. Note: Players that have activated ✅ are still eligible to ask questions to the host, and revert it at any time.
  8. Once all teammates have activated their ✅, the game ends.
  9. The team will then unmute themselves and verbalize their guess.
Basic Game Play: Each player will privately ask the host a Yes/No question about the word. Then, they will set their virtual background to an image that communicates that information to their team.
Over time, their images will change as more information becomes available. They must work together to converge on a single guess.
Players indicate their guess confidence to their team using the “Nonverbal Feedback” feature of Zoom

🏁 Outcomes: How to Win & Lose

This game ends in the following scenarios:

  • If the teammates all guess vastly different answers (i.e. they do not agree), the host wins.
  • If their collective guess matches the actual word, the team wins.
  • If their collective guess does not match the actual word, the host wins.

🚵🏽 Unnecessary Obstacles: Rules that naturally create a challenge…

The team can only win if they converge on a single guess and get it right. Even though the host is outnumbered and each additional team member directly translates to more information about the correct word, the challenge of effective communication, and the subsequent misinterpretation of information, tends to make it difficult for the team to win!

unnecessary obstacles” was coined by Bernard Suits in the book The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, first published in 1978, in which Suits defines the playing of a game as “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”.

🕹️ Playtest: Is this actually fun?

Despite each team member having direct information about the word and a way to communicate that with their team, it’s still very difficult for them to win. Communication and collaboration over Zoom can hurt your team, but it can also help you win.

During the playtest, players were extremely engaged and challenged. By taking advantage of the unique constraints and features of real-time collaboration in Zoom, we were able to make a simple guessing game really compelling and fun!

🔮 How can this game be better?

The team wasn’t able to find the correct word in ~5 minutes. Additional testing is needed to see if this game might be too hard. I would consider the following modifications:

  • The host must define a category before choosing a word, e.g. “an object” or “a household item” to narrow the possibility set.
  • The team members can ask non Yes/No questions that give them more rich information about the correct word to make more interesting gameplay, for example:
    Q: “What is this person’s profession?”
    A: “Scientist.”

These modifications can get us closer to finding the perfect balance of challenge and mastery over time, ensuring it’s truly fun.

— All screenshots used with permission of testers — thanks for testing the game!

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The focus of CS 247G is an introduction to theory and practice of the design of games. We make games (digital, paper, or otherwise), do rapid iteration, and run user research studies appropriate to game design with the goal of improving and refining our design instincts.

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Tyler T. Su

Tyler T. Su

Design + Engineering @ Stanford | Incoming Product Designer @ Roblox

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