In our January issue of Game Informer we examined the current co-op condition, asking vocal gamers what they want to see in future cooperative titles. And what they don’t. We surveyed nearly 8,000 readers to find out if social or solo gaming is paramount, if split-screen play is DOA or if there is hope for multi-gamer households. We even asked if they would be willing to pay a premium to play single-player franchises with their buddies. Co-op God of War perhaps? The results of our poll were interesting, to say the least.

Utilizing the infinite space the online format affords us, we now expand upon our print feature, offering up insight into the industry from key staffers of influential co-op development houses. These experts present their definitions of cooperative play, expand upon the co-op pipeline for their particular products and attempt to explain away some of our co-op qualms. They’ve got reasons as to why split screen is such a technological burden or why couch co-op doesn’t play nice with the web.

Read on for an insider’s look into the current state of co-op affairs, interspersed with results from our recent reader poll.

The Experts
With cooperative play increasing in popularity, development houses worldwide are starting to embrace the trend. But where many have thrown their hat in the ring, few have excelled. Notable co-op franchises such as Halo, Gears of War, Left 4 Dead and Army of Two are joined by new contenders like Gearbox’s Borderlands. Traditionally single-player IPs are even starting to take note, with Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2 both adding sizable co-op segments to their titles. Representatives from these co-op powerhouses weigh in below.

[Our Experts] On What Qualifies As Co-op…

Cooperative gameplay means many things to many people. For some it harkens back to shared screen play in the arcades. For other it signals sitting side by side with a friend throughout an entire cooperative campaign. And for some, cooperative doesn’t require being helpful – griefing your way to a common goal can be just as fun. It turns out developers are just as divided by their definitions of co-op play.

 “I think a co-op experience is one where you can team up with a buddy and have an awesome time. Obviously depth is a factor, but each team needs to make a choice about what they will build. In terms of scope it’s tough to compare what we do on Army of Two (vs. COD for example). In AO2, our focus always has always been to make the experience 100 percent co-op from start to finish. We see a lot of games doing it as a mode, and those are definitely fun as well, however for our audience we really want to deliver a completely integrated game where it’s all co-op all the time.”

          Reid Schneider, executive producer, Army of Two: The 40th Day

“This largely depends on what gamers want out of their experience. I can mention from firsthand experience that pulling off story-based, integrated co-op for the duration of a full length campaign (8+ hours minimum, on average) is a lot of work not only from a level design standpoint but also from code and writing. You always have to account for the players’ locations, ammo balancing, scripted moments, cinematics triggering, etc. Development-wise it is sometimes seen as an easier win to simply have custom scenarios for co-op, however if you’re not careful it can balloon into more work, simply more contained in its own ‘bucket.’ At the end of the day I'm just happy to play games with others in a non-competitive manner.”

          Cliff Bleszinski, design director, Epic Games

“We'd define a co-op experience as one where people are working together in a game toward the same goal. There are a lot of execution details that you have get to right to be successful just like any other product, but the difference with a co-op game from others is that you're not trying to craft a narrative in the player's mind, you're giving the players the tools to craft it with each other.”

          Erik Johnson, project manager, Valve