1/27/2010 at 10:44 AM

The 2009 co-op game of the year, according to our own  Game of the Year Awards, was none other than Halo 3: ODST. Even with the lack of matchmaking, a cardinal sin in co-op gaming, many players would defend it as a worthy winner; particularly for its four player campaign and firefight mode. However, is it not just the popular choice among a widely owned title? A popular game or franchise is always likely to sell more copies than a new IP and as a result of this there are more people playing it, creating a phenomenon we call Co-opularity.

Co-opularity is when a co-op game is both highly popular and widely owned by the masses. This creates many more opportunities for players to regularly play and complete the game from start to finish in co-op. During the first few weeks of ODST’s release, you could look at your friends list and easily choose to play with any of 10 people or more (an unfortunate necessity given the lack of matchmaking!).

Sadly there are several co-op games that often fall under the radar because they are less ‘co-opular’. This makes it more difficult to find players to co-op with, an issue that co-optimus tries to combat via Co-op Meetup threads and regular co-op events. However, it is still often difficult for even the most die-hard co-op fans to find players and fully complete every co-op game. As this is a widely known issue, it reinforces player gravitation towards games they know others will be playing.

The Arcadia Mission in Halo Wars exemplified co-op mission design.

For me, the co-op game of 2009 is in fact Halo Wars, a member of a franchise so well-liked that you would almost expect it to be a co-opular game. However, we felt this game was subject to co-opularity, and not enough players owned or played the game fully in co-op. Looking at the top 20 LIVE games of 2009 on Major Nelson’s blog, we can see that the Halo Wars demo was more popular than the game itself! Not only this, but the list is dominated by the sequels (often including co-op) to existing IPs. Replay-ability and multiplayer versus come into play here, but more often than not a less co-opular game can provide a truly excellent contained single experience.

Halo 3 Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare 2 Call of Duty: WaW Gears of War 2 GTA IV Left 4 Dead Halo 3: ODST FABLE II Episode 1 (of 5) BioHazard 5 - Resident Evil 5 Halo Wars - Demo

How many people have completed 50 Cent, Damnation, Saints Row 2, H.A.W.X, Red Alert 3 and Too Human, as well as the big hitters like Halo 3 and Gears of War from start to finish in co-op? The bigger titles are guaranteed to have more people playing them, but if you get the chance, try some of the smaller titles out. 

Running naked together with only a cone on your head is surprisingly wholesome (c.f. Saints Row 2), and every game should have a profanity button (a la 50 Cent!). Discovering moments like this with someone else adds so much more to a gaming experience, moments that you may never come across in the more "co-opular" games. Throw in some great level design and you may have found an instant classic.

So next time you pick up a copy of that monster hit that everyone wants; remember the bargain bin and share some of that co-opularity around. Pick up two copies of a game for £5/$9 each and give one to your friend, you never know you may find a hidden gem (and even make a profit through trade in!). 

Community Questions:

What are some of your favourite moments from the less co-opular games you have played?

Has co-opularity ever affected your co-op gaming experiences?