I am not a hard core gamer by background; more of a casual gamer. But casual gaming is now widespread; we’re all gamers now. My interest in the area has grown out of my interest in social networks and social media. I’ve long noted the increasing application of simple game mechanics to social web sites and how this can meaningfully increase the levels and types of interactions that users have with each other and the site.
As an investor in Flixster and Rockyou, both highly viral Facebook and Myspace “app” and “widget” makers, I’ve been tracking closely the spread of emergent user behaviors in these social networks. One Facebook app that really caught my attention is Scrabulous, an online scrabble game that can be played asynchronously, ie players don’t all have to be online at the same time.
Online multiplayer games have long been popular at all the big casual games portals. Multiplayer gaming can be viewed as user generated content for games, one of the drivers of Games 2.0. These games typically have a “lobby” where players can meet and match up before entering into a game against each other in real time.
Making the gameplay asynchronous fits better with the “continuous partial attention” world that we increasingly live in. The reason I never became a hard core gamer is that the serial monogamy requirements (one game at a time, total dedication, long periods of gameplay coordinated with others) doesn’t mesh well with my lifestyle. Scrabulous is a better match for the “play a little bit when you have some time, at various points throughout the day” life that many of us lead. Single player casual gaming (whether Bejeweled online or Brickbreaker on the Blackberry) has been filling that need for many players. These are fun, and at least have the “high score” dynamic, but they lack the social aspect that turn based asynchronous games offer.
Asynchronous games also make it easier to play against friends. You don’t have to coordinate to be online at the same time. Playing friends makes games more fun, and gives them a social aspect (the games have context if you have an ongoing relationship with an opponent). Playing with friends also offers an opportunity for true viral growth for the game, as players invite their friends to play.
Although these turn based multi-player games (especially those derived from boardgames) have some social dynamic, they lack the breadth of social interaction of synchronous MMOGs (not just the direct social interaction, but also the perfomative aspects of gameplay) that help make them such compelling experiences. Part of the appeal of MMOGs (whether World of Warcraft or Puzzle Pirates) is knowing that you’re “in game” with thousands of other people at the same time, each of them interacting with the same universe that you are.
So what would an asynchronous massively multi-player game look like? It can’t be turn based because most players would spend most of their time waiting for someone else to move. That’s not fun. It would have to be time based instead. Players would need to make their moves against a real world clock. Games like Duels.com (swords and sandals PvP fighting game), Manager Zone (soccer manager game) and Kings of Chaos (real time strategy game) all employ this dynamic. Massively multi-player games offer even more opportunity for viral growth because a players invitation ability is unbounded by the number of seats at a board game.
This led to me think about games using the framework below:
I think that we’ll see a lot more innovation in the two sections of asynchronous multiplayer and massively multiplayer games over the next few years. I’m actively interested in investing in these areas. What are the most interesting such games that you see?