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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:

narrow games framework

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?

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  • Arjun Ganesan

    There are even silly flashgames that have brought in a social angle to them – friends challenging you to beat their score in single player arcade style games. I can’t believe I got tricked into playing one of those last night for a good 20 minutes before I beat my friend’s score! (The game was “drop out” – part of a site that seemed to host a huge set of time-pass flash games. The irritating aspect of the site however is that it is another of those sites that lure users to give their email account passwords to the site in order to import contacts you want to challenge.)

  • Andrew Chen

    I think you are neglecting fantasy sports, which is probably the most popular form of asynchronous social gaming. Although it has several social networking aspects to it that are not inherent in design, they are an (important) result of the game itself.

    For many friends spread around the country/world, fantasy sports is a convenient hub through which they stay in touch. It gives them an excuse and reason to stay in touch.

  • Host

    VGA Planets, a classic MultiPlayer Asynchronous for more than 10 years

  • Ben Ortega

    The “game” isn’t the issue; it’s whether or not your social network can get in on the game and interact in real-time.

    In a single player environment I’m not interacting with anyone. I’m just trying to figure out how to beat the game. (Me vs. computer/mobile/handheld) – Non-asynchronous

    When playing against someone online, I either use instant messaging or if available, a voice service. (Voice is reserved for closer friends) – Somewhat Asynchronous

    When playing a multiplayer game, I have a headset on and use voice communications for all of my interactions. (Real-time Comms necessary) – Very Asynchronous

    Right now if you develop the best game ever heard of and you want share/play within your social network, everyone has to have the same game platform, cell provider, and/or handheld device. How many in your social network have game device similarities?

    Going after an asynchronous game before having the ability for social networks to interact within gaming “asynchronously” is like putting the cart before the horse. I’d focus investment in ideas that create the agnostic environment first.

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  • http://rikkcarey.wordpress.com Rikk Carey

    I think you are right on target, but let’s keep it a secret for awhile, ok? :-)

    I am looking for one or two co-founders to join me in building an asynchronous, MMOG built on the web platform (no downloads). I need an engineering co-founder and a game designer co-founder. If you are interested, please contact me at rikkc@yahoo.com.

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  • http://www.socialgn.com shervin

    Jeremy, Attack! is not an asynchronous game. Warbook is a better example for your chart.

    Cheers,

    Shervin

  • http://www.beinggirl.zapak.com Ashi Kacheria

    Hey

    Nice post

    Online games have been expanding like nothing on the Internet.
    Many new online gaming sites have come up.
    Even I’m a big sucker of online games. They are usually easy on systems, have a light theme and can be

    interesting without getting addictive.

    I am specially fond of games at Zapak.com. AOf all the ones that I know of, this one hasa got the largest

    collection of games. They also support their games heavily with offline events.
    Here’s a party that Zapak will be throwing at Mumbai. They are distributing free passes at

    http://www.beinggirl.zapak.com .

    Cool refreshement, after a gaming session ! Whatsay !

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  • http://www.davidtan.org DavidTan

    Great post and good examples!

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  • http://www.mobibu.com Mobile Phone Portal

    What’s interesting is that we don’t see is a lot of these asynchronous games in the casual space yet but I suspect we’ll start seeing more in the future

  • http://www.games21.net Trinca Viorel

    verry intresting , cool

  • http://www.play-good-games.com/ i Just play good games

    If you are just playing against another player, each other scores or performances, there are no need of asynchronouscity.
    the same applies to game tournaments, with more than two players.

  • http://mobilephonedir.com Mobile Phone Directory

    Remind of me the story where a man in southern China appears to have died of exhaustion after a three-day non stop playing online games. The benefit of asynchronous games is we only play when we have some free time and not damaging our health.

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  • http://www.hobiler.org oyun

    good thank you

  • Hellen Noel

    Being a game lover, you would like to play the game of horse racing either solo or with friends. The horse game provides you with complete content as to how you should start and win a race. It has four types of games in one download and I love playing it. You can get more information on http://www.horseracegame.com/

  • http://www.fullflashgames.com capitanhook

    you hit the right point but on the other hand those games gives all power and marketing to facebooks hands.. it will be like google soon..

  • Casey

    Massively Multiply Asyncronous games are not new. They were created in the 70s before personal computers and were played via the postal system – that’s right: snail mail.

    This industry utterly failed to transition to the internet. Check out my full thoughts on this issue of asynchronous and PBM gaming over at Soren’s website: http://www.designer-notes.com/?p=124#comment-62221

    My basic point is: Massively multiplayer asynchronous games did in fact exist, and had a level of depth, immersion, and sophistication non-existent in pretty much *any* game available today. EVE online, and a few MUDs might be the exception, though they still don’t achieve the same level of epicness that these earlier games did.

  • http://www.flashnewgame.com haggle

    Oh, Colorbind is another great logic puzzle for the iPhone.

  • http://www.gamesce.com Gamesce

    When playing against someone online, I either use instant messaging or if available, a voice service. (Voice is reserved for closer friends) – Somewhat Asynchronou

  • http://www.flashnewgame.com Haggle

    or web gaming industry i found lots of usuful links and stuff thanks..

  • http://www.y8.fm y8

    verry intresting , cool

  • http://www.y8online.com y8

    I have seen this document to be totally useful. Thanks a ton for posting it.

  • http://www.y8gamerz.com y8

    at least have the “high score” dynamic, but they lack the social aspect that turn based asynchronous games offer.

  • http://jogos.at/ orko

    If you are just playing against another player, each other scores or performances, there are no need of asynchronouscity.
    the same applies to game tournaments, with more than two player

  • http://www.frip.com jake wak

    Hexwar proves once again the appeal of asynchronous, turn-based play (which is supposed to be all the rage nowadays). Play-by-Email games never really took off, not because of the asychronous nature, but