The rise of the real time activity Ticker (i.e. the new notifier bar on the right column of the FB Feed) and of real time features – such as the new Facebook Timeline – and behaviors in Social Media will (hopefully) change the way traditional social games are designed and played.
In a social game or social network, social interactions and communication can be synchronous (in real time, right here and now) or asynchronous (persistent, “saved” and easily accessible later on).
Synchronous (Real Time): 1. Suppose that we’re in a game: I throw you a ball, you can catch it now or the ball falls irredeemably to the ground. 2. I start a video chat with you and tell you I love you, if you’re there you’ll hear it, if not the moment is lost. 3. A friends posts something into a real time feed, if I don’t read it soon the message will be pushed into oblivion under the weight of the constant feed of real time news.
Examples: new Facebook real time Ticker and Timeline; Google instant Search; Twitter feed; basic MMO and virtual world avatar interaction; chat services.
Asynchronous (“Slow” time): 1. I throw you a ball and then I log out, the “system” where we are playing freezes the ball in time; when you log in into the system, you get notified there’s a ball flying towards you, and you can decide to catch it or not. 2. I record a video where I tell you I love, and you can replay it when you feel like. 3. I post a poem into my feed, tomorrow morning my friend will check it out.
Examples: Facebook Top News; Google+ Stream; classic social game gifting, visiting and invite messaging; email, etc.
The ebb and flow of these concepts has been constant over the years in both Social Media, Social Gaming (and even Search.)
The Rise of the Ticker and Timeline
In Social Media the current trend is to go more and more towards real time, with a constant update of activity from one’s social graph and, ideally, actionable options (Consume/Share/BUY). The topic is super hot right now, what with the new Facebook ticker and other big features such as Facebook Music and Movies, to be revealed at f8; what with the rumored iPhone 5 ticker and the full on Twitter integration of Apple products coming soon.
How about Social Gaming? So far, Zynga, wooga and the other major studios have followed the Social Media bandwagon (it’s a symbiotic relationship, after all) and based their designs on basic asynchronous messaging system. Now that things are moving fast forward to real time behaviours, is Social Gaming going to follow?
Let’s have a quick look at history, and try to guess where things might be going.
A Brief History of Time in Social Gaming
First, there came the virtual world, essentially a visualization of the chat. It was fully real time: I am here and I interact with you right now through my avatar (we chat, we dance, etc). The first, and currently still best example – a hangout that has lately also been gamified and made more sticky – is HABBO.
Then came the persistent MMO, a full blown persistent world. Again in real time, but with asynchronous communication and gameplay having a strong role (messaging and inbox; save a character’s progress; use of offline time to train skills, like in Eve Online).
Finally, came the rise of the (as of now) old Facebook – which is based on asynchronous communication and sharing – and time stood still for social gaming. With the various Villes’ coming to dominate the market, social games were simply plugged into Facebook’s social graph and used Facebook’s messaging system as the base of their gameplay. This meant easy virality, asynchronous communication, super low entry barrier, and automated messages that can be reacted upon days after they are sent (“Frank sent you a Rose. Click here to send one back”). Only competitive games such as Zynga Poker kept a resemblance of real time.
Get Real (Time)
Welcome to NOW. Social Networks of all kinds are moving to real time features beyond simple chat. Google+ has Hangouts. Twitter was born real time. Facebook has the Timeline and two new Tickers, one of which is specifically for Games. The iPhone5 will have its own ticker too, possibly integrated with Twitter.
And Social Games? Well, the Habbo-clone and winner of Tech Crunch Disrupt Shaker Facebook game is a real time chat and dating service/virtual world. Core games like Gunshine use fully real time MMO behaviors. The “ugly duckling” of social media – MyYearbook – has a platform for real time and multiplayer gaming. And so will GFACE, the next-gen social network for sharing and gaming.
From purely asynchronous social games based on viral messaging, we might (hopefully) be going back to a more exciting and less spam-driven set of game behaviors. Hopefully, the big publishers such as Zynga, Playfish/EA, wooga etc will follow suit and – Facebook allowing – integrate real time playing and communicating in their games.
A practical example? Here’s my idea on how a future real time social game notification could work on a Game ticker:
In this case, what matters in the notification is that it’s about a game going on RIGHT NOW. If you happen to be reading the Game ticker at the time this notification is sent, you can help your friend. If not, you’ll never see the message. No spam, no annoyance, better quality, deeper interaction (the person whose game life you just saved will see who did it, of course).
I believe that real time interactions – through an avatar, chat or webcam or other mean – is the key to building deeper and better gaming experiences, which can involve the – much coveted by gamers – true multiplayer realtime gameplay. Classic viral messaging still works, but its glory days are over, and the social gaming industry should adapt fast.
Of course – pardon the pun – only time will tell what’s really going to happen.
Would you play multiplayer social games in real time? How to master and balance both concepts of time in social gaming? Join the debate by leaving a constructive comment below.
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Giuliano Cremaschi writes about the interconnected worlds of Social Media and Social Gaming, and their inextricable and ever-revolving relationship