Friday, April 1, 2011

Real Social Games...

... are board games.

They aren't compartmentalised timewasters on Facebook. A social game is when you get to socialise while you play. It happens in online play. It happens in MMOs.

But it mostly happens around a table.

There is a lot of uncovered ground with interaction and socialisation in gameplay. There is an element to a truly social game that a digital game can never supply - the obligation of a tangible mechanic. It's too easy to blow off a digital game. You can just disconnect if you hit a losing streak. Change your spec if you want to PVP instead of raid.

If you're sat around a table with four other people, you have to be committed to that gameplay cause. Pushing your pieces around the board, holding your cards and rolling your dice. No one else will step in if you walk from the table. You're there, face-to-face, with your rivals and teammates to the end of the game. (Unless you're a bad sport!)

The delicious side effect to this is that the best part of the game happens off the table. All of the trashtalk, the negotiations, the fits of rage and fist bumps, these are all experiences of a social mechanic. And nothing within the game should get in the way of it! A game can certainly aid in the off-the-table mechanics, but most of it is already inherent in the partaking of the social game.

So, what's missing? Why aren't board games prioritised as high as digital games? Or what is preventing players from finding meaningful experiences outside of digital games?

Board games are missing a significant technology leap.
When pegged about bringing board games to the modern game player, many designers will work straight to the tablet/PC port. Sometimes it works well (Neuroshima Hex!), but a lot of the time the port misses the point of it's original game, the tangible obligation.

I think the digital port is important, but it is not the only way to bring new technology to social games. Why don't we have board games with combat calculators built in? Statistic trackers? Digital counters and scoreboards?
It could be a difficult line to breach. You don't want to remove the aspects from the game that give it physicality - players still need to roll a real dice, push a real piece, else there would be no more physical obligation to play the game. But there's plenty of meta-data that could be automated.

The Microsoft Surface is definitely a step in the right direction, but it's not a dedicated solution. Monopoly's Electronic Banking Edition is also bang on the buck, but this technology integration is sold only as a fad, not an innovation. There could be so much more to it!

The experience of a completed game is a narrative. A completed game around a table is a story shared personally with everyone present. Technology and game mechanics should be used to turn that experience into a memorable story with as little friction as possible.

Choose the platform, technology and mechanics.
Let the players play and be social.

It would be a waste to miss the opportunities to give game players a chance to create more meaningful stories with each other, just because we didn't figure out the best platforms for our games.


fear not, ranger


  1. Well said Anthony. There's no substitute for trying to read your opponent, with all the grimaces, consternation, joy, and sorrow that come with face-to-face gaming.

  2. Hey Dan, thanks for the reply!

    I agree, it's incredibly satisfying to watch the social aspects of games happen right in front of you. I find a sadistic enjoyment in watching drama unfold in games with scheming and deception in particular. =)