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Friday, 16 August 2013

Synchronous Vs Asynchronous gameplay in Online Games

Lately there has been a lot of talk of implementing Synchronous gameplay in online games. Synchronous gameplay would pit human players against each other reducing the role of AI whereas Asynchronous gameplay works on the idea of pitting the player against the AI when the human player is not available (which is most often the case in online social games).

It is being said that by doing so, the developers would be providing the players with a lot of variety in gameplay as human players are much better in responding with different solutions to the same problem as compared to the AI.

After reading a plethora of articles advocating the same, it got me thinking as how much an improvement it would be in terms of gameplay experience when synchronous gameplay would become the norm.

It made me go over my experience as an online gamer and what was the difference in my experience while playing with a human opponent versus that while playing against the AI. I have to admit that the experience was mixed; sometimes it was incredibly different and better whereas sometimes it was just the same.

Why was it? Is it because the quality of human players I faced was different or was it something else embedded into the game? I believe it is the game which makes the difference whether synchronous gameplay would be better or just the same.

Let me take an example of games of the same kind but having different experiences when synchronous gameplay is concerned. First example is FIFA by EA. In this football game, playing with a human opponent offers a much more challenge as compared to playing with an AI.

On the other hand there is another football game GolMania which is on Facebook. In this particular game, the experience is much not different. Why is it so? The difference is in the kind of choices the game offers to the players. In Fifa, the choices being offered to the player are much more varied as compared to in GolMania.

In Fifa, you are in charge of a whole team of 11 players playing on a wide field and the number of things that you can do are enormous. You can choose to defend or attack and the strategic choices are numerous. When there are so many different choices being offered, the experience would be much more engaging when playing against a human opponent as compared to playing with an AI as a human would be able to take much more interesting decision which are going to have a more profound effect on not only the state of your game but also on the way you are strategizing.

The game GolMania would put you in charge of 4 players in a team and there is not much strategizing involved rather than running up the field and trying to score a goal. When there are not a lot of interesting choices to be made, it doesn’t matter if these are being made by a human or the AI as the decisions would be a lot similar as the options are limited.

I believe that Synchronous gameplay is going to play a huge role in the future of online games as the games become more and more complex in nature. When games like Call of Duty or Age of Empires are going to be played on social networking sites, synchronous gameplay would be much more engaging than asynchronous as the decisions by an human opponent would always be much more interesting that an AI opponent.

But for the difference to be noticeable and for Synchronous gameplay to be effective, we need to devise games which are capable of offering the players with interesting choices to make, to be able to decide between attack or defend, to befriend or to make enemy, to not only decide which resource is most important to generate but different ways to generating that most important resources. Unless that happens, unless we offer these interesting choices, it is futile to discuss which is better Synchronous or Asynchronous, as the outcome would be similar.

Siddharth has been playing games since forever and loves it so much so he decided to make a profession out of it. After completing his MBA, he decided to join EA to learn the ropes of the industry. A Game Producer and Game Designer by profession, while not playing games, he loves to read about them, watch movies and spend quality time with his family. His passion for writing led to the creation of this blog.
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  1. Nice article. I noticed the trend as well, and it makes me wonder where it could be going in the future.

    An asynchronous player is represented in the game universe by his 'agent' which is defined by the players history, or whatever other data is available.

    Imagine a facebook app that has an algorithm to distill your profile and who you are, and how you act into an agent that could represent you, In a game world or in the real world for that matter. This trend of asynchronous multiplayer is a way to get around schedules. It's like a reverse DVR or something, a pretty profound change I think in gaming

  2. I totally agree with you Scott :)

  3. The idea of having an agent play you in a game is interesting, for example when you are at work. You might be excited to see what has transpired throughout the day. A game with more choices is complex to build, --especially for synchronous play. The chemical neural nets of the brains still react faster than the most advanced processor, having to do with the data streaming that we call intuition. The ability to subconsciously combine many verbal and nonverbal signals at once combined with past experiences and the ability to use fuzzy logic make play fascinating.
    Though I'm not so certain that I would want an algorithm to distill my profile. We all want to be heroes in our fantasy worlds, the algorithm may limit us in our abilities and potentials to learn from the game and become better.

  4. I am addicted to lords and knights. Actually it has become a stress buster. I am now sending commands during my cigarette breaks in between really big negotiations. This all started after I read this blog. I thought that I'll post some of my ideas but instead I wanted to try synchronous games first. I am an old guy trying to catch up with fun generation.

    I tried Crisis 3, players kept leaving as I was bad at it. I think my team won only 3 times. I tried Black ops the latest one. God- everyone is a jumping jack in there. Forget it.

    I tried to look for world of tanks. I cannot play on my Macbook pro without some third party software tweaking my OS to install and run an .exe file. Hope they come with mac version. I'll surely try.

    As mentioned by the blog writer its a different experience altogether with synchronous and asynchronous games.

    Today I came across an interesting article on BBC. Hope you game makers read BBC too.

    Very Interesting:-

  5. Good to know that you are picking up gaming in a big way :)