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With the proliferation of multi-player games onto new online and mobile platforms there is a need to distinguish their interaction types. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous, and Symmetric vs. Asymmetric are the categories analyzed.

Anatolie Gavriliuc, Blogger

July 7, 2010

4 Min Read

Since the world of games is so varied, we classify games by their core game mechanic. You probably know what these acronyms mean: FPS, RPG, MMO, RTS. Then there is also Racing, Sports, Arcade, Sim, Action, Adventure, Serious, Puzzle, Casual and so on… Fun stuff!

While this classification triggers good memories and is definitely useful, I think there is a need to introduce an additional meta-classification of multi-player games that defines how players interact within the game world. It is especially timely now, when the established videogame industry starts to migrate to the social networks and mobile platforms.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

A synchronous game is where players play together at the same time. In fact, they have to play together at the same time for them to play the game together.

As an example is the World of Warcraft game – for you to participate in quests with your friends you have to be online at the same time as they are and go battle side-by-side. While you certainly can play when they are not online, you don’t play with them as a result.

In synchronous games your online identity elements (your stats and/or possessions) are linked to your presence. You do not exist in the virtual world if you are not logged in.

An asynchronous game allows players to play with each other while not necessarily present in the virtual world at the same time. What your friends are doing in the game affects you regardless of when you log in and play.

FarmVille is one example, your farm can be looted by other players whether you are online or not. In iMobsters your stats get modified when you are attacked (either you being online or not) and you get experience points for “winning” the fight or lose money when “defeated”, in an automatic resolve based on your attack/protection stats. You just see a log of what happened while you were away when you come back into the game world.

Your online identity is persistent, present online and dynamic without you being connected to it.

Symmetric vs. Asymmetric

Symmetric games are games where my friends play with your friends. Everyone participating in the group plays with everybody in that same group.

Let’s look at FreeRealms as an example – if I invite my friends to play in a group and we go racing – everybody in that group will race together, with me and with each other. In fact, if I play with you and you invite a friend of yours, I will have to play with your friend as well (or not play at all). Real life soccer is a game like that too.

The game world in these games is a common persistent and cohesive virtual realm.

Asymmetric games is where my friends don’t have to play with each other. Everyone I play with can select who they play with and I don’t have to play with those.

If in CastleAge, for example, I choose to play with a friend of mine and we help each other out, my friend can continue to play the same game at the same time with her friends without me having to play with (or even be aware of) them. SuperPoke on Facebook is an example of a core asymmetric minigame.

An asymmetric game world is comprised of a collection of personal persistent mini-realms that do not add up to a cohesive whole.

What now?

Of course, this classification is just an overarching guide and real-life games do not necessarily fall into absolute boundaries. Like an RPG can have elements of Adventure or other types, Symmetric games can have Asymmetric elements, or the other way around. When classifying games we should think of their primary multiplayer interaction mechanism, with the other mechanics being secondary.

Current multiplayer games are primarily Synchronous and Symmetric. Even FarmVille in the example I used above is actually a primarily single-player game with Asynchronous and Asymmetric elements that enhance its primary single-player farming gameplay mechanic.

The field of true Asymmetric and Asynchronous multiplayer games is still wide open for new games to become iconic in this area. Are you up for this challenge?

*Originally published at GameManifesto.com

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