Thursday, July 2

Computer Versions of Board Games

Last night I started working on a computerised version of Sumeria. Why invest the time and effort to make a computerised version of an existing board game? What's in it for the (potential) customer?

  • It allows people to quickly and easily see if it's a game they would like without the expense of a purchase.
  • It's a chance to learn the rules where they are constrained and don't rely on someone's interpretation of the rulebook.
  • It allows you to play when you can't get a group together.
  • Some allow you to play offline - i.e. each player takes his turn and then notifies the others it's ready for theirs - this requires much less player time in one go than a full face-to-face game.
  • In a thinky game, perceived downtime is reduced since you're not sat waiting for an opponent to have a go - you're just notified when he has.

Sounds good so far. So why don't all publishers make (or allow to be made) computerised versions of their games?

  • It might lead to fewer sales: why buy a game if you can play it online for free?
  • It's expensive in terms of time and effort. Programmers aren't cheap - I know - I used to be one.

You can do essentially three different type of computer-based board games:

  • Real-time against the computer (AI)
  • Real-time against human opponents
  • Offline against human opponents

Each has their pros and cons. Against the computer only means you don't have to worry about network programming or database interaction - the whole thing can be done more simply. In one sense - you need to come up with some AI that the computer players use, which is more difficult. Real-time against other people means you don't need to write any AI, but the downside is you need to write all the code necessary for client-server interaction. Interactive games are probably better for simpler, quicker games, where there is little downtime waiting for an opponent to have their go. You will probably need to provide some form of instant communication too - a chat window or voice communications. Finally, the offline method is like an old play-by-email game, but with a better interface. On your turn you get a notification (via email for example) that it's your turn. You get to see what has changed since you last looked and then you take your turn and the next player is notified. This method will turn a short, fun game into a very long experience, but for the more complicated games it might take the pressure off a bit, allowing players to concentrate more on their strategies without the pressure of the other players leaning over the board asking you to hurry up!

I'm thinking I'll try to get version for Sumeria against the computer working first, if that works ok I can always look at getting the offline version done afterwards. I'm working in C#.

12 comments:

Mal said...

Dude, I would LOVE to pitch in with this, but my track record for actually *completing* such work is poor. I tend to get bored and decide I'd rather have a social life. ;)

Actually, I was recently thinking about digging out Codename: Beaver and finishing the bloody thing. I've actually got a working home PC now, so there's no excuse.

Jack said...

Hiya Mal,

Maybe we should have a coding week again, like the good old days of GridFoundry.

Cheers,

Jack

Todd said...

I play alot of games online at yucata.de and yourturnmyturn.com.

I bought Ysphian because of how much I enjoyed it online --so your theory does work.

Jack said...

Hiya Todd,

Thanks for the info - until now it's been an assumption. Of course, I've still no idea how much it would boost sales.

Cheers,

Jack

Rob Bartel said...

The key is to advertise your game directly with an end-of-game splash page and provide a clear 'Buy Now' link for the physical game, leading players back to your online storefront. Give players a clear opportunity to support you and take it beyond just being a way to experience the game online.

As for the play-by-email model, it's an excellent one that allows players to fit it into their daily life rather than having to set aside time for it (of course, those who want to set aside time for it still can). The trick, I think, is to approach it from a mass market, social networking perspective, rather than as a hardcore app designed for the grognards.

With that in mind, consider building it as an iPhone or Facebook app, rather than as something that lives solely on your website or as a shareware PC product.

Jack said...

Hiya Rob,

Good advice. I'd not considered the splash page before.

I've been out of the programming world for a year and a half (and I was mostly doing project management for a year or so before that) so I'm trying to ease myself back in. I know (or used to know!) C# and Windows development - hence starting there. Once I've got something finished it should be easier to port that to another platform (such as iphone or Facebook) than starting from scratch.

Cheers,

Jack

Rob said...

I found an excellent recent article about asynchronous play - a great read for anyone looking to bring board- and card-games into a digital format:

"Asynchronicity In Game Design"
by Soren Johnson - http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24310

tiu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jack said...

Hiya Rob,

Great - thanks for the link :-)

Cheers,

Jack

Fubeca said...

I think the most important function of a computer version of a boardgame in the current environment can be promotion. I posted about it here:
http://www.bgdf.com/node/1896
The two big "IF"s are 1) can you code in flash (or learn to) 2) does the game in question translate to a fun and learnable video game? Learnable = able to follow tutorials to learn the game, and have a simple UI. I even think it's ok to change some of the game to be more fun or simple. If the core mechanic of the boardgame is there, they'll be sold on a physical version. Flash audiences can handle more complexity and strategy than you'd think, but they're certainly not eurogamers - well not YET they're not ;)

roysubs@hotmail.com said...

How is your Sumeria project coming along ?
Cheers,
Roy.

Jack said...

Hiya Roy,

It's stopped :( I've got a working version on the PC that you can play against other people at the same computer, but no AI and no network capability. Since shutting down Reiver Games, I completely ran out of steam on RG projects. Now, I have some games design on the cards, but so little time that I can't spread myself between multiple projects.

Cheers,

Jack