Creating Online Games: Synchronous Or Asynchronous Design?

Recently, I decided to convert Wordner, a silly card game that I created, into an online format. Besides the obvious technical challenges of coding it, I realized that I would need to choose between a synchronous or an asynchronous design.

Here’s why I chose synchronous.

Just to back up quickly, gaming has traditionally been a synchronous experience. For example, when a group of friends sit down for a round of cards, all of them are playing the game in the same moment and in real-time. Each turn is in sync with the others.

Technology has enabled the rise of asynchronous game design like online cards. Turn based games lend themselves particularly well to this format. For instance, when playing Draw Something, the first player will draw their picture and submit it to the other. Then, when the second player has a free moment, he will login to the game, view the drawing, and make a guess – thus completing the round.

Asynchronous games enable people to play against one another without going through the effort of organizing a common point in time for everyone to gather. It’s convenient and becoming increasingly popular. That said, it isn’t an ideal format for all games.

When designing a Wordner experience for the Web, I tested playing asynchronously by posting card combinations to Facebook and encouraging people to answer them. While the results were certainly amusing and provided several months of enjoyment, the general consensus was that playing synchronously in real-time was better.

The reasons for this varied. One of the most common was that synchronous play was simply more fun. Players enjoyed the mutual silliness, excitement, and laughter generated by the game. They also enjoyed gathering with people and sharing an experience. Playing Wordner was less about filling one’s moments of downtime and more about creating an entertaining event for friends.

In addition, it is worth mentioning that Wordner requires at least 3 people to play the game. It is more of a party game and, therefore, is best enjoyed in a group setting. A synchronous design is really the only way to capture this effectively online.

Over the next few months I’ll be watching how the online game play unfolds and looking for ways to continue improving it. In the meantime, join an online Wordner game and tell me what you think!