Any classic non-digital game has the potential to become a casual hit. The turn-based nature of these games makes for a slower, more relaxed play experience. A working knowledge of many titles allows players to approach with some degree of skill right off the bat, lowering the barrier to entry. Name recognition also goes a long way in promoting sales. Any non-gamer perusing the titles on Xbox Live Arcade will more quickly download UNO than Outpost Kaloki X, Monopoly than Mutant Storm Empire. Board and card games are inherently casual experiences, and the digital adaptation market can only benefit from the growing success of the casual cash cow.

The Social Network Phenomenon
Social networking, at its core, gathers people with like interests together and creates channels of communication between those users. What better way to communicate than through play?

Social networking sites appear to be slowly picking up on this trend. Facebook fully embraced its applications framework in May of 2007, allowing users to develop their own games and other unique features for the site. MySpace, meanwhile, has launched its own games portal, allowing members to play titles like Desktop Tower Defense on yet another website, and even embed games on their profile pages.

image

Unfortunately, focusing on single-player gameplay entirely misses the point of social networking. When hundreds upon thousands of individuals are linked together, who wants to play alone? Sure, large-scale leaderboards amongst friends and associates may be keen, but the casual, passive atmosphere of social networking makes it an ideal environment for - you guessed it - tabletop adaptations.

There's no better example of this than Scrabulous, the web and Facebook application that out-Scrabbled Scrabble. Though highly (OK, entirely) derivative of Hasbro's classic word tile game, Scrabulous significantly improves upon the original by introducing a passive play style. Clearly inspired by "play by mail" games like Correspondence Chess, Scrabulous encourages players to launch the application from Facebook, make a move and then go about their day. The next time their opponents log in, they play their moves and the process repeats. Whereas Scrabble has always been a sit-down-and-play game, Scrabulous matches can go on for days or even weeks, depending on how often players bother to log in.

Scrabulous provides hard evidence of just how appealing this passive play style is for casual players. As of May 2008, the application boasts more than half a million active users every day. Common sense would indicate that more social networking games should emulate Scrabulous by offering more drawn-out, turn-based gameplay.

Unfortunately, developers for these sites haven't yet gotten the memo. Instead, sites like MySpace and recent Webby winner Kongregate still function as giant Flash portals, albeit with user profiles built in. Newcomer Zynga - founded by Mark Pinkus in 2007 - builds cross-platform multiplayer clones of games like Battleship and Risk for a number of social networking sites, including Bebo, MySpace and Facebook. The Zynga system forces players to act in real-time, however, concentrating gameplay into discrete play-sessions rather than allowing the action to play out over a longer timeline. Zynga may not achieve the popularity that Scrabulous has, but it's a step in the right direction.

RELATED CONTENT
Comments on