I'm going to veer off topic even earlier than usual in this column and address directly those among you who are developing quick, arcade-y style games for some kind of online format. Yes, you. You know your high score table? You know that thing you do where you record the best scores from all the players worldwide? Ditch it. Now. In the bin.
Nobody one would want to spend any time with trapped near the buffet table at a dull party gives a shit about who has the best score in the world. People being what they are, the number one score on any global high score table - even just a city-wide one - will either belong to a hacker or someone who has the necessary brain defects to want to play the same bloody game all bloody day and land the top spot in order to silence the bodiless laughing women that only they can see. At which point everyone will just assume they're a hacker.
When I finish a round of one of the many little timewasters I have on my phone the only thing I want to know is how my score stacks up against the previous scores of me and some people I know and/or live with. Mainly me, 'cos I can gauge how I've improved, but if there's gloating to be done I want to be able to see or at least picture the tears rolling down their stupid defeated faces. That's what's going to keep me replaying your game and shelling out for the non-free version.
I bring this up because the classic high score table - especially the arcade kind that only let you enter three initials, although as a kid I'd always put 'BEN' and feel inordinately satisfied with myself - is historically the first example of what I have heard termed 'asynchronous multiplayer', and it's a topic that I've been finding greatly of interest lately. In case the name doesn't make it clear enough, it refers to playing against or alongside other human players but not at the same time. I know I've made it amply clear that I'm no fan of the whole join-server get-shot-by-douchebags whoops-kicked-from-server rigmarole, but I'm not completely adverse to other human beings. Being locked within a single-player universe where I am the only intelligent life-form, surrounded by the hollow adulation of artificial intelligences, does feel limited at times. And I can't deny that I was sucked into World of Warcraft despite never interacting with other players just because their mere presence gave the world a greater sense of depth and enormity.
Asynchronous multiplayer is already the bread and butter of turn-based online games like Words With Friends, or the Facebook timekill genre that includes Cityville and suchlike, where gameplay is based around trading between other players and slowly losing the entire contents of your credit account to the micropayment death of a thousand cuts. But Dragon's Dogma presents an interesting case of that sort of thing being implemented in a triple-A console release. Multiplayer that not only doesn't require you be online at the same time but also doesn't require you to interact at all. And that's just about ideal for us misanthropic gamers.