Play-by-Air Gaming

A long time ago in a DOS-based world far, far away, there were Play-by-Mail games.

I was involved in one called Galactic Anarchy, run by a friend and  business colleague, as a tester and (of all things) cartoonist.  The concept was simple: a turn-based space conquest game played over snail mail (and later also email) populated by several character types (“races”), filled with interesting artifacts and of course founded on certain rules.  Players examined the status of their fleets and owned worlds, and then issued commands to move, attack, defend and anything else the command set supported.

Playing was an incredible amount of fun, even with the 18-day turnaround time for player command sets.  In fact a large part of the experience was the anticipation over just what was going on between the time you submitted your instructions and the day you received the results.  Even more fun was testing the limits of the rules and discovering loopholes and quirks that the game developer had overlooked.  But then every game needs an easter egg or two.

I am revisiting this memory because I’m missing the joy of that sort of gaming and wondering if there’s a place for a revival.  Of course no one will wait 18 days for turn results, but there’s a solution.

What I’m envisioning is a turn-based game with default behaviors determined by the player.  In addition to deliberate commands, players could set certain behaviors and instructions meant to be executed if the player did not submit his commands in time.  The server would ping each player based on a predetermined or random order, and await a response.  The response time could be agreed upon in advance by all players or set by the host (it could even be an average of submitted requests).  Pinging would be conducted by any and all means that the player set: instant message, SMS, Twitter, email, etc.

This would be ideal in a mobile setting, since players would be more likely to respond quickly.  Timezones could be an issue but then that would be part of the agreed response time.

I’m throwing this out there for consideration by the development community, especially Gluon (I shared this with Leinir already).  This is the sort of “sticky” scenario that pulls in and keeps a user base.


18 responses to “Play-by-Air Gaming

  1. I would like to a request a piece of this dream of your’s.

    For a long time now I have hoped someone would put together a turn based type of mmo games, I believe there was a game on the psp that offered this type of play but alas none of my friends wished to pay, a game of this type that could be easily played across phone types would be great! We know it won’t be as big a hit as some of the mainstream games of today but the more phones capable of playing the more people will play.

    Any ideas on what kind of game would be created i.e would you still go for the galaxy conquer thing or perhaps an rpg…

    MOO on my phone against 12 other players would be brilliant!

  2. Hey Texrat! I used to play Star Fleet Battles back in the day. It was a turn-based Star Trek game, where you were in charge of all of the systems of your ship(s) as well as the strategic moves you were about to perform on your turn. It was played on a large hex-grid, and could be played for days, and lent itself well to ‘sit and stew’ between players’ turns.

    Something like what you are suggesting would be very cool in the mobile device-scape, if it does not already exist. Maemo/Meego devices need larger screens to do something like that justice though.

    I like your concept of the IM, SMS, etc notifications of your opponent’s move. Then, you get the updated game state on your mobile device, and “fire at will”. Nice!

  3. Back in the days, I played a lot of VGA Planets vie email. Something like that on the phone would be great.

  4. Finally getting through my back catalog of tabs, haha.

    Could utilize Google Voice numbers and eliminate any fear or worry people have about giving out their cell phone numbers! I believe GV also allows you to send SMS to groups, so that would cut down on the copy and pasting, too. Would just need good group management.

    Could use Twitter, one main account for sharing into and could detail out the big events? Also good for sign ups, if Device update turned on and twitter name is NOT used to converse with, but just dole out info!

    I’m interested, by the way! 🙂
    -A timer on actions for bonus? If person X responds within Y time, do something that helps them slightly. Longer the time, less helpful. Shorter the time, more helpful!

  5. So, maybe with your decreasing of output you could increase some thoughts and time with this? 🙂

    • Hmmm… maybe soon. Unfortunately right now I’m having to commit the bulk of my time to my paying job and household needs.

      I’m going to keep tabs with the Gluon guys on this though because they’re working on a mobile gaming framework.

  6. Funny this, I’ve been discussing this with friends lately. Not understanding why this sort of game is lacking.

    I think an important part will be diplomacy during the day before you put your final orders in. So you need some sort of ingame email so it doesn’t flood your regular box.

  7. My main reasoning for a game like this is that you need to get your moves in once every so often and you can set your own pace with the diplomacy and when you create your orders.

    It’s a social game someone with a busy job, kids and other hobbies can play and be immersed in without it being a huge timedrain like WoW or Eve.

    The fact that the individual players can schedule there own playtime instead of be there 1800 and we’ll be busy untill at least 0030 makes it appealing to former gamesnerd who suddenly find they have a life 🙂

    You can finish your orders on the toilet, in bed, whilst commuting, during lunch etc etc. here is some inspiration, I used to play Dragonlords. Great fun! Too bad it’s not mobile. I also used to play play by mail games but I always thought that was too slow especially as that was before email was normal and there was no diplomacy besides messages on the printout you got with each turn.

    I’m rambling, I’m sorry! 🙂

    • No, rambling is great! It’s brainstorming.

      I like what you say about diplomacy. In fact, it leads me to think of a new wrinkle: maybe in addition to a set window for turns, players could get permission from each other for delays. There would be a cost of some sort involved of course, and there would be the expectation of reciprocity.

      Or players could have a bank of moves per a specified time frame, and could use them whenever they wished. Maybe moves could even carry over to another period, like cell phone minutes. There could even be a decay factor.

      These ideas sound complicated, but they would be programmed in…

  8. That would make the strategy aspect very hard.

    Let’s say you are at war with your neighbour and you know where his troops are. You also know how far they can walk/fly/swim/sail If someone has moves saved up he could have an unfair advantage.

    Ok, I’ve just realised we’re talking about 2 different things 🙂 I was thinking about a game where everyone does his moves/orders and they are all executed at a set time. Like 0400 AM every night, or every week etc etc. So if you both happen to move into the same hex you get a fight. The rest of you are talking about a turn based game where the players move one after the other. Actually I can develope some love for a concept where you get some sort of bonus if you act fast, keeping the pace up and a penalty if you act very slow, slowing down the game.

    It should be in the spirit of the game though, otherwise you’ll end up with a game that suits the in between jobs and makes it pointless for the carreer tigers again 🙂

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