How turn-based multiplayer features in Google Play Services could change everything

Shane Schick

Ever since high school, I've known guys who put aside time in their week, no matter what else is going on, to get together at one of their friends' houses to play console-based video games from early evening until the wee hours of the following morning. These kinds of parties have a particular ambience, if I can call it that, that is charactered by a deep focus and intensive competitiveness, and more than a little trash-talking. It's hard to imagine that same thing happening virtually, using smartphones--but that's where we're headed.

Of all the changes announced in Google's most recent update of Google Play Services, perhaps the most significant was the introduction of turn-based multiplayer gameplay. When I first wrote about multiplayer mobile gaming last summer, this was the great white hope that everyone was talking about. What devs do with this functionality could change the way everyone thinks about the app economy.

While casual gaming has attracted an untold number of fans, for example, it tends to be a relatively solo pursuit, the kind of thing that fills in the time when you're waiting for something or need a little mental break. Turn-based multiplayer gaming sets up an environment that could be far more immersive, much longer in duration and extending the social dimension beyond your friends on Facebook or Twitter.

Though it may be unlikely for consumers to go into some kind of lockdown with their smartphones for hours on end the way they do with a console or a PC, the level of engagement on smartphones will probably be higher given that, with multiplayer technology, they can wait to see how their competitor--a real person this time, not a computer--is trying to outwit or outlast them. This also means monetization strategies that sometimes prove complicated--like in-app purchasing, in-app ads and the like--could have a bigger window of opportunity to connect with players. It can be annoying to get an ad or a pitch for digital currency when you're only playing something for five or 10 minutes at a time, but less so if you keep coming back to that game again and again throughout the day. 

If turn-based multiplayer mobile gaming does anything to boost retention and session length, it may also open up opportunities for developers to do a lot more experimentation and A/B testing around what spurs players to counter-attack their friends more quickly, or what sort of rewards and incentives are required to move through levels beyond the thrill of beating an opponent. Mobile analytics firms should get ready with tools that will hone in on these kinds of details as turn-based multiplayer mobile gaming takes off.

In the longer term, I'd be interested in how turn-based multiplayer mobile gaming might integrate with traditional PC or console gaming to create a more extended experience. Just as we currently start work at our desks and then continue to finish tasks with our laptops and smartphones, far away from the office, those all-night video game parties could wind up being just the beginning of an anytime, anywhere tournament. --Shane