January 15, 2010

Social Media Role Playing Minigames

Madbrew Labs recently wrote a response to my article "Role Playing Games, Social Media Games, and the Shared Fence" where he explores more in detail the technology that would be needed for a Social Media Role Playing Game (SMRPG). In his piece, "Bridging the Gap: RPGs and Social Media", he writes:
"One approach to lightly embed a roleplaying game into social media is to implement mini games that do not require moderation by Game Masters, but could be amended by them and add value to the actual game. These mini games might include tasks normally glossed over in most games such as researching inside a great library which could yield access to rituals in game. The majority of crafts could be given this treatment as well stronghold building."
This is really a fun idea - and a step in the right direction for the table top RPGs of the next decade. For some reason my head exploded (that's a good thing) when I read that section. I've written about minigames before [1], but with all the thinking I've been doing about the future of the industry and where games are headed - the thought of using technology just to handle the minigame aspect of an RPG just makes me say "YES! Of Course!"

The main difference here is not the type of minigames I previously blogged about. Those were main from the stand point of things the character actively does at the game table: chocobo racing, gambling while in character, puzzle solving, skill challenges[2], etc. This time I'm thinking about things the character might do away from the game table. As Madbrew suggests: researching inside a great library, crafting materials, stronghold building, training, etc. These examples are all drawn from a fantasy game setting backdrop but there are a myriad of things that might be similar in scifi, pulp, or other settings. The things your character would do between games or between adventures - the stuff that can be super boring for other people sitting around the same table[3] can be fun for the solo player.

Social media games seem ripe for this sort of old school meets new school integration. Imagine a set of lightweight online Facebook apps, or Obsidian Portal tools[4], that allow your character to explore the metaverse between sessions, build a stronghold between adventures, or investigate crimes in a local region (basically uncovering new adventure hooks). Seeing as how much time people spend tinkering around with games like Travian (which is really silly and fun), or Mafia Wars - I could easily see these sorts of minigames adding a lot of value to an ongoing campaign.

Especially if your campaign is set in a shared world where other player groups are exploring the same shared universe.

Silly idea - or something you would make use of if it was available? What form do you think these tools would take?

Lots more to think about and explore here...

[1] "Mini-Games in RPGs", The Core Mechanic, December 2009.
[2] Skill challenges are of course limited to 4E Dungeons & Dragons, but could be thought of as taking what was previously role played and putting into a minigame format.
[3] I have a distinct memory of sitting around a game table for several hours playing MtG while one of our party members and the DM sat their figuring out the balance sheet of the castle he was building... wtf...
[4] Obsidian Portal seems positioned best for this sort of integration of campaign management and off-table tech based minigames (OP should use Facebook Connect services anyway IMHO...) I know that some companies prohibit software development for their games - but with the right development team, it might worth it for a d20/OGL game where there's much more flexibility.


  1. Mini-games really would help alleviate the boredom surrounding solo ventures at the table. It could also serve as the first steps to implementing a larger SMRPG platform (<-- shameless plug).

    AND it would be really cool if a GM could upload custom content (equipment, ingredients, building materials, rituals, spells, plot information, etc.) that the PCs could discover/utilize. It could get real complicated real quick.

  2. I should also point out that though this is a often overlooked component in the MMORPG field, there is a massive market demographic that eats minigames up and makes companies like popcap retardedly rich.

    What is this mystical super-demographic that would rather play Peggle and Diner Dash over killing Orc's PVP-style in WoW? Well... they're the people RPG geeks have struggled to comprehend since time immemorial... the mystical mysterious GIRL.

    Girls and women are the market that drives all those silly stupid facebook games, they play Neopets, Diner Dash, Farmville, Peggle, Gaia Online and a thousand other games that are either about creating something or doing a basic puzzle. They don't care as much about smashing creatures with digital weapons, but they are very much into games just as much as we are.

    That is why I get very very angry when idiot WoW players write off my suggestion that being able to create a farm in the MMO world is "boring".

    Sorry... rant over... I am SO glad that some people are seeing the things I see and communicating them so much better than I have been. Maybe you guys will help bring about a new era of role-playing games that utilize new tech.

  3. The idea is great but it does have all sorts of practical problems.

    Who builds or makes these games?

    Most GMs won't have the time to set them up for their players. If a 3rd party does them, it could introduce aspects to the game that a GM doesn't want?

    What about rewards for playing the mini-games and game balance? Will players who cannot spend 10 hrs a week playing the mini-game be disadvantaged? And if not, how will players of these games be rewarded?

    What about internal game logic? If a party is currently on the 3rd level of a mega-dungeon, how do you rationalise a character who suddenly goes chocobo racing?

    Computer games and table-top RPGs are very different beasts. There is a huge potential for mixing them but this cannot be done by tying to force them together. The solution won't be an RPG and it won't be a computer game it will be something else completely. And who ever gets its right will make a fortune.

  4. Well.. I don't know about "making a fortune" -- perhaps.

    Maybe the key here is to create a SMRPG that plays like a PbP game - but instead of shoehorning a D&D/d20 or other table top game into the PbP medium - the key is to create an entirely new game - with its own system of rules etc that intermingles the technology with the rules. This new game would, by design, expect the players to play both at the table and via Teh Intanetz (facebook, dedicated web service, etc). Hrmmmm...

    Thanks for dropping in Chris. As always - it's a pleasure to hear your point of view..

  5. I think the biggest problem with this idea is who is going to create these mini-games? Most GM's are pressed for time simply to put together the next game session, let alone immersive in-between session games. Even if they were given a set of highly useable tools, I don't think most GM's would find the time invested justifiable by the output. As for the game companies doing it, would the income generated be worth the investment? And would they be able to provide the breadth of mini-games needed to satisfy enough players to make it worth while?

    While the idea is intriguing, I don't see how we can get there from here, and if it is even worth it, given that we can already use e-mail/Google Wave type tools and get better results (though with less high-budget SF/X).


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