The new Animal Crossing is out on 3DS and the Twitterverse is alive with 140 character quips of Tom Nook. Animal Crossing is significant because it’s among the first console games that had game events occur in real-time. I remember having to wake up at the crack of dawn to harvest rare mushrooms in the original Game Cube version–Or having to frequently return to my town in order to clear weeds that grew in real-time while away.
Real-time game events have since made their way into other games, such as how storefronts in Fable 2 earned money even while your console was off. Perhaps the most recent example is Undead Labs’ brilliant State of Decay. You can queue up construction tasks much like a Facebook game. If it takes 30 minutes to build a new structure, you can turn off the game and play in a half hour when construction is complete. This definitely shows social gaming’s influence on console games.
One game that sorely needs this is Capcom’s Monster Hunter. In the latest edition you have a farm and fishery as well as the ability to send players you’ve met via StreetPass or on-line on asynchronous quests. These are all great features, but the problem is that they run in game-time.
For instance, it may take until the completion of 3 quests before your batch of blue mushrooms is ready to be harvested from the farm. It would be far better if it actually took 10 minutes in real-time to complete. Then, much like Animal Crossing, you’d remember to fire the game back up later to reap the rewards.
These are the type of features that should be handled by companion apps. I eventually grew tired of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate after incessantly playing it for a few weeks. If my phone bugged me that my crops were ready, I’d re-engage with the game. Instead, my Wii U is turned off and the game world is frozen in time. At this rate, my honey crop will never grow. The combination of companion apps and asynchronous gameplay can be used as a retention mechanic to gently remind players there’s still more to be played.