For about a week now my Macbook has been at the doctor’s having its failed hard drive replaced. Since I do most of my writing in an OS X application (Journler), I’ve taken this little interruption as an excuse to play way too much Ogame.
Along the way, between launching space fleets and building colonies, I’ve been thinking about whether this simple but wildly popular game is a harbinger of the future of gaming environments or a remnant of the past, and what it tells us about the formation of the Web 2.0 organizations that will increasingly be in our lives.
Oh, and I’ve certainly increased my level of Ogame addiction, because well, what else am I going to do? They don’t cal it O-crack for nothing….
A game that never sleeps
During this week I’ve used a back-up machine, my trusty old WCG gaming rig, to log on to my Ogame account and check on how things were going in my empire. I monitored the development of my factories and the status of my fleets. I checked to make sure that none of my bellicose next door neighbors were launching attacks against me, which of course they were, lots of them.
That’s because there are a lot of people out there playing. A few million people around the world play Ogame, many of them are online right now. Although the action ebbs and flows with the rising and setting of the sun on the real world continents, I’ve never been on when there weren’t thousands of players in my universe, and there are dozens and dozens of universes.The game is so popular that GameForge.de, Ogame’s developer, just opened up their 37th universe, and the game has been translated into 20 different languages. When I first heard these figures I was shocked.
How could this game be so popular? At first blush Ogame seems so simple it’s almost simplistic. It’s a spaceship game divided into universes. Each universe consists of 9 galaxies, with 499 systems, each with 14 planet slots, and players are allowed to colonize up to 9 worlds. To do this they use three resources, a few technologies and various ships to interact with their worlds and other players.
But the game is absolutely absorbing, You have to go and check it every day. In fact you have to go several times a day, and it can creates a sense of omnipresent anxiety because it’s going on all the time. You can’t turn it off. That is not a statement about its riveting nature, it’s a statement about the mechanics of the game. You literally can not stop it from running, because even when you are not logged on, others around the world are still playing, and playing against you. If you are not watching, they can do things, usually not nice things, to your planets, ships and supplies. Game designers call this a persistent environment, I call it a bit like life.
It certainly is a lot more like life than traditional computer games that turn off when you turn them off and re-start at zero when you turn them back on. Ogame keeps going whether you are there to watch it or not. Last night was the first night that I went to sleep without a sense of dread about what would happen to my fleet and planets while I slept. I was able to get some rest because I learned to do a game trick called “fleet-save”. In a fleet-save one sends all one’s ships and cargo on a slow boat to China, or in this case a slow boat to a debris field with a recycler (if you played the game you would get that joke). This keeps your fleet and resources safe from pillage or attack. Without learning this little tactic I would have gone mad from sleep deprivation.