iPhone board game fans will get an unexpected surprise when they visit the App Store this morning: Ticket to Ride Pocket has received an update adding an online multiplayer mode, supporting up to 5 players in asynchronous play. For those not familiar with the term, it means you'll be able to take turns at your leisure, deciding whether to play over the course of several minutes or several days.
This is a change of pace for digital versions of Ticket to Ride, which had previously supported live online play. Ticket to Ride Pocket does not, but it is the first to offer the frequently-requested asynchronous mode. Even so, CEO Eric Hautemont had previously led fans to believe they would never see an asynchronous version, hence the surprise upon its release.
In an interview with Wired GeekDad's Jonathan Liu back in November 2011, Hautemont stated:
Some people ask, well, why can’t you add asynchronous play to Ticket to Ride? That would solve all of that. But have you ever played the game? Many turns you’re just collecting cards, drawing two cards. So you take your turn, and you draw two cards, and then we wait for Bob to play, and he draws two cards, and then you do this for five or six rounds, but it takes you two days and nobody has done anything but draw cards. It really doesn’t work as an asynchronous game; you have to play it live.
I reached out to Hautemont for some clarification, and he explained the company's change of heart:
We coded an asynchronous version internally and discovered to our delight that Apple's asynchronous game servers were fast enough to provide an acceptable "quasi-real time" experience for Game Center players logged in the same game at the same time - it's not as smooth and responsive as our own (real-time) Online service in Ticket to Ride for iPad, but still...
It's very interesting to see that Game Center integration is working so efficiently that companies can forgo setting up their own real-time services. There was much speculation as to what Apple intended when they announced improved asynchronous play with iOS 5, but few expected that it would provide a comparable experience to real-time play.
Hautemont went on to say that Days of Wonder was responding to the requests of their fans with this move, and that the company wanted to provide the option of online play for those with no access to live online versions of Ticket to Ride or no friends available for local wi-fi play.
Overall, Days of Wonder is very interested to see how the usage of Ticket to Ride online modes will evolve. Much can be learned about app development from measuring and comparing the use of these online, asynchronous, and local wi-fi play options. I can only speak for myself, but I know I'll be starting up several matches as soon as this app finished downloading.
Ticket to Ride Pocket is available in the iPhone App Store for $1.99. It's sister app, the full version of Ticket to Ride for the iPad, also received an update worth mentioning. The app is now compatible with the local wi-fi multiplayer mode previously included in Ticket to Ride Pocket, meaning that a group can play in one live game across a mixed assortment of iOS devices.
The issue is that Apple's current API implementation does not allow two different Apps (e.g. Ticket to Ride Pocket and Ticket to Ride for iPad) to connect together for Asynchronous play (even though it does for Local play). We will keep an eye on this and see how things evolve, however.