It was always difficult to get a multi-player game of Civilization going, despite the variety of options. There was play-by-email, where player A would take a turn, email the saved file to player B who would take a turn and email to player C, etc., but this could take a couple days for a turn to get back to you and was a very sluggish method of play. Alternatively you could get half a dozen players together and play via LAN. This was always a lot of fun, but very difficult to coordinate, especially back in the day when not as many people had laptops. These made for very intense gaming sessions, but would usually need to be wrapped up come dawn and could only happen a couple times a year.
Thankfully, OSG’s solve all these problems. An OSG’s unique pacing allows players to play a thorough, persistant game without a huge time commitment. OSG’s achieve their pacing by making everything real-time and continuing regardless if players are online. Even if a player has to go out of town for the weekend, the game doesn’t grid to a halt: his workers still harvest resources, work on any building orders he left, and his troops will still defend his city. Further, since most orders in OSGs (raids, constructions, etc) take several hours or more to execute, even if a player misses a day he’s only missed a couple order-opportunities.
Ideally, success in an OSG would stem from a player’s choices and his response to other players, not from grinding.
Nevertheless, some OSGs still emphasize time spent online as a means of victory. When you are required to be watching your account all day long, wouldn’t it be better to play a genre that allows you to do more with your time? Whenever you have constructions that only take half an hour, or give a combat bonus to players who are online, you start taking away from the heart of the OSG.
On the other hand, some games take things too far. eRepublik is a great game, but each player is only allowed a few actions every 24 hours. This means that even if you want to play more, there’s really nothing for you to do. There are many of these games that are more turn-based than real-time, and should definitely appeal to players who want a very casual experience, but I can see how dedicated OSG players might find them limiting.
Finally, some OSG’s fully embrace the genre’s pacing and offer further game mechanics to let the player manage his empire without being tied to it.
Freesky has a system where you can, for free, instantly finish construction on a building that only has 5 minutes left. This is a very convenient feature because it allows players to hurry through the first stages of the tutorial and early stages of a structure, and also means that if you log in and find a building only has 5 minutes left you won’t be stuck waiting for it to finish before queing up your next 4-hour long order.
Travian’s choice of servers is another great method, allowing players to choose how active they want to be. The more laid back player can jump into a standard server, and the more dedicated players can join a speed server. I would very much like to see this feature expanded, perhaps with a .75x server for those of us who can’t even keep up with the standard speed 😛
Lord of Ultima’s expanded building que is also very helpful. Even if there are structures that only require a couple of hours to build, you can que up six of them and not not to check your account for the rest of the day. The paid option of the advisors takes this even further by adding a lot more que slots.
Even within OSG’s it seems there’s a good variety of pacings, so it’s important to find one that works for you. As a genre though, it’s great to find an alternative to the FPS that requires everyone to play at the same time, the MMO that emphasizes mindless clicking your way to the highest levels, and the slew of casual browser games that, while quick, aren’t very engaging.