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What are Online Simulation Games?

By Brad Cole
Updated May 16, 2024
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Online simulation games are computer and video games that attempt to replicate an aspect of real life or possible real life. They differ from traditional simulation games because they have an aspect that is played either over the internet or via another type of network connection. The term online simulation game usually means that the game has elements that can be shared by different players, but it should also be noted that an online simulation game can technically be a single player game that is accessed via the internet or other long-distance connection. There are three primary ways that simulation games are played online: leaderboarding, content sharing, and experience-sharing.

Leaderboarding online simulation games allow players to see how well they have done in a game compared to other players. The game itself is played single player, but some aspect from the time the game was played is put online and compared to that of others. Aspects compared can be anything that can be empirically tested, and might include how quickly a mission is completed, how big of a city was built, or how many home runs were hit against a virtual pitcher. Some online simulation games that have leaderboard aspects also have anti-cheating aspects that require part of the game to be played while connected to the internet.

Content sharing online simulation games allow users to share modified or self-created aspects of a game over the internet or other network. The aspect shared depends on the game, and will be different for each. One game might allow users to create and share game levels; another might allow them to share music or items. Content sharing online simulation games are often valued by the gaming community because they allow fans to expand the game beyond its initial release state.

Experience-sharing online simulation games allow players to interact with each-other in the game world. These actions are either delayed or simultaneous. Delayed experience sharing is usually turn-based – the players take turns, and there are consequences to the game universe afterwards. Play by email games and most online management games, such as fantasy sports leagues, and stock portfolio simulation games, are two examples of this. Simultaneous experience sharing means that the players experience each other’s actions in real time.

This style of game is usually either player versus player or cooperative. In player versus player gaming, the players attempt to outdo their opponents in achieving a goal. Goals include getting the highest score or achieving an objective first. In cooperative play, the players work together to accomplish a goal. Cooperative aspects can be anything from two players building towns that trade with each-other to players flying fighter jets in formation.

These three categories are the primary ways that simulation games are played online; they are not, however, the only ways. As previously mentioned, online simulation games can technically be single player games that are accessed via the internet or other long-distance connection. BBS games that are simulations are an example of this, but so are internet-based content delivery services that allow users to play single player games. Web browser-based simulation games are also examples of this, as are online cell phone games that focus on simulation.

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