Mobile gaming has brought many things to the world of gaming, both good and bad. One of those things that falls into both categories is the use of notifications.
When used badly, notifications are irritating little messages that tug at your virtual sleeves and remind you that "Hey! You haven't played our game for three days! Log in now for your DAILY BONUS!" -- personally speaking, this is usually a trigger for me to uninstall the game in question and never touch it ever again. But used well, they can be a very effective means of managing asynchronous multiplayer games, whether that's in faithful board game adaptations or designed-for-mobile turn-based strategy affairs.
Valve's Steam software on PC, Mac and Linux has had the facility to send players notifications for a while now, but to date they have primarily been used for telling you when you receive a new inventory item, when you receive a comment on your Steam social profile, or when a group posts an announcement. Now, it seems, games are getting the ability to send notifications directly to your Steam account -- even when they're not actively running.
One of the first games to make use of the new system is Mode 7 Games' turn-based strategy title Frozen Synapse which, unsurprisingly, will be using notifications to tell players when it is their turn. Previously, the game relied on either email-based notifications that could flood your inbox after a while, or simply trusting players to check in on the game regularly. This meant quite a few matches ended up unfinished as players simply forgot about them -- but with the advent of notifications, this should hopefully be a thing of the past.
Notifications also provide the potential for games to tell players about special events -- MMOs could inform players about seasonal quests, for example, while shooters with progression systems could use them to announce double XP weekends and the like. Hopefully we won't get to the stage where games are begging players to come back and play in the same way that mobile games do, but even if we do, it looks as if we'll be able to take full control over which games can and cannot send us notifications on our settings page.
To date, only Frozen Synapse and Days of Wonder's board game adaptation Small World 2 are making use of the new system as test cases to iron out bugs. Following a successful test, it will be rolled out more widely to developers.