I'm just curious if anyone suggested something like this before. And since it doesn't really fit into any category in the tabletop subforum, I figured I'd stick it here.
Has it occurred to anyone that most mid to high-end graphics editing software combined with sharing a screen ala Skype would allow people to play tabletop games online, in real time, no serious networking, programming, or fuss required? This isn't referring to Vassal, either, which is dependent on pre-programmed values and mechanics, but a direct simulation of the tabletop by moving "pieces" across the screen. I said mid to high-end editors because these allow you to move and rotate objects around without worrying about hefty editing of any kind, which is perfect for simulating playing pieces.
Now I know that a good third of the hobby is the miniatures, but the other two thirds (the game and the interaction between players) still count, don't they? I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who would like to play but lack the money to buy anything, or the local community to take part in. This isn't a replacement but it's certainly a bandage.
Picture this: You log into Skype and get into a chat with a few friends, no matter where they're at so long as they have a big enough screen and a microphone. One of you fires up something like Adobe Flash, or Photoshop, and begins sharing their screen using existing Skype abilities. The others blow that camera up to full screen.
The editor already has independent "objects," styled like tabletop pieces, ready to go. The background is a top-down view of some battlefield or another. Other objects are off to the side, such as rulers, blast markers, you name it. And off to the side of the window is a browser with Random.org, enabling any number of custom dice throws, including named dice using a list randomizer. At this point, one of two things happens: Either the person with the editor follows the command of other players when it is their turn, or they go the extra mile and use shared computer programs to let them manipulate the pieces on the screen themselves.
At this rate, the only thing required is the art assets, which could be grossly simplified if absolutely necessary. Otherwise you could use existing rulebooks, or any number of custom rules, without having to worry about whether or not another program is up to date.
If using a simulated board which requires a ruler is too much of a hassle, you could always play any number of games based on hex grids and the like, which makes the process even simpler.
The best part about this is the ability to save an ongoing game with 'unerring accuracy' whenever required. The game state can be frozen in time simply by saving it to a new file, which for redundancy's sake could be sent to all the other players in the event of a computer crash. You could even keep periodic saves on separate files, which, strung together, show a turn-by-turn progression of the battle.
Not only would this system let you play specialist or otherwise less popular games with greater frequency than allowed by driving for hours to the nearest lively shop, but it would also let you test any number of custom rules, or even custom games, on the fly, without any huge investment of money into new pieces or terrain.