The power of social media in gaming

Guns_LotsOfGuns

Moderator/Games Reviewer
The internet is a powerful place, capable of affecting change in many ways; from revolutions in the far east to pitching tents on Wall Street, no corner of our lives it seems is out of its reach. When it comes to gaming it's woven directly into the industry's DNA, with on-line gaming and connectivity driving the medium forward. The ubiquity of connectivity continues to increase the reach of social media; never before has the player had such an intimate, direct and powerful relationship with the creators of their content.

This influence of this hive mind has recently accomplished impressive feats, none more mighty one might say than bringing a company ranked at 35 on the Fortune 500 to its knees. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One into a storm of negative press, which was supercharged by social media and culminated in the largest and swiftest about face since New Coke was pulled from the stores.

In the good old days market forces would dictate success, Sega, Sony and Nintendo would seal their best ideas into one box, place it on the shelves and then use software to attract its audience. The NES is arguably regarded as the greatest video game console of all time; but with it came many draconian measures regarding third party publishing which, together with other antitrust violations, were eventually judged illegal. Had social media existed back then, would the NES have even made it to retail? Developers were forced to produce games exclusively for the system, were limited to a small number of titles a year and had to purchase minimum amounts of the expensive cartridge format. Twitter would have exploded.


As appalling as Nintendo's behaviour was, it was effective, the rash of poor content for the Atari 2600 contributed to the industry crash in the 80s, and Nintendo's measures most certainly resuscitated the home videogame market and established influences which are still apparent in present day consoles.

Today's social media doesn't leave room for the possibility that ideas which might seem outrageous in the moment often become understood or even necessary with the perspective of time. Will we look back on the Xbox One reversal as a bad exercise in mob mentality?

There have however been moments of brilliance, brief glimpses of the type of experiences social media can contribute to gaming, in a way that only a connected, responsive and inclusive medium can. Back in 2004 the innocuous website ilovebees went viral as people worked together on-line to decode elaborate clues and messages in an interactive story leading up to Halo 2. Similarly 2012's Fez had communities collectively scratching their heads to analyse the game's puzzles and unlock its secrets. These kinds of experiences can only exist and succeed through social media, more importantly rather than separating users into warring factions that trade barbs within 140 characters, it inspires co-operation, creativity and excitement like no other platform can. Participating in a living, breathing adventure which bleeds into the real world will surely be one of the next evolutions in gaming.


Kickstarter is perhaps the embodiment of this new age, "crowd-funding" places the power entirely in Joe Public's hands as individuals and companies pitch ideas and attract backers who "pledge" (not invest, there is no legal obligation to deliver as promised) funds to bring these projects to life. Removing "the man" from the process entirely allows fans to launch titles and products which may have failed to gain traction in the normal publisher model.

Double Fine put the service on the map asking for $400,000 to create a new adventure game from the mind of industry darling Tim Schafer. Records were smashed and over 3 million dollars was handed to Double Fine. Kickstarter exploded. Had the industry finally found a way to break the hold of the AAA publishers, who seem committed to a model where games cost so much to produce that even sales in the millions are deemed a failure? Not quite.

Schafer recently revealed the studio was out of cash and laid out plans to release half of the game via Steam's early access service to generate more funds to complete the project. The opening words of the initial Kickstarter pitch now ring out exceptionally clearly.

The world of video game design is a mysterious one. What really happens behind the closed doors of a development studio is often unknown, unappreciated, or misunderstood.
As much as we might want game development free of the often oppressive influence of the corporate world, there are benefits to be gained from the corporate approach. Had Double Fine pitched their idea to a publisher and received funding, would the costs have spiralled past the initial $400,000 goal and kept going beyond the mind boggling $3 million they amassed? Unlikely. Would the game presented at the end have been the same undiluted vision that will eventually be delivered to backers? Also unlikely, but you might have received it before the new completion date of mid 2014.

The internet has been kind to Double Fine, probably because they have been admirably transparent throughout the entire process, keeping backers informed through every step of the PR minefield.

The OUYA however has had no such luck, the android based console sailed past the 1 million dollar goal to eventually rack up $8.5 million in funding, and has been met with lukewarm praise and mutterings of "potential". Raising the question whether there really was a need for what is essentially an android handset in a box that you plug into your TV. Whose biggest and most dangerous competitor is sat in my (and potentially your) pocket; an Android phone which has almost the same internal components as the OUYA which, when hooked up to a TV, offers almost all of the same functionality.


The OUYA is a risky proposition, one I doubt many companies would be willing to assume for numerous legitimate reasons. The idea behind the OUYA of offering small developers a legitimate platform to aim for is admirable, and possibly even an inspirational one which 60,000 people believed in enough to open their wallets for.

But as the saying goes, people will buy anything, Kickstarter is successfully funding everything from the joke projects like the Ostrich Pillow to your garden variety scams and cash grabs. As empowering and exciting as the service is, at some point the Zeitgeist cannot be trusted.

Which leaves the entire concept of crowd sourcing and indeed the influence of social networking in an unpredictable position of power in the gaming industry which, although it has great potential, could from some perspectives (certainly Microsoft's) be holding us back. With great power comes great responsibility, however, the question remains, is "the crowd" responsible enough?
 

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Pistachio

Member
Good article Guns. Didn't want to add a negative element to your editorial, but wanted to shout out to some of the gamers who have been subject to appauling behaviour at the hand of some of the fools on social media - it does have a very dark side.

David Vonderhaar received death threats on social media for his last small tweak to the cod guns in black ops 2, and there will be no fez 2 due to another twitter storm involving Phil Fish. (Plenty of other awful (and worse) examples of people suffering horrific abuse on social media with very sad real world consequences)
 

kav

Distinguished Member
While I didn't agree with all aspects of the original Xbox One vision, I was firmly in the camp of letting MS go ahead and try out their strategy. Whether it failed or was successful, lessons would have been learned and the end result would have been either of great benefit to the customer, or it would have been hated by the customer and not used, and subsequently chalked up as a failure by MS, and they'd have moved on to something else. As a successful company MS would do their best not to allow the latter to happen, which IMO would ultimately mean they'd end up in a similar direction as Steam, with great prices on digital content and a constantly-improving infrastructure.

Unfortunately because of the baying mob we will never know one way or the other, which I think is a shame.
 

Mark Botwright

Distinguished Member
Great piece Leon. My two-penneth worth:

All businesses value feedback, it's why they push their wares in our faces before launch and follow polls and trends, but in this case - with only half the facts known - it's effectively robbed many of the opportunity to even make a choice; however MS only have themselves to blame.

Given their fudged and confused replies to direct questions, i've little doubt i'd have disliked many aspects of the One, but it is a strange scenario that something no one's tried, the infrastructure of which was yet to be finalised and the good/bad points not yet experienced can crash and burn during its gestation period.

I'm surprised you didn't mention the Mass Effect 3 outrage as i know that got under your skin. I like the idea of feedback, but it does worry me when it starts dictating to technology giants and creative figures, the likes of whom have traditionally lead us to new experiences, often despite our misgivings. Gaming has such a wide market that i can't help but feel that to listen to simply the most vocal is a mistake.

As for Kickstarter, well it's slowly starting to worry me, but i can't help but feel that in this initial stage it's a harmless distraction that, hopefully we'll learn from.
 
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IvorB

Novice Member
I'm not sure the Xbox 180 had anything to do with social media. There was a continual social media storm since they first revealed it and they did nothing. It was soon after pre-orders opened that it happened which suggests that pure commercials was the cause. They were being slaughtered on pre-order numbers.
 

Guns_LotsOfGuns

Moderator/Games Reviewer
I'm surprised you didn't mention the Mass Effect 3 outrage as i know that got under your skin.
Indeed it did! Its one thing giving "feedback" but when devs are full on changing the creative vision then its a bad sign IMO designing things by committee is never good, I want creative games with all the warts if it means it won't be crowd sanitised.

I'm not sure the Xbox 180 had anything to do with social media. There was a continual social media storm since they first revealed it and they did nothing. It was soon after pre-orders opened that it happened which suggests that pure commercials was the cause. They were being slaughtered on pre-order numbers.
Chicken or the egg situation, would preorders have been so skewed without the negative internet campaign that it endured?
 

IvorB

Novice Member
Chicken or the egg situation, would preorders have been so skewed without the negative internet campaign that it endured?
I'm sure the backlash contributed to the low pre-order numbers but I don't think it would have been enough on it's own to cause the 180. Maybe it was a case of the straw that broke the camel's back.

Another good point to mention would have been the PS4 NoDRM Twitter campaign. Which is a good example of how gamers can reach out and communicate directly with games companies.
 
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majnu

Member
The X1 was never endorsed properly from the get go, the whole campaign was a shambles from the start. What's that saying.... "If you fail to prepare...the prepare to fail"...that was the downfall for the X1 campaign.

They are now in damage limitation mode. Yes gamers put the pressure on, but they didn't pressure for change. They applied pressure asking for an explanation and when they got one it simply was rubbish.

When gamers in this information age can make headlines on the radio and tabloids by using social media (twitter, youtube, facebook) as a platform to voice their opinions then when will companies know whose "opinion" to listen to or ignore? Because afterall we're just a minority of gaming enthusiasts who just so happen to have the biggest gobs. :D

Also rants from the likes of Francis and angry Joe should be automatically flushed down the toilet when they can't articulate themselves better or have a rational debate. If the future of console gaming is based on narrow minded ideals of those two idiots then I'm glad I'm a PC gamer.
 
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