The video game industry has gravitated towards social media over the last few years, bringing gaming to a new level of interaction. The efforts of games developers across the world has seen the likes of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter utilised in order to connect games fans as never before.
Online gaming has been highly popular for over a decade, but the addition of social media has added business opportunities, intriguing creative avenues, and a chance for gamers to showcase their achievements. What’s more, the integration of smartphones with popular titles such as Candy Crush, Angry Birds, and others has brought about an easy transition into the format. We are all now so used to social media, their appearance on our favourite games consoles cannot be considered gimmicky. They are an integral part of the gaming experience, meaning social media has helped shaped the way Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have approached their latest devices. It’s an intriguing moment for the industry, and here’s how it has all developed.
As more people across the world turned to smartphones to keep in contact (and as apps grew in popularity), mobile games began to boom as an industry. The likes of the iPhone helped take video games into the mainstream like never before, and titles such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush proved accessible, easy to play, and addictive.
The most popular mobile game, by some way, has been Angry Birds. It first launched on Apple’s iOS in December 2009, and since then has proven a phenomenon. According to the official Angry Birds Google+ account, “Angry Birds fans around the world have so far played a total of 200,000 years of Angry Birds. Join the movement! Squawk!”.
Finnish developers Rovio Entertainment Ltd. are behind the hugely popular game. Their financial year from 2013 highlights their success. They state, “Rovio’s total consolidated full-year revenue amounted to €156 million (2010: €6.5 million, 2011: €75.6 million, 2012: €152.2 million). Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) were €36.5 million (2010: €3.1 million, 2011: €46.9 million, 2012: €76.8 million), and net profit after tax was €26.9 million (2010: €3 million, 2011: €35.4 million, 2012: €55,5 million).” CFO Herkko Soininen added, ““After three years of very strong growth, 2013 was a foundation-building year. We invested in new business areas, such as animation and video distribution, ventured into new business models in games, and consolidated our strong market position in consumer products licensing.”
Other titles have dominated headlines. The extraordinary success of the Flappy Bird, in early 2014, depended on the game’s intense difficulty (which emulated the near impossible difficulty levels of many NES games it was inspired by. Games such as Ghost ‘N Goblins, Silver Surfer, and even Mario Bros. had a high difficult level to make the short length of the game longer), which led players to take to social media to vent their frustrations. Flappy Bird has a tumultuous history (it’s no longer official available), but The Guardian reported a third of all games released in one day were Flappy Bird clones – my favourite is the excellently titled Flappy Beard Hipster Quest.
The gaming community has had a mixed reaction on the spread into the mainstream. Mobile game quality is of concern, and microtransaction have become called into question. Gamers are concerned the console section of the video game market is being adversely affected by the popularity of mobile games.
Despite this, the formats a user expects from a smartphone (social media accounts such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook) have spread readily onto the latest generation of games consoles. It’s been a straightforward merger, but the implications for gaming has been unexpectedly social.
The first of the Next Generation, Nintendo’s Wii U launched in November 2012. The Wii U utilizes a touch screen GamePad which technology fans have become used to with smartphones, and other devices, leading to unique player interaction with games such as Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3.
YouTube access and an internet browser were featured prominently from the off, with the company’s “Miiverse” being a social media network in its own right. Wii U owners are able to interact with others users from across the globe, compete in online games, post images of their favourite moments from in-game, and write comments to each other. They can also phone their friends for free via their GamePad, which is equipped with a camera and other features.
Players are able to pause a game during play and go into the console’s browser, where they can search for tips, update social media accounts, send images from their game. Upcoming title Mario Kart 8 will have options to post videos of races directly to YouTube, with a “Tournament Mode” for races expected to lead to high levels of social media interaction.
The Xbox One launched in November 2013. As you’d expect from Microsoft, the company’s social networking plans for the Xbox One are complex. As they own Skype, for instance, the chat option allows gamers to keep in contact with their friends easily.
Game footage is posted directly to a player’s profile, where it can be accessed on the social network. Alternatively, an Xbox One owner can send the video to YouTube where anyone can see your skills in action. As with Sony, Xbox have a version of the Wii U’s “second screen” GamePad which can be used with other devices, such as tablets. Again, this encourages user interaction as players can send messages and engage in digital conversation as they play.
Microsoft are using other features, as with Netflix, to create original TV shows and documentaries. Most notably, they sent a research team to New Mexico in order to unearth copies of the legendarily awful Atari 2600 game E.T. This will form a documentary later in this year, and Microsoft will no doubt build on their social media options in the future.
Sony’s PlayStation 4 was released in November 2013, shortly after the Xbox One. Sony’s focus has been on social gameplay, with the use of a “share” button on the console’s controller immediately opening up its players to a global audience. However, as with the Xbox One, the concept for the console is also to be a “all-in-one” entertainment unit. The PS4 has features which link it to PlayStation Now (a streaming video service which is also expected to allow backwards compatibility with older games through downloads), PlayStation App (which will create interactivity between users and their smartphone), and the handheld console the PlayStation Vita.
The DualShock 4 controller’s “share” button allows a player access to their last 15 minutes of gameplay. As they move through this they can select clips (or a specific screenshot), and share it via Facebook or Twitter to other users.
Interaction between friends is encouraged, with gamers able to browse live video footage as their friends play on a game. They can even comment on this from web browers via a number of devices, such as a smartphone. It’s worth noting all these features can be disabled (should players would a traditional gaming experience), but on the whole the merger between social media and games is complete and ever flourishing.