A tale of love and hate
“This sword cuts both ways young hero…” – that’s what the wise elder told me before he sent me on a quest to search for the ultimate power to defeat the evil emperor. As a young gamer I was totally hyped. Ready to rescue the princess and save the world I stepped into a journey that, at the time, seemed so enormous and fascinating, that I would dream about it at night and even during daytime (during classes to be more precise). I cared for the characters and was deeply in love with the fantasy world. This is the kind of interest which is said only a child can have – but that’s really what computer games are all about. Certain games have the potential to soak you in and get you immersed in a way that few forms of media can do, provided of course you are open-minded enough do let it happen. And yet gaming has taken a different face lately (the past few years).
If only I knew then that the words of the old man in a robe would be perfectly applicable to the situation we face nowadays in the gaming industry when speaking about social media integration.
Social media is everywhere these days. It’s just this huge juggernaut, which can’t be ignored anymore. So after our private lives, advertising, and many forms of art already switched their focus to social media, it was just a matter of time until the gaming industry would get involved. And this is where the double-edged sword strikes.
Let us start off with “Farmville”. On one hand we have the huge success of this Facebook game. Hundreds of millions of people played it and many got hooked, with up to 27 million daily active users and even more during the game’s zenith. These are numbers no commercially produced game can claim of itself. It also attracted new audiences (mostly women) of different age groups (mostly 30-40 year olds). So it’s a success in every aspect, right? Wrong! – Because the game itself has almost nothing to do with the aspects that make gaming great in the first place. Yes, it gets you hooked (addicted maybe), but in a bad way. It doesn’t have a great story to tell, its not taking place in a finely crafted world, the game-design is non-existent, its not very competitive and adding to all this it is an exact copy of another game or game-idea, which came way before it.
Why is this important you might ask? There are a lot of bad games out there. Yes, but none has reached this kind of audience before. It got hyped and boosted by social media to an extent that is rarely observed in the industry. The problem here is that Farmville was the first experience with games for most players. This might not sound like much, but it actually has a huge impact on the perspective of the average person out there and on how games are viewed by the public altogether. It damaged the reputation of gaming so to say – some claim in a very severe way. This is especially important when you try to see the bigger picture. With talk of games being art nowadays and the general acceptance-issues and presumptions that follow this medium, an unserious representation is the last thing the industry needs.
But there are also very positive examples of social media and games. The word here is “Kickstarter”. Kickstarter is an online platform for all kinds of media and art forms, on which artists can upload their project ideas, so that fans that are interested can directly fund them. This kind of social integration really drives the industry forward, because it gives the power back to the fans, which are the main reason a game gets made anyway. The prime example here is the indie-studio “double fine” which raised over 3 million dollars for their adventure game. This is the best-funded project of all time. This will result in a higher quality experience for the fans – and all thanks to this specific kind of social media.
As we can see the marriage of social media and gaming has its ups and downs, much like in a real marriage (I guess). One thing is certain: we can’t stop the progress of social media, so we might as well let it work for us. The question is how we do this. I for my part am eager to find out what social media has in store for us gamers in the future.