Fifteen years ago, video games helped me make my first friends in middle school. Having recently moved to the frigid north of Columbus, Ohio, I was able to bond with classmates thanks to the social activity required by Nintendo’s Pokémon series. We would sit across from each other at the lunch table, brick-like game systems connected to each other with a thick gray cord, sharing in an electronic social experience that would have been unthinkable even 10 years earlier. It was a technological marvel that was completely lost to us as children. This was simply the way we communicated – any alternative seemed impossible.
Last week, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), that same concept was reborn. Modern social media has come to video games. For better or worse, both industries will be forever changed by it.
Two new gaming systems, announced this year, have been designed to capitalize on the popularity of gaming videos on social networks like YouTube. Some of that platform’s oldest and most successful channels are devoted to gaming, many of them holding tens of millions of subscribers. Networks, such as Machinima, Nerdist, and The Yogscast grew up around those channels, eventually holding enough sway to gain direct attention from gaming’s Big Three: Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. I’ll spare you the history lesson, but the takeaway here is simple. Gaming companies found millions of players spending countless hours of their lives watching gaming shows online. The Big Three didn’t even have to pay for it. This was free exposure to an audience of millions – an audience of committed brand advocates.
With the announcement of two new gaming consoles this year, Sony and Microsoft paved the way for even more social networking around their products. Nintendo, who released their latest console last year, has built their own internal social network, but it presently has no real connection to any existing social network. Microsoft’s Xbox One will stream your gameplay directly onto Twitch.tv. Haven’t heard of it? Twitch was one of the few social video sites airing live coverage of E3 this year, and hosted over 7 Million users during the most popular presentations. Sony’s Playstation 4, on the other hand, will focus on “shared gaming” experiences more akin to what I enjoyed as a child.
DuBose Cole, a strategist at Mindshare UK, said: “The social functions of the PS4, including the dedicated ‘share’ button for game video clips, Ustream multicasting and live ‘spectator’ modes all treat gaming as something to be celebrated, shared and viewed by others.”
You read that correctly: the console will have a social media button right on the controller – social sharing is literally hard-wired into the system (You can read more about this hardware here, on Destructoid). These consoles are built around the idea that gaming is a communal experience; a shared activity that is a natural fit with social media. Now, with the push of a button, anyone with an internet connection can build a gaming channel on Ustream, Twitch, or YouTube. Anyone can take their personal hobby into the social space. If this follows current trends, we’ll soon see game developers sending early access demos to players with large enough networks. Your Skyrim-obsessed nephew may be given a front row seat at next year’s E3.
In short, gaming’s Big Three are taking gaming out of the living room, and into the social space. A handful of companies have already latched on to the idea, and I’ll explain how one of them struck gold with the strategy next week.
Tim studied creative writing, fine art, and popular culture at Bowling Green State University. At Make Me Social, he develops and manages public-facing content for the Small Business Division. Before joining the team, Tim wrote for several blogs, websites, and short story collections including Groove Fiction, The Cog, and Ears and Loathing.