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Gaming Goes Social and Social Goes Gaming

Written by: Digitally Approved
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E3, the world’s largest video game conference is upon us. We are very excited to be attending and it prompted us to take a look at the way the gaming world has progressed in the social media space.

Numerous game publishers, console manufacturers, and retailers, such as GameStop are taking to social media to further engage their avid fans. Since last year, Facebook has become the primary destination for social gamers, and a videogame, Modern Warfare 2, became the biggest entertainment launch in history, thanks in part to social media and an increasingly engaged consumer.  And as we move into the second half of 2010, we are seeing more opportunities to continue the conversation.

Facebook, MySpace and other social sites have opened their platforms to publishers like Zynga (e.g. Farmville, Mafia Wars and the most recent FrontierVille), Playfish (e.g. Hotel City and Pet Society) and Playdom (e.g Social City and Sorority Life), allowing for games to be built that leverage the networks’ existing user bases. In less than a year’s time, those three publishers alone have amassed more than 300 million monthly active users. Even with Facebook’s recent changes in notifications and requests that eliminated a significant amount of the free advertising these apps have enjoyed, social gaming applications are still a force to be reckoned with.

Console gaming has incorporated social network integration at a slightly slower pace, but is making strides. As mentioned in our September 2009 article about the socialization of gaming, nearly all handhelds and consoles introduced since 2003 include a social element. It was only recently that Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 integrated with Facebook and as of right now the experiences are focused mostly on publishing virtual accomplishments and purchases. Most games with an online component do, however, include a built-in chat room or forum to connect players of the same title. Few games have attempted to make a true tie-in to social media; Sony’s LittleBigPlanet 2 aims to be an exception.

Dubbing itself the “platform for games” (rather than a “platform game”), Sony’s LittleBigPlanet 2 lets users create levels and other game content that can be shared directly with friends via Flickr and YouTube. This allows players to tag, rate and try out user generated content, all while enjoying the benefits of viral sharing, crowdsourcing and mass content organization. This integration also makes it much easier for users to share content via their other social profiles on sites like Facebook and Twitter, to promote their creations and elicit feedback. The users of the first iteration of LittleBigPlanet created more than 2 million custom levels, further adding to the great promise of social integration into the next version.

At the moment, third-party gaming sites like Playfire.com offer the best solution for gamers who seek a social network that is platform agnostic. At Playfire, users can import data from their existing gaming profiles to connect with each other and schedule online games, meet similar gamers, build a group website, quiz each other and discuss tactics. It can be expected that such features will be built into console titles in the near future, but for now, external solutions will have to suffice.

With the impending release of Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 (formerly Project Natal) and Sony’s PS3 Move motion technologies, both companies are making its hardware more personal and interactive. Other hot trends such as 3DTV will also have a profound effect on the way games are designed and played, but don’t expect to see social media be a key feature for right away.

Taking a step away from the platform and games themselves; retailers are taking to social media to build excitement around title releases. GameStop, the country’s biggest gaming retailer, has been keeping its followers up to date on the latest deals and promotions via Twitter and recently launched its Facebook page with announcements, title information, and community discussions. Publishers are also taking to the medium to further connect with its fans and to build awareness surrounding titles and developments. EA, Rockstar Games, Square Enix and many, many more have jumped into social media to connect with their core fans and to further brand its products – indicating that it is only a matter of time before social is fully integrated into the gaming experience.

With a community that welcomes the interaction, gamers and social media are a natural fit. As game developers, console manufacturers and retailers move toward a more social experience, the time for meaningful engagement is here and we can’t wait for what’s next.