Sep 12, 2013
Socialising from your sofa
Social networking is already an integral part of our lives, and it seems it is on its way to our virtual gaming lives too. The next consoles are designed to be constantly connected to the internet, meaning that uploading images or gaming statistics onto social networks will become the norm.
Social network games such as Farmville have proved especially popular, and profitable, and so it only seems sensible to integrate similar features into proper video games. Sharing has become such a major part of society now, and that is why social networks are so popular. Sony made a big deal out of the ability to screenshot and upload videos of your gaming experiences, with a dedicated ‘Share’ button prominent on the Dualshock 4.
Facebook is used to share photos of get-togethers, events, and all too much information on everyone’s lives. Twitter can be a sharing platform for, often unnecessary, insights into people’s minds, alongside important information from a host of great services. Platforms such as Instagram serve as an excuse for people to post selfies and pictures of food. The list is truly endless, and it seems Sony and Microsoft are certain people will want to share their gaming achievements with everyone they know.
Even when playing single player, achievements and trophies are there in order for you to compare with your friends, and are already slowly integrating into social networks such as Facebook. This trend is currently fairly new, but it does exist. The Need for Speed series already updates your scores against your friends, most notably Most Wanted, as Criterion Games used their system from Burnout: Paradise, where you can jump into the online driving world. It seems game developers are keen for me to share the fact I’ve spent 200 hours exploring Skyrim, yet I’d probably rather keep such information to myself. Not only will future generations be able to dig up my profile information from online archives of the internet, but will now be able to see how far I got in Assassin’s Creed IV.
The future of socialising
Next-gen games such as Driveclub look to take the concept further. It has the ability to manage teams with other players, and looks to build a vast community within the game itself. Challenges can be created by players, and then requesting their friends to beat their score. Yet it doesn’t stop there, as it can go viral online, with the wider community attempting to beat whatever it is you challenged others to. The fact a restricted version will be available for free with a PlayStation Plus subscription, it seems the community will be massive, and won’t restrict your circle of friends to people who have purchased it. MMO’s are coming to consoles, and with this constant online play, it seems we will be competing and co-operating more with our friends, and so this can only help the rise of this merging of socialising, social networks, and gaming.
But it’s not all about friends; it’s also about spending time online with strangers, which is something we grew up being told not to do. Yet now, gaming companies are encouraging us to do so. Why play alone when you can compete with a 12 year old from Guatemala, who will constantly insult your gaming skills and/or close family?
Phones and tablets are integrating into the gaming experience, and this idea shows how games are converging with other platforms. Upcoming games such as Watchdogs have already shown how they plan to implement such devices. The app seems to be able to allow you to interact with your friend’s version of the game, showing further synthesis between game and social interaction.
Despite the popularity of social networks, the combination of the two has sometimes proved rather lousy. PlayStation Home was set to be massive, with huge hype around its announcement. Yet when it finally came to be released, it was quite an anti-climax. The novelty of the ability to create an avatar and walk around with your friends wore off very quickly, as playing pool or bowling seemed like a stupid idea when you were on a console capable of playing the latest AAA titles. PlayStation Home has recently been announced to be discontinued in Japan, and no news for a PS4 edition seems to show Sony have realised their mistake, and so this does question how social networks should be integrated into the gaming world. Perhaps using already-established networks effectively in-game will prove much better.
Skype has been shown to be an important feature of Xbox One, as Microsoft own the service, with the ability to talk to your friends via video link whilst doing other things on your console. This means we will never be far from a familiar face, so be sure to watch out for your best friend’s face to pop up during a very tense battle on Battlefield 4. One benefit for children is that when parents complain about them lounging in front of the TV, and they should go see their friends, they can claim they are; virtually. Whether this is a good move for society, or the youth, is ambiguous, yet there’s no doubt this transition is next within the gaming industry.
Microsoft’s initial Xbox One unveiling was a major flop with hardcore gamers, as they focused on Kinect and TV, when they should have been announcing a gaming console. And this raises the question whether people really want an ‘all-in-one’ system, as Smart TVs are already capable of such features, like Skype or email. Companies are enforcing social integration onto the public, as sharing will obviously bring a wider audience, with social networks being flooded by video clips and gaming achievements. This also combats the huge array of gameplay videos on YouTube, making it much easier and more official than the poor quality ones that exist. Screenshots and videos can prove to be effective advertising tools, as if I saw my friend playing a new title, and it looked stunning, through a fusion of fascination and jealousy I would be sure to purchase the game in question.
Gaming: no longer the lone venture?
One matter remains: do gamers really want to be constantly connected to social platforms? The concept of chilling out with a video game usually entails getting away from people and losing yourself in a virtual world where anything is achievable. But whether this is possible when your Nan’s Facebook messages pop up on screen seems questionable. Of course it could be turned off, but whether this is really what gamers wanted from the next generation of consoles seems debatable. Could it be then, that these companies are encouraging the casual gaming market to join the ranks of the console, as they are sure to love sharing their virtual details on their profile? This merging of the serious and casual gamer seems to dilute the market, yet it is no doubt that these added features can only be a good thing. If it proves that big a deal, then it can hardly be enforced, and you can continue gaming in solitary confinement.
We are now in a digital age, and this form of socialising, whether good or bad, is becoming more dominant. The fact is, games have always been a social event to some extent. From beating your friends up with your favourite Nintendo character on Super Smash Bros to racing one another on Crash Team Racing; it seems this is merely the next step in social evolution for gaming.