The Gaming Network

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on May 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Being born in the early ’80s grants kind of a weird curve for my relationship with technology. Most obviously, it means that I grew up during the rebirth of post-crash video games, having been gifted a Nintendo at a very young age. It also allowed me to grow right alongside computing technology; I recall pounding out early essays on my dad’s brand-new Windows 3.x machine (and prior to that, swapping floppies out on a 386). By the time high school finished, I was a wiz at an early version of Photoshop, having taken the helm in teaching my web design class how best to use the program.

College granted both the formative years of my web presence, when I would make a number of forums my “home” online. To this, I owe a number of solid friendships that remain with me to this day. As it was also my first foray into the distant Big City of Chicago, a city I now call home, I got to take the family cell phone, which evolved into having my own phone as part of the family plan.

So it might be said that I peaked a little early to have really gotten on board with social networking. But even I can recognize that games — “traditional” “mainstream” or “hardcore” video games — are way behind the curve.

The weird thing is, they started off so well.

Achievements are a fantastic idea, a feature that encourages us to play games fully for nothing more than some gamerscore and an icon denoting the fact. Despite that many of us compulsively chase after what is essentially a stat tracking feature, there’s no easy way to flip these onto our social network of choice. More broadly, there’s no real integration of console gaming into established social networks, and attempts to create a gaming social network remain neotenic at best and endlessly splintered at worst.

EA has made some remarkable progress on making gaming a social event, even if you’re not playing with anyone at the moment. Recent racing titles (though from experience I’m referring to 2010’s Need for Speed) have included a number of features that ape traditional social networks. The above game includes both a “wall” that includes you and your friend’s activity in the game, as well as an “autolog” that will recommend in-game content to you on the basis of competing with your friends. Using these features (as well as edging out your friends for the best time) grants bonus points for rank and car unlock progress.

On the non-competitive side, you can also take pictures (both “quick” normal resolution photos as well as high resolution shots as above).

Autolog is a fantastic feature that many games can and should benefit from. Lighter versions of it have also popped up in other, non-racing titles. Somewhat infamously, Battlefield 3 uses its “battlelog” as a launchpad for all of the game’s content. By default, it will show you a “wall” like section, detailing both you and your friends’ recent activity (new ranks, weapons, badges, challenge completion, etc.), from which you can comment or “Hooah!” (like) each action. You can also update status text or leave messages on other people’s battlelogs. All in all, it’s a fairly nice addition to what is primarily a social affair — the multiplayer-focused Battlefield 3.

Somewhat more glossed over is Syndicate‘s corporate reports, letting you know how you, your friends and your fellow syndicate members (think clan or guild) are faring as you rank up and complete challenges and assignments. I say “glossed over” because the game never forces you to look at this screen and it isn’t accessible externally like battlelog or autolog.

Now, as much as I love these features, they don’t really help gaming’s social network. Those are different websites for each game, and they require you to have accounts for those platforms to access them. I can’t send an email to someone about these things and expect them to see it, to say nothing for sharing it on Twitter or Facebook.

I don’t think I’m overstating things when I declare that video games are missing a huge opportunity here. Imagine being able to share when you start playing a game, when you stop, when you get achievements, or when you’re looking for some multiplayer goodness. How about being able to take screenshots in any game and have them uploaded for others to see on these networks? Rift gave a good solid effort on this, allowing you to link Twitter and Youtube accounts, which would post achievements when you got them and allowed you to easily upload in-game recorded video. Steam’s excellent overlay UI (for any game launched through Steam, not just Steam games) allows you to take screenshots and upload them to your community profile. Steam also has a blotter that lists recent friend activity with a nice array of fully modular settings.

Certainly, something like this would be a must to ensure you aren’t spamming (or being spammed) by the virtue of one’s dedication to gaming.

So this is what I think.

Each platform should have its own broader social network. These networks should have optional and configurable integration into non-gaming social networks. Within their own networks, you should be able to easily specify areas and games of interest and communicate with others publically and privately. There should be an easy feed of activity with human terms — e.g., “Yesterday, Lucas Paynter played these games and got these achievements.” I should be notified when my friends play games they haven’t played before (“Vulpren played Arkham City for the first time!”). I should receive DLC and game suggestions based upon these and my own activity (“Check out the new DLC for your games!” or “Have you considered buying Operation Raccoon City to play with your friends?”).

Games should try to integrate autolog-esque features as well, recommending content based upon your friends achievements and encouraging you to beat their scores or to play each other. These activities would naturally be on the Xbox (or PS3 or PC) social network, with options to share them on other social networks as well (“Your Mom has commented on your recent Blood Feud with your brother.”). Lastly, toss in the ability to take and upload screenshots and video and you’d truly have something great, fun and social integrated properly into our gaming pasttime.


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