This blog has been written as part of my first assessment piece for KCB206. This blog explores how the gaming industry is being impacted by the emergence of social media.
How the gaming industry is being impacted by the emergence of social media.
New media, particularly social media is changing the way we live: it is in our phones; in our homes; and is an important part of our workplaces. It has become an integral part of how we connect with each other every day. It has all but revolutionised the way those of us within the gaming community and industry interact.
The video game industry has gravitated towards social media over the last few years, bringing gaming to a new level of interaction. The likes of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch has been utilised by game developers and gamers around the global to connect the gaming community. While console and PC gaming were once associated with lonely nerds playing in their parents’ basement this perception has been changed by the impact of social media. And the gaming industry is taking every opportunity of it.
Social media has been able to form networked publics that are “simultaneously a space and a collection of people” (boyd, 2011, p.41). There is a public sphere where not only social, cultural and political issues are able to be highlighted, but also allows members to have a voice (Mckee 2005, p5). Before the time of social media, crashes and unexpected user experience issues were common place in gaming, and there was no real way of communicating this to the developers responsible for creating the games. Any hiccup or interruption to the gaming experience is immediately made known on social media as the unified ‘voice of the gamer’ loudly and clearly. In a positive way, any problems gamers run into are immediately made known to developers so they can work on fixing it as soon as possible. Gamers voiced their opinions on the controversy that was Kojima’s design for a female sniper character. Social media is heavily leveraged by gaming studios to communicate developers updates like Blizzard does for their Overwatch‘s YouTube channel. This allows for two-way communication making communicating issues, fixes and statuses very efficient.
However, internet harassment and a bully mentality within the masses has all too often reared its ugly head and been used against creators to denounce them publicly or attempt to shut them down, leading to some of the most heinous communications that one will ever encounter. For example, these was a recent similar #gamergate situation where gamers attacked an animation developer who worked on Mass Effect Andromeda for the terrible character animations. Bioware has wrote a message on Twitter that was both a thank you to fans, but also an acknowledgement of their critical feedback and concerns . While the negative does exist, the good that comes out of social media giving gamers a voice has fundamentally changed how gamers interact both with each other and the developers that brings these games to our consoles and computers. It has allowed for everyone in between to have two-way open dialogue with each other.
The rise of user-created content, and the shift in the nature of audiences towards a more participatory media culture, is associated with greater user control over media. This is partly related to a greater diversity of choices of media content and platforms, but also in the ability to achieve greater personalisation of the media content that one chooses to access. Already do we see an increasing number of people looking to express themselves through the games they enjoy. Gaming video content is the number one category on platforms like YouTube and Twitch. Fans put an increasing amount of editing and effort into the production of videos that consist of walkthroughs, cosplay, reviews, how-tos, glitches and gags. Creators like Rooster Teeth and PewDiePie are some of the most popular channels of YouTube. YouTube and Twitch is arguably the pinnacle of a participatory culture in the gaming world. Jenkins (2006, p.331) defines participatory culture as culture “in which fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content”. It also involves “participants who interact with each other,” (Jenkins, 2006, p.14). It is a centre for players/users to share their gameplays, watch live streams of prominent gaming broadcasters that provide insights about a game, and chat with other viewers doing a broadcast or forum. This informal affiliation encourages users to easily access a broad stroke of information when it comes to gaming while setting itself apart from the YouTube community by being able to engage in real time during scheduled events. While some streamers are sponsored by gaming companies or get paid from their own advertising revenue, it could be argued that some professional and amateur gamers are being exploited. Fuchs (2014, p.56) explains exploitation is measured as the degree of unpaid labour from which companies benefit at the expensive of labour. Yet, where things get tricky is the responses of the gaming industry so far. Nintendo launched their own affiliate program for YouTubers, a scheme that lets people earn advertising proceeds on any Nintendo-related stuff that uses gameplay footage of Nintendo games while taking a portion of their advertising revenue. However, some critics like well-known YouTuber Zack Scott who spoke on his YouTube channel, “This program further drives a wedge between video creators and game developers”. Similarly, Atlus warned Persona 5 players that if they show gameplay footage after a certain point in the game, Atlus will go after their channels with copyright claims and strikes.
Jenkin (2006) defines convergence as ‘flow of content across multiple media platforms’, suggesting that media audiences nowadays play a crucial role in creating and distributing content, and convergence therefore has to be examined in terms of social, as well as technological changes with the society. Furthermore, Jenkins (2006) states media convergence is an ongoing process that should be viewed as a displacement of the old media, but rather as interaction between different media forms and platforms. This has given way for storytelling which stories and media content are dispersed across multiple media platforms. An example of transmedia storytelling as it pertains to video games is Blizzard Entertainment’s online team-based shooter Overwatch. With Overwatch, the majority of the storytelling takes place outside of the game. The company uses a variety of different mediums to do this, including comics, animated short films, and even Twitter. The informational jugular of the game, however, runs through actual gameplay, but players cannot tap it effortlessly. They must integrate information built into the background, such as on in-game monitors, posters, and elsewhere. The game world of Overwatch recapitulates, at a less abstract level, trends in transmedia storytelling. At both levels, audiences are being challenged to uncover information hidden from plain sight, and to use such information to fill in the gaps of massive story worlds. One example of this was a recent playable character who had been hinted through message boards in the game as well as promo marketing videos, for people to pick up on and speculate about before the character was officially announced through an animated short film. The character, name Sombra, is a hacker, so to first hint at her existence, the message boards (see image below) and promo videos were “hacked”, revealing an encrypted message from Sombra that fans had to work together to decode as seen on this Reddit post. Jenkins has similarly noted the connections between the video game and the world-building of transmedia storytelling in pointing to decentralised storytelling as an increasingly realisable potential of the medium (2006).
In conclusion, social media has had an impact on the gaming industry by allowing networked publics to form and giving gamers a voice. While this does have positive and negative consequences, it allows for open two way communications between everyone in the gaming industry. Furthermore, it has given rise to user-created content and a shift towards a participatory media culture, allowing passionate gamers to create contents and stream on YouTube and Twitch. Lastly, social media, a by-product of media convergence allows game companies, like Blizzard Entertainment, to use transmedia storytelling in their games.
boyd, d. (2011). “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self – Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), 39-58. Accessed from http://www.danah.org/papers/2010/SNSasNetworkedPublics.pdf
Fuchs, C. (2014). “Social Media as Participatory Culture.” In Social Media: A Critical Introduction, 52-68. Retrieved from Queensland University of Technology QUT Readings
Jenkins, H. (2004). “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge: MIT Press, 118-30
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Fans, bloggers, and gamers: Exploring participatory culture. New York University Press.
Mckee, A. (2005). The Public Sphere: An Introduction. 1st ed. Cambridge University Press