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How #SocialMedia has Changed #VideoGames

A few months back, I wrote a piece on the way social media has changed the way film distribution is handled. That rule does not apply exclusively to film by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact, it applies to just about every kind of entertainment medium you can name. This time around, I'm looking at video games, the most successful entertainment medium of the 21st century.

It's only a few decades older than social media itself, but the advent of online communication has still had a pronounced effect on its development. In days past, video game production, as far consumers were concerned, was a dark and mysterious place. Magazine features would give you some insight into the various intricacies, as would any experience fiddling around with DIY development tools, either on PC or early consoles like the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and BBC Micro.

Now, every stage of a game's birth is usually chronicles through social media posts, as fans are drip fed a tantalising chronicle of still images, early engine tests, alpha footage, beta footage and even offered early access in some cases. It enables developers to give their audience a far more active role in the creation of new content, provided they actually listen to what their fans want. This deeper insight into the infrastructure of game development has likely played a role in the massive increase in indie development, since it's that much easier to research what other developers do and take influence from it.

This is given rise to an era in which the release of a game is actually a part of the development. In days past the idea of releasing an unfinished product would have been ridiculous, but now games are released on 'early access' frequently and social media becomes a conduit for constructive feedback ahead of the full version. Minecraft was available for more than a year before the actual 'full' version was released in 2011. Early versions of games can also act as a draw to gain funding to actually finish the game properly.

This is a smaller aspect of the wider Kickstarter revolution. Being able to promote concepts for games, rather than just games, has meant that crowd-funded game development has taken off in a huge way. Fans have been able to throw their weight behind franchise reboots that might never have happened otherwise.

The most successful example to date is probably Elite: Dangerous, the spiritual successor to the legendary 1984 game Elite, which had you space-trucking between hundreds of planets trading goods, smuggling or just engaging in piracy if you weren't availed of a moral compass. Through social media promotion, the original developers were able to galvanize both young and old fans into giving the franchise a new lease on life.

Crowdfunding has also removed the barrier between publishers and developers, allowing the latter far more creative autonomy. There is a dark side to it, as some projects have turned out to be out and out scams in the past, last year a project called Mansion Lord, which had raised more than $30,000 firstly via Kickstarter and later Paypal, and then completely vanished. The updates stopped rolling in, the main website went down and it became increasingly (and excruciatingly) clear to those who had invested that they weren't ever going to see the game, or their money back. Happily, nightmare tales like those aren't all that common, and there are plenty of projects that got all the way to completion.

Of course, social media has also had a pronounced effect on gaming on the other side of development. When the PS4 was revealed for the first time, so was the Dualshock 4, the most drastic controller redesign Sony have done since the days of the original Dualshock for the PS1. The most significant addition? The 'Share' button. Nestled opposite the pause button (renamed as 'Options'), it allows players to instantly share stills and video clips of their gaming exploits to their social media pages, as well as YouTube.

Beyond this, both the Xbox One and the PS4 are outfitted with software which makes it far easier to livestream gameplay to Twitch, which, of course, links directly to whichever social media platform the player wants it to. Recently, when the limited time beta for Star Wars: Battlefront was released, Facebook was briefly flooded with thousands of clips of the funniest/craziest/most awesome moments, such as the one below.

Let's Play culture is massive, and it's changed the face of gaming drastically. Promoting a game now involves reaching out to various YouTube and Twitch heavy hitters to see if they're willing to film themselves playing it for an hour or so. More importantly though, it's turned consumers into voluntary advertisers. When someone buys a new game, and then excitedly starts sharing their progress on Facebook, suddenly all those people are being offered an additional incentive to get it too, a far more potent one than seeing an ad on the side of a bus or on some random website.

It's worth remembering as well that, rather than one simply influencing the other, the two mediums have actually shared influenced almost evenly. Twitter in particular is all based around points accumulation and leveling, and other aspects of gaming have crept their way into the social media mold, it's a phenomenon better known as gamification.

Personally, I always preferred the more 'first-hand' social side of gaming, as in, with other people who are actually in the room with you, but despite what some people say, neither online gaming nor the social media revolution have diminished the appeal of such a thing. Social media has allowed gaming to make massive developmental strides, and although I could do without the armada of headset-laden imbeciles screaming their way through Five Nights at Freddie's in the hope of reeling in a few hundred more subscribers, but overall, the outlook for the future is bright.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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How #SocialMedia has Changed #VideoGames Reviewed by Unknown on Sunday, October 25, 2015 Rating: 5

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