For years, video games were strangely absent from the social media tidal wave. Aside from casual games built into social networking websites, games didn’t support social media.
The recently released (Oct. 13) “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” for the PlayStation 3, hopes to change that with a built-in Twitter feature. The game uses Twitter in a fairly simple way, by sending updates on a player’s progress to his or her Twitter account.
Twitter is also at the heart of a social media update to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 that went live today. It allows you to post tweets, read the tweets of those you follow, search and view trending topics. Along with a Twitter app, the Xbox 360 update also has a Facebook app to stay connected to friends through basic Facebook features.
These instances of Twitter in video games—one software and one hardware—still only scratch the surface of the potential to meld social media and gaming. The use of Twitter in “Uncharted 2” seems like a good way to market the game and to find other people who play the game, but beyond that it doesn’t do much. And the Twitter integration on the Xbox 360 isn’t very deep, as you can’t run the app while you are playing a game.
The real issue here isn’t how Twitter is integrated into games or hardware platforms, but how the gameplay can take advantage of social media’s best assets—connecting people and sharing information.
With millions of people connected through social media services like Twitter, games could leverage these networks to connect gamers. Currently, the only way you can find players on Xbox 360 is to know the person’s gamertag or by friending random people who are playing a game the same time you are.
This system could be augmented by broadcasting gaming notifications to social networks that alert your friends what you are doing, game-wise. Our MCDM director, Hanson Hosein, happens to be a fan of the “Uncharted” games. Through the game’s Twitter feature, it would be easy to connect with him about the game and share a common interest or even begin playing together. One interesting feature of the Xbox 360 Facebook app is the ability to see if any of your Facebook friends are also on Xbox LIVE. This is exactly the kind of feature games need to adopt.
Social networks could also be leveraged as a kind of community-driven Help feature to help gamers when they get stuck. Failure is a critical part of game design, but too much failure can result in a negative gameplay experience. Instead of the traditional, lengthy walkthrough documents created by gamers to help others, Twitter could be used as a real-time Help system where players can ask questions and search for answers while playing the game.
Social networks could be used in many creative ways in video games, from connecting gamers to augmenting gameplay. Gaming is inherently social; it only makes sense to bring social networks into it.
Brian Johnson is a student in the MCDM program who is pursuing a career in the video game industry. His Xbox LIVE gamertag is thepiecesfit. Brian recently started Grybo Productions to author music for the Rock Band video game. His favorite video game is “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”