E3’s games industry buzzword: Social

The fact that these guys and a lot of girls too were engaging in strong communities surrounding their favourite hobby was neither here nor there. There is an argument that these were the first truly online social networks, people just hadn’t thought of the word for it then.

Fast forward to E3 2010 and you cannot escape the mainstream media or the buzz word social. It is simply everywhere and for good reason. The Wii changed everything almost overnight and now Microsoft and Sony want a bit of that action. Plus the advent of Facebook, Twitter and online social games sites such as OMGPOP have made connecting and communicating with your friends and opponents that much easier and fun!

However Nintendo clearly has a very different opinion to its Japanese and American counterparts as to what “social” means. It was very clear from their press conference that they were not going to announce a social network like that of Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Although highly frustrating for this here gamer as I’d love to show off my Mario skills online! What Nintendo were talking about though shows perhaps why they are more successful. They talked about your real life social network of your family and friends and actually getting people together in one place to enjoy their latest titles. This perhaps is where they are still the most exciting company as they are sticking to their values much more resolutely than ever before. They are perhaps still missing a trick though by not having an online network, I would suggest that we may see something when the successor to the Wii comes along in a year or two.

Microsoft and Sony, as well as a large number of the developers and publishers, are all talking about their social networks, social integration and social interaction with their user base. I lost count how many times that word was said at the massive press conferences. Not that it’s a bad thing; it’s fantastic to see these companies doing what the games industry does best and pushing the technology forward.

On the quiet side to this manic week there has been a development that not many people will yet be aware of. Apple’s Game Centre became available to developers hinting that we may well see this new games based social network arriving soon. Taking the well established ideas of achievements, gamertags etc from XBL, PSN and Steam and adding an Apple twist to only further cement the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad as genuinely serious gaming devices.

Social is going to be a corporate buzz word for a long time in the games industry, it may take a back seat to 3D or maybe even “Virtual Reality”, but as long as gamers of both hardcore and casual persuasion want to engage with their friends and enemies online and offline this is now the established standard which games have to be part of. Much like multiplayer, people will question value if their games don’t have social functionality. Let’s hope though that the developers and publishers are clever and don’t just bolt it on as an afterthought, which unfortunately will probably be what we see a lot of the time.

Samuel Hilary – Games Geek

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