Note to Self: Never Underestimate the Power of ‘Social’

Mark Stephens

If you ever doubt the power of the ’social’ element of social gaming we need only glance towards some of the phone and console makers to see what happens when you are slow to react; there are plenty of examples about how the social element can rapidly work for or against you. Ultimately, if you are not paying close attention to the ever-changing concept of ‘social’ then you can quickly get left behind…


Remember Blackberries?

Just three years ago, the makers of the quaint old Blackberry (formerly Research in Motion, now Blackberry Ltd.) were tearing it up, and it seemed almost everybody had one.

Why? Because their friends had one. The Blackberry messaging service was a great way to send texts between each other for a set monthly charge rather than getting ripped off by the telecoms companies by having to pay per text.

All well and good…until your friends started moving away from Blackberry. Then what happened? You had to move away too, because there was no-one left to speak to on the Blackberry network; everyone had started using WhatsApp, Line, or any one of a multitude of free, open message services on their Android or iOS smartphones.

Blackberry essentially offered a closed system that worked great while everyone else was using it, but took a dramatic fall as soon as the social tide turned against it. Market share plunged and its very survival remains in doubt.

This should stand as a warning to game developers and gaming platforms, as well as the console makers. Ignore social at your peril!

What are the Consoles Doing?

The main console manufacturers have all awoken to the wider power of social gaming and started to adapt their essentially ‘closed’ systems.

People used to play Xbox or PS4 because their friends did – and were prepared to pay a significant investment for the privilege. Nowadays they can play what their friends are playing for free elsewhere on the social platforms.

Yes, the graphics and general gaming experience might be better on the consoles but that gap is closing and…hey…those games are free over there!

Recently it was rumoured that Microsoft is ‘preparing a major Xbox Live cross-platform push that will bring the company’s robust social gaming network to iOS and Android games.’ This is another move to bring the consoles closer to the wider social gaming community that has grown exponentially in recent years.

Perhaps learning from the dangers of closed systems like Blackberry, Microsoft is slowly removing stringent certification requirements for developers and making adaptations to open the gaming experiences up to all the popular systems that people are already using. In doing so they are preparing themselves for the ‘social future’.

According to the report on the Gamespot website:

‘Microsoft is said to be positioning Xbox Live for mobiles as an alternative that players can use to earn achievements, sync up with friends, or even maybe take part in cross-platform play.’

Social Networks Leading the Way

Everyone knows Facebook but smaller networks like Valve’s Steam are also helping to lead the way with the social context. Games, interaction, chat, content sharing and more at one’s fingertips; they make it easy to contact friends, find out what they’re doing and sign up to apps to follow suit.

What is everyone playing? How can you join in?


Just as with Blackberry, the social ‘pull’ of following what your friends are doing is a strong one that developers and the platforms their games sit on must account for. Friends are the greatest advertisements for games around. The relentless posts that tell you your friend’s just a got a new high score in Bubble Witch Saga are annoying, but they do work in spreading the word about a game.

Ease of finding information, joining up and playing, and openness of communication are pre-requisites for the social gamer these days. Some networks have started to reward players for referrals – signing up friends to a game – and this is another potential winning strategy.

The networks are one step ahead of the console makers in learning how to harness the power of friends. They understand that people play games because their friends do. As one article asked recently:

‘Why doesn’t MSFT/Sony incentivize next-gen friend referrals? There are many people who will buy a game for the system their friends have, or they will agree before making a purchase to pick it up on a certain console or the PC so they can play together. What if Sony or Microsoft began offering four-packs of online games with a slight savings, helping to entice those groups of friends to one platform over the other?’

These are interesting questions that demonstrate how far the consoles still have to go, despite making some adaptations for the social-ness of the world we live, work and play in. As things become still more connected, the power of social will hold even more weight and to avoid becoming a piece of blackberry pie, we need to embrace the openness of it all!