Social networking and video game players may seem like a contradiction to some, but many realize that the act of playing games is more often than not a social event. In the past people would play Commodore 64, Atari and Mac; the games were mostly all single player. Today we aren’t limited to single player games with only the Artificial Intelligence to keep us company. Now, gamers demand massive multiplayer online games, referred to as mmo or mmorpg games.
The scene of the lone gamer in a darkly lit room is no longer the norm. Granted, the environment may be dark, but the social interactions are bright and numerous. With the rise of popular mmorpg game titles such as Ultima Online, Lineage, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft, mmo gaming has turned what use to be a solo activity, into an orgy of entertainment for the masses. No more Mario solo; we now have real people to interact with. The most dangerous game, hunted real people. This is true of online games as well. Why battle against computer intelligence which is limited to if then statements? Until AI reaches that of a human, online competition will always be more satisfying than playing against an NPC. Even tackling larger NPC’s is possible with a group of players that would otherwise not be possible without the social atmosphere in these games.
With games becoming more social, there was a need to fill the void to interact with one another outside the game. Surprisingly the relationships formed in game were “real”; people in games would talk for hours a night, often three to four times per week. One of the first social networks that put a face behind the virtual characters was CharacterPlanet in 2006. Other networks such as GamerDNA, Raptr, and Rupture did things slightly different but also effectively. AvatarsUnited would launch as well, but only allow the virtual characters to be the profiles, essentially losing touch when leaving one game for another. The explosive growth of Facebook and Kongregate prove the casual game space is real, as well the potential to monetize these games which see an enormous amount of revenue each day. With the online component and a low entrance barrier, most online communities are in some way or another becoming social networks for video game play of some kind, whether hardcore or casual.
Conflicts of interest are important questions to ask when dealing with these communities or networks. Raptr creator actually created Xfire. He essentially remade the technology put a slight spin on it, and is competing with his original creation. GamerDNA received venture funding and was soon plastering ads on the homepage to justify the money spent. They were soon sold to CrispyGamer for what the real estate experts call “pennies on the dollar”. AvatarsUnited was bought out by Linden Labs (Second Life) which makes it biased for that virtual world. Rupture, created by Sean Fanning, creator of Napster, sold Rupture to EA for 30 million. EA has a vested interest in promoting its own products and is evident on the front page of Rupture. Regardless of what network, there is a problem with conflict of interest. Gamers and video gaming enthusiasts demand a more neutral community built on trust, and not the bottom line.
A place to interact with others and discuss all games, whether from EA, Linden Labs, or Indie developers. The alternative to selling out is a long tedious process of trial and error, bootstrapping and ingenuity. Sean Fanning tried to capitalize on a market that existed before Rupture, and he tricked EA into a big purchase. Avatars United has taken its root ideas from CharacterPlanet but is now under the control of Second Life. GamerDNA is now crispygamer. Raptr is an Xfire clone with some social elements. For now the only true social place to meet other gamers is Facebook. The groups, fan pages (like pages), and profile stream allow for huge interaction between gamers, but the generic network lacks the focus enough to cater to the gaming masses. Time will tell whether any of the social networks for gamers will emerge as the number one, and perhaps one that doesn’t answer to a major corporation with an agenda. Independence in this genre is not possible, but an unbiased community is the only true way of bringing everyone together.