July 20, 2011

The Evolution of Social Gaming

In the last few years, we in the gaming industry have seen a change occurring in not only the way that games are played, but also the way they are shared. While the idea of gaming being a social activity has not changed, the way in which we are doing it has. At one time, gaming with other people was restricted to the people that would come to your house to play the new releases. While this still occurs very often, there are newer ways that social gaming is happening, driving not only the social aspect of gaming but also the idea of gaming socially.

In days past, gaming was something that was done in your house with your close knit friends. Of course you had friends or family members who were better at certain games than others and ones that you knew would fall for the same old tricks, but for the most part everyone had their game and they always wanted to play. However, and maybe this was just my generation, when the streetlights came on you were to be in the front door, and the sharing ended there. Around this time, gaming was quest or mission-oriented and many games were just one player as the idea of multiplayer was not required since many gamers were playing by themselves. While these games were great in their time, we have come to want something else entirely from not only the games that we are purchasing, but also the experience we receive from them.

Gaming has moved from a one level form of entertainment to a wide range, multi faceted type of individual and group oriented type of on the fly, critical-thought-invoking, problem solving mechanism. While the idea of entertainment is still there, gaming has moved from the console in the family room to the family computer, the laptop, the console, the handheld, the cell phone, etc.  Gaming has also evolved from the one or two person schemes to a multiplayer revolution. New players can meet and ask advanced players to help them out and mid range players can team up with other mid range players to wreak havoc within the quest, adventure, or mission they are facing.

We have also seen a transfer in the game content and how it is shared. While scores were once contained in the arcade machine you were playing on by adding your initials--which often consisted of any three letter curse-word you could come up with to stream down a list of the top ten list--gaming has now advanced to not only having scoreboards online, but having players who regularly upload videos to YouTube featuring star studded gameplay that leaves viewers feeling empowered to embark on their own “beast mode” game play. In applications that can be downloaded to any smart phone, scores are constantly being updated and shared with not only the people who know you personally, but those who don’t know you at all. Gaming is moving from something you did to waste time to something that... well to be honest, it still wastes time. Not just time spent playing the game, but also time spent interacting with game players, reviewing game footage, and uploading game play.      

According to The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or The ESRB, “67% of U.S households play video games. In 2010, the average gamer spent eight hours of his and her week playing video games.”  However, it would be incorrect to say that gaming isn’t going anywhere, because gaming is going everywhere. Gaming is no longer based on the PC, or even on the console, sure it still exists there at a rate that is astonishing, but it has now moved to our phones and tablets. We no longer have to wait to get home to play our favorite releases, because we can play while we are in a line, waiting at the Dentist office, or just bored. Gaming has taken the steps to make the game work with the player’s schedule and not the other way around. With the modes of gaming becoming exponentially easier to not only get, but to use as well, we have seen, and will continue to see, a strong influx in the amount of people who would regularly not play games switching over to become hardcore gamers, in many cases without even realizing it.     

While we have seen great strides by the gaming companies to put an emphasis on the social ability of gaming we have yet reached the pinnacle, although we may be close. Gaming has gone from what was known as a pretty good way of wasting time, to a way of connecting with millions of people you may or may not have known before. We have seen the introduction of gaming groups such as “Frag Dolls” (featured in the Fall 2010 edition of Casual Connect) and Machinima, a prominent gaming group that sprouted on YouTube and has continued to be considered an authority on gaming. Since 2002 we have even seen the addition of MLG, or Major League Gaming, and its incredible affect on the gaming industry.

While gaming is constantly changing, we are also changing the way that gaming happens and how we share it within our community, which seems to be getting larger and tighter than ever before. While gaming is still a social activity for you to do with your friends, it has now also become something that you talk about in conversations, and even watch to kill time. Gaming is constantly evolving and the companies making these games have to as well. It is no longer enough to stay in front of the curve; we are now faced with the issue of creating new curves.

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