In a world where technology constantly evolves, social media has become an integral part of our lives. But what if I told you that games have stepped up to become the new social media platform? Unless you’ve been lying in this wonderful sunshine sipping something sweet you will not have missed the amount of shameless grifters heralding games as the new social media. I just audibly sighed when I wrote that because even I cannot bear an in-game DM inviting me to buy NFTs at some special price.
You will be well aware that games are no longer just a means of entertainment; they have transformed into immersive, interactive experiences that connect people worldwide. In this article, I want to know: are games the new social media? And if that’s true how will games navigate new user experiences and new users, and, do I really want my mum messaging me in CS:GO?
Games have come a long way since their early days of pixelated adventures. Nowadays, they offer expansive virtual worlds where players can connect, collaborate, and communicate with others. Traditional social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter focus on text, images, and videos, but games bring a whole new level of engagement by combining these elements with interactive gameplay.
Imagine exploring a vast online universe with your friends, slaying dragons, solving puzzles, and embarking on epic quests together. Games provide a unique social experience that transcends the boundaries of traditional communication. You don't just send messages or post updates; you actively participate in shared adventures. Through voice chat, text messages, and even virtual reality, players can interact in real-time, creating memorable moments and building friendships that go beyond the digital realm.
Timing is Everything
Games offer a different experience compared to social networks. Social networks thrive on instant communication, quick updates, and scrolling feeds. Games, on the other hand, often require a longer time commitment to fully enjoy and engage with the experience. You can't finish an entire game in a few minutes like you can scroll through a social media feed. Instead, games provide ongoing journeys that players can explore over days, weeks, or even months. So why would game developers be quaking in their boots?
It's important to note that games are evolving to accommodate shorter play sessions. Many mobile games now offer bite-sized experiences that can be enjoyed on the go, catering to users with limited time. Additionally, some games feature social features integrated into their design, allowing players to engage with their friends and community in short bursts. These adaptations bridge the gap between the lead times of games and social networks, catering to different user preferences. This is the rub. This is the warning klaxon. The convergence of time and entertainment over immersion and social gameplay is the thin end of the wedge for game developers. As one myself, I fear that games will be the 1% of the full social experience and that’s a waste of talent and quality.
The reality is simple. Games are products. Products take time to make. They're not a repository for messaging, that's a bi-product. Sometimes we have to wait 3 years for our fave game to drop, and in that time we find other things to do. Social media isn't passive. Chatting in games mostly is. Even if we're engrossed in a flamewar on League of Legends, tomorrow is another day but the chat is often gone. On Twitter? Not so much. Social media judges us; games don't have the time to—we’re instanced but not walled in—we progress through stories, we don't stand and wait in line for likes after replies. It would be lovely to aspire to games as the panacea for everything that's wrong with social media but instead why don't we use games as something positive rather than use it as a stick to beat us all with? I'd love to see games as a new form of social media but do we need that much choice? Some of the best games ever made never see the light of day because of this type of suffocation. Games are to be discovered and played, they are to be enjoyed, they are communities to immerse into but can't meet the criteria of instant messaging that threads through life unless we stand still. It’s the dichotomy of development.
Is the Medium Really the Message?
Marshall McLuhan famously suggested that the medium itself influences how the message is perceived and understood. In the case of games as social media, the medium undoubtedly shapes the message. While social networks prioritise textual communication, games offer a more immersive and experiential way to connect with others.
Should we jump from game to game to connect with folks? Not really. We find our tribe and we stick with them. Are you a Zelda person? Or a Destiny person? You're definitely a Facebook/Twitter/Insta person eh? Social is a genre for the internet in the same way that shooters are a genre of video games.
Games encourage collaboration, teamwork, and creativity, providing a platform for shared experiences and deep social interactions—not just for messaging, messaging is a feature of everything else, not the only thing. Whether it's building and exploring virtual worlds in Minecraft or teaming up to conquer opponents in multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs), games foster a sense of community and camaraderie.
I am the Law
If you know anything about me. You know that I get pretty heated when I see platforms and products targeting kids but not respecting them. COPPA is naturally more handy than I’ll ever be, it’s just that I’m compliant. We might as well throw our hands up and admit that we have all been guilty of being lax towards protecting young people online. While there are concerns regarding the impact of social media inside games on younger player demographics, now could be a really good time to double down on proactive measures such as age-appropriate content, education, parental involvement, community guidelines, and research can help mitigate potential risks and create a safer and more positive gaming experience for young players. As with the free-to-play revolution of the early 10s we need to get serious about how games will evolve into more lifestyle focused products if the current press is to be believed. Minecraft and Roblox are just two huge platforms with a wide demographic, true, but the lion’s share of users is 13-18 or under 13s. Are we ok about creating a social media platform in this market space that we then have to control and moderate in LiveOps? Can we trust AI to do that? We might have to and that spells trouble for you with COPPA because absolute power corrupts absolutely. Enjoy the rat’s nest, people!
Games have evolved from simple entertainment to potentially become the new social media platform, offering engaging and interactive experiences that connect people worldwide—but I hope not. Through immersive gameplay, a sense of community and social interaction, beyond what traditional social networks can offer, can be achieved, if we want it to. But we have to get wise, just because someone suggests it, it doesn’t mean it can just happen. We’re feeling growing pains, games are really growing up, and we’ve got to give games the tools they need to live independently—that means listening, learning and understanding our players like never before.