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The future of gaming: Social Gaming

Thursday, 13 March 2008 — by

Fun is an experience best shared. Exhilaration, elation and excitement, too. And so it goes that Social Gaming intertwines those things, while the Internet extends them on a global scale…

Moving on from Interactive Gaming, we now delve into how gaming is inexorably shifting towards a social, shared experience.

What is Social Gaming?

At its heart, Social Gaming is any game that offers multi-player support. Games of this ilk have been around for a long, long time.

One of the first multi-player video games I remember playing was Gauntlet by Atari Games, which was both an arcade game (where I first experienced it) and as a video game.

Right now, Gauntlet is presently enjoying a renaissance on the Xbox 360, for all those nostalgia gaming fans like me, it’s bound to be a draw, inspite its age.

More recently, games like Rainbow Six Vegas and Halo 3 take the whole Social Gaming thing forward.

The future of Social Gaming

Social Gaming is all about the shared experience; be that with friends, all huddled around the TV, or over the Internet with complete strangers.

And because Social Gaming is about the experience, the future lies in the advancement of communication. Here I’m thinking about voice, often accomplished with headsets, one player taunting another.

The challenges

But as anyone who’s into network game play will tell you, finding the good games, free of cheating physics modifiers — that often unfairly skew the “laws” of a game in the favour of one play or another — and roving bands of cliques can be a greater challenge than the game itself.

Take for example Davor Prcovich, he’s an avid network game player. He feels that there are: “too many n00bs that would rather fight or argue than play”. Based on his personal experiences, this would seem to be the same for both consoles and PCs.

Plus, there’s the cost, where he cites World of Warcraft as an example of high-price network games that place a high price on the pleasure of playing.

According to Davor: “Nintendo is about to release Mario Kart for Wii that will be fully Wi-Fi compatible”.

As discussed in the previous article on Interactive Gaming, Nintendo make a habit of family-friendly, innovative games and game play. So this is no real surprise, but no less interesting.

Gaming as a Social Network

Social Gaming is a broad category, easily encompassing many game types, such as FPS (First-Person Shooters) and MMORPGs (Massively Multi-Player On-line Roll-Playing Games), such as the aforementioned World of Warcraft.

It’s this latter category of game that is likely to lead the way in terms of extending the reach of the social aspect of gaming.

After all, it’s difficult to strike allegiances and win allies in the thick of battle, whereas it’s a much easier affair to meet with those same players before or after a game elsewhere, like on a Social Network.

Take for example Ugame, the social gaming network:

UGAME … wants eventually to be the leading social network for gamers. The site will start off as a place where competitive PC gamers in particular can socialize, share their gaming feats, and organize themselves into teams and other associations.”

Much has been said about how Social Networking might be reaching a plateau. But I believe that the future of Social Networks lies in the niche, brand-driven networks.

The successful Social Networks, certainly those that surround brands, are powered by so-called “super advocates”. And in the world of gaming, this kind of passion often runs so high, super advocates are as we say in Yorkshire, ten [for] a penny.

And by the looks of what Ugame offers, they’re a prime example of just such a future; players from around the world or just around the corner from where you live aggregate around games, joining forces as teams to embroil and immerse themselves in combat, strategy and horror aplenty.

Completing the picture is Raptr, a desktop and web-based service that hopes to keep gamers up-to-date with software updates:

Raptr has both desktop software and web service components. The client keeps PC-based games completely up to date behind the scenes — patches, updates, etc. are downloaded automatically.”

Monetizing game play

For me personally, monetizing games is a contentious issue. As highlighted by Davor, MMORPGs are already expensive enough, without such distractions as in-game advertising:

“While you can see things like in-game advertising adding a sense of authenticity to a video game, in-game music makes for a more engaging experience, and offers a more scalable platform for revenue.”

And as we speak, a team of Israelis are hard at work developing a system that allows 3D objects to be placed into video, post production:

“They’re intended to look as realistic as possible so that they blend in with the real physical environment recorded by the video. And yet, they can’t go entirely unnoticed because users are encouraged to click and perform mouse gestures with them to derive additional functionality.”

Such advances are no great leap for video games and would probably be much easier to implement, therefore driving down cost.

But do we want branded product placement right there within the games we play? I suppose that all depends on whether adverting will one day not be annoying.

And drifting slightly away from gaming per se, environments like Second Life are ripe for monetization, even if it would be the second time of asking.

But if we are to see in-game advertising, might I propose that we dispense with monthly fees?

Another saying we have over here in Yorkshire seems quite apt: you can’t have the penny and the bun [cake] — you either have one or t’other, not both!

I imagine that the hegemony of paid-for video games will never be truly broken. As discussed previously, the intricacy and the richness of video games can only increase, shifting budgets towards tens of millions of dollars in production and development costs.

However, there’s still plenty of room for Open Source gaming, which might apply political pressure, if not competing with major video game franchises directly.

Worse than grenades, spells, bullets and being eaten alive! Yes, exploits

However, as games become ever more sophisticated, lines of code become isolated from their security policies, inviting exploits:

“What Miller and Zovi realized is that while direct communication between an attacker and a victim within Second Life passes through the servers at Linden Labs, multimedia objects are actually stored somewhere else. Hence, an object with a multimedia link could inject malicious code.”

Hi guys! Enjoying your virtual worlds? Thought you’d run as far as you could from security mishaps? Well the real world is catching up, and fast!

In these days of Social Networking, there seems to be an inevitability about how neat a fit video games are.

We can think of each successful video game title as an island, populated by eager acolytes of varying skills, disposable time and talent, all supporting and extolling the virtual virtues of the brand of their favourite video games.

From these island states, the expectations of game players from around the world are centered around ever bigger bangs for the brand-building bucks — more interaction, more audible & visual flair and a desire to be in the thick of the action.

To feel the action, as if we were actually there.

And change may be coming, I can feel it, with feel being the operative word.

This is a world of Immersive Gaming…

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