Third Year Research Proposal

Introduction

For my proposal, I plan to have a written essay component comprised of academic research which investigates social media platforms as performance arenas. I wish to examine these platforms in relation to Pérez’s theories about performance spaces (2007), along with investigating these areas as ludic performance spaces and assess their relation to Salen and Zimmerman’s theories of transformative play (2004). The impact that social media has had on our lives is undeniable; I seek to understand the impact of these platforms and the change that they have had on the marketing strategies of video games, particularly for independent developers.

In addition to this written piece, I wish to also have an artifact in the form of a zine or website, titled: “Marketing a game on a zero dollar budget”, by where I draw upon this research and my own successes and failures marketing Split to create a practical piece that can be used to inform other developers.

 

Statement

Last year I co-authored a video essay about the theory of transformative play, put forward by Salen and Zimmerman’s Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (2004). We investigated meta-gaming and how user created content is considered transformative play. We argued that what players take away from a game, how they play it together and how we experience games was as important as the game itself. Additionally, we briefly touched on how social media has played its part in facilitating user created content and our ability to share gaming experiences. Another essay I wrote compared and contrasted the Colosseum and Mount Eden Stadium as performance arenas. I discussed the strange cultural phenomenon that happens to people within these performance spaces.

Inspired by these previous essays, I would like to propose a research paper by where I examine these social media arenas as performance spaces – exploring relationships between those presenting the information to those receiving it, to form a deeper understanding of the relationships between tweeters and tweets, streamers and those in the chat, Youtubers and their audience. I would like to use this research to form a conclusion as to how these various social media outlets have become so important to the marketing success of a game.

In addition to this research, I plan on drawing on my own personal experiences from the previous nine months managing Itsfine’s social media platforms, seeing steady engagement growth across the board from these communities, while also pointing out the causes for peaks or valleys in interest. In addition to the daily management of these communities, I have seen our game Split through a very successful Steam Greenlight campaign and, despite an unsuccessful Thunderclap campaign, a successful launch onto Early Access. This personal research is also not yet complete, as I will also be fully launching our game in a few months and will not only need to draw upon my established contacts and outlets, but I will need to establish more relationships with media to further our marketing reach. I wish to examine both the successes and failures on these social platforms and campaigns to form my academic research and ultimately formulate a practical artifact.

 

Significance

It is undeniable the effect that social media has had on our lives and thus it is important to understand how these tools affect us as gamers, content creators and, more importantly, as game designers. By understanding how these cultural changes have affected traditional marketing strategies, we can better inform ourselves for potential future changes. Additionally, we can show the value of being open to the fluid nature of the games industry. The hope is that this research will provide new insight into these industries and their changes, while the practical artifact will be designed as a “how to” in hopes of informing other developers.

 

Method

I will begin by researching traditional ways for marketing video games; it is important to understand how games have been marketed previously before we can compare how we market them now.

Secondly, I will be researching the rise of social media, its effects on our cultures and how social media arenas have become a performance space. This idea of performance spaces will form the basis of my major academic argument and the discussion in the rest of my paper, artifact and ultimate conclusion.

Thirdly, I will investigate how these arenas relate to gaming, how things like Twitch gaming and the idea of the “Let’s Play” came about and gained momentum. I will be investigating these social media platforms as transformative play, their importance and relevance to marketing strategies.

I will then be looking into how this social change and development of these online communities have contributed to the games industry, not only changing marketing strategies, but developing actual relationships between gamers and developers.

Lastly, I will be drawing upon my own experience marketing our game Split to compile an artifact for practical purposes, in the form of a website or a zine. This will be a type of “how to” guide based on my experience and my research, using simple annotations, graphs and other pictorial representations.

 

Annotated Bibliography

For my annotated bibliography, I have divided my research up into six critical sections – to scope the progress of my research and better define its structure.

Traditional video game marketing

Academic Reference:

  • Slaven,A. (2002). The Video Game Bible, 1985-2002. Victoria, Canada. Trafford Publishing

Other References:

Annotation:
Before we can understand how the marketing scene has changed, we need to look back to see how it once was. Slaven’s 2002 The Video Game Bible is a book that encompases every popular video game or console made from the 80’s to the early 2000’s. While the spectrum of this book is very broad, it takes into account the various games and consoles’ marketing campaigns and their successes. It offers a very broad overview of video game history, which will allow us to draw comparisons between marketing then versus what we think of as marketing now.

 

The rise of social media:

Academic Reference:

Other References :

Annotation:
The Lasting Effects Of Social Media Trends On Advertising is an informative article which discusses the the changing trend we saw in the late 2000’s (Wright, Khanfar, Harrington, Kizer, 2010). While the article talks about advertising as a whole and is not solely focused on games, it starts at a similar point where I would like to to begin investigating my research paper. The article discusses the original marketing strategies that many companies held and covers a history of marketing concepts. It offers an investigation into changing trends and consumer resistance to advertisements, along with new strategies that stop breaking entertainment and rather become a part of it. In terms of relevance, this article becomes interesting when it moves on to looking at the new platforms marketers started using, targeting the right people with the right message. “Social media is all about answering the basic human question on how we can help one another” (Wright, Khanfar, Harrington, Kizer, 2010).
The statistics presented within will also be valuable references in my own research for proving the legitimacy of these markets and their growing trends. The only downside of this article is that it is more America focused, therefore may be unreliable for non-American markets. However, based on the reading, it can be concluded that what was discussed would be relevant to most Western markets.

Performance spaces

Academic References:

Annotation:
Hogan’s The Presentation of Self in the Age of Social Media: Distinguishing Performances and Exhibitions Online (2010) is the next logical step in my research, it will take the focus of social media and marketing into looking at these platforms as performance spaces. Hogan examines Erving Goffman’s various studies and theories of the presentation of self and applies these principles to a social media presence. He argues how the presence of self is broken up into performances; more importantly, he talks about the ideas of exhibitionists, curators and their relationship with the audience. This articulates a deeper understanding of online social behaviour through the idea of impression management. The problem that this research and its comparison present are the limitations of these lenses, illustrating that online spaces cannot be covered by Goffman’s approaches to performance spaces.

Pérez’s 2007 The expansion of theatrical space and the role of the spectator delves further into the idea of performance spaces, while maintaining that the underlying purpose is the expansion of theatrical spaces through the application of technology. This underlying purpose helps us create links between the presence of self on social media, while further investigating how they have challenged performance spaces and their expansion “[relating] to an increase of the agency of the spectator”. The increased agency of the spectator is one of the key aspects I would like to focus on.  Exploration of two or three performance categories, telematic performance and pervasive performance, along with her expanded ideas on what exactly a performance space is, are excellent lenses to examine social media platforms. It will form key arguments that this agency, on behalf of the spectator – both of games and social media – is a large contributor to the change we have seen across the industry’s attitude towards marketing such an interactive medium. She also touches on the idea of Ludic Spaces as “permanent or temporary grounds for the encounter of spectators and performers”. The idea of this ties in with the next reference which talks about the idea of Ludic activity and its relation to transformative play. While most of the examples she gives are usually digital, installed or interactive art pieces, parallels are very easily drawn between games and transformative play.

 

Transformative play

Academic References

Other References :

Annotation:
Having previously discussed the idea of Transformative Play in an audio visual essay, I wanted to talk about this topic again, without focusing on user created content as a broader topic, or primarily as something players create with game assets; instead applying Salen and Zimmerman’s principle of Piada, which represents the free and improvised aspects of gaming to the idea of social media(2004). This will help us better understand the social appeal which lead to the change of how we experience gaming, no longer as something we need to experience for ourselves, but as something we can share with a personality and a mass of others. While this research is over 10 years old, the idea can still be applied to the aspect of my research I wish to center around – the concept of community building.

In another essay, Zimmerman continues to explain the idea behind why games rules serve to limit players behaviours and, by doing so, how it allows for other systems of narrative, interactivity and play (2005). While this research is not as relevant as the idea of relating transformative play to social media, it does open up potential answers to the question of why these systems came about. It provides insights into why we may have started sharing games en masse to begin with. It offers explanations as to how interactivity can occur on a cultural level. This other essay will help cement the idea behind why we build social communities and why they are effective.

The social change of Youtube and Twitch gaming

Academic References:

Other References :

Annotation:
By using Norton’s theorems about audience-performer relationships, we begin moving the argument from transformative play to one that considers the act of community building within the promotion of games. This paper focuses on the idea of ‘Culture as Performance’ and formulates a focus around communication and performativity with the context of performance. The reason this research became interesting is because it can be directly applied to the relationships we can observe between streamers and their chats or youtubers and their subscribers. By investigating the change that occurs between the performer and the audience in these spaces, her work could also be related to the idea of transformative play – almost making these social media arenas a performance of transformative play. Furthermore, she offers insight into the manner in which performer audience relationships are based around culture. Her work can easily be applied to gaming culture, the subcultures of youtube gamers and Twitch Streamers and expanded further into the subsets of the subcultures. “Performance, like culture, comes into being through the social encounters of people. As active participants in performance, a dynamic interplay of performer and audience is created, and captured in the autopoietic feedback loop.” Norton (2014)

How we market games now

Academic References:

Annotation:

Tara Brannigan has been a huge mentor: she has an enormous amount of expertise regarding social media and the current marketing scene of games. The blog that she runs through her business website on Boop.Social has an exquisite amount of information based on real experience. Combining the previous academic research with Brannigan’s article about Building a Customer-Centric Culture, I will start to collate all my previous research into a conclusion: one that will contrast Brannigan’s expertise on what video games marketing consists of now and the way it used to be. By examining the concept of social media spaces as performance arenas in combination with this contrast, we can conclude how these changes in trends have affected the industry.

It is my hope that this research will helps us better understand the change that has happened in games marketing, how this change affects developers and how we can predict future changes to better engage with our markets.

At this point in my research, I will be moving my argument away from the academic scope, using this research in combination with my own experiences to formulate an artifact.

However, an investigation like this cannot be made in a vacuum, therefore, in addition to my academic research, I plan on consulting with a few contacts who have been mentors and previously assisted me with my own marketing. Those I plan to consult include Tara Brannigan of Boop Social, Analiese Jackson, Media Design School’s Marketing Manager, Rachel Herlihy, a fellow game developer with a history in marketing and Robert Curry, developer of Mini Metro. They will be consulted in order to test the fidelity and practicality of the artifact I plan on designing. While at this point I cannot determine the very nature of this artifact or the form it shall take, I do know that the goal of which will be to inform other developers and fellow students.

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