Research Essay Draft 1

Preface

This blog post serves as the first draft for my research paper. It introduces the key questions this paper seeks to answer, the scope and purpose. This is a very early draft and doesn’t yet contain any of the necessary academic depth, for this I focused primarily on structure, and an understanding of the main points and questions. Most of the questions posited in this draft are for my own benefit and, through my research, will be what I seek to answer in their respective categories. The goal was to ultimately articulate the bridge between the practical and theoretical.

Purpose:

The purpose of this research is to examine the broader context of marketing games through social media, with an in-depth analysis into these social media sites as performance spaces, examining the effects and potential of social media integration within games. To begin, this research seeks to understand how the advent of social media, and the cultural changes it has brought about, has affected traditional marketing strategies. This paper will then discuss the theories around the manner in which social media connects us as a performance space. Lastly we examine how we, as developers, can use these tools to market our games, build communities and give players agencies for their own play outside of our games. Through these platforms, players and developers are more connected than ever and we now have even more opportunity for emergent play. The goal of research is for it to be used to inform a major production, in our third year and in my career after university.

 

Scope:

For the purpose of the essay, I will be primarily focusing on social media integration in independent games and briefly touching on how bigger studios have also made use of these marketing tools. The desire is that this serves to help developers better understand why social media has become such an effective marketing tool and how, through deeper understanding, they can make the best use of these tools. The social media sites examined will be ones which have primarily been used in the marketing of games, namely Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. Furthermore, I will not be looking at social media games, that is games played through social media as their primary platform. 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.

 

Why is marketing important? (Wider context)

It goes without saying that the games industry is in a state of flux, it is growing and fast.

{Here we will be examining Concentrate’s Market Measures report where we identify the issues with New Zealand approach to tech marketing.}

Observing Steam or the App Store, we can see that there hundreds of games released in a single day and hundreds more in development. With so many developers discussing issues like ‘the indiepocalypse’, marketing your game right is more important than ever. How do we make sure that our drop in the ocean of games doesn’t go unnoticed? By understanding the value of marketing, by building player bases and communities and consumer centric culture. {Here we will be examining some of Brannigans work and recommendations for marketing games in this fashion.}

Why is social media a good place to market games?

One of the best tools we currently have as developers is social media, and the good news is that it’s free. We are more connected now than we have ever been, the birth of the internet giving way to the rise in the greatest collection of human knowledge. Social media is a tool that binds and connects people through mutual interest, allowing for the simple and instant sharing of thoughts and ideas.

{Here we will be contrasting the ways in which we used to market games to the way we market them now}

{Thus we will be examining The Lasting Effects Of Social Media Trends On Advertising}

The industry by its very nature is fluid, changing, and so is social media. Simply due to the sheer amount of people one can reach on social media. But this space, much like the landscape of video games, is filled with a thousand voices. How do we make ours heard? We start by finding other people with mutual interests – we start building communities.

 

What is the value of community building?

As mentioned previously, social communities, much like real communities, are online environments where people go to share ideas, thoughts, work and discuss issues. If we examine popular games we can see that they have dedicated online communities, alluding to the importance of the presence of community managers within a game’s ecosystem. {Here we will be examining more of Brannigan’s work on player community building in games}

It’s not just about releasing a game anymore, it’s about having a connection, a dialog with your players and a conversation to hear their feedback. The best place to do this is where game developers and players both spend time: on social media. How can we look deeper at these spaces and what lens could we apply to allow ourselves a deeper understanding of them?

 

What are performance spaces? (depth of analysis)

The simple idea of a performance space is that it allows for expression of self through performance. The idea of the performance space is to further investigate the relationship between the exhibitionists, curators and the audience.

{This is when we will begin our in-depth analysis of performance spaces and more importantly how they can be applied to social media in general.}

With social media becoming such a big part of our lives, it has become much easier and simpler to express ourselves with many more people. Considering everything we post as some sort of performance allows the performer a greater connection with their audience. This articulates a deeper understanding of online social behaviour through the idea of impression management. If we consider the developers as the performers providing an exhibition for the audience, what is the nature of this relationship? Could our performance and our relationship with our audience be considered community building?

 

What happens when we apply this lense of performance spaces to social media?

When we begin to take our above lense and apply it to our various social media sites, how does it change? How are these platforms connected as performance spaces? To begin, all of these sites have a method of users posting, uploading, sharing and distributing content. There are people posting content as performers with others commenting on these exhibitions as the audience. Examining the relationship between Bioware as the performer here and the commenters as the audience we can see our aforementioned community building; we see a simple piece of fan art evoking an enormous response from players, sharing and discussing the exhibit.

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However, what changes when we begin to examine the relationship between YouTubers and their audience? Currently, Felix Kjellberg’s PewDiePie channel has the most subscribers on YouTube. He and many other Let’s Players have an enormous following of fans dedicated to watching them play games, showing how players are beginning to become their own performers in these spaces.

What happens when we consider a platform such as Twitch, a platform designed for live interaction between the player of a game and the audience? Twitch performers bring their own perspective, experiences and live responses to a game and share them with an audience. These players change the game, creating and sharing their own content and changing the audience-performer relationship.

 

How do these performance spaces give way for transformative play?

Having previously discussed the idea of Transformative Play in an audio visual essay, we can begin to notice the connection between performance spaces and transformative play. If, in the simplest terms, a performance space is a place where an exhibitor can express themselves with an audience, social media provides an excellent platform for these spaces. But it is what happens with the relationship between the exhibitor and the audience which becomes truly interesting. With the audience being able to react to the outcome of a performance directly with the exhibitor and, in the case of Twitch, the audience being able to take agency over the performers gaming experience, performance spaces like this could be thought of as a network for transformative play.

{ Here we will begin a much more in depth look at the definition of transformative play and how it relates to performance space } This social relationship is described by Richard Garfield as  “the relationship between the game and outside elements, including everything from player attitudes and play styles to social reputations and the social context in which the game is played.” It can often be difficult to predict the results of transformative play, especially on the wide and ambiguous spectrum of play, which is where it can become beneficial for developers to help facilitate these social spaces.

 

What do players gain from transformative play?

So having moved away from the developers being the primary performers on social media, what do players gain from their transformative play in the performance space? A key aspect for many is that players can now make money playing your game, through spaces such as Twitch and YouTube. {Here we will be looking at games that have allowed players to create their own content, not necessarily through social media, but have provided players with tools to bring their own performance to a game}. The most important thing to consider is that you’re players are not billboards, it is paramount we make it an enjoyable experience for players to share their content.

 

How does this content creation contribute to community building?

The goal of any social media integration into games should be to make sure players enjoy being able to share their experiences with others and explore the differences between their gaming experiences and others’. This kind of sharing of transformative play in various performance spaces brings attention to your game and hopefully encourages more players to be active in the community that develops.

How have developers already started using this?

Here we will be investigating some case studies of games that have been using social media integration in a productive way that helps advertise their game and is fun for players:

PolyBridge- Gif Sharing

Firewatch- In Game Screenshots

Fallout 4- Pip Boy App

Towerfall- Bragging Rights

 

How can developers use the transformative play that comes about in these performance spaces to market their game? (critical consideration)

So how can developers use this to help players not just enjoy their game more, but also help them be a part of the community-building aspect of their game? As we can see from our case studies, the first thing developers can do is include community-driven content in their game. Making it a simple push of a button for players to share what they did in a game is an exciting way for players to show off accomplishments and interesting gameplay. By having these elements built into a game, it make players more likely to use them instead of forgetting anything interesting they may have done once they have finished playing. Through facilitating a player’s desires to share their experiences within a game, it allows for a chorus of voices to share thoughts and ideas, while at the same time building a community for future performances to take place. It’s about giving the player agency and control, by providing the tools for transformative play to occur it is more likely to. This builds your game around a community ideal and takes into consideration what players might be interested in doing outside of the game. By seeing a player’s experience as a thought worth sharing, developers can garner a much stronger relationship with their players – encouraging their voice in their community.

Conclusion

Naturally, this is a very rough draft and too early for a conclusion, however the hope is that we can start to see a link between the theoretical nature of social media as performance spaces, their link with transformative play and the practical use of social media integration. The goal is to show how, by giving players agency and tools for their own transformative play, we can build better communities as developers and player bases eager to share their experiences, thus contributing to the marketing of a game through social media.

A practical contribution

I am in a very unique position to be able to test this idea and see what social media integration can contribute to transformative play and ultimately the marketing of our game. Naturally, for the scope of this research, it would be impractical to be able to fully report on the results of social media integration in Split. However, I wish to begin designing a method of capturing levels either as pictures or videos in Unreal Engine and uploading them to a player’s social media account. I have already begun investigating some existing plugins, so it will be an exciting challenge to try and make these plugins co-operate with the systems for our creation kit. I would sincerely like to follow up this research with the results of this social media integration and the feedback we receive from players on this.

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