Application of performance space lense to social media and case studies

Preface:

This portion of my research is to apply our previously discussed Performance Spaces lense to our social media spaces. The goal is to deepen our understanding of this theory as it relates to social media in a practical sense. In addition, here we will proceed to examine our case studies and how social media integration has contributed to games marketing by adding value to the player experience through transformative play. This post is intended to follow a previous post about Performance Spaces and serves as the follow up to my research into this. This post serves as my final section post before I upload my second essay draft for critique.

With our designed lense in mind, we can start to apply these different layers of complexity to social media as performance spaces. The goal for these case studies is to serve as examples of tools available for developers, while simultaneously helping us better understand our lense. Understanding these social media sites as performance spaces will hopefully explain the effectiveness of social media marketing, community building and transformative play. Here we can examine what changes when we begin to examine the relationship between YouTubers and their audience or Twitch streamers, and how this relationship is different as we start to develop more interactive mediums. So many gamers have enormous followings of fans dedicated to watching them play games, illustrating how players are beginning to become their own performers in these spaces. This begs the question of who the performer now is, the developer or the player? Firstly, an explanation of transformative and emergent play is necessary before we can examine these platforms within the scope of our lense and transformative play. We will then be looking at how some developers have effectively started using these performance spaces and designing games to accommodate these types of play.

 

What is transformative and emergent play?

As we are examining how these spaces relate to transformative and emergent play, some explanation of these ideas are necessary before we can examine our case studies.  Having previously discussed the idea of Transformative Play in an audio visual essay, I wanted to talk about this topic again, applying Salen and Zimmerman’s principles to our social media sites within the scope of our performance spaces lense (2004). “Transformative play is a special case of play that occurs when the free movement of play alters the more rigid structure in which it takes shape. The play doesn’t just occupy and oppose the interstices of the system, but actually transforms the space as a whole”(Salen, Zimmerman, 2004). Emergent play has a similar definition and can be considered the result of transformative play. Another essay, Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games 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 (Zimmerman, 2005). In this essay and in their Rules of Play and game design fundamentals, they discuss the ideas of emergent play and metagaming (2004). 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.” (Salen, Zimmerman, 2004).

 

Facebook

Recently over 9 million people joined in the Overwatch open beta, with this image below being Blizzard’s way of thanking players for joining in and giving Overwatch a try. We have previously established that simply by playing the game, players are already engaging in a Direct Performance. Again, this post below could simply be considered a Direct Performance by the game’s developers, as it is still simply a performance which the audience interprets. Things become interesting when we view the comments below; this is when the audience starts to interact with the performer. It is here that Extended Performance occurs through the exchange of thoughts and ideas between the developers and the players.
We can, however, see from a recent update that the developers have realised the limitations of these interactions and have started working on implementing Facebook logins and live streaming functionality to Overwatch (Kerr, 2016). “Blizzard games are best when played with friends, so it’s important to us to provide our players with features and services that make it easy and fun to share their experiences with each other,” said Gio Hunt, Executive Vice President of corporate operations at Blizzard Entertainment.

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Twitter

We see similarities when we examine a platform like Twitter; arguably a better source of connecting with others because of the nature of the posting systems. With limited characters and use of hashtags, users can experience a more customised news feed – one that delivers short and to the point messages, but still encourages community interaction. As we can see from the examples below, we can identify similar kinds of performance as the above Facebook post. Players have already engaged in the Direct Performance of playing the game and reading the post, but through interactions with the developers in these social spaces their performance with the game becomes an Extended Performance. Interactions, as illustrated below, contribute to community building. When developers start to actively engage in Extended Performance with their players, we start to see communities being developed. Players are encouraged to share and talk to the developers; good community management provides a faster way to report issues and ensures that players feel valued. In cases such as the shared fan art and the community interaction, we start to see blurred lines between who the performer and who the audience is. While simply using social media as a bulletin board might help communicating a message, it is through these Extended Performances that the value of social media marketing truly lies.

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YouTube

Examining the YouTube platform opens the way to a lot more in terms of emergent or transformative play. Video content is the primary media here, yet developers can still use this space like the previously mentioned ones. They can share Direct Performances with their audience, sharing gameplay, trailers, announcements and other development logs. They can also engage in Extended Performance through interacting with their audience in the comments. However, here we should really start looking at how players interact with social media. The video example below is one where the YouTubers at Funhaus have created a video of themselves using Tilt Brush on the HTC Vive to play Pictionary. With the Tilt Brush designed to be an art tool and not a game, this is an excellent example of emergent and transformative play. It is an excellent example of how creative players and content creators can be even with minimal gameplay and how we can find emergent gameplay in so many things. In cases such as this, the developer is no longer the performer, the player becomes the performer and in some way their own developer of emergent play. If we compare this to our lense, here is when we can begin to see Emergent Performance, while the audience can’t yet fully change and interact with the performance but the game has been changed and opened to creative and emergent play.

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Twitch

The gameplay and performer-audience relationship changes again when we start to examine a platform like 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. Here we have the game making a Direct Performance from the game to the streamer and the streamer having a Direct Performance with the Audience. However this performance expands into an Extended Performance with the agency of the player and the audience through the sharing and expanding of the performance. Twitch serves as our best example of Emergent play, with the audiences agency in the game and their ability to affect the performance and outcome. This performance has fully integrated social media into the game. With games like Superfight and Streamlined designed from the ground up to accommodate the emergent play found in the Twitch chat, these spaces are becoming more interactive than ever (Clark, 2016).

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How have independent developers started using this?

Social media has changed how we experience gaming, from something we no longer need to experience for ourselves, but as something we can share with a mass of others. 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. Many developers have started considering ways to contribute to emergent and transformative play through social media sites.

 

Poly Bridge

In his 2016 GDC talk Corrieri attributed a lot of their game’s success to a simple .gif sharing function added in for players to share their experiences in the game with others. He went on to explain the unexpected ripple effect that the game received through social media, even though very little was done on the marketing side (Corrieri, 2016). In the early stages of development they recognised the value in a strong player community and its relationship with the longevity of a game. Even in the simplest sense, the developers recognised the value of these social performance spaces and built sharing abilities into the games design. Through players being able to share their own way of playing the game, the developers were quickly able to identify ways to improve their puzzles to appeal to different types of transformative play. Appealing to players’ different emergent play styles, players are encouraged to share more thus promoting the game. Corrieri also stresses the importance of a single share button for multiple platforms in order to make it easier for players to interact with these tools (2016).

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Firewatch

The developers at Campo Santo took the idea of social sharing and brought it together with their game’s merchandising. Within the game itself, players have the ability to capture the game’s beautifully unique visuals. It is simple enough to share these on social sites, however the developers gave players the option to to get their screenshots physically printed. In a Polygon article, they discuss the inspiration for this and how they managed to make this sharing feature fit into the game’s lore, even going so far as to mention the print company in-game (Kuchera, 2016). Furthermore, they also include more specific details on the merchandise packaging, which players loved (LGR, 2016). On their website too, developers encourage players to stream and share their experiences, they encourage them to contact them through social media sites with problems to get faster responses. More importantly however, “we love that people stream and share their experiences in the game. You are free to monetize your videos as well. It doesn’t hurt to let us know on Twitter when you’re live. We might show up in your chat!”. They are encouraging players to monetise their own emergent and extended performances through social media. They are encouraging players to contact them when they stream so that the developers can interact in this space with the players. In a streaming situation with the streamer, the developer and the audience, we can see a full circle of our performance space lense coming into effect. This action becomes such positive encouragement for your player community that the game’s creators are willing to join in and interact with them in this performance space.

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Armello

Another excellent example of this kind of Extended Performance which is actively designed around community engagement is the development streams run by the League of Geeks studio through their own Twitch channel. The developers actively invite their player community to play their game Armello with them. This is the best example of community engagement that completely encompases all three spheres of performance spaces. Both the game and the developers streaming are the Direct Performance, but through the act of doing this the performance has become extended into a completely Emergent Performance where the performer and audience is completely obscure. This level of performer audience interaction has become a wholly unique kind of play between the developer and their players. One which actively encourages player involvement through this extended developer communication with their own players.

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Social media is constantly evolving, even the already mentioned platforms have undergone changes which can’t be fitted into this limited space. Twitter has Vines and, alongside Facebook, its own live stream services. Youtube has Youtube Red for live streaming and, through the use of archived streams, viewers can see even once you have stopped streaming on Twitch. Social media is expanding and so is its audience, there is no better time to be connected with people. For the first time since games have been developed, we are able to interact so closely with our players and there is no reason why we shouldn’t. This has been studied so little that there is no known correct way of APA referencing a Twitch stream, yet social media integration has become such an important part of game development and how we share and market games. Hopefully, these case studies have argued the value of this and displayed a wider variety of methods for social media integration into games and into game development in general. Our lense illustrates a universal way of looking at these social media spaces and is not just limited to or by the above examples. With these space constantly changing, we would, at any point in time, be able to find all three layers of our performance space in any of the above social media sites or utilized by the above developers or integrated into the above games.

 

Bibliography

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