Research Essay Critique Draft
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Through social media platforms, players and developers are more connected than ever and we now have even more opportunity for emergent play. 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, in order to examine the effects and potential of social media integration within games as transformative play. The goal of this research is for it to be used to inform a major production, in our third year and in my career after university.
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 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. Our primary sources on formulating our lense and argument overall, will be from two core texts, supplemented by other readings which serve as a wider breadth for our argument.
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.This research examines the wider context of how the advent of social media, and the cultural changes it has brought about, has affected traditional marketing strategies. To develop a deeper understanding as to why these platforms have been so effective, we will need to formulate a lense which can be applied to these social media platforms and beyond. For this purpose we will be examining Elena Pérez’s The expansion of theatrical space and the role of the spectator. However, because of the changing nature of games and social platforms, this needs to be related to something fundamental found in all games. Therefore, we will be complimenting Pérez’s work with Salen and Zimmerman’s principle of Transformative Play (2004). To relate these studies to video games and their relationship with social media as performance spaces, we are going to explore a series of case studies as they relate to our formalized lense in depth. Thus, we can engage with the social and psychological relationship between the audience and performer in a formalized manner. Lastly, we examine how we, as developers, can use this depth of understanding to better market our games, build communities and give players agencies for their own play outside of our games.
Marketing games and Social Media
It goes without saying that if no one know’s about your game no one will buy it; after the huge amount of resources that are necessary for making a game, it is inconsiderable to leave marketing it up to word-of-mouth strategies. Furthermore, the games industry is growing and so has our general use of social media; observing Steam or the App Store, we can see that there dozens of games released in a single day and dozens more in development (Brannigan, 2015). With so many developers discussing issues like ‘the indiepocalypse’, marketing your game right is more important than ever. 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 of 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. Games, like social media, are a fast changing technology and marketing strategies have needed to adapt to this. According to Statista, more than half of advertisers agreed to integrating social media into their advertising (2016). Looking at books such as The Video Game Bible we can see the traditional manner in which games have previously been marketed; usually through general television or radio advertising campaigns (Slaven, 2002). “The result of this bombardment of advertising on society is that consumers have become increasingly resistant to traditional forms of advertising.” (Wright, Khanfar, Harrington, Kizer, 2010).
With changing trends and the advent social media, we have ways of customising our advertising campaigns to better suit a particular audience. In their essay, one of the key identifiers was the need to explore new media platforms, and find ways to build equally beneficial relationships with customers in order to help promote a more positive business image (Wright, Khanfar, Harrington, Kizer, 2010). With more and more people utilizing these strategies and the saturation of games coming into the market, how do we make sure that our drop in the ocean of games doesn’t go unnoticed? Brannigan argues that it is by understanding the value of marketing through building player bases and communities (2015). The games industry by its very nature is fluid, changing, and so is social media, simply due to the sheer amount of people one can reach. 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?
Community forms an intrinsic part of any online identity, there is value in sharing content others can identify with. According to Berger and Milkman “More positive content is more viral than negative content, but the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than valence alone, and is driven in part by arousal” (2010). But why do we share to begin with? Berger and Milkman examine this psychological relationship with online sharing as content that evokes either positive or negative responses from us, coupled with one’s existential self-image which motivates how, why and what we share online. Social communities, much like real communities, are online environments where people go to share ideas, thoughts, work and discuss issues. We share to connect with others and develop an identifiable sense of community around ourselves. In order for online content to make any impact on the viewer it first needs to be engaging. It is important to pay attention to the emotions your content provokes from viewers, as this forms an important part of users willingness to engage in your idea or brand. 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.
Brannigan makes the point, “Your social content is the beginning of the conversation. If you treat your social channels solely as a digital billboard, you have a digital advertising channel, not a community. You are unlikely to build long-term relationships this way, and miss the opportunity to gain valuable insight from your customers as a result.” Using social media is not just about having an advertising space for your game, it’s about having a connection, a dialog with your players and a conversation to hear their feedback. The difficulty with understanding social media marketing is that, like games, it is such a new technology and like most new technologies it is constantly changing and evolving. A suggestion on how to market games through social media might work today but not in 5 years. How can we look deeper at these spaces and what lens could we apply to allow ourselves a better understanding of them which could be applied to future ways of marketing games through community building?
What is a performance space?
Pérez’s 2007 article The expansion of theatrical space and the role of the spectator forms the critical depth of my research paper’s key argument. By the broadest possible definition, a performance space is any arena, theatre or network which regulates the relationship between the audience and the performer. In her paper, Pérez usually refers to this as theatrical space, “The expansion of theatrical space here refers to the ways in which new spaces can be incorporated into the existing theatrical space through technology.” Pérez compares traditional theatrical performance spaces and describes how these spaces have been “expanded” through the application of technology and its artefacts. Here, we examine the ways in which Pérez explores the relationship between the performer and the audience and, more importantly, how this relationship becomes as important as the message conveyed in the performance.
To start, Pérez’s paper begins by identifying a more traditional stance on theatrical spaces, examining what we expect from these traditional spaces and how they are changed with the addition of technology. “Multimedia performance generally refers to any performance that employs film, video or computer-generated imagery alongside a live performance.” In multimedia performance, the audience watch without participating in the performance. Here, there is very little relationship between the performer and the audience. In this type of performance, the only thing that technology provides is an addition to the delivery of the performance – it still remains the job of the audience to understand the meaning of the performance themselves without involvement from the performer. The relationship between the audience and performer is very limited and they exist in different spaces.
Next, Pérez examines how communications networks start to change the spaces in which performance happens. “Telematic performance uses telecommunication networks to establish links between remote spaces, using the Internet to transmit images and sound between two or more sites to create a shared performance event.” Telematic performance expands our theatrical space by using two or more different platforms for the performance to take place. With this kind of performance, we start to see technology affect the relationship between the audience and the performer, especially with the anonymity online performance spaces can provide. We see the audience becoming more confident to actively participate in the performance and bolder in its interaction with the performer, thus opening the performance up to potential ludic activity.
Finally, Pérez examines the ways in which these different kinds of performance spaces work in combination with each other and how this changes the performer-audience relationship. “Pervasive performance is a hybrid emergent phenomenon that seeks to engage participants in collaborative events through a combination of gameplay, media and performance.” This phenomenon occurred as soon as we were no longer bound by the limits of physical spaces. As soon as these spaces extended to mobile platforms, audiences were able to actively take part in online, telematic performances. Theatrical space has been thus expanded by technology in a very literal sense. In pervasive performance, the relationship between the audiences and the performer are now blurred, with the audience able to take agency and interact with the performer. It can also become unclear who the performer in the space would be. In this instance, the relationship between the performer and the audience becomes more important and we start to experience emergent, more ludic activities.
How does it relate to games?
As insightful as Perez’s work is, it is heavily based in theatre and performing arts. With games and social media being rapidly changing technologies, it is difficult to confine these spaces into a single lens. In order for us to understand this research in relation to games, we will need to extrapolate from Perez’s explanations and bring our own interpretation to create definitions more suited to gaming and its relationship with social media. Because social media spaces exist as an extension of the game itself we are going to be looking at Salen and Zimmerman’s principle of Transformative Play (2004). With so many gamers having enormous followings of fans dedicated to watching them play games, it illustrates how players are beginning to become their own performers in these spaces. This begs the question of who the performer is now, the developer or the player? These theories exist to understand the fundamentals of play and how it exists both within and without of the game. Transformative play compliments the idea of community building while supporting the idea of treating these platforms as performance spaces.
What is transformative and emergent play?
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).
Considering these two theories, one based in the realm of theatre and performer audience relationships and the other within the fundamental nature of play, we can start formulate our own compound idea which encompases both.
A direct performance is a more traditional player-game relationship where the game is the performer and the player is the viewer. If we compare this to multimedia performance, we could consider the game itself as the performer, but there still needs to be some kind of active involvement from the player in order for the performance to take place. But much like multimedia performance, the relationship between the audience and performer is very limited and they exist in different spaces. However, the key difference, with our definition of direct performance, is that the technology exists as a method of delivering the performance that players still need to interact with. Considering this in the marketing of games, previously there was very little way for games or developers to have an open dialogue with their audiences, it was very much a case of the developer’s game as the performance and the players as merely the viewer. There is no audience involvement in the performance other than the act of playing the game and controlling when the performance proceeded.
In our definition of extended performance, the game is still the primary performance and the player acts as an extension of this through different kinds of play. The performance, in this case, takes place both live and online. Comparing this to Perez’s telematic performance, we see similarities, like players becoming more confident to actively participate in the performance. Through these extended performances, players are beginning to involve themselves in transformative kinds of play outside of the game itself, because when players can share the game’s performance, the performance transforms into more than just the game itself. Social media was designed for this very purpose, not for sharing games, but sharing the performances of our daily lives – which extends to gaming. With the extended performance in the agency of the player, we start to see a change in the relationship of the performer and audience. Playing a game was once a binary state, where the game was the sole performance and the player merely the driver behind the performance. However, in this case, the performance is made by both the game and by the player through the act of sharing and expanding the performance space to other platforms and other viewers. Here, the audience is using the original game performance to make and share their own content, therefore transforming the play and their experience into a performance of their own.
An emergent performance is one where the game and the player become the performance. Very similar to Perez’s pervasive performance, the relationship between the audiences and the performer are now blurred, with the audience able to take agency and interact with the performer. This relationship, the interaction between the audience and the performer, is paramount and has become nearly as important as the play itself. The audience in this case doesn’t just view the game’s performance, or just extend the game’s performance, they themselves become both the player and the performer. Through active engagement between the audience and performer both our play and our performance spaces are transformed and become unique and emergent. Emergent performance integrates online technology and social media spaces into the game’s performance, thus letting the audience interact with the performance. In instances such as this, we can see how the play performance might be changed based on different audience interactions, especially uninhibited interactions that we find in online environments. This becomes even more unpredictable when we consider the nature of games as extraordinary reflections of life. It is through this interaction with the performer and other audience members that all players can fully explore the creative world and potential emergent play. Thus opening the game, as the original performance, up to more personal, creative and emergent kinds of play.
Unlike Pérez’s examples, these things are not separate categorizations from one another, but rather one cannot exist without the other, much like the relationship between transformative play and emergent play. When it comes to games, principles of performer-audience relationships are layered on top of one another. It is through these different levels of involvement and interaction that players are able to become more entwined with emergent play within the game’s performance space. In this case, we consider technology like social media as a part of the performer-audience relationship. Our examination of the roles of exhibitors and spectators in performance spaces allow us to gain a deeper understanding of why these performance spaces have come about. From this, we can also garner potential reasons as to why social media has been such a successful platform, thus a highly useful marketing tool. The most important thing though is that performance spaces allow us to recognise emergent spaces, which provides a higher level of player involvement.
The games industry and online social platforms are constantly changing and what is relevant today might not be tomorrow. By contrasting our two lenses and designing our own we have the ability to analyze future spaces. If we look at either YouTubers or Twitch streamers and their audience, and how this relationship is different, we start to develop more interactive mediums. Here, we can examine what changes when we begin to examine the relationship between our different kinds of performance spaces and their relationship with games.The goal for these case studies is to serve as examples of tools available for developers, while simultaneously helping us better understand our lens. With our performance lense in mind, we can start to apply these different layers of complexity to social media as performance spaces.
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 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.
We see similarities when we examine a platform like Twitter; arguably a better source of connecting with others due to the nature of their posting systems. With limited characters and the 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 begin 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.
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 also 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 lens, here is when we can begin to see Emergent Performance, seeing the audience can’t yet fully change or interact with the performance, but with the game having been changed and opened to creative and emergent play.
Gameplay and the 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 audience’s 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).
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 that 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 performer’s 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.
In his 2016 GDC talk, Poly Bridge developer Patrick 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 game’s 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 their experiences within the game, thus promoting the game further. 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).
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 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 lore specific details on the merchandise packaging, which players loved (LGR, 2016). On their website, the developers also encourage players to stream and share their experiences, with them suggesting users 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 an environment with the streamer, the developer and the audience, we can see a full circle of our performance space lens 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.
This leads us to the best example of this kind of Extended Performance, an example actively designed around community engagement: 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 layers 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 performance and interaction by both the performer and audience has become a wholly unique kind of play between the developer and their players. It encourages player involvement and developer communication with their own players.
Social media is constantly evolving, even the already mentioned platforms have undergone changes which can’t be fitted into this limited text. 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 lens 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.
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 a performance space? A key aspect for many is that players can now make money playing your game, through spaces such as Twitch and YouTube. However, the most important, non-financial thing that players gain from these performance spaces is Transformative Social Play (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004) “In transformative social play, players use the game context to transform social relationships. They actively engage with the rule system of a game, manipulating it in order to shift, extend, or subvert their relations with other players.” (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004). In this kind of social play, the effects of the transformative play occurs through social interaction. This offers an explanation as to why these systems came about: humans have a psychological need to share and this provides insights into why we may have started sharing games en masse to begin with. This how interactivity can occur on a cultural level, in Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games, Zimmerman helps cement the idea behind why we build social communities and why they are effective (2005). 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.
How can developers use the transformative play that comes about in these performance spaces to market their game?
By using social media integration within our games, coupled with active community engagement, developers can start to develop stronger, more personal connections with their players. 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. 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 with 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.
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 easy yet 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.
By looking at marketing spaces for games as performance spaces and considering the ways in which we can build our gamer communities through transformative play, we have developed a more robust method for considering games marketing. Through 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.
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