How Social Media Is Affecting the Gaming Industry

Social media and gaming actually have far more in common than it might seem on the surface. Both work to bring people together for easier communication, and both can facilitate lasting relationships through the people we meet online. The rise of social media has had a direct effect on the gaming industry, and while that effect is overall positive, there are some situations in which social media has had a negative impact on the gaming community.

Social media has provided a platform for millions of gamers to express their views. Unfortunately, many gamers choose to use that platform to put forth misogynist, homophobic, racist, and violent ideologies. While much of the toxicity that comes from gaming fandoms stays contained on web forums, there are instances in which it spills out into the real world, causing serious and lasting damage.

The Marriage of Social Media and Gaming

One of the biggest and most obvious ways that social media has had an effect on gaming is through the rise in popularity of casual mobile games such as Farmville, Words With Friends, and Candy Crush. These types of games garnered huge fan bases on social media platforms due to their marketing methods that gave players in-game currency for liking or sharing the game. While the massive surge of Farmville friend requests filling up Facebook inboxes has long passed, the impact that these games made was noticed by both game developers and social media platforms alike.

Aside from spurring a renewed interest in casual gaming, social media has completely changed the way that video games are marketed. In the past, gamers have had to wait about news regarding upcoming games to come out in specialized publications, whereas now information about upcoming games is disseminated nearly instantly through social media platforms. Social media is also utilized in the development of games, as it offers up a way for gamers to directly contact developers about issues and bugs that they find within a game, as well as any suggestions they might have for future updates.

However, social media’s influence on games themselves isn’t always positive, and social media is partly responsible for one of the most controversial issues in gaming today: microtransactions. Microtransactions were the dominant profit generator for rudimentary mobile games like Candy Crush and Farmville.

Due to the success of these microtransactions in casual games, they have made their way into major triple-A titles. Today it is difficult to find a popular sports game, shooter, or battle royale-style game that doesn’t have microtransactions integrated into its business model. Even the humble Solitaire, once completely free on Windows, now has microtransactions.

The Streaming Experience

More recently, social media and gaming have become nearly inextricably linked due to the rising popularity of gamers who stream their gameplay. Twitch and YouTube are by far the most popular platforms for streaming, allowing influential gamers to engage directly with their audience as they play their game of choice. While many games are popular on streaming platforms, Fortnite and PUBG dominate streaming services and generate the most interest from viewers.

Facebook also recently got into the streaming field with the launch of Facebook Gaming, and while it isn’t nearly as popular as Twitch or YouTube for gaming streams, we are sure to see more and more livestream gaming move to the social media platform in the coming years. The appeal for Facebook as a streaming platform comes from the fact that Facebook not only plans on taking a smaller cut from money earned by streamers than competitors, but that they have a built-in audience of millions who won’t have to seek out streaming on a different service.

Streaming allows gaming fans to feel like they are a part of something bigger than simply watching a friend play a video game, and popular streamers like Ninja have hundreds of thousands of adoring fans across the globe. However, this scope of influence isn’t always easy to manage for streamers. While politicians purposefully use social media in order to convey their ideas to a wider audience, streamers often find themselves in hot water when they say things they shouldn’t online that reach millions of people.

Social Media Scandals

Social media risks extend far beyond identity theft and cyberbullying for people who make a living streaming. Because their livelihood is attached to social media directly, their personal reputation and business can be irreparably damaged when a scandal breaks out around something they said on a livestream. Homophobic rants, misogyny, animal abuse, and even domestic abuse have all been caught on livestreams, becoming massive career-ending scandals for many.

However, social media scandals aren’t contained within the streaming community of gamers. Probably the most famous video game scandal to date, Gamergate, was only made possible through social media. While Gamergate ostensibly revolved around journalistic integrity, in reality, it was nothing more than a misogynist social media pile-on of a female journalist, Leigh Alexander, who had made comments regarding the state of gamer fandom today.

In truth, it actually began much longer before Alexander ever wrote her article on gaming culture. Gamergate began as a personal attack against female game developer Zoe Quinn over allegations that she had used her sexuality in order to generate publicity for her games, and the nonsensical idea that her text-based game Depression Quest was not, in fact, a “real game.”

Fortunately, the whole ordeal was found out for what it really was, and for the most part, those espousing Gamergate grievances were disregarded at large. Now, in part due to the exposure of Gamergate, the gaming industry has been forced to take a hard look in on itself and has come to the realization that gaming is a unisex activity. Visibility of female gamers has always been an issue in the past, but as social media grows, more and more women are proud to say that they are gamers — a side effect of social media on the gaming industry.

These vocal consumers are highlighting an important fact for game developers: A key to software development, especially when it comes to creating and retaining customers, is focusing on user-centered design. In order to optimize games for long-term sustainability, it’s essential to understand your audience. As an increasing number of game developers grow to understand the importance of designing games with both their male and female player base in mind, we’ll likely see improved female representation — and, hopefully, decreased division within the industry.

Social media and gaming aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Now more than ever, social media and gaming are becoming intertwined, and we may see an even deeper connection between gaming and social media in the future. Whether it is changing games themselves, opening up new avenues for fans to enjoy gaming, or shining a light onto the less reputable aspects of the gaming world, social media has had a profound impact on gaming at large.

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