Games have never really existed in their own little bubble, even when technology was comparatively limited. Before the days of social media and online multiplayer action, there was still a sense of community that came from discussing the latest gaming craze. However, global connectivity now means that the community has got a lot bigger, giving game developers a bigger challenge when considering how to strengthen the bond between their players.
James Gwertzman, general manager of Microsoft Game Stack, expressed the new dynamic succinctly in an interview with a group of tech journalists at the start of February. Gwertzman stated that ‘the nature of gameplay has changed’, citing Fortnite as a key driver in transforming the idea of games as a service into games as a community.
Gwertzman expands on that idea of community, listing the ability to buy, stream, and compete as three factors that now supplement the core gaming process. Microtransactions in gaming is not a particularly new concept. FIFA, EA Sports’ beloved soccer franchise, introduced the first version of its ‘Ultimate Team’ concept in 2009, where gamers could buy and sell players cards in order to build their – you’ve guessed it – ultimate team.
This essentially updated the concepts of trading cards and stickers for a 21st century audience, producing an Ultimate Team community that could bond and compete over their shared goal of building their dream team. Players would also have the ability to convert real cash into in-game money, something that has also been emulated by modern games like Fortnite.
Streaming is perhaps the most important development in recent years that has strengthened the sense of community, as it allows previously solo gaming pursuits to be transformed into something with a human connection. This has been demonstrated by the inclusion of streaming within games themselves, as well as through the streaming of games.
The iGaming industry is the leading genre when it comes to in-game streaming integration. You can go here for proof of that, with NetEnt’s roulette options now including a range of live casino titles. In the past, online roulette used to be exclusively shared between a player and their device, but users can now access high quality video feeds of a roulette game run by a human dealer. Players from across the world can interact in real-time with the roulette action, thereby creating a human connection between the gamers and the person running the game.
Streaming platforms like Twitch have also turned previously independent gaming into something that can be shared by a massive community. It doesn’t matter now if the latest video game can only be accessed by a single player, as that player can now share their exploits live to an audience from across the world. The most successful Twitch streamers, such as Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, have become celebrities in their own right, attracting loyal fanbases who eagerly await each new stream.
Ninja has since moved on to Mixer, the Microsoft-owned streaming service, which is an indication that there is going to be a fiercely-contested battle for dominance in the streaming market. This suggests that the growing emphasis on community is not a trend that will reverse anytime soon, a sentiment echoed by Gwertzman in his interview.
Gwertzman declared that game developers can no longer afford to view games in isolation, but must consider their ability to build and engage with a gaming community. Whether establishing ways for gamers to share their in-game achievements or integrating new communal elements into the games themselves, developers face a very different challenge to their counterparts from even a decade ago.
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