Gamers hate the notion of sharing. The mere mention of Facebook or Twitter infiltrating their favorite titles is enough to spawn enough vitriol to fuel a nation, and yet, game developers keep looking for ways to inject a bit of social into their projects. The problem here lies not with the fact that sharing as a feature is inherently irrelevant; quite the opposite. The issue, rather, centers around the nature of the content that users are being prompted to share. The truth of the matter is that sharing as an act of social interaction is selfish by nature, narcissistic even.
Think about it: classic Facebook games have been tapping into the rule of reciprocity for years now in an attempt to acquire new users with gift-giving functionality, but nearly all of the titles that utilize this thinly-veiled technique offer the giver a tangible benefit for doing so. Sharing isn’t, and has never been, about making somebody else feel good, it’s about making yourself feel good. It’s for the same reason that altruism is arguably a form of self-indulgence and, when considered in the context of motivating people to share content, surprisingly overlooked by game developers.
Sharing is about cultivating and grooming your social presence to match the persona you wish people to perceive of you. It’s why websites like Klout exist and actually work. In the gaming world, the same concept applies, though the primary difference is that developers are the ones deciding what players are able to share, rather than the players themselves. This has since become less of an issue with features such as the Xbox One’s Game DVR and Upload Studio apps respectively, but the fact remains that most games and platforms almost entirely miss the mark for those looking to enhance their gamer cred with content specific to their play style or skills.
SHARING ISN’T, AND HAS NEVER BEEN, ABOUT MAKING SOMEBODY ELSE FEEL GOOD, IT’S ABOUT MAKING YOURSELF FEEL GOOD.
It’s a remarkably simplistic thing to assume when building social elements into games: all gamers really want from sharing is to appear proficient, unique, and better than their interconnected peers. Let me share a clip to my Facebook wall that shows how hard I rocked that punk in Street Fighter after he taunted me in Round 1. Give me the option to share a screenshot of my 1st place victory in Battlefield 4 after an epic half-hour Conquest match. Encourage me to taunt my friends with a Twitter post mentioning their handle after I smash their score in Peggle 2. Hell, develop a tool that lets me make a GIF out of that godlike combo I strung together in Killer Instinct last night and post it to Tumblr.
The problem with games interacting with external social networks is that they so often misunderstand what players want to share within the confines of both the game’s core loop and the chosen network’s preferred content. You don’t share controversial articles on Pinterest, so why would I want to post that I leveled up in a mobile free-to-play game on my Twitter feed? I don’t care, my followers definitely don’t care, and it damages my gamer persona that I’ve been spending months creating.
An even bigger problem plaguing the perception of social networks and video games stems from this single prompt:
If you’ve played games on Facebook or your phone, you’ve almost assuredly seen this prompt pop up and give you pause. The purpose of this prompt is almost solely for acquisition purposes: acquiring users costs money (and a lot of it, at that) and any method of getting more users via existing users is going to be in any developer’s sights. The problem is, this prompt, accompanied by the usual slew of unauthorized “progress posts” that follow, is so misused and abused by developers that we’ve managed to turn our most social gaming devices into the exact opposite.
That’s right, the device that carries all of your friends and family’s contact information is now actually the least social gaming machine with the advent of gameplay sharing on the freshly released next-gen (current-gen?) consoles. When gamers think about social networks invading their games, the “let-me-post-pointless-updates” prompt immediately comes to mind, and with it, a host of negative associations. I will acknowledge that some indie developers do this out of necessity, often with their livelihood on the line due to a limited acquisition budget or desperation, but it’s also largely up to these same developers to reverse the perception.
Don’t decide what content to post even with my authorization. Figure out what I want to share in-game, give me the correct network to do so, and let me custom tailor the content to match my persona. If you’re a gamer, don’t be so quick to write off social sharing in your favorite titles, but also demand more control from developers when social does make an appearance. Developers: social features aren’t an afterthought. Keep your title relevant beyond its launch date, increase revenue, and get a whole bunch of free advertising with smart social functionality.