Once upon a time, social media and online gaming were two separate phenomena. Each with its own distinct audiences, methods, and reach. Those who gamed online may have had a social media account, and those with a social media account may well have played games. However, there was little to no cross-over between the two. You would be hard pushed to hop on FaceParty (a precursor to Facebook) and find any games, it was merely a way to create a profile and gather friends. Equally, you could play a game on an online platform, and no one but those playing with you would be any the wiser.
But how times have changed! Over 1 billion hours each month are spent playing games on Facebook. There are channels across social media where people live-stream themselves playing games. The marketing value of these platforms has not been lost on developers. People use social media to show their friends what they are playing, to ask for in-game items (thus encouraging friends to play), and to promote their new and wonderful hobbies. Online casino games have also soared in popularity. These have found a place at the heart of social media, appealing to a different demographic and highlighting the social nature of the games.
How did this happen?
The rise of online gaming linked to social media can be traced back to Facebook. With their immersive browser-based games such as Farmville and Candy Crush proving popular. In fact Farmville peaked at 34.5 million daily players in March 2010.
It didn’t take long for game developers to realize that people wanted to boast about their in-game achievements to their friends. Developers began to use social media itself to promote their games. The players sharing their achievements and requesting in-game help grew their player base.
Online gamers have always had their own online communities, and as the nature of gaming has changed, it is not just for the hard-core gamers, playing into the night. All games have their own communities develop from the games they play. They offer a place for players to discuss tactics and share stories. Playing games and using social media really do go hand in hand.
A more recent creation are sites like Twitch, where players will live stream themselves playing a game. This is a platform designed for gamers to come together and share stories and experiences. All focused on gaming. On this social media-esque site, users create profiles, add friends, and chat with each other, united by a common interest.
In 2015, Twitch had 1.5 million broadcasters and 100 million monthly viewers. By 2018 these figures were 2.2 million and 15 million daily viewers.
The reach of social gaming goes far above the reach of more traditional console or PC games. Non-gamers will play games on Facebook, and yet not consider themselves gamers. Most social gamers will flit between different games to find the right one for them. Often they play for short bursts of time. They will also regularly share their progress with their friends/followers and encourage others to play.
This new demographic is also very distinct from the traditional gamer demographic. The majority of social gamers are women in their mid to late thirties and has opened up a whole new type of game.
Players can choose from literally hundreds of thousands of different games. Often led by their friends’ recommendations. This means that marketing is much less intrusive. People tend to be much more receptive when the targeted advertising feels more engaging and natural.
As well as being led by friends promoting the game, marketers will position adverts for similar games in games the person is already playing, increasing engagement. Additionally, players are often able to get bonuses or in-game items by watching in-game adverts.
In an increasingly global world, people can start to feel increasingly disconnected. So, being able to find a group of people who share similar interests, however geographically dispersed, is a positive. Many online social friendships are able to flourish due to shared interests. There is even an instance where an online friendship through a social media game saved a life!
In short, no. It is unlikely that gaming will replace social media, but it is undeniable that they are intrinsically linked. There will always be a place in the market for ‘pure’ social media, i.e. a platform that allows users to share and create content and participate in social networking. There will also always be a place for gamers to game. However, the mix of gaming and social media has emerged as a highly successful and popular platform. Especially as it offers that combination of gaming and social interactions with like-minded individuals.
Games developers have embraced the emergence of social media and have certainly reaped the rewards associated. Their reach is increasing and reaching a completely new demographic. Gamers have also embraced the social aspect. They enjoy spending time with other players discussing games and life. Therefore, creating whole communities based around online gaming.