The lights are on
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Right now, the answer is no. Sony's Home is strictly an accessory to gaming, a place where gamers can meet, chat, and from what I usually see, flirt and dance with any female in their line of sight. The experience you have in this world doesn't transition back into the games you play. This is a place you can visit if you want to take a break from your games.On the other hand, Microsoft's social climate is on the verge of blossoming into something gamers haven't seen before. With last year's addition of clan chat, I noticed an emerging trend. Friends on my list were joining into the same parties, and not just for the sole interest of playing the same game with each other. These groups, which I've seen with five people playing five different games, are formed with the specific intent of communicating with each other – almost like a Borg hive.
As interesting as this is, I would never do this. Having someone talk about the football game played last night seems to go against trying to immerse yourself into a game's fiction or action. Regardless of whether you use it or not, this option is changing the landscape of gaming. In the coming months, Microsoft will push Xbox Live's social boundaries even further with the additions of Facebook and Twitter.
If game developers embrace these tools, they will directly affect the games you play. Electronic Arts is tying Facebook support into the next Tiger Woods installment. You can post highlights onto your Facebook page, and also issue challenges to other Facebook users. But what if this functionality was taken even further? Facebook is already a portal for games. What if Electronic Arts created a Tiger Woods game for Facebook that uses your Xbox 360 profile and character? Bored at work? Want to earn new gear and cash for your Tiger Woods character?This very thought could open the door for a new type of gaming. Why couldn’t the next Gears of War have a Mafia Wars-like Facebook experience tied to it? What would Square Enix dream up for a Final Fantasy game?Twitter could also play a significant role in the social gaming area. Sony’s recent release, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, is the first game to allow users to track their progress in the game through Twitter. While I tip my hat to Naughty Dog for experimenting with this, hearing that Geoff Keighley reached level 7 is not something I need to see in my tweet feed. While I fear this networking tool could pollute Xbox Live friend updates with meaningless Achievement Unlocked messages, I can see it being used in interesting ways. Alerting friends of events would be cool, and I’d get a kick out of seeing multiplayer ass-kickings or beatings, such as “Andrew Reiner killed Geoff Keighley 18 times in a Halo ODST team deathmatch." Twitter could also help keep guilds better organized with guild-only tweets. On this note, Facebook’s groups could be tweaked for guilds as well.Obviously, I’m excited to see what Microsoft does with these social tools. While I will embrace them, Facebook and Twitter have to be options that users can customize, or should they choose, block. Privacy is a large part of gaming, and it would suck if you can’t play a game without having a series of messages flash onto your screen. Give these social tools some thought. They’re coming to your Xbox 360 soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both Sony and Nintendo see a future similar to Microsoft, where games extend beyond the living room, and can be interacted with on your phone or on your computer.I’ve been excited for supplemental gaming since I first fed a Chao on my Dreamcast VMU. Madden’s downloadable iPhone and PC apps are allowing players to interact from their games even when they are away from their console. I’m hoping experiences like these will be expanded through the Facebook and Twitter portals. But it's not all about expanding games. Industry analyst Michael Pachter sees social networking as a way to attract a wider demographic. “Microsoft is trying to expand its reach WITHIN the household. They want to make the installed base more likely to have multiple users within the household. They have not been particularly good at making kids’ games, but XBLA proved that they can hook more casual gamers. In order to drive wives, moms, daughters, grandparents, etc. to use the 360, they chose to focus on broader social applications like Facebook and Twitter to attract new users instead of broadening the variety of games. I think that is brilliant. Natal makes the interface easier and less threatening, and will allow for further expansion. Ultimately, we’ll all order Pizza or Taco Bell on our 360s.”As social networking becomes more of an integral part of everyday communication, it’s inevitable that it will cross paths with the ever-increasing social aspects of the gaming world. Will it change gaming? That depends mostly on what the industry does with it. The potential is there. It just needs to be exploited and honed.
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