Social Networking and video games are two entities that are getting thrust together like a couple of teenagers playing spin the bottle. Both of them are highly lucrative markets in today’s digital, non-stop-consumption age, which makes them an ideal match and one that’s being practically forced down our throats whether we like it or not. Let’s look at Facebook (I said look, not open a new tab. That’s right, close it. I’m more important). Millions of users, millions of pounds worth of advertising revenue, and millions of hours worth of time wasted on the damn website. Now look at video games. Millions of players, millions of pounds worth of potential revenue, and of course, millions of hours worth of time wasted on the damn things. At some point, some genius in a suit decided it would be a marvellous idea to combine the two. To cross the streams so to speak.
If you play video games, I’m sure you’ve uploaded the odd, spectacularly captured glitch in your favourite game, updated friends with a status indicating just how brilliant a new game is, or how you just killed the shit out of some strange Italian man on Call Of Duty. If you use social networking websites, then I’m pretty sure at one point in time you will have accepted your friends invite to visit their farm to help plant some trees, stalked your ex girlfriend, or earned some chips to bet away in a seedy, virtual casino. There have always been video games hidden within social networking, and of course, aspects of social networking within video games. Who else remembers the second multiplayer was introduced, and you finally got to kill Oddjob with a proximity mine in the N64 version of Goldeneye. The invention of internet connections capable of downloading enough porn to kill an elephant brought online multiplayer, which meant you didn’t even have to have real friends to play with. You could just jump into a game, and immediately squash a small child, and then rub it in his face via a microphone.
As video games consoles have progressed, we’re presented with three huge gaming services and communities. We have Steam for the PC users, Xbox Live for the Xbox users, and the Playstation network for the, you guessed it, PS3 users (The wii may have online capabilities, but it sure as hell doesn’t have a community to go with them). Three platforms, three completely individual networks, three vastly different communities. That’s before I can begin to touch on the communities surrounding MMORPGS or MMOs like World Of Warcraft, EVE, and the newly released DC Universe. Anyone with half a brain can see they are a social entity in themselves, as the games wouldn’t exist without the social aspect. What with Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube integration being the norm these days, each network is already a keen platform for the job of time stealing, and that’s before you even load up a game!
Gaming has never been more sociable, and it’s never been so easy to be alone and still be with friends. You can jump into games with complete strangers, or set up tournaments with your mates from work, but you can all be sat in your most comfortable chair sipping on a cup of tea. Sure, you can still play split screen, but who needs to when you get to have a whole 32 inches to yourself.
I played Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit today(NFS:HP from now on, as I’m bored of typing the entire thing), and I was introduced to Criterion’s take on a social network. It’s the network players of the game are forced (and this is in no way a bad thing) to join upon playing. It’s called Autolog. I bet you’re probably asking “What is Autolog?” Well, this is Autolog. Autolog… Autolog
It’s a stroke of fucking genius is what it is. Burnout Paradise, another orgasm-inducing racing game created by Criterion, had what I would say was the beginnings of this new network type. The racing area, in this case a city, was enormous, and you could jump into online play with up to eight players immediately. IMMEDIATELY. There was no quitting of games, no waiting for lobbies, no fucking about with your settings. You were shot into an existing lobby with people already participating in a race, or just dossing about trying to do back flips in a pickup truck. It was brilliant at the time, but Autolog is just, wow.
I’ve had NFS:HP for about a week now, and I’ve played it for a good eight hours or so. It’s a great racing game, with stunning graphics, a decent enough soundtrack, and some brilliant game play, but the most impressive thing about this game is definitely Autolog. You’re basically looking at Facebook, within a video game. This talk about ‘walls’ and posting comments to your friends is all well and good, and it’s fun to leave a ‘hahah. I just beat u’ comment afer a good race, but the major draw to this network is the recommendations and alert systems. I am told over and over again by Autolog that I have four friends that play NFS:HP, and constantly asked if I would like to find some new friends to add. This game is actually asking me to add strangers to my friends list. That sounds awfully, awfully strange, but upon inspection, you will begin to realise that the more friends you have playing, the more competitive the game becomes. The more social you are, the better NFS:HP experience you’ll have.
Every race is of course timed. At the end of each race your time is uploaded to a leaderboard, the standard way of score keeping, which been around since, well, forever. The difference here is that when you achieve a time, a time that has beaten your friend’s, this friend of yours is immediately notified of this painful defeat the second they log onto the game in the arrival of a friendly alert. Hidden in this alert is a button which gives them the chance to immediately jump into the same race to try and regain their crown. Again, like Burnout Paradise, there are no menus. One button press and you’re selecting a car to beat your friend, recapture the top spot on the leaderboard, and send them vulgar and derogatory messages of how your time is better than theirs. I can see Autolog is going to be a problem for me.
Sunday evening was the exact moment I fell in love with Autolog. I was online at the same time as a friend who plays NFS:HP. We had the chance to play together in an online event, but instead, what happened was three hours of tooing-and-frowing, PSN messages, forum taunts, and Facebook congratulations. I set a time in a race, a time that just so happened to beat his. Cue Autolog rubbing my victory in his face. About half an hour later I was then forwarded my first Autolog defeat by a very formal sounding lady, exclaiming that my a friend had beaten my super-duper-impressive time. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.
Yep, I loaded that race as quick as I fucking could, and spent an hour trying to beat the new top score. I did, and not only did I rub it his face via Autolog, I opted for Facebook and Twitter embarrassment as well. I beat his time, and I wanted the world to know how shit hot I am at racing. Now, because of that moment of madness, I was left with egg on my face when he posted a nigh-on impossible to beat time fifteen minutes later. His score may be impossible to beat, and I may have looked like a fool for announcing to the world I was the best only to be beaten terribly, but that won’t stop me the next time Autolog tells me a time of mine has been beaten, and I will never ever learn from that mistake, because you see, Autolog is perfect.
It is the perfect middle ground between video games, and social networking. Autolog is just, right. It should be the norm in any competitive video game. I hope Criterion are allowed to sell the concept, as it could end up becoming huge. I couldn’t give three shits about posting photos on a friend’s wall, or leaving a comment about how cool a race was (which is probably why facebook takes up so little of my time). If it really means that much to me, I’ll send them a text, or a PSN message. What’s perfect about Autolog, is that I am immediately told the second I’m toppled from a leaderboard top spot. That’s an important thing for me.
You should probably know I am competitive as hell when it comes to video games. I spent two hours today trying to beat the aforementioned impossible time, knowing exactly how impossible it would be to beat. You can bet I’ll try tomorrow as well, in vain might I add, and you can bet I’ll drop any career race I’m playing to jump straight into regaining my rightful spot at the top of those leaderboards the next time Autolog sends me an alert. You see, second isn’t winning, second is losing. Second is being the best of the shit bunch. It’s not what some one should aim for. I play to win, and I’ll continue to do so. This is why Autolog resonates with me so well. In the quest to be the best, it’s nice to know the exact time when I need to up my game, and get back in the Camaro. I’m actually terrified of adding new friends to my list, just in case they’re better at NFS:HP than I am, and I can’t top the leaderboards any more!
Imagine if Autolog was taken outside of NFS:HP. What if it was an integral part of all video games? You’d turn on your system and would be presented with a small update telling you that Ianos beat your time trial in Burnout, RichieCapone killed more baddies in thirty seconds on COD than you ever could, and that Mark has completely raped your high score in Tetris. If you’re a competitive person you’d be loading those games up less than a second. It would be the perfect social network. If Autolog was cross platform, cross video game, the creators would be looking at an already massive amount of existing users. Any one with a console would technically be a member. In the age of downloadable content, we could be looking at hitting a button to load one game, getting a message, and hitting another button to load an entirely different game, with a different leaderboard and alert to beat. I’m in two minds as to whether or not it would actually work, but someone must be ready to think about trying it. The chance for advertising, increased sales, and more importantly, the ability to rub your success in other peoples face would be overwhelming.
I found out today Autolog has an iPhone app. I can take autolog with me whenever I want. I can set the damn thing to text me the second someone beats a time of mine. I’ll know that when I leave work, I’ll have a job to do. I know I’ll have something to beat. Social Networking and video games may be locked in a wardrobe having a quick fifteen minute smooch, but it won’t be long before the two are married, with very, very, popular children, a wall full of photos, scribbles, and trash talk, and an audience who like nothing better, than to rub a friend’s face in defeat. It sounds like a match made in heaven, and one that could end in a messy divorce. Who knows what the standard of networking will be in video games in the next year? Soon we’ll be looking at a new generation of consoles, and new networks that are brought with them. Gaming can be a personal past-time, but has the oppourtunity to be a huge social past-time too. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve just had an Iphone alert from Autolog, and it appears I have a time to beat.