Video games, since their inception, have been a social medium. Now SONY, with the PlayStation 4, is aiming to directly integrate social media with gaming.

The Start of Social Gaming Media

Gamers come together to compete and share stories of their gaming accomplishments, and over the years, game developers and console designers have both realized this, and tailored their hardware and software to support the growth of gaming as a social hobby.

For years, gamers have been able to engage in split-screen multiplayer, competitively and cooperatively, and can experience what games have to offer together, rather than just by themselves. This allows players to enjoy the narrative or world of a game with their friends directly, rather than having to play on their own and compare notes later on.

With the advent of the Internet, game developers knew that there was suddenly a great potential for creating not a local, but a global gaming community. By integrating Internet-based cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, they enabled gamers to come together and share experiences regardless of the distances that separated them. Services such as Xbox Live and the Playstation Network boats millions of users, and almost every title for each console now features a multiplayer mode.

“Social experiences are always preferable for gamers, and it’s why even though Xbox live is a premium service, it has historically been more successful and populated than the PlayStation Network,” said Tina Amini, a Coordinating Editor at Kotaku. Xbox Live charges gamers roughly $8 a month for their service, while the PlayStation Network is free. However, Xbox continues to have a larger membership, largely because players prefer to play on the service with the most users, and Xbox Live was launched first.

Game developers also created features such as Xbox Achievements, which are small challenges that, when completed, contribute a small number of points to an aggregated score (in Xbox’s case, “Gamerscore”) that is displayed on the player’s online profile. This allows them to show off what feats they’ve completed in the games they’ve played, and to have a badge of sorts, giving them a reputation as better-than-average.

But gamers, in recent years, have realized that they can take it upon themselves to move beyond this small offering of social options and expand the gaming community directly to social media sites such as YouTubeTwitter, and Facebook. They have begun recording footage of their gameplay and uploading it to YouTube, inviting the comments and criticism of their gaming peers. Some of them have established strong, wide followings of thousands of individuals, and whole companies have even been founded on the principle of sharing gameplay footage and commentary.

The company Rooster Teeth, for example (who started the extremely popular webseries “Red vs. Blue“), created a subset of their company called “Achievement Hunter” solely to upload videos of gameplay tutorials and humorous videos of their own staff playing games competitively (called “Let’s Plays”).

Gamer “Sacriel,” after uploading videos of his gameplay to Youtube for eight months, had established enough of a following to quit his full-time job and make a living solely from the payments he received from YouTube and Twitch.tv for monetizing his videos and running ads during his live-streams.

Live-streaming has taken off recently, with individuals such as Sacriel leading the charge, because it allows gamers to interact directly with their favorite Internet gaming celebrities, and brings hundreds or thousands of fans together in one space to chat and watch together, live, rather than commenting on month-old videos on YouTube. Sacriel commonly has over 2,000 viewers on his streams, and even gives away gaming gear provided to him by companies that sponsor him, such as Roccat.

Game developers, as well, have benefited from the rise of social media, and so have their consumers.

“Developers, publishers, and the games themselves are all able to create public presences for themselves. Fans can also get together and exchange thoughts on games or business practices,” Amini said. “Everything is very out in the open, and social media has given gamers a megaphone to reach out to the people who make and handle the games they want to play.”

SONY aims to take this blending of social media sites and video gaming to new heights with the new PlayStation 4 console.

Taking it One Step Further

At the recent PlayStation 4 announcement press conference, SONY announced a particularly interesting and unique feature of their new PlayStation 4 controller: a “Share” button.

Located on the back of the controller, this button allows gamers to immediately and contextually share their gaming accomplishments directly to integrated social media platforms. Whether this is gameplay footage, profile information, or even status updates is still not entirely clear, but the press conference made it clear that SONY’s goal is “seamless integration,” allowing gamers to blend their gaming and social media presences together into one.

This “Share” feature is the first of its kind. While games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Halo have used “Theater” modes to allow gamers to play back, edit and save gaming footage, and to share them with others, this requires careful usage and participation by the player. And while these modes have been used to great success, they are involved and complex.

The “Sharing” function of the PS4, by contrast, makes it a quick, painless effort to grab and share part of your gameplay. There’s no messing around with menu navigation or waiting for a game to end and entering a standlone playback and editing mode; instead, the function is integrated directly into the gameplay, and pressing the button contextually allows you to share things on the fly.

When asked whether she believes that the next Xbox will emulate this “Share” button on their own future consoles, Amini said simply, “Absolutely.”

This direct integration brings more attention to the “public presence” of games and gamers that Amini reference above. It allows gamers to interact quickly with both game developers and other gamers, and to share stories as they happen.

The next iteration of the Xbox console has yet to be announced (though it is rumored that it will be unveiled in May), but it would not be a shock if Microsoft chose that moment to announce a similar featureset for their next console. Not only might they include such a feature to remain competitive; they may also include it simply because in this era of online, Internet-integrated gaming, it’s a tool that gamers will appreciate and use.

As Gaming Goes On

This paints an interesting future for gaming. It represents what could be described as a shift away from any kind of exclusively “single-player” game.

No longer will gamers be isolated as they play through the narrative storylines of games; essentially, they will always be involved in a multiplayer realm of some kind, when Internet-connected. They will instead exist within a sphere of gaming where events are shared, videos are constantly uploaded, and gaming becomes an entirely social, communal experience.

Video games have already created a global community of interconnected gamers, and it’s hard to think that in the future, this trend won’t continue. Only time will tell, but it seems to be a bright, socially-oriented future for gaming and gamers alike.