Friends like to play together, but reinventing the social network on OUYA is pointless
Relationships are all about communication, but that’s not easy when all you have to write with is a video games controller. It is one of the big downsides of the TV experience, and perhaps something this traditionally one-way medium will never be able to fully capture. In the time since the outgoing generation of video games consoles first released, the world has gone online, and once there, it’s been getting social. Games too have gone online, with increasing movement towards multiplayer games and games as a service.</td><table width="100%" border="0" style="margin-left:-10px"><tr>
<td width="40%" valign="top"><img src="http://www.crystallinegreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/no-friends-small.png" /></td>
<td width="60%" valign="top">Consoles have evolved during that time as well, with increasing emphasis on social integration. So much so, that it has become one of the key selling points for Sony’s new PS4 console, with a “share” button built straight into the controller. However, other social networks, those dedicated to the task like twitter and facebook, do a much better job of connecting people. In a world where ever more people have a smartphone or tablet to hand when sat at the TV, it is wasteful to try and replicate that experience on the TV simply for the sake of trying to tie people into a network they are not vested in.</td></tr>
So why have social features at all? Friends still want to play together and enjoy each others’ shared company within the virtual game environment. Whether competitive or cooperative play, multiplayer is just plain better when experiences can be built on over multiple gaming sessions with the same people, and that is impossible without being able to create and form relationships. Rather than concentrate on how best to get around the problems that the TV/console controller setup introduces into this equation, it would be better to simply tap into the existing, real life relationships that already exist, and merely be an enabler of connections.
In practical terms, that means finding friends, finding what games they are playing and being able to jump into the action with them. No chat or private messages, no sharing this or linking that. In fact, sharing, especially trivial or things completely unrelated to the type of relationship between individuals can add to the general noise and devalue the channel of communication. If I add you on twitter because you’re an expert in your field, I don’t care what you had for breakfast this morning.
It’s also useful to consider what isn’t social, and that’s leaderboards and achievements. Both are inherently egotistical and about appealing to completionists and optimisers. It doesn’t really matter who the other people on the leaderboard are. The point is the leaderboard acts as a way to measure progress. Neither of these things are invalid or bad (unless implemented in such a way as to create noise), but should be treated separately from the social sphere. Social networks that succeed do so because they are simple and intuitive and don’t come with some baroque feature set. If OUYA can follow this principle, it will tie in well with their clean, simple UI and design philosophy and save them a lot of wasted effort trying to get people talking when they just want to frag each other
Published simultaneously in conjunction with Crystalline Green (You can view back issues here)