In the new age of the Internet, social networking is a powerful tool. It can create communities, promote strong public relations, and offer entirely new levels of immersion and connectivity, particularly concerning the active, vocal identity of gamers. However, when the philosophies and fundamentals of such networking services contradict the free, easy, open nature of the web itself, users, and in turn, the service, suffer.
Both Call of Duty: ELITE and Battlelog emerged as services attempting to unify enormous player bases. When a game’s culture spreads as far and wide as Modern Warfare and Battlefield, it is natural for businessmen and decision makers to forecast interest and exploit that binding identity. This may or may not correlate with the best interest of the gamers.
ELITE and Battlelog have both undertaken massive communally binding projects, but they’re approaches and ideologies could not differ more. ELITE offers a two-tiered, free vs. pay subscription option reminiscent of the Xbox LIVE model, but without the open gaming benefit and service reputation that lures us toward a gold membership. Premium guarantees map access, but also delivers (kind of) clan functionality: working through the site and the game in tandem and across virtually any medium to improve (read “decorate”) your Modern Warfare identity. The automation present in this system is impressive, though the in-game rewards are seriously lackluster, consisting of double XP, clan page wallpapers, and title designs. The added leveling-up mentality and gamification presents more of an incentive than the actual return, but this game/service interaction keeps users (somewhat) engaged, which is the obvious business purpose for renewing subscribers, but the return itself feels cheap and tacked on – there is not enough integration between the game and the service. This could be a result of so many developers getting their hands sticky with the Call of Duty name.
Conversely, Battlelog promotes itself less as a service so much as a central hub, within which users have their network and their identity, as well as a plethora of links navigating simply and easily through the internal community and into the game. Optimized for PC, Battlelog melds the social aspects of gaming together both as soldiers (in the game) and people (online). Blurring this line is not driven by a desire to generate revenue so much as increase immersion, which of course in turn generates revenue over time.
This is an important distinction that gamers realize, even if on a subconscious level. Are the developers working to increase the overall quality as a means to an end, or are they exploiting an addiction? The difference comes from a certain genuineness between the community and the game team, and most of the time it’s felt more than seen.
How much trust is there? ELITE censorship is an obnoxious necessity born out of the unified nature of its community. Battlelog let’s users create their own networks in a pleasant, functional, Facebookified capacity, whereas ELITE groups millions of users into a single, central community, with enormous quantities of spam polluting comment boards as the obvious side effect. Does keeping every user in a single, massive group make it easier for administrators to oversee the community? With so much clan spam, what is there to see? When there’s no element of trust and privacy built into the network, it depreciates the quality of the entire thing.
Both services promote a go-anywhere, stay-connected image, with impressively cross-functional mobile, console, and online applications that were clearly a focus in their inherent design. The ideology here is to keep players coming back to the couch or keyboard time and time, night after night. While this level of dedication is undoubtedly beneficial to the creators (sustaining loyalty and such), is it necessarily a healthy habit to perpetuate? At what point does the business’s desire to keep us engrossed overwhelm our own desires to branch out? As these gaming social networks start to bring our favorite games cross platform, it not only serves to transform the casual gamer into a hardcore gamer, but to push out rival competition as we grow more devoted to a single franchise. Granted, this audience is the type to survey a wide variety of games and genres, but the casual tens of thousands who routinely boot up their lone FPS after work or school most likely are not.
Is it good for us to be moving into these realms of complete, constant gaming immersion? These services aren’t designed as “traps” per say, but they have the same objective. Most users might not notice that there aren’t any external links to be found within the service. Something about giving players and users trust, customization, a feeling and sense of control in their own imagined communities (especially when they’re paid for) should be seen as an investment for the parent company. With the infinite originality, ingenuity, and innovation of passionate gamers to be found online, they will find ways to customize and change features. And it’s not always in the “best interest” of the developer.