Let’s plays and viral marketing – Five Nights at Freddy’s

There has been some notable independent horror video games that have done extremely well due to viral let’s play videos. If your not familiar with let’s plays they are people recording themselves playing a video game and normally with commentary to entertain the viewer. There are also examples of first impression videos such as the ones done by Jim Sterling both entertaining and useful information for the consumer.

There have been a number of independent horror games that have benefited greatly thanks to this new entertainment format. For example Amnesia: The Dark Descent did benefit from the let’s play videos made with people over reacting on webcam while playing the game. The game itself was generally good. It had good pacing and built tension well, but the story was rather weak (you play as a man with amnesia and have to find and kill a man) and the monsters became predictable. However, due to the fact you had to hide with no way to fight the game was an enjoyable horror experience.

Youtube was seen as one of a handful of reasons that Amnesia sold well with PC gamers. The developer blog 2 years after release reflected on the success of Amnesia with:

This success is due to many factors, some of which are the uniqueness of the game (horror games without combat do not really exist on PC), the large modding community (more on this later) and the steady flood of YouTube clips (which is in turn is fueled by the modding community output).

The viral success of the game allowed for a wider audience to become aware of the games existence with Youtubers that had large followers making videos. This included Youtubers such as Pewdiepie who at the time of writing has over 37 million people subscribed to his Youtube channel.

Warning: Turn down your volume. I personally cannot stand Pewdiepie, but he is a good example of the viral marketing power of Youtube. His videos consist of him screaming and shouting a lot. You have been warned.

This viral reach of Youtubers has meant that small independent developers which lack a budget for marketing their games can reach a wide range of potential customers if the game is a viral success. This is easier said than done.

A recent example is ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ which has developed an interesting online community and has had viral success is a series of video games by Scott Cawthon. There has been three games in the series so far with a 4th installment coming soon.

The game play is very simple, but works extremely well to build tension. You play as a security guard at ‘Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza’ working the night shift. During the night the child friendly animatronics characters walk around the restaurant and you have to close the doors to prevent them killing you. The game requires you to keep track of the animatronic via CCTV cameras, lights in your door ways, and powered doors. There is limited power so you cannot waste resources. The game increases tension as you expect a jump scare (game over) to happen soon.

Jump scare death.

The success of all the games has created an interesting online community surrounding it. It has gone far beyond simple Youtube videos with a range of fan arts and songs that have been made by fans.

The viral success of ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ has meant its been a huge success for a game made by a single developer. Considering his earlier attempts to get games released on steam received a very critical reception including one aimed at children which was mocked for being extremely creepy. The jump scare focus has meant that it has been a successful at attracting a lot of attention from let’s players. It is the 8th most viewed game on Youtube.

I am interested to see how this series of games develop and how the community will develop in time. I doubt that other games will have the same success. Generally these games have an element of novelty. For example Amnesia was rather unique when it came out, but since then there has been a flood of similar horror games that have not benefited from the same success.

I also doubt that interest in this game series will last much longer. Sequels are being produced every few months and just over a year since the original game there will be a 4th installment. I expect people will lose interest in this jump scare game and something new will come along that becomes popular. However, it shows how beneficial viral attention can be to small low budget video games.

At the end of the day at least it produced an interesting online community along with some interesting art and music:

Using Twitter to communicate research – a worth while tool or a waste of time?

In preparation for a talk I am giving on using Twitter to promote research I thought it would be a nice idea to get some initial thoughts down in a blog post.

Twitter is an interesting form of social media. It has a user base of 302 million monthly active users with over 500 million tweets sent a day. Its much more transparent compared to other social media platforms such as Facebook which has algorithms that filters everything you see in your feed. Instead you get every tweet from those you follow in your Twitter feed.

Twitter sounds like a great opportunity to communicate your research with the general public and social media is being for a range of reasons by academics. A paper by Noorden published in Nature conducted a survey of academics to see why they engaged with social media. The results of Twitter use was particularly interesting highlighting the use of Twitter to engage with discussions and share their own work.

This does highlight one benefit of Twitter for research. You can directly engage with discussions and keep up to date with topics of interest. This is particularly interesting if your area of expertise is an area of debate. Personally I find it useful for keeping up with some of the things the Internet is being blamed for, from corrupting youth to making food ‘all taste the same’, and it is useful to keeping up with the current popular discourses surrounding climate change (I recently set up a twitter bot to follow climate change tweets).

Thanks to the real time coverage of events you can keep up to date faster than traditional media. Its common to see online newspapers such as the Guardian having live coverage of events as they unfold with tweets being included along with press statements. You can also watch emerging trending Twitter hashtags to find out about current topics users are discussing. This of course can result in people tweeting about completely pointless topics such as the colour of a dress. Always important to remember that Internet communities can get into drama surrounding the weirdest topics (I have personally spent way too much time on 4chan during my PhD and have seen some bizarre Internet drama).

Another opportunity is the ability to share your work with the wider world. Instead of keeping your work in academic in academic journals that will only ever be read by a relatively low number of people you can publish blogs, make videos, share journal articles (or final drafts of manuscripts if the journal has a pay wall). This is a great way to engage a much larger audience at least in theory.

Parody of the Nature article graph by PhD comics http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1737

However, this presumption needs to be challenged. Due to the wealth of information on every topic imaginable, with some really weird pockets of the Internet, users have been shown to reduce diversity to the range of information that they receive and engage. This is a solution information overload and users instead access information on topics that directly interest them. Rather than engage with topics such as climate change users instead engage with topics that they enjoy such as video gaming online communities for example.

This actually poses a serious challenge for science communication. How do you communicate science in an entertaining and engaging way that those without initial interest will look at? Instead of communicating with the general public when you tweet about your research you are generally only reaching those already interested in the subject. This can be useful for networking with researchers in your field.

For example I have benefited quite a lot from connections with other researchers studying the Internet. As I am based in an interdisciplinary institute I work along side of mostly scientists which has been wonderful for giving me insight into the scientific process and the importance of communicating science to the public, but it has also been an isolating experience. When I can happily discuss Creepypasta (horror stories shared on the Internet) or Internet memes I do get odd looks, but thanks to Twitter I have connected with others doing research into this rather weird area.

That said the line between research and procrastination can become very blurred. This is something I have reflected on before in my own work, but I think it is worth noting that the Internet has a lot of potential content to distract and undermine my writing process. I have even tried using extensions to block the main websites I use to procrastinate on. Even then I find news ways to get distracted. Even writing this blog I have been flicking between songs by Aviators on Youtube. While the time you spend on social media may seem interesting or worthwhile, there is the risk that time is being wasted that could be better spent.

Don’t worry I get the irony of looking for a distraction meme while writing this blog post and it was totally worth the 10 minutes of scrolling through meme images.

Another issue with Twitter as a place to share is online debates are generally not worth having. It is difficult to tell people who really want to discuss an issue from trolls. Online debating can soak up a lot of time and the person you are discussing a topic with may simply want to get a rise out of you. My general policy with trolls on Twitter is to block them. Considering most trolls I deal with are climate sceptics, even if they were genuine rather than simply trolls, I have a zero tolerance policy towards them (don’t want to give them any platform).

The Internet is an interesting tool for researchers and there is some great benefits from embracing social media, but there are also risks. It is easy to presume how we use the Internet is how everyone else uses the Internet as the Internet is a very personalised experience. I believe there is risks with researchers getting sucked into social media too much and losing valuable time that would be better spent elsewhere, but there are also significant benefits particularly connecting with those also working in your field.

#Gamergate – the gaming community, feminism, and online hate campaigns

In this blog I’m going to focus on the hate campaign against women working in video games that emerged back in August, 2014 with the #Gamergate hashtag. This example is particularly interesting as a unfortunate consequence of online communities and the awful hate campaigns that the Internet can be used to carry out.

Online communities and hate campaigns: 

One of the great things that the Internet has brought us is online communities. The restrictions of time and distance are removed allowing users to connect with others all over the world with the same interests as themselves. Whether it is online communities for the LGBT community, fans of a television show, or people who share an interest in a video game there is an online community out there for your interests. Even better they can empower groups for example in healthcare the Internet has enabled patients to become empowered with support groups sharing information, emotional support and giving a place to discuss health issues.

Personally, I am in regular contact with friends in the US I made playing Minecraft around 4 years ago. The Internet has had a significant impact on our social lives with online friendships and being able to talk about interests that interest you but no one else you interact with in your day to day life. Online communities can be a wonderful thing in our lives, but there are also negative consequences.

One of the issues with the Internet is the quantity of information and choice available to users, which results in users limiting the amount of media stimuli they are subjected to. This is through personalisation of their Internet usage with users selecting the information that they see and spending their time only on areas of their interest. This is something we all do.

However, a consequence of this can be the reinforcement of extremist views. If someone who already held sexist views can connect with others who hold the same values and these online communities act as echo chambers reinforcing these beliefs. An example can be seen in the online groups of the MRM [Men’s Rights Movement].

Unfortunately, within the online communities surround video gaming there are some embedded with racist, misogynistic, and homophobic beliefs that have become the dominant discourse in these communities. Not all video gaming communities suffer from these issues, but the consequences of online communities that hold these values is that they will attack and attempt to silence criticism.

An example could be seen with the hate campaign targeted at Anita Sarkeesian. This hate campaign emerged as a response to a Kickstarter campaign started by Anita Sarkeesian which asked for $6,000 to fund a video series examining female representations in video games.

The attack against Anita Sarkessian was both direct messages and vandalism of her online pages including. This included rape and death threats which she still continues to receive. There have been threats made at public events where she was a speaker. There were images were posted of her being raped by video game characters and there was even a flash game which allowed players to “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” by clicking a picture of her until it turned into a bloody pulp.

‘Game’ created by Ben Spurr. New Statesman had a good article on the abuse Anita Sarkeesian received online. http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/internet/2012/07/what-online-harassment-looks

Despite the threats and attacks Anita Sarkessian was successful with her Kickstarter campaign receiving much more money than she originally asked. Rather than silencing criticism the harassment highlighted the issues in video gaming culture and produced a huge amount of publicity for her project. At the same time highlighted the issue of sexism within the gamer culture.

Gamergate:

A couple of years after the harassment campaign against Anita Sarkessian in August of 2014 there was the emergence of Gamergate. Gamergate started with a harassment campaign against a video game developer called Zoe Quinn. This began with Zoe Quinn’s ex boyfriend posting a long (nearly 10,000 words in length) blog post which accused her of having a relationship with a video games journalist.

Now a long rambling ranting blog post by an ex boyfriend became viral. The hashtag #gamergate emerged on Twitter and received huge amounts of attention. Gamergate made an attempt to appear to be about ‘ethics in video game journalism’. However, a harassment campaign began with the spamming of negative reviews on her game ‘Depression Quest’ on Steam.

Zoe Quinn's game 'Depression Quest' was spammed with negative

Zoe Quinn’s game ‘Depression Quest’ was spammed with negative reviews

There were death and rape threats made and a pattern of harassment that took place very similar to what Anita Sarkessian went through.

Those who stood up for Zoe Quinn on social media also received harassment and video game websites that took a stand against Gamergate had letter writing campaigns targeting their advertisers to try to damage the income these websites depended upon. Another developer who was the victim of harassment was Brianna Wu who became a target when she criticised Gamergate on Twitter. Death and rape threats and her address was shared online – link to a twitter post showing some of the harassment but be warned its deeply disturbing.

Gamergate received international news coverage due to the online harassment of women in the video game industry and the attempt to cover members true intentions with a discourse of ‘ethics in video game journalism’ has failed. Instead Gamergate will simply be remember as another Internet harassment campaign.

In conclusion: 

The harassment campaign against Anita Sarkessian and the Gamergate harassment campaign highlight the darker side of online communities and also the embedded sexism within some of the online video gaming community. In both occasions those participating within the online harassment have simply highlighted the sexism embedded in some of the video game online communities.  It is deeply disturbing the scale and long term nature these online hate campaigns can achieve.