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:

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#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.

Paying for mods? – The backlash and reversal of paid mods on Steam

What is a mod?

A mod is a modification made to a game by the general public. This is a form of user generated content which can add minor changes to textures or new items within a game. They can also be massive changes to the core game with new locations, quests/storylines, or even be unofficial patches to fix broken games.

Paying for Skyrim mods?

Now this was a recently announced plan by Valve on their digital distribution platform Steam starting with the popular game Skyrim. These mods would be bought through the Steam workshop which would also continue to host free mods. Skyrim has a vibrant modding community with thousands of wonderfully weird mods to add thousands of hours of enjoyment to the game. There are examples of huge mods such as the Flaskaar mod.

The creator of the Flaskaar mod was hired by Bungie.

mod it until it breaksThe game itself is a lot of fun and the addition of mods can produce a rather unique experience. There are a range of mods that change the dragon model. For example there is a mod to change the dragons to look like Thomas the Tank Engine.

There is a weird and wonderful mix of mods available. My last play through of Skyrim I used a few pony mods which gave me a good laugh. This included a mod to play through the game as Fluttershy.

The Joy of mods – Fluttershy the dragonborn http://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198008693173/

However, with a community already producing a wide range of mods without monetary incentive resulted in an impressive backlash. The initial announcement  was on the 23rd of April with a new way for workshop creators to earn money. Along with this was an initial line up of paid mods for a range of prices. These mods have been wonderfully critiqued by Ganerumo and one of the mods was pulled off the store quickly when a copyright issue emerged. A backlash against Valve emerged quickly and a lot of people were angry. So what was the issue with paid mods?

The issues with paid mods:

There were a range of reasons for this backlash. In particular, the following three issues:

  • Revenue share:

Now this one in particular annoyed people. To access a paid mod you would have to pay upfront to download. This money would then be split 75% would go to Valve (30%) and the Developer (45%)  while only 25% would go to the maker of the mod. This appeared to be a cash grab by Valve and the developer claiming money on a product they did not make. In particular, this was worrying as mods often fix issues with the game. For example the user interface in Skyrim is awful but a mod fixed that problem.

Why should the developer profit from issues from their game? If paid mods became standard would this lead to more broken games being released with companies presuming modders will fix it?

This was a sore point for most people, but there are two other serious issues with the system of paying for mods.

  • Mods break/Valves lack of customer service:

Now when you download a mod you are taking a risk. They may break your game, they may not be compatible with other mods you run, and they may have unexpected bugs which do not emerge until many hours of play. Alongside these issues there is the additional problem that if the developer releases an update then there is a chance it can break the mod.

This is an issue with Valve trying to run this system. There was a refund policy with a 24 hour money back guarantee on the paid mods. This is simply not good enough. Paid mods are a risk to the consumer and if there was a patch that broke the mod then its up to the user to ‘politely ask’ the modder to update the mod to make it work again.

Valve is not known for its customer service and has taken a very hands off approach over its Steam store. Its difficult to get a refund from Steam even if you have bought a totally broken game on there service. Early access was a great idea with some wonderful games such as Besiege and Kerbal Space Program. The latter has recently been released only a couple of days ago.

However, there are other Early Access games which lack any basic content and rarely updated. This hands off approach Valve has taken would mean that there is a risk of dodgy, low quality, and awful mods could flood the paid modding scene. There is an additional issue of stealing from other modders.

  • Copyright issues and stealing from other modders

 I was surprised Valve decided to even attempt paid mods. There is a major issue with people stealing the work of modders and uploading themselves. How was Valve going to police this?

Another aspect to this was copyright issues. A lot of mod uses copyrighted material. Some of the examples I have already mentioned, but there are mods that add things like Hogwarts to Skyrim. Again this seems like a legal nightmare for Valve. However, the main concern users had was people stealing work from other modders and putting it on the Steam workshop as a paid mod.

The backlash: 

There was an impressive backlash to the paid mods. A petition was started and signed by over 130 thousand people. There was a range of negative coverage of Valves decision. This included coverage that Valve was seriously harming the modding community it was claiming to be supporting through paid mods.

The good news is that this backlash was a success. So soon after setting up this new paid mods system it has already been taken down. An announcement by Valve makes it clear they were mistaken for trying this approach.

Personally I am happy to see modding protected by the gaming community. Mods are a wonderful example of user generated content with people working alone or in small teams to produce amazing content to please a community of users. Hopefully, paid mods is something we don’t see a company trying to implement again.

However, with that good news the announcement does sound like they may try this again. Perhaps paid mods will rear its ugly head when Fallout 4 comes out, but until then we just have to wait and see.