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.

Could memes be an effective way to communicate climate change?

Memes are an interesting aspect of Internet culture. The term meme originates from Richard Dawkins in his book ‘the selfish gene’ who argued that memes were culture that is transmitted ‘brain to brain’. This was heavily contested for two key reasons. Firstly, there are issues with defining what a meme is. Secondly, we do not study culture by focusing on a single ideas, but instead culture is studied on a broader scale as ideas do not exist in isolation.

However, the term meme has been appropriated for use to describe the viral sharing of information. As a result a meme can be either a video or image that has had viral success. A popular series of memes are cat based. Below is two cat memes. The first is a variation of the ‘If I fits I sit’ meme that emerged in 2011. The second is a video meme called ‘Nyan Cat’ also from 2011 which has had at the time of writing 119,811,155 views on Youtube.

if its not for sits

These examples highlight an important issue with whether it is possible for memes to spread information about environmental issues. Internet culture is very fast moving and a key aspect of the success of an meme is a requirement that the meme is general enough to be used in a variety of ways or mutated to be used with other memes. This means novelty is an important aspect in the spread of memes. Another core aspect is that memes are often spread for entertainment or because the meme  represents a personal belief or identity.

The sharing of memes for entertainment and identity can be seen in the Brony subculture. This is the mostly male adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that emerged over 4 years ago originally on a website called 4chan. Pony memes became so popular on 4chan (reaching over 6000 posts per day) that they introduced new rules which led to the deletion and banning of pony memes. This was eventually reversed by 4chan with the creation of a pony board /MLP/.

However, pony memes have proved to have high survivability within Internet culture. At the time of writing the Knowyourmeme.com website has an image gallery of over 207 thousand pony images (far larger than any other meme image gallery on the website). This is due to the memes being created for both entertainment and also it is mutated to be used with other memes. For example the creation of pony versions of popular memes like ‘Its dangerous to go alone take this’

Due to memes being shared for entertainment it does call into question the ability for memes to be used to communicate serious issues such as climate change. While there are environmental memes shared they don’t often leave the environmental networks to be seen by a wider audience. There has been two examples I have seen that has managed to get a wider audience and both have been examples of culture jamming. Culture jamming is when you take a corporate or governmental message and subvert it.

The first example is from Greenpeace. This video was used to get people to sign up to a petition to pressure Lego to end a partnership deal with Shell. This was highly successful. The emotionally powerful video uses a depressing version of the upbeat song ‘Everything is awesome’ from the highly successful Lego movie. The success was due to the subversion of a popular song from the successful movie. This video has been viewed over 7 million times.

The second example this time aims to increase awareness of the use of palm oil in Doritos. This video is designed as a parody of adverts with a nice sharp twist ending. This has been viewed over 2 million times. However, the impact of this video is questionable. The video is funny and as a result could have been shared for the entertainment value rather than the serious environmental message that it aims to give to the viewer.

In conclusion, while there are occasional environmental memes that achieve wide viral success it is questionable the impact they have on the user. In particular, the palm oil example may simply be a success due to the entertaining nature of the video. Even then compared to other viral videos such as ‘Nyan cat’ the viewer count is relatively tiny.

The ability of memes to spread environmental information will be explored in more depth in my through a series of focus groups as part of my PhD. I plan to produce a journal article on this subject, but I will make a blog post about my findings when I have completed transcription and analysis eventually. However, the ability for memes to be an effective way to communicate climate change does seem to be very questionable.

An Introduction: exploring the impact of the Internet upon public understanding of science

Starting this blog: 

I am a politics PhD student at the University of Exeter based at the Environment and Sustainability Institute on Penryn Campus. I have been intending to start a blog for a while now to communicate my research with a wider audience. Also to discuss some interesting examples that emerged from Internet culture that have emerged through my research. My research focuses on public understanding of science and the impact of the Internet. In particular, my work focuses on public understanding of climate change and the impact of junk information from climate sceptics.

Some of the areas that my research covers can be seen in a talk I gave at a postgraduate research conference on Penryn campus on the challenge of Internet research. The video is low quality as it was taken by a fellow PhD student with their phone. This talk was given to an audience of PhD students from a range of subject areas with the majority being from the bio sciences. So the talk was designed to be accessible and entertaining with some wonderfully weird examples from Internet culture.

Focus of this blog:

This blog will focus primarily on sharing my research and exploring interesting things that emerge from Internet culture. There will also be the occasional post on my experiences as a PhD student and teaching in the department, but the primary focus will be on Internet culture and its impact upon public understanding of science.

My main research focus on the Internet has resulted in my developing interest on memes, user generated content, and online communities. Memes are essentially anything online which has viral spread including images and videos with most people being familiar with cat memes. An example of a cat meme can be seen with Grumpy Cat (see below). Grumpy cat is a great example of this as this meme has achieved success outside the Internet with books published and even a film ‘Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever’.

Grumpy Cat meme example

Memes could potentially be shared to spread information on serious political issues, but the majority of the popular memes are spread mainly for entertainment. Memes can often be in jokes within online communities.

Another key interest I have developed is on the subject of online communities as the Internet has enabled people to set up groups surrounding any interest. This has led to health support groups being formed for patients to support each other while on the other hand communities have emerged surrounding video games. My particular interests in online communities focus on video gaming communities, such as World of Warcraft, and the Brony subculture.

The term Brony refers to an adult fan of the show My Little Pony. The majority of these fans are men. This unexpected fan base originally emerged on the website 4chan around 4 and half years ago with the reboot of the show. 4chan is best known by the majority of the public with the sharing of naked celebrity images and harassment campaigns, but the website is core to Internet culture with many memes emerging from this anonymous chaotic environment.  The Brony subculture has produced a huge quantity of user generated content from original music, mods for video games, original video games, fanfictions, animations… The Brony subculture has also produced a huge quantity of memes (see examples below). These online communities are particularly interesting to my work as the way people choose to use the Internet and social media is important to understand.

The Internet has produced a wide range of seemingly random content and online communities. This blog will as a result explores user generated content, interesting memes, and discuss online communities for the majority of posts. I will also post findings from my PhD research on the impact of the Internet upon public understanding of climate change.