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The old stereotype of an avid gamer was always one of someone sitting in a bedroom on their own and rarely venturing into the outside world to meet other people, but that outmoded idea has been well and truly turned on its head in the past couple of decades.
The launch of Facebook Messenger’s new Instant Games last month is just the latest in a long line of examples showcasing that the concept of “social gaming” is here to stay – and ultimately pivotal to how many of us play online.
Once upon a time, playing games with friends would involve literally carrying a console to another house and plugging it in for a true multiplayer experience. The internet and broadband connections have totally transformed this and many established and emerging technologies mean that we have the chance to play together more than ever.
Pokemon Go was undoubtedly a real phenomenon of 2016. A mobile gaming app like no other, its use of augmented reality technology literally changed the game for fans of the much-loved franchise. While the concept of Pokémon has always been social at heart, this latest game has taken players out into the big wide world to hunt for the creatures they desire – and interact with each other, forming teams to take down or defend gyms.
Interestingly, the concept has grabbed the attention of big business, with the likes of McDonalds and more recently Starbucks reaching tie-in deals with Pokemon Go in order to take advantage of the public’s huge interest in the game. Chances are that the game may just be the tip of the iceberg and augmented reality could well go on to show us many more interesting approaches to social gaming in the future.
A much more classic approach to social gaming has been around for years and continues to remain popular. Gambling and bingo sites from Vera&John to Mr Smith Casino are enjoyed by a number of gamers and bring them together in a much simpler but no less effective way. Text-chat functions may not be as eye-catching as Pokemon, but they offer a simple way for people to talk about the games they love. A great example of this can be seen on 32Red casino, where those involved in or watching games including poker can chat with players to taunt and strategize as they figure out their next move. It is often not just banter however, with many enjoying seeing a familiar name pop up as they play and make gamer buddies.
While text-chat is a straightforward way to communicate, a more high-tech kind of gaming is likely to emerge with virtual reality in the next decade. Like 3D, virtual reality has tried to grab the attention of the mainstream before – with limited success – and, as with 3D, it has now come back with a vengeance now that technological advances mean it can offer much more than its previous attempts.
The development of tools such as the Oculus Rift is likely to open up a host of possibilities for gaming in the coming years. However, while sitting in a room with a headset on may not seem the most social way of doing things, there have been hints that the future of VR is very much going to be about communication.
TechRadar recently reported on Facebook mastermind Mark Zuckerberg telling a conference audience how this technology is likely to bring people together, particularly through allowing people in different locations to use avatars to meet up, experience the same VR settings and even enjoy a card game or two.
Another classic form of social gaming is, of course, MMOs. These games – literally – massive with millions of people across the world immersing themselves in these rich universes full of quests, missions and combat. At its peak in 2010, World of Warcraft had an impressive 12 million subscribers. So much of these games hinges on communication with fellow players purely communicating via microphones and headsets. Yet, once again, many people forge lasting relationships by coming together to enjoy this type of shared interest.
But an enjoyment of gaming doesn’t have to be based solely around simply playing together. A growing number of live streaming and screen sharing tools like Twitch are allowing games lovers to watch others play titles and see how more experienced gamers tackle different parts of games. It is not just a one-way street though, as two-way communication can means lively discussion and interaction is always encouraged.
All of these trends and emerging technologies undoubtedly point to one thing – whatever the future holds for gaming, it is clear that the social element has a hugely important role to play along every step of the way.