Twitter and Facebook are usually the first social media platforms that come to mind, and in the age of COVID-19, the connectivity that social media provides has become a lifeline. Time spent online has increased across the board, however, gaming has experienced a dramatic surge in popularity during lockdown.
According to market research firm NPD Group, gaming sales in the U.S. increased 37% in August alone. Mobile game sales on iPhones increased 44% in Japan, and according to Nielsen, as of June 2020, 41% of gamers in France admitted to playing more video games due to the pandemic.
Nintendo reported $1.4 billion in profit for their second quarter—five times more than the company made during the same period in 2019. Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived at the perfect time, and introduced a topic many people hadn’t fully latched onto yet: Video games were becoming an enhanced form of social media.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The charm of Animal Crossing pulled an incredible amount of people to the Nintendo Switch, but the timing of its release was a breath of fresh air for gamers searching for a way to connect with others during the initial lockdown. Nintendo reported Q2 sales topping $26 million, and while the numbers are just now beginning to dwindle, the company has plans to combat it with updated content leading into the holiday season.
The game became a trending topic for everyone with a Switch in-hand. The creativity of unique patterns, and the sharing of personalized QR codes helped players transform their islands into whatever they envisioned. The tone of the game and the open possibilities are comparable to Minecraft’s Creative mode, but the game created an urge to explore other islands and interact with others.
Activities like buying and trading items, picking different fruit, catching bugs, and selling turnips could attract all sorts of people (looking at you, Elijah Wood), and it’s an incredible way to explore a plethora of creations. However, the connectivity goes beyond that.
House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave her first ever “commencement address” at a special Animal Crossing graduation, a trend that exploded as students faced canceled graduation ceremonies due to the pandemic.
It was an honor – my very first commencement address! Thank you for the invitation 🎓☺️
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 9, 2020
Even interviews and broadcasts have used Animal Crossing as its platform. Alyssa Bailey from ELLE.com carried an exclusive interview with Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson on her own virtual island.
“I love video games, but I tend to be very competitive. I find this to be a really nice counterbalance to that. It’s enjoying your time and making something beautiful and hanging out with friends,” Larson said.
Bailey wrote: “I contemplate[d] snapping a screenshot of us in the museum together to remember our trip there, or taking a pear home to plant. I decide[d] not to, out of respect for her privacy, and also because I don’t need the proof to remember the feeling I had gushing with Larson about a game we both grew up playing…while playing it.”
The game that helped push the battle royale genre into the spotlight has also made some incredible developments as a social platform. It’s become such a huge phenomenon that streaming platforms like Netflix are struggling to compete with it. Why? Because it was designed to be a social experience. Outside of the competitive nature of the battle royale title, Fortnite has delivered unique, exclusive content.
“The competition for free time is finite,” says National Research Group CEO Jon Penn. “To have an event that draws that many people, in any capacity, makes the threat of Fortnite being a platform very real.”
EDM DJ Marshmello hosted an in-game concert that attracted 10 million viewers. In April, Travis Scott hosted his own virtual concert that pulled in over 27 million players. Other games are starting to capitalize on the mass reach of live digital content. Lil Nas X’s live Roblox concert attracted even more attention than Travis Scott’s event with over 33 million players.
However, while these titles have become outstanding social experiences, it’s a medium that has long been explored.
Initially released on December 11, 2008, PlayStation Home was a casual gaming experience that initially reminded players of The Sims. Players could create their own realistic avatar, furnish their own apartments, and interact with other online players in public spaces. The mall unlocked the ability to buy different outfits and decorations for apartments, while the bowling alley let players interact through minigames like, y’know, bowling. Billiards could also be played.
In addition, the movie theatre was the perfect spot to highlight upcoming PlayStation games and events. It was the perfect blend of social gaming and advertising space that might have been a little ahead of its time.
Mini-games, items, and events highlighted games like Resident Evil 5, Far Cry 2, and Assassin’s Creed 2, offering opportunities to collect limited customization options for avatars and private spaces. In addition to this, Sony even hosted a virtual E3, complete with interactive booths, demos, and in-game quests that would offer different rewards.
How we communicate with others is starting to shift, and video games are directly changing the way we approach social media. What other games have offered unique social experiences?