Gamers are Not a Unified Demographic

As regular as clockwork over the life of this blog I have had somebody poke me in comments, in chat, or via email about their great new idea.

They are going to create a social network for gamers.

Back in the day I was willing to buy into this idea.  There was a time when I could believe that somebody could pull together the gamer demographic.

So over the years, I have signed up for various sites including XFire, GuildCafe, Raptr, Anook, Gax Online, WeGame, UGame, Rupture, GamerDNA, and probably quite a few more whose names I have simply forgotten over time.

And every one of those sites has one thing in common: failure.

Most of them are dead.  Raptr called it quits after a long run, though their site remains up, if untended. Xfire morphed into a video game league then shut down. GuildCafe was purchased and shut down.  GamerDNA was purchased and shut down.  UGame is just gone.  WeGame disappeared and the name was picked up last year by Tencent. Rupture, from the guy who created Napster, was bought by EA and shut down.  And GAX Online went offline when Ryan and Gary found that they had not reached a self-sustaining critical mass and likely never would.

In digging through my brain for this post the only site I could come up with that was still online was Anook, which we used as a nexus for Blaugust a few years back, and it is shambling along like it simply isn’t aware that it is dead yet.  It has some regulars, but nothing like the amount of users needed to make it a sustainable venture.

So here we are in 2018 and what pops into my email inbox but a press release about a Kickstarter to fund yet another gamer social network.

I give you GameCritter and their Kickstarter campaign.

I’m sure they licensed those characters for use in their promotional material

The Kickstarter campaign for GameCritter launched this past Thursday looking to raise about $55,000, though it is an Australian company running it, so they’re really asking for $75,000 in their upside down dollaree doos, but Kickstarted nicely converts the currency for you.

That isn’t a big ask, but they might as well be asking for the moon and a million dollars since they have already failed my reliable benchmark for Kickstarter success; if you don’t make 20% of your ask in the first 24 hours just go home.  They didn’t even make 1% in the first three days, and the charts over at Kicktraq don’t show the situation getting any better with time.  Their cause is lost, though not for a lack of overselling.

The company actually had the audacity in the email to claim that this was the, and I quote, “World’s First Social Platform For Gamers!”

However, none of their features seem all that interesting or original.

  • Social Platform with User Posts, Friends, Instant messaging & Commenting
  • Community-Driven Reviews, Guides, Discussion Forums & Question/Answer Forums
  • Addictive Levelling & Rewards System with over 1,500+ Levels & 13 Ranks
  • Hundreds of Unique Collectable Avatars, Companions, Badges & Achievements
  • Competitive Leaderboards with Various Metrics and Clans (Grouping)

From top to bottom the list is “been done many times,” “available on many other sites,” and “meaningless fluff” x3.  Basically, nothing compelling there really.

They are offering features for developers and publishers as well.  I guess that is new-ish.

  •  Dedicated Profile Pages to Build & Foster Fan Followings
  • Raise Crowdfunding for New Projects with Support from Fans
  • Create Revenue by Selling Games Directly from Our Platform
  • Smart Targeted Advertising with Multiple Metrics
  • Powerful Analytics Dashboard for Big Data Handling
  • Conduct User Surveys & Polls to Gauge Strategic Business Direction

The question is, what developer is going to jump on board this platform for any of those things?  Would you crowdfund on a site that couldn’t successfully crowdfund itself into existence?  Or would you trust a company that didn’t even notice that a competitor mentioned in its Kickstarter FAQ had been discontinued over a year? (Hint: Raptr)

Seriously, I could sit here and shit on this whole thing all day long and well into the night, but there is a point where you go beyond disagreement and into just being mean and I don’t want to get too far in that direction.

Instead, I want to explore for a bit why this idea, this plan for a gamer social network, has never worked and likely will never work.

I believe the problem here is that all of the people founding these sorts of projects are operating with a flawed premise, the belief that gamers are some sort of single, unified demographic.

You can guess what I think about that from the title of this post.

It isn’t that gamers do not come together, it is just that what we come together over is a lot more specific than just being a gamer.  What brings us together?

Specific Games: World of Warcraft or Pokemon Go players, when they meet, have something to share with each other immediately.

Gaming Franchises: We all know somebody who has to buy the latest Civilization or Call of Duty or Mario or Fallout title the day it comes out.

Gaming Genres:  There are clear followings for things like MMORPGs or MOBAs or FPSs or MUDs.

Platforms: While not as unifying, we definitely divide ourselves by platform and find common cause with our fellow PC or XBox or PlayStation gamers.  Some people even claim to be gamers even though they only use their phone.

I suppose an analogy would be food.  We like certain restaurants, or types of restaurants, or types of food, but I am not sure we really need a social network platform dedicated to eating.

Furthermore, we already tend to form up into those various groupings using the resources already available.  We use the developers forums, or our own alternate forums if we feel the developer is being too heavy handed in moderating messages.  We form groups on Reddit or Facebook around our shared specific interest.  We follow developers or hash tags on Twitter and Instagram.  We frequent the gaming news sites that best cover our favorite genres.  We even start writing blogs about the games we play, which in turn tend to become part of ad hoc blogging communities.

So when somebody new shows up and says that we should drop all of the infrastructure and social bonds that have formed organically over the years to hop on their shiny new venture, it just isn’t going to happen unless there is something genuinely new on tap.  And, so far, such sites have only offered warmed over versions of well worn ideas.

Basically, such sites fail on both key counts.  They are pitching to a demographic that doesn’t exist and they are not offering any compelling reason to use their platform.

Even a site like Something Awful, whose forums probably represent one of the best cross-genre discussions of video game topics around, is based on an overarching community that goes beyond video games, and within the video game section of the forums, the various genres and games are divided up into groups and specific titles.  While there is some cross-pollination, people tend to stick to their interests, so the EVE Online players aren’t heavily represented in the Pokemon forum and vice versa.

And that doesn’t even get into how Steam is trying to become even more of a social media experience for gamers, where it has the advantage of players already invested in their platform and already… oh, and they pretty much offer everything GameCritter is claiming for end users while having more than 150 million people signed on.  And even there we stratify into groups of friends or followers of specific games or genres.  Still, Steam comes as close to a gamer social network as anything I suppose.

Maybe if you’re somebody like Discord or Twitch and have people already using your service as a social platform you can back your way into this sort of thing by adding more game specific features… and a store… both sites want to sell you things.

Anyway, the GameCritter Kickstarter is going to fail hard for a variety of reasons, and not just because their pre-campaign promotional activities apparently involved sending out hyperbolic press releases to cynical old coots like myself.  (Seriously though, if nobody in the gaming press is taking you seriously enough to do a story on your product, you should take this as huge red flag.)

In the end something like GameCritter looks like a solution in search of a problem.  There is nothing on offer for end users there that hasn’t been tried already.  It apparently only works if you have something compelling to offer the way Steam does.

12 thoughts on “Gamers are Not a Unified Demographic

  1. anypo8

    I dont disagree about GameCritter. However, I think Twitch provides a pretty good example of a “gamer community platform” that has a reasonable amount of interaction between games and genres.

    Anyway, I *hope* I’m not part of a “gamer community”. A bunch of those folks are pretty vile. #gamergate #whitenationalistsmatter (#sarcastichashtags)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bhagpuss

    I was all set to come into the comments with “What about Discord?” and then you popped it in right at the end. I’m not sure what Discord calls itself but it must be something along the lines of a “social network for gamers”, I’d have thought. That said, Discord feels quite faddy to me. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it displaced in a year or two by the next cab on the rank.

    Twitch, on the other hand, has the backing to stick around but I’m not sure it qualifies as a “social network”. It seems like more of a platform, something akin to YouTube for games, to me. Then again, isn’t YouTube a kind of social network? Do we actually know what we mean by social network anyway? The more I think about it, the less certain I am that I know what I mean…

    As for that list, I signed up to XFire, Raptr and GamerDNA but never really used any of them. I certainly didn’t miss any of them when they disappeared. I didn’t even notice.

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  3. Kaylriene

    I find myself agreeing a lot with anypo8 on this one – the type of person that identifies as a “gamer” with no other qualifiers is typically involved in pretty disgusting identity movements and so moving to a platform for just “gamers” means being stuck in a pool of sludge with no viable targets for the various types of “activity” these people engage in.

    Now, on the positive side of the community, the sort of folks that want to connect with those having shared interests are doing so within those games and community sites around those games. WoW fans engage in forums, on Wowhead threads, and in related blogs. I visit the Penny Arcade forums here and there and they have their community sorted into ordered threads by game. Twitter gets closer to this, but it already exists, exists for far more than just games, and is already fairly easy to connect with people who share an interest. Just hashtag your posts with the game in question and you’ll find some dialogue.

    I used Raptr and Xfire briefly, but in an online era, such a thing is a relic to begin with. The game is the community, and there’s not a lot of purpose to me finding people outside of it that are interested in it, since they’re already there. The closest I do personally is Twitter, here on WordPress, and maybe via game-specific subreddits and related Discord chats, but I don’t place enough stock in my identity as a “gamer” to seek out those kind of people. Gaming is something I do, not something I am.

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  4. Shintar

    Every time I meet someone who identifies as a “gamer” IRL I briefly get excited, and then I ask them what they play and it’s something I’ve never heard of or at the very least never even tried myself, and it turns out we have as much to talk about as if they had just told me that they are a huge football fan. So yeah, I agree. :P

    I also think that we really don’t need any more social networks in general though.

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  5. Jeromai

    As you say, the service has to offer something compelling beyond the social network.

    Steam offers a vast selection of digital games on tap and the ability to play together.

    Discord won over its competitors by offering -free- voice chat at quality equivalent or higher than Teamspeak/Ventrilo/Mumble AND marrying asynchronous text chat to its platform.

    Twitch is primarily a game streaming service ultra-gamified and dabbling in multiple directions with mod downloads from Curse, a game store and non-game-related video streams.

    Reddit offers a freeform avenue for multiple user text discussion on every subject imaginable and then some, without the hassle of a ‘gamer social network’ linked by a friends list.

    I don’t see much of the failed attempts offering more than a friends list and basic chat functionality. Arguably, even corporate stores like Blizzard, Ubisoft, Playstation, etc. allow for the same feature set and offer triple A games as an enticement for signing up. If they want to succeed, they need to think about what unique stuff they can offer beyond what’s already out there.

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  6. Telwyn

    We joined a gamer community in the city we live in, turns out they’re mostly console gaming fanatics into series that we’ve never heard of and the social events they organise are focused on WII games and the like. So, yeah, gamers is a pretty broad church. Discord is certainly the current (or fading) hotness – guilds use it, blogosphere events use it. My own personal use of it is already declining, however, since the in-built WoW voicechat proved to be not totally disastrous and it’s there fore everyone you might play with as opposed to any other 3rd party client. When playing online gaming with less tech-savvy friends/family the in-built option is *always* easiest.

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  7. fatherofdaughters

    Agreed that any attempt to unify “gamers” under a single social banner is futile. However the grumpy old gamer in me is convinced that even the designated social media platforms for specific games and genres are a lot less than they could be and indeed less than they once were. It seems to me that the quality of user generated support for individual games has diminished along with a decline in the level of insightful discussion of gaming topics. I miss the era of faqs, wikis and blogs.

    Like

  8. Krumm

    find it very amusing how our little corner of the world demographic, old school gaming from back when we weren’t considered cool, playing in living rooms, basements, and the occasional hobby shop through the 70’s, 80’s and 90s….are now part of a much larger demographic that incorporates the console players and lots of other segments that have

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  9. SynCaine

    If there was real money in a ‘gamer social network’, Steam would have already done it. The fact they really haven’t, outside of what they already do (and as you point out, what Steam has is basically the full feature list attempted here, plus the somewhat important fact of buying games…), kinda tells you all you need to know about that business model. If there is little to no money to be made, you don’t launch a product in that direction.

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  10. Krumm

    …various different perspectives? Was it even in the early to mid 2000s that we began to group gamer’s under a single umbrella? I can remember quite alot of PC vs Console dynamics not but a few years ago.

    The real issue here is that the industry has failed to understand while you have group the gaming community under a generalized umbrella…the fact is the only definition that we all share is the baseline one which speaks to us all enjoying games as a choice of entertainment. That cant even dictate to the percentage of time allocated to the effort. Some play little some play lots…but medium and genres can have nothing in similiarity.

    I feel the best example of business miscalculation is in the last Blizcon when Blizzard misunderstood its (Cough) social experiment…mobile diablo. The gaming segments are not to be misaligned…they must be understood.

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  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I actually used XFire for quite a stretch. Even back when it came out I needed another IM client like I needed a crack on the head, as we already had Yahoo, AIM, and ICQ. But XFire allowed you to see what servers your friends were playing on with games like Battlefield 1942 and join them directly. This was actually a big deal in the days before games had launchers with friend lists and the like. And it also tracked my play time, which I thought was interesting.

    Likewise, with Raptr, created by Dennis “Thresh” Fong who also created XFire. I used that for a long stretch and even tried to use some of the social media aspects. Mostly it was for tracking my play time and seeing what some of my friends were playing. I actually miss that a bit from its peak as there were a few people with whom I would regularly chat, but only on that service, so when it went away I lost track of those people.

    If you go look up Raptr or XFire on Wikipedia you see links out to other gamer social media ventures in the “See also” section. People seemed to think that was a really good idea up until about 2014. The founders of a few of the sites did pretty well, even getting VC funding and selling out to big companies like Viacom or EA. But they’re all done now.

    Also, I was clearly having doubts about the whole gamer social network thing almost a decade back. Comically, in the comments on that post, there are two people promoting their own gamer social networks, neither of which I can recall at all.

    @Krumm – I don’t know why one of your comments ended up in the spam filter, but is seems like you rephrased and reposted okay.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    As an update, the Kickstarter was cancelled on Dec. 6. I am not sure, but looking at Kicktraq it seems as though somebody who pledge $200 cancelled their pledge. Since that was a good chunk of what had been raised so far, it seems like that might have been the tipping point for the organizer.

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