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.
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.