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Social Networking Integration != Gaming 2.5

Firstly, yes I am a bit of a X360 fanboy.  Actually, that’s not true, I’m an XBL platform fanboy.  I do REALLY want to like the PS3.  I’d love to be able to get rid of the noisy, hot, unreliable, X360  – but as yet I haven’t found a compelling reason to do so.  Perhaps the next time I get the RROD…..

This week, both Sony and Microsoft released updates to their consoles adding Facebook (both vendors) and Twitter (X360 only) integration.  Whilst both platforms have different levels of integration, the same problem is common to both vendors – IT’S A PAIN IN THE ASS TO TYPE ON A CONTROLLER!

Yes, yes, yes, both the PS3 and X360 controllers have mini-keyboard add-ons available but that still makes it only slightly more useable than an old school mobile phone. I guess you can also use a USB keyboard if you really want too…
When I was checking out the X360 integration and my inner monologue was moaning about this problem, it suddenly dawned on me that I was thinking about the whole integration thing in the wrong way….

I DON’T actually want to use console based Facebook or Twitter in the same way I do on my computer.
I’m not interested in communicating directly FROM my console TO Facebook or Twitter.  If I’m online on either console, I’m likely to be too busy fragging enemies or searching for treasure than watching for a tweet reply or checking out how long someone’s baby slept for last night.
I just want to let people know what I’m playing, when I’m playing and how they can join in the fun.

My IDEAL Social Network -> Console world looks like this:

  1. Cross-platform support (PSN->XBL).
  2. Selectively post updates to my friends relating to game status.
  3. Identify and consolidate contacts.
  4. A new type of friends list for the ‘Outer Circle’ (Friends of friends).  Facebook has had this idea for a while.
  5. Ability to ‘prefer’ my different circles of friends in online play.

Let me step back for a moment to give some context to my thoughts.  I own both a X360 and a PS3 and posted a few weeks ago about the dilemma of choosing games between platforms.  I prefer the PS3 technology for the Blu-Ray player and native HDMI output but I prefer the X360 for gaming due to the level of maturity (in a tech sense, not the average user age 🙂 ) of the Xbox Live (XBL) network vs Playstation Network (PSN).
I currently have 2 (two) contacts on PSN who I have NEVER seen online.  In contrast, I can turn my X360 on at almost any time and will see at least one of my twenty or so friends online playing something.  I don’t mean a ‘friend’ in the Myspace sense of the word either – actual people who I have actually met and am actually friends with.
Now, I know for a fact that at least 4 of my XBL contacts have a PS3.  All for the same reason as me, the Blu-ray player.  I only bought my PS3 because I had some amazon vouchers from work and because it was the only Blu-Ray player that I KNEW would continue to get firmware updates if standards changed over the next year or 2.
The main hook on the console front is that the XBL is simply much more advanced than PSN.  It’s just easier and more fun to play online with Xbox 360..

To get  back on track, let’s look at the new Facebook Integration.
Whilst both platforms now have a native Facebook integration, one is an order of magnitude better than the other.

PS3: Post your purchases to your FB timeline, Post your Trophy acquisition updates to your timeline.
X360: Full FB application on Dashboard, update status, read newsfeeds (split per your actual FB feeds), photos, find XBL users on FB, find FB users on your XBL friends list.

PSN appears to have missed the point completely and just adds a ‘check box’ item to it’s platform.

FB_PSN_App
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Yes, it’s all well and good posting updates to my timeline bragging about how I just completed *this* level or got *this* trophy or achievement but that doesn’t actually add any value, except for the distain of those who’s newsfeed I’m polluting.
I want to use social networks to expand my gaming experience, not just shout about it.

Using Facebook, XBL can now feasibly work out who I know and who my ‘friends of a friends’ are and use this ‘trusted reputation’ information to have an extended gaming circle.  You could go so far as to start mixing this into a reputation based friends list – “I know this guy very well and he’s very unlikely to have idiot friends on here so let’s add them to a second friends list”.  Kind of like the way LinkedIn shows how many ‘degrees’ you are from someone else.
For example, when playing, Modern Warefare 2 or FIFA 2010 online, I’d much rather play with people who aren’t likely to be racist, sweary, 14 year old douche bags – or at least be given an option to do so. Currently on XBL, you can ‘rate’ people you’ve played against online to prefer or not prefer them in the future.  The trouble with this is that you have to experience playing with these fools before you could block them.
Anyhow, I digress – This kind of online matchup doesn’t exist today but XBL is a ways closer to my utopia than the PS3 version is.

Twitter Integration

Given that Twitter is almost entirely designed as a one-way, one-to-many, communication medium (“What are you doing” versus “What do you want to talk about”) there is pretty little scope for this integration to be useful.
Other than letting my followers know that “Ian is playing this game” and “Ian just got his ass kicked”, how else can it be useful?
No, really.  That’s an actual question for you.
I can’t think of anything other than bragging rights.

Perhaps Playstation got it right this time by avoiding a native integration and leaving it up to the game developers to use Twitter ala Uncharted2 – Twitter is best used for self promotion after all.

So, what’s my point?

Well, integrating with the current or next fad or phenomenon just for the sake of it isn’t enough.  Also, trying to create a NEW one hasn’t worked favourably for Sony either – how is Playstation Home doing?
There is so much potential and power behind the social web and ideas like crowd-sourcing but both console vendor focus just seems to be in the wrong place right now.
For a typically closed door company, whom people berate for not listening to customers (which is B.S by the way) and whom people love to hate, Microsoft are surprisingly open with the X360 and XBL.
Don’t take my word for it, follow @MajorNelson (Director of Programming, Xbox Live) and compare that to the impersonal PSN and Playstation twitter accounts and blogs.  Just another reason why I find XBL warm and friendly and PSN cold and boring.

You can find me on Twitter as @IanMcShane and on PSN and XBL as maccarocks.

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