One of the main features highlighted in PlayStation 4’s launch event is the integration of social gaming features out-of-the-box. We'll be able to leave in-game messages for our pals in a similar fashion to Dark Souls. There'll be the ability to watch each other play and team up for difficult sections. These mechanics weren't invented by social game developers – if we're looking at Zynga, did it invent anything? - but they were proven to be features people enjoyed on those social battlegrounds.
We're also looking at Twitch TV being one of the most popular streaming platforms in the world, with tens of millions of viewers each month and we've got future consoles that are allowing us to interact more with the people we care about during gaming. That seems like a great addition to me. I love playing games with people I know and against them, but part of me worries that the temptation to use that feature would overwhelm my gaming experience. If a walkthrough is right there in-front of you, it's difficult not to look as soon as you get stuck.
Playing Devil's Advocate, you could argue that most of these features, the micro-transactions, the social interactions, the notes, the streaming, are very immersion breaking. It's going to be hard for a developer to put out a game that has the same atmosphere as Amnesia: Dark Descent, or System Shock 2, if there are messages left from your pals saying “ooh that was scary,” or if mid-game one of them jumps in and offers to do it for you because “this puzzle is well difficult.”
There's also the potential for spoilers galore in those messages. Here's hoping to restrictions on who can post them to your game as I know I have friends that would spoil things for me “for the lulz.”
However there are other ways social gaming can throw a spanner in your gaming works. We've already seen it happen with micro-transactions in Dead Space 3, where players were able to get more powerful weapons earlier in the game than intended by paying for the upgrades. Sure you can just ignore these, but if you're really in the mindset of the protagonist, seeing a button that you know is like a portal to the real world where your credit cards can save the digital universe you're in, it's just not as fun.
One argument I've heard in favour of these instant-upgrades that cost real money, is that it makes the game more accessible to newer players or those that are less skilled – but that to me sounds like a cop out for not having some sort of reactionary difficulty mode. And we had player controlled difficulty in games back in the day, they were called cheat codes.
In that respect, at least gamers have control over whether they use these features. It'd be far worse if developers just made their games exceptionally easy.
But perhaps that's what they're doing with the ability for a friend to take over in PlayStation 4 games. You could easily argue that it's a bit of a cheat if people can simply farm out the harder portions of a game to a friend or pro that offers the service for a few dollars.
But then again we've been doing stuff like this for decades with brothers and friends in the same room and this feature will allow us to play games “cooperatively” with friends around the world. The real question is will it make them a bit too easy and ruin some of the achievement if it becomes simple to just let your friend do that jump you're stuck on?
Ultimately we're being given the key to our own destruction as well as our salvation. These social features could be used for good or evil. If gaming becomes ruined because of them, perhaps it'll be our own fault?
That said, so far while there has been some encroachment from social features in gaming and they haven't destroyed us yet. There's the potential for it to be horrific sure, but if we can keep micro-transactions to multiplayer games where they don't matter too much and perhaps exercise a little bit of our own self control for the “easy-mode” that could be gameplay sharing, we might be alright.
What do you guys think? Have social gaming features ruined the industry, or is there still some hope left?