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Facebook Invades Consoles: What Social Networking Means for Video Games

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

Editor’s note: Tim has taken a very thoughtful and detailed look at Facebook integration on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Based on his impressions I completely agree with his conclusions. Do you? – Aaron 



Social networking is an Internet behemoth — I suppose this was only a matter of time. The phenomenon has managed to weasel itself into almost every aspect of mass communication. Now websites like Facebook and Twitter have finally infiltrated video game consoles.

As a marketer and avid gamer, the updates bringing Facebook integration to both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 piqued my interest. Each system has implemented the website in different ways, and I’m interested in the real-world application for users.

I’ve spent a couple weeks playing around with each system’s Facebook features and I’ve walked away unimpressed. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the services as they exist, I don’t think all hope is lost — there is definitely room for improvement.

 

Implementation

On the 360, Facebook is a full-blown application similar to a game, complete with dashboard advertisements and the inability to run in the background. In other words, when you want your social network-inclined friends to know which game you’re playing, you need to first start Facebook on the 360, update your status, close the application, and then start your game.

The program also enables users to connect to Facebook friends who are also on Xbox Live and vice-versa. As with many of Microsoft’s features for the system, this application is only available for those with paid Live gold accounts.

When you consider Microsoft’s claim that two million Live users have logged into Facebook since its November 17 launch, the company’s approach has the potential to reach large, new audiences; however, when you also consider that there are 20 million total Live users, that’s a small 10 percent who have logged into Facebook from their consoles.

As for the PS3, little promotion for the feature exists. Facebook integration was not even listed in the firmware notes. Those not following PS3 updates would need to stumble upon it in the account management section. Currently, these features are limited to posting trophy information, PSN store purchases, and the vague “share game event information” to the user’s Facebook profile.

Sony’s integration follows the traditional model of Facebook promotions utilized by many other organizations. If the user does something with your program or device, the action is dumped into his feed for all of his friends to see. Sony is not breaking new ground.


Real Life Application

Although a cool application on the 360, I’m having trouble thinking of any reason why I would use Facebook on anything other than my computer. Pictures show up quickly, but updating your status using a controller is rather cumbersome, even with the available keypad. Additionally, websites such as Raptr already provide gameplay and achievement updates to Facebook.

I’m not sure what kind of audience research was conducted for this product feature, either. The application feels more like a knee-jerk reaction to the social networking buzz than a properly fleshed-out feature built from customer feedback. I definitely would like to see the data which says gold members would rather surf Facebook on their television sets rather than their computers.

I’m also curious about whether the adoption rate will pick up in the coming months. As of this writing, only four out of my 19 friends on Live have set up Facebook, which is better than the overall numbers, but still too low. Until better reasons for users to launch Facebook from their living room are realized, I don’t foresee improvement.

On PS3, Facebook is pretty much a set up, forget, and hope my friends don’t mind process.  If they do mind, they can hide my updates, or comment on how much of a gamer I am.

Because Sony does not live-sync trophies, you won’t spam your friends list every time you earn them unless you are obsessive compulsive about comparing accomplishments with friends. Trophy acquisition will only post to Facebook when you manually sync that feature.

In terms of overall usage, I have only seen one other Facebook friend set up this feature. Whether this is due to lack of knowledge or interest is unknown to me.

From the business point-of-view, the PS3′s Facebook integration feels more like a marketing move than a jump on the social networking bandwagon. There is no benefit to the user other than promoting PS3 products to their friends, which equals free advertising for Sony.


The Future?

facebook-sad2In terms of the WIIFM (official marketing term short for “What’s In It For Me?”) factor, I don’t think Facebook offers much of anything at all for users of the 360 or the PS3. Once you’ve linked your gamertag with your Facebook account there’s little reason to revisit the application on the 360. With the PS3′s integration, you’ve essentially transformed your Facebook profile into a billboard for Sony.

In my opinion, both systems could better incorporate Facebook — even Twitter — by posting status updates through their own notification systems, like a news ticker. Although, the potentially high frequency of updates could be rather annoying during play.

A less intrusive method would be to display status updates in the main dashboard rather than running a separate program, like on the 360. The PS3′s information bar in the top-right corner could display Facebook updates easily.

As the first iteration of their Facebook partnership, each console has taken a worthwhile first step; however, features still lack on both systems. I don’t expect to see any improvement in the near future, either.


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