We are a species that loves to connect. That’s why when we play games we can’t help but build communities around them.
Developer Red Robots Labs has an app that it believes can bring gamers closer together.
The idea behind First is to give gamers a way to quickly communicate about news, games, and topics in a mobile-optimized app. Gamers can jump into First, submit content they care about, and begin chatting with others about it immediately.
“We wanted to build something that you always have with you in your pocket, on your phone and updated live,” said John Davison, Red Robot Labs’ director of content and publishing, to GamesBeat.
Red Robot is also responsible for location-based games like Life Is Crime. The studio’s most recent title is strategy war game Friendly Fire!, which just received full First integration. This will enable players to communicate with each other without having to exit the Friendly Fire! app.
“When we launched Life Is Crime, we noticed our in-game chat wasn’t particularly great,” Red Robot Chief product officer Pete Hawley told GamesBeat. “Players were frustrated that the chat would drain the battery, but they still wanted to hang out and chat. So what they would do is jump out of the game and download some other chat app and then creating rooms for those games to hang out with each other. We got pretty frustrated with gamers leaving our games. It just became really fragmented.”
Red Robot decided to build its chat program as a robust platform where players could chat within a game, but they could also catch up with friends separately using a dedicated app. That led to the standalone First app, which players can use to discuss console, PC, and mobile titles all in one place.
Why chat in a world dominated by message boards?
One of First’s users said the app is like “Reddit and IRC had a baby.” That’s a fitting description. Just like Reddit, First is nearly all user-generated topics. Conversations move up in popularity depending on how many people favorite them.
The conversations work more like the long-running chat client IRC. People enter text and it all appears in order as they send it. No refreshing required.
“We want it to feel like a conversation that can weave and change direction based on the people in the room at that time,” said Hawley. “You might start off talking about one thing and it can slowly evolve into something else. We’ve already seen that in First.”
So if the the chatrooms can morph into different topics depending on the people participating in the conversations, wouldn’t that make it difficult to find content that you care about? Red Robot thought about that and built a system of hashtags so that gamers can subscribe to the subjects they care about.
“Over time you can tailor the app to your tastes,” said Davison. “That’s why we have the hashtags and stuff in there. Right now — with the small test audience — most people are sorting through the new and popular posts, but as we get more in there, you can subscribe to the games and topics that you want to talk about.”
If I were to submit an article, it will automatically show up in the “new” feed. If it gets enough attention from others, it will likely move up into the “popular” list. I could, however, use a hashtag like #GTAV to ensure that the post shows up in the feed for Grand Theft Auto V.
“The app is just a framework,” said Hawley. “We built it as a template, and it’s branded as gaming, but really there is nothing to stop you from throwing anything in there. Over time, once the audience gets bigger, and it becomes less welcoming to new users, we’ve given users the tools within First to say, ‘These are the games I care about, so I’m going to subscribe to those. These are the people I care about. And these are the topics I like.’ And you can sort of throw all of that into your profile page so you can curate your own piece of the network. You’re never just reliant on the news stream and what is popular.”
In-game chat and the future of distribution
Red Robot doesn’t just want First to exist as an island community separate from the games people are playing. As noted earlier, the developer wants to integrate First chat into games so that players can always get to their friends.
“Within Friendly Fire!, we built the chat channel using HTML 5,” said Hawley. “You can use this to chat with other players within the game, but if you’re out and about on the road [not playing the game], using First you can communicate with those players in the Friendly Fire! chat channel that’s built into the game.”
This isn’t a proprietary solution. Red Robot plans to offer this chat functionality to other mobile developers who don’t want to take the time to build their own in-game communication experiences.
“We’re really looking at First as a way to re-engage players when they’re not in the game,” Red Robot Labs chief executive Mike Ouye told GamesBeat.
Ouye also said the company looked to Asian markets where chat clients like KakaoTalk in South Korea don’t only enable users to communicate and share links but also act as game-distribution platforms.
“We really think [First] is a huge opportunity to disrupt the way games are distributed out here in the U.S.,” said Ouye. “We’re very keen to see what happens out here with that.”
For now, Red Robot is focusing on building an audience of gamers looking for a place to talk about games. It will continue to face competition from message boards and bigger sites, but it is potentially different enough to stick out from that crowd.