If you’d have asked me a week ago whether I’d ever write an article with the above title, I would have laughed at you, probably for some time. However, as of this morning, the reality of Facebook becoming a legitimate alternative to both YouTube and Twitch wasn’t a figment of my imagination or a late April Fool’s gag. There’s a press release on Blizzard’s Investor website that says just that and more, and reveals that this tech’s already been used, both in Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. Warcraft, Facebook and streaming may seem like unlikely bedfellows right now, until you understand Facebook’s aspirations not simply for market saturation, but also in finding new and interesting ways to exploit their frankly astronomically large (and captive) audience.
Because when we talk about streaming, it isn’t the games themselves necessarily that matter, as the press release points out:
Adding Facebook Login will pave the way for new social functionality in Blizzard games while highlighting Facebook’s capabilities as a platform for sharing, viewing, and discussing AAA game content. As an example, Blizzard is in the process of incorporating Facebook’s Live API in order to create its own “Go Live” streaming functionality for its games. When this functionality is implemented, players will for the first time be able to livestream their Blizzard-gaming sessions directly to their Facebook timelines, and friends will be able to subscribe and be notified when new streams are available.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this sounds an awful lot like Twitch to me, but without the toxic chat and the need for moderators, or indeed any of the other stuff that this platform pretty much demands to stream with. This whole thing simply involves you and Facebook’s software. Right now that means an App on your phone, which works in a very similar manner to Periscope: press a button and your mobile’s the camera. However, with the Live app API inside Blizzard’s UI? It’s the same first person view you’re already used to with Twitch or YouTube. The difference is that anyone can take part, whenever and wherever they wish, and Facebook does the archiving.
Of course, many streamers will want a lot more control on their content than just point and go, and one assumes that the video will be available to edit and play with down the line. However, if all you are interested in initially is sharing your raid with the Guild members who couldn’t make it that night, or showing off your latest mount to your friends? This arrangement is perfect, doesn’t need any real extra effort, and will be a great advert for Blizzard’s willingness to finally embrace Facebook as not just one of many places you find Candy Crush. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and as yet there’s no definitive mention of how Warcraft fits into the picture:
“Blizzard games are best when played with friends, so it’s important to us to provide our players with features and services that make it easy and fun to share their experiences with each other,” said Gio Hunt, executive vice president of corporate operations at Blizzard Entertainment. “We’re working closely with Facebook on this integration for Overwatch, as well as our other games, and we look forward to sharing further details on our plans as development progresses.”
Right now we only see Overwatch and Heroes with actual integration, and as the two most recently coded of Activision Blizzard’s titles, one assumes that was not a problem to include whilst development took place. World of Warcraft however is a bit of a peculiar beast both in terms of age and the amount of ancient and unhelpful code that currently exists within the game files. Things have most definitely improved over the years, but everyone still has their own stories of a part of Wrath that’s permabroken, oh yeah and that quest in Outland that’s never operated successfully and 100% of the time since Launch. If Warcraft, Facebook and streaming are going to happen, there might be some hurdles to jump to make that a reality. Remember also that Twitch and other video capture sources simply uses the feed of your gaming taken raw, they’re not actually being taken by a programme inside the UI itself. I’d like to see this working in Azeroth before I decide whether this thing’s gonna be any good to play with.
After that? If this does work with the relative ease that Twitter integration did in Patch 6.1? Honestly, the sky is the limit. You can stream everything and anything to your adoring audience of fellow fans… except here’s the first problem I can see making this idea a reality. You Tube and Twitch’s overriding advantage for most, if not all the people who like to cause issue and stir up trouble is the anonymity factor. You can pick a wacky user-name and a rarely used e-mail address and off you go, with no worries about consequence and retribution when you name call and attack others. Try that on Facebook? Well, you can’t have an account without giving away a fair amount of yourself to begin with, and if you’re going to be held to account in the same place where your Mum can see you alongside all her friends and your cousins and the branch of the family from Australia?
This could take some getting used to for many, and that may well be enough to put those players off who simply don’t want friends and work colleagues knowing they masquerade at night as a female Blood Elf. There’s an awkward crossover in certain demographics that Facebook probably hasn’t decided to ignore, but will put aside when it sees the younger generation not engaging in their platform as much as they’d like. Then there are those people who are one thing on Facebook and a completely different thing in Azeroth, and have made the very deliberate decision to ensure that the twain will never meet. For them, the prospect of being tagged as a Gamer by their peers might be enough to actually stop them playing for good. There are other solid reasons why people don’t want their real identities attached to Warcraft, which has reduced many people to fearing for their online existences.
Here’s where things begin to get quite complicated with Warcraft, Facebook and streaming. There’s a world of difference between watching an event using the technology and having your best mate alert you every time they log in to play, and then bombarding you with their adventures as a result. Facebook’s the place for recipe ideas and baby pictures and that viral video about cats, but is it the place where you game? Clearly Blizzard would hope it is, not simply because of the advertising/marketing audience that social media presents. However, when gaming for most people is Candy Crush and not a 3 v 3 PvP skirmish? It might work with Overwatch Plays of the Game, or 20 seconds of heroes footage in a Vine-style. Will people want to move from YouTube to watch stuff? Will Twitch die out overnight because all anyone will want to do is make their own videos and not watch anyone elses?
Is this just Facebook and Blizzard trying to capitalise on a market it failed to grasp years ago?
As part of the collaboration between the two companies, Blizzard recently hosted multiple livestreams via Facebook. The first series of streams centered on Heroes of the Dorm™, Blizzard’s collegiate tournament featuring its popular team-brawler Heroes of the Storm. Last week, Blizzard hosted a livestreamed launch event for Overwatch on Facebook.
I’m ignoring the elephant in the room, of course, and with good reason. This isn’t about your raid or that mount, it’s about esports. Everything that Blizzard does right now is centred around massive audiences and becoming the NFL of competitive gaming. Frankly, as long as those events can be streamed through the UI, everything else is just sauce for an extremely fattened bird. Some new abilities for camera placement and draw distance in Warcraft are hinting that the backdrop’s already being prepared for the future, which presumably means you’ll be able to enter Spectator Mode whilst a World PvP Championship is played out across Azeroth for hundreds of thousands of pounds in prize money, and be in the game as the action plays out. Then you can replay the best moments with your mates and stick that next to Blizzard’s own targeted events on your timeline. When you look at it in those terms, Warcraft, Facebook and streaming make perfect sense together.
It is no surprise therefore that a large section of my community went into meltdown on Monday over this. Not only do many fear change, but there are others who realise that the days of this being a game that let everyone just do their own thing are slowly diminishing for good. Now it is all about clear instructions, targeting content and most importantly, ease of use. Selling your game with an ability to market your own content might seem ridiculously cynical to some, but for many this is now the future: I can play halfway decently, I can commentate on myself, so why don’t I try and be an Internet celebrity? Once upon a time you wanted to be a train driver or an astronaut, and although one assumes these professions are still viable as career paths, there are those who want to make their way in the Virtual World as a career choice. For them, at least, this is an interesting way forward.
I am, I will admit, an unabashed cynic when it comes to such changes in technology, but even I get how big a deal this is for Blizzard. The global audience alone for Facecraft (you can have that amalgamation on me Blizzard, its catchy) is in the billions, and that’s never to be sniffed at. It also sits in markets that the Warcraft Movie has opened up, places where free copes of the game were offered with cinema tickets in the hope new players would be snared. The marketing co-ordination at this point is to be congratulated, because the thought and co-ordination that has gone into this remains, quite frankly, masterful. When you look at the success the Warcraft Movie will have in China, just for starters, the worries of a few entitled players in the US and Europe pale into insignificance next to the depth and breath of just this one market for Facebook and Blizzard conjoined.
Mostly, this is a license to print money, and should be taken very seriously indeed by anyone with any real interest in building themselves as a global brand. Warcraft, Facebook and streaming have the potential to become all consuming. Now all we have to do is wait and see how the long term plans for the MMO part of the equation will pan out.Related: Alpha, Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, eSports, Facebook, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday