Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I Love Social Media

I realize I haven't posted here in awhile, mostly because I've been kind of busy. But something that's occurred to me recently is how social media is becoming a really great thing for games education.

To be clear, most of my students are on Facebook so they can share drunken pictures of themselves with their friends (and then get chewed out by me for it when I point out that this is what their future employers are going to see). My students are generally not on Twitter, and don't see the point. In both cases, I think my students often miss the point, and lately I've taken to being more aggressive about promoting the upsides.

The teachers I talk to are split more evenly. Some are totally into social media, others have dabbled but haven't really taken the next step, and others haven't drunk the kool-aid yet.

Why Students Should Care About Facebook
  • Pretty much the entire game industry is on Facebook. If you want to get into the industry, you had better have a Facebook account. This is a great way to keep in touch with people you met at GDC or your local IGDA meeting or whatever. Guess what those industry people post on their Facebook status? If you said "job postings" give yourself a virtual ribbon. (You should probably have a LinkedIn account too, because everyone in the game industry has one of those too, but you can't play games on LinkedIn.)
  • Like it or not, Facebook is now a non-trivial part of the game industry. Zynga's annual revenue from FarmVille alone is greater than that of most AAA retail games. Social games are a new breed of game (at least on this scale), and students - especially those about to graduate - had better pay attention, because right now there's an increasingly good chance their first job will be working on one of those.
  • There's a lot to learn (good and bad) from the play patterns of social games, that can be applied to other kinds of game designs. In particular, the use of metrics to inform design and the ways that games use social cred as a game mechanic are things that can easily carry over into other multiplayer games, from board games to console or online PC games.
Why Students Should Care About Twitter
  • The entire game industry is also on Twitter. Unlike Facebook, you don't have to be a personal friend of David Jaffe to follow him.
  • Yes, a lot of tweets are things like what your favorite developer is having for lunch that day. Guess what: this is a great way to see game developer culture from the outside. Want to have some idea of what it's like to work with these people? Follow them and see what they sound like.
  • Every now and then you get to see some amazing back-and-forth conversations happening in real-time between some of the most brilliant minds in the industry.
  • Yes, people tweet job postings, too. Perhaps more frequently than they do in their Facebook status, even.
  • If you can't afford to go to a conference like GDC but you're interested in what's happening, follow the Twitter stream. Each individual tweet doesn't say that much, but in aggregate you can extract a lot of meaning and get all the major high points - it's the next best thing to being there.
  • Perhaps most importantly - and this is true for both Twitter and Facebook - their value is multiplied once you're actually in the industry. Right now with the social network I have, I don't use social media to swap drunken stories; I use it to swap valuable information. Just the other day, I asked about who had done research into the psychology of how people's estimates of odds/probability go horribly wrong (I wanted this info for a class I'm teaching) and got a bunch of great references. Later, someone I follow asked if there was such a thing as a game design notation, and I was able to point them to two examples. It's like trading money! (And anyone lucky enough to be following either conversation got the benefit of seeing all of the questions and responses in real time.)
Why Teachers Should Care About Facebook
  • It matters to students (see above). If your students are trying to break into the industry and this helps them, it should be relevant to you.
  • It's an interesting way to connect to your students outside of class, in a more casual/social setting.
  • It's a great way to keep your own connections with industry and other educators you know. (And former students who join the industry, who make some of the best connections of all.)
  • Facebook games provide great fodder for classroom analysis and discussion about game design. And if you happen to play these games on your own for fun, you'll never be lacking for neighbor requests / item gifts if you ask your students for them ;-)
  • You can create groups on Facebook, for free, and use these to supplement your classroom learning. Yes, a lot of schools have their own courseware like Blackboard, but that has the disadvantage that it's a separate, isolated place where students have to go. They go to Facebook anyway, so it's a lower barrier to entry if they can post pictures and status updates and then check on their classes as long as they're there.
Why Teachers Should Care About Twitter
  • As with Facebook, it's relevant to your students so it should be relevant to you.
  • If class happens to be scheduled during a big industry conference, keeping a live Twitter feed on the overhead projector is an interesting way to generate some spontaneous discussion (though it can be distracting).
  • It's a very immediate way to connect with your class. If you have a random thought from home at 10pm that you think would be relevant for your class, tweet about it and use a specific tag (like your course number) so your students can follow. You can also issue challenges to your students outside of class and have them retweet their responses... like, "change a rule of Tic-Tac-Toe to make it better, in 140 characters or less" and see what they make of it.