Games have always been social, but in the mobile era, we play in a lonely crowd. How can players take the solitary experience of their gameplay and turn it into something bigger?
Hatch’s stated mission – “to bring people together over the games they love” – once prompted a journalist to ask me: “Many people would say games do not bring people together but separate them. Technologies are often criticized because of the lack of live communication between people. So how can games really bring people together?”
That is an excellent question. That it can be asked in 2017, however, says a lot about the times we live in, and not so much about games. Because if you were to step into a time machine and ask the same question, people would find it bizarre.
Above is an illustration of a group of people enjoying “astrological checkers,” the most cutting-edge realtime multiplayer game of the year 1283. The anonymous monks in Toledo who compiled the Book of Games, from which this illustration is taken, singled out this game in particular as “very noble, strange, beautiful, and of great understanding” – words that could maybe also apply to a few games I’ve played from our own time.
Interestingly, for a reference book that was intended to explain the rules of various different games, the players in the illustration are just as visually prominent as the layout of the board itself. A game’s substance mattered just as much then as it does now, but the illustrators felt it was equally as important to show that the game was something for these individuals to do, together, for fun. It’s a vehicle for their relationship.
Fast forward seven centuries, this is still the case.
Most game companies today are intensely aware that the more social a game is, the longer people will play it, the more people will talk about it – and the more they will get others to play it with them.
The problem is there’s just so much out there to play. The sheer quantity and ubiquity of mobile games especially leads to a peculiar kind of obscurity for even high-performing game titles. The occasional mega-breakthrough a la Pokémon Go notwithstanding, when you’re with your friends, you’re less likely to talk about – and even less likely to play together – what each of you happen to have installed on your phone. Instead, you’re more likely to mention what you’re all watching on Netflix, or what big movies you want to see. The app economy may be bigger than Hollywood, but when it comes to games, we play amidst a lonely crowd. Pop music, books, TV and movies are the entertainment that people have in common.
But what if you could use your own game experiences to tell your story – to say something funny, strange or “of great understanding” to your friends, whether they’ve heard of the game or not – as easily as you could post a photo to Instagram, or share an update on Facebook?
That’s the idea behind one of the core features of Hatch. In every game in the collection, the last 30 seconds of your gameplay are always being recorded. So anytime in the moment, you can immediately hit pause and start editing a short instant replay to share with your friends. If you want, you can also add your own drawings or captions on top. Let your inner storyteller run wild, or just share something silly.
Here are a couple examples of what these gameplay moments can look like. I’ll start with one of my own experiences in Vector Unit’s Beach Buggy Racing:
Or here’s my colleague Tiina, playing Leo’s Fortune and demonstrating the perils of life in the fast lane:
For a user on the Hatch platform, such short and shareable moments (or “Hatches,” as we’ve been calling them in the office) are as easy to create and share as a photo on Instagram. While there’s nothing new in recording and sharing clips of gameplay online, the process hasn’t been this simple, streamlined and instantly accessible before, nor has it been possible across an entire collection of mobile games.
It could also have far-reaching consequences for game developers trying to break through the cultural noise. When you share a “Hatch,” you take the solitary experience of your gameplay and turn it into communication. You invite others, potentially many thousands of others, to share in your moment of glory (or glorious failure). Suddenly, you’re not alone anymore.
This is really key, I believe. It invites users to be creative and allows them to share and comment on their experiences in a new way. Intriguingly, it offers game developers a chance for their work to become a part of the fabric of online communication itself – to take part in the culture and maybe even break out of the “lonely crowd” syndrome afflicting too many games.
Joseph Knowles is Hatch's director of communications.