Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is among the most well-received games of the year, drawing critical plaudits for its detailed graphics, humorous storyline, and expansive multiplayer. Reviewers' enthusiasm translated into a rapt retail reception, with the PlayStation 3 exclusive selling more than 1 million copies internationally in just one month.
Under the hood, Uncharted 2 did something relatively new on the social media front. It embedded a client for the microblogging service Twitter directly into the game, which automatically updated players' feeds with their progress.
Unfortunately, Naughty Dog's Twitter plans hit a snag even before the game hit store shelves. Beta testers complained that the game was sending updates so often that it was clogging the feeds of all their followers on the social-networking site. As a result, when the game shipped in mid-October, the Twitter feature was disabled--though present on the game's menu, it could not be activated even if a player wanted it to be.
Now, Uncharted 2's Twitter functionally has been reactivated courtesy of a patch. To see how it's faring, GameSpot caught up with Naughty Dog senior community manager Arne Meyer, who also discussed how his company used social media to help build up hype for the game prerelease.
GameSpot AU: How important to you is social media in promoting your games prerelease, as opposed to traditional means of getting the brand out there?
Arne Meyer: I think it was really important for us. It's twofold: one of the things was we had multiplayer in our game and it was important for us to foster a community that would discuss multiplayer. So [for players] to give us feedback was something we were very keen on. That's also the community that's going to keep our game in the front of a lot of people's minds, so we wanted to make sure we used social media to start reaching out to these people. That's something Naughty Dog hadn't really done before. Our Web site was very closed, beyond a few key stars of the studio, there wasn't a whole lot of two-way conversation with anyone here at the studio or any visibility with what we were doing, so we wanted to do all these things and social media was a natural fit.
GS AU: How have social media sites like Twitter allowed you to interact with your community?
AM: Twitter is basically a real-time feedback loop. It's like a forum, if you want to take a look at its root, without a thread of conversations. We've got hundreds of tweets that are directed at us a day, but then there are a lot of people talking about Uncharted, so it's a great way to get a macro temperature state of what people are talking about, what they want to say to us, and how they're feeling about certain aspects of the game. We released a patch with playlist changes recently, and Twitter has been a great feedback tool for that. Twitter is just one piece of the puzzle.
GS AU: How do you go through that feedback? Do you go through the hashtags or just "@naughty_dog" accounts?
AM: I have two monitors, and one monitor is opened up to Seesmic, and I've got a search for Uncharted 2, #uncharted2, @naughty_dog, @arne360, and I have a timeline for everyone who is following Naughty Dog as well, which is pretty cumbersome when it's 17,000 people. Then it's all separated out with people in the games industry, like journalists, to see if they're talking about our game as well. So basically that's all I'm tracking on a daily basis, on top of my job.
GS AU: Can you talk us through the process of embedding a Twitter client into Uncharted 2?
AM: We wanted to look at using methods of social media to bring aspects of our game onto the Web site and to give people a way to talk about the game. We were originally looking at doing it very similarly to what gamerDNA does, where it's all based off the site, so it's a little bit of a more passive experience. We wanted to see if we could do something a little bit more proactive.
A lot of credit goes to the copresident here, Christophe Balestra, who runs our technology side, who really wanted to try and push for something that nobody else was doing and open up that conversation of, "How does this work? How do we know if we're doing the right thing? How do you do it right and effectively?” Because nobody had really done it before, there's a few iPhone apps out there, but no real console games or PC game that was doing it to this degree.
I know there's an MMO that you can tweet in-game, but we wanted to do something that was the game doing it for game events, so he programmed it in. Part of why we selected Twitter, instead of Facebook, was because you can authenticate Twitter without opening up a Web page. With Facebook, if you want to send updates to your page, you have to open up a Web page and authenticate the application.
GS AU: How long did it take the team to work out the frequency of the tweets and what messages they would say?
AM: It came out over a couple of weeks, over a couple of tweaks. We really wanted to figure out what was interesting and what types of tweets people would want to put out there, but also the type of tweets that would make sense. We put one in where it says you've logged into multiplayer, so your friends know that you’re playing and that they can maybe jump on as well. Some people will tweet that, so it's just a little more automated.
Then we discussed a lot about the rate limits and tried to find the frequency that it wouldn’t feel spammy or an inappropriate use of Twitter. A lot of them are only once per hour, depending on what it is, to make sure if it's something that happens pretty often, which we think is relevant, that it isn't doing it too often, but you're not waiting 24 hours.
There's other ones that are limited to only once a day. We actually have a queue set up so that it won't do some messages if you have other messages that we think are more important in the queue. Let's say that we've said that the number of cash you've gained in multiplayer is a more important tweet than the number of trophies you've gained, but the time has come for the system to choose, it will pick the one we've chosen as the higher priority.
GS AU: What does it do if two tweets are of the same priority though?
AM: We've set it up so that there is none of the same priority level. I haven't seen it in a while, but in a couple of cases we've actually combined messages that we think are of similar priority so that there's a combined message. The back end is a little bit smarter than just saying "Has the event happened? What time did it happen? Is it OK to send the message?"
GS AU: How did you test the Twitter client in Uncharted 2 without broadcasting it?
AM: Secretly. We set up some private accounts that we could review, see that it was working properly, check the formatting and rate limits, check to see how things were truncated, and to see how things were working out on Twitter.
GS AU: What sort of feedback have you gotten from users about Unchated 2’s Twitter integration?
AM: Overall feedback has been positive. We've had one speed bump, but from the beginning I think everyone has been very positive. Twitter is a very polarizing service to some people in terms of utility and usefulness, and I think that has come out. Looking beyond that, I think most people have been very excited.
GS AU: Explain the speed bump for those who don't know about it.
AM: The road bump was just an oversight on our behalf, just to put a rate control on twittering your chapter completion. What happened was the games went out for review; we had a set of people that a lot of people were following who were trying to finish the game in short order, and it would be tweeting very often when they were completing a chapter. We were able to turn that off dynamically, so we could stop it since it was against our social media philosophy.
GS AU: How are you measuring the success of Uncharted 2’s Twitter client?
AM: Right now, it's pretty anecdotal. Our goals were twofold. One was to try and open up the conversation as to how it was doing, and then the other one was to see how people are using it and if it's effective. The fact that people have been using it and that the conversation continues to be positive about it to us is [evidence] that it's on the road to success. After it's been a few more months and we're more in the maintenance mode, then we can start taking a look at the data.
GS AU: If you were to implement it into your next game, what changes would you make to the way the tweets appear?
AM: It's something we've started to think about in terms of what our learnings have been from this. I think one of the more minor criticisms we've heard, but something we understand, is how an automated message lacks some of the personality of the user or the personality of having written what a tweet is like. Unless you're a news site, or something formal, you tend to tweet a bit informally.
It's simple things like being able to make the updates sound a little bit more informal, or personal. Some of it is just trying to make sure that we can update things a little bit more dynamically; it would be really nice to have that flexibility to do so. If we do this on a following game, it would be nice to be able to ask the community in terms of what types of things they would see and take this feedback and make it a little bit more personable on that angle.