August 26, 2011

Insomniac Games Does Social Media Right

I've been a fan of Insomniac Games from close to the start. When my brother asked whether we'd played a new game and I said, "Ratchet and Clank? What's that?" I had no idea it was the new game by the people who made Spyro the Dragon, the first game I played on a modern game console.

The answer, by the way, to "Ratchet and Clank? What's that?": Just awesome; that's what. And through a large number of sequels, the games have stayed awesome. Then they added the Resistance franchise, which aside from also being a shooter, was very, very different in tone and style. Still awesome.

Now I'm really looking forward to Overstrike. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first game of its type with an even number of male and female playable characters. When you play a lot of network games with another couple, the lack of this option in most games gets pretty painful. Also, the game looks to be combining the gritty world of Resistance with the sly humor of Ratchet and Clank.

But still, well before that comes out, Resistance 3 launches the day after Labor Day. Like Resistance 2, 3 has robust online play. For the new game, the online play is currently in beta, and this is where Insomniac Games has impressed me in a way no other company has.

Betas are fun. They're also somewhat painful. No matter how much you test a game, no matter how much load you put on your servers, it isn't quite the same as having a bunch of people figure out your interface on their own and using it in any way they see fit. Things go wrong in beta, however well prepared you think you are.

For some companies, this could result in a lot of user frustration. For Insomniac fans who are on Twitter and Facebook, it's been an exercise in being heard and helped in record times. When the public player-matching system went wonky, players arranged "private" games with strangers on Insomniac's Facebook page, and Insomniac used Twitter to send players there. Insomniac broadcast questions on Twitter to collect information about how widespread bugs were. They announced the expected timing of bug fixes and server downtime and passed along workarounds. They took bug reports and customer service complaints and responded incredibly quickly.

In short, Insomniac Games took what could have been the ugliest time for their game launch and turned it into an exercise in making their customers very happy by using social media. I should be surprised, and I'm not really. This is one of the first companies to figure out what a podcast could do for them, and they've always been on top of figuring out what options new gaming hardware can give them.

So, no, I'm not surprised. I just hope that those behind Insomniac's social media presence get the credit they deserve, and that some other companies pay attention to what Insomniac is doing right.

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