What would the gaming community be like without Twitter? No, wait, don’t sarcastically post that Simpsons “A World Without Lawyers” clip in response – I’m serious. A lot of us grouse and gripe about it, but as a platform, it’s become hugely important to gaming and hardcore gamers. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s indispensable.
Fans use it to celebrate and complain. Developers and media form little Twitter bubbles where they socialize and hang out. During covid lockdowns, Twitter became a primary networking and communication tool, and, more importantly, a way to catch up with people for vital sanity-checks. The gaming news cycle is now practically built around Twitter; if you want the news first, that’s where you’ll go. If we’re lucky, the hot tweet will point you to the full write-up on VG247. Twitter has changed how the gaming industry functions.
And Twitter knows it, too. The company believes that 71% of Twitter users play games, and 47% of its user base see watching people play games on platforms like Twitch as a form of entertainment. Gaming is massive on the platform, with the first half of 2022 seeing 1.5 billion Tweets on gaming topics – a new record, mapping to about 96 hot takes a second. That’s a whole lot of wrong opinions and console warring. As a result, it’s not a surprise to hear where Twitter sees itself.
“For us, Twitter's place within the gaming ecosphere, if you can call it that, is as the home of the gaming conversation,” says Reece Brown, who works at the platform as Head of EMEA Gaming Content Partnerships. Brown’s role, he explains, is to ensure that content creators ranging from esports teams and big media brands to individual creators can make the most of the platform.
“Our job is to help them understand how they can build their communities on the platform a little better, and help them connect with those communities, and also how we can help them monetize some of the content that they're creating.”
Brown’s team, as well as the existence of platform-operated hubs such as the @TwitterGaming handle, exist to quietly enhance the Twitter experience for content creators and end-users alike. In this interview, conducted in the wake of a barn-storming Gamescom for the platform, Brown outlines many of the initiatives created by Twitter to advance specific communities on the platform, of which the broad church of video game likers in general is one of the most significant. Whatever way you slice it, many of the features – and Twitter’s attitude towards serving the gaming audience – is impressive.
Assassin’s Creed— Gaming (@xGaming) September 10, 2022
Some of it has prompted ire from users who prefer some of the older stylings of the platform, of course. But most are genuinely useful. The recently introduced Twitter Circles, which Brown highlights, have genuinely already changed the way I use the platform, allowing me to be slightly less guarded and only deliver certain random thoughts and hot takes to a select group of users if I so wish. One can naturally see the utility for the Super Follower and Twitter Spaces systems, where fans can exchange real money to access exclusive content and get a little closer to their faves, especially among influencers.
Building this stuff is complicated, which is why many of these systems are on a slow roll-out, tested with select users over time. That can sometimes make the introduction of these things feel rather gradual or, to be uncharitable, glacial. But it’s worthwhile for Twitter – monetization for creators is of course also monetization for the platform, and such features also help to keep people on Twitter for longer.
“I think historically we've seen creators build communities on Twitter, but then have to go somewhere else to monetize,” Brown admits. It’s true: how many gaming influencers and brands do you follow who primarily point you back towards their websites, Twitch channels, or YouTube pages? “So yeah, we're very focused on having creators better monetize on the platform – because they're building such brilliant communities.”
That doesn’t mean that Twitter’s focus is on taking down Twitch or YouTube, though. In fact, when it comes to gaming, Brown’s team has a specific mantra that actually sets the platform up in the opposite stead.
“If there are these moments happening on other platforms, if you're going to another platform to watch a live stream of your favorite creator, or if you're going to another platform to watch your favorite esports events as a live interaction, then that's absolutely fine,” Brown clarifies. “For us, our job is to be that absolutely best second-screen experience - so you can have that conversation around it on the platform.
“One of the core references we often use is Twitter being kind of that bar for the esports community or the gaming community. People can come together in a virtual capacity and talk about some of the things they're seeing in the world of gaming.”
“You see examples of that throughout partnerships with the likes of Riot, where as these League of Legends tournaments are happening, those highlights and those clips and most talkable moments will be delivered to the audience in real time. So what you see there is that you have this premium content overlayed with the conversation – and that just helps to drive that conversation even further. That is very much our superpower.”
Within that, however, there is still scope for Twitter to become more than just a tool to forward your fans or readers to where you primarily reside. These various tools aim to open that up for users, and it’s heartening to see Twitter putting a dedicated team behind its implementation in the gaming space.
It’s an interesting conversation, and to Brown’s credit, this interview about ‘what the hell Twitter Gaming is’ and 'what the company is doing to improve the platform for gamers' briefly veers into a sales pitch. I help to manage a couple of six-figure follower games media brand accounts like @VG247 and @RPGSite, and my mind begins to wander: could we use these features? Would our audience want us to be even more engaged with Twitter, even though we’re already terminally online? Probably.
As news media, though, Twitter can often be as much of a curse as a blessing. For games media, it’s where hearty debate can often turn into unnecessary abuse, and it’s also an easy place to fall afoul of fake news. I love Twitter, but, basically, it’s a minefield. That’s why everybody uses it – but simultaneously complains about it. Many of the problems ‘Games Twitter’ faces are, of course, the same as many other communities - and the platform has been locked in a continual struggle trying to resolve many of these issues.
Fake news, in particular, is a problem we’re acutely aware of in the games media. Good Vibes Gaming’s Jon Cartwright produced a fantastic video showcasing how silly the fake game news malarky on Twitter can get by becoming a clueless insider himself. In addition to this, however, Twitter is also a platform I most commonly hear described by significant individuals and those in control of brands as the very definition of a double-edged sword – incredibly useful, but easily flipped into your worst nightmare.
It’s a mess recently best exemplified in recent news stories about Bloodborne Remastered, a game which, as you know, doesn’t presently exist. But for a good few hours, many people believed it did exist… because a fake story was able to spread through Twitter like wildfire thanks to one prankster who simply changed their profile information to impersonate trusted games news conduit @Nibellion. People saw Nibellion’s avatar and name, and believed. Some media outlets and hobbyist blogs didn’t do the proper due diligence and reported it as real. Eventually, larger outlets like Kotaku had to publish stories explaining that the story wasn’t real, after reaching out to PlayStation to confirm the fact.
“The issue is that the misinformation spreads faster than the fact that those accounts are not me,” Nibellion told VG247, recounting his side of the events that briefly made him the day’s gaming news story, rather than just reporting on it.
As the ‘news’ spread, two curious things happened. Firstly, many places picked it up as real, exposing a problem that is decidedly not Twitter’s fault: sloppy blogging and reporting. But, second, a group of people began to get mad at Nibellion, who hadn’t done a thing – giving birth then to another of Twitter’s endemic problems: abuse.
“Some never actually learn about the fact that I‘ve been impersonated, and then lash out at me for supposedly spreading false information despite me not being responsible for it,” Nibellion says.
There is one major tool Twitter has in its arsenal to combat such misinformation: verification. This confirms the identities of users and gives them a special icon next to their tweets, meaning someone can at a glance see if that news is really being posted by Eurogamer, for instance, or if it’s a prankster pretending to be Eurogamer. But arguably, this same process is one area where Twitter fails to understand the gaming community, because the requirements for being verified seem poorly defined in a way where they’re not built to help a particular stripe of influential figures common in gaming.
Nibellion, again, is the perfect example, though he’s far from alone. With over 400,000 followers, he’s also one of the most trusted game news hoses on Twitter, trusted by verified media from the insignificant (like me) up to the megastars (like Geoff Keighley) – despite being a pseudo-anonymous random dude of mysterious origin. In many ways, he is a perfect representation of what I feel is Twitter’s real ‘superpower’: a normal user, a random person, empowered by the platform to become indispensable. But he’s not the subject of a Wikipedia article, and apparently links to news articles from major media that treat him as a source or a reference aren’t good enough – so he remains open to impersonation and abuse.
“I think after the Bloodborne stuff, I tried to get verified three times,” Nibellion adds. “In fact, I just tried my luck a few days ago and got denied.”
Another figure who struggled to get verified despite prominence in the games community is Lance McDonald, a content creator with over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, over 60,000 Twitter followers, and a public reputation thanks to uncovering Nier Automata’s ‘final secret’, something widely reported in the media and gleefully acknowledged by Nier creator Yoko Taro. After multiple private rejections, a public tirade against the @Verified handle saw him get verified a few hours later.
“For gaming creators they ask you to supply 3 mainstream news articles that mention your work,” McDonald explains. “But as you maybe saw, they kept rejecting me even though my tweets regularly appear in major publications and I provided them with countless examples. It’s good they don’t expect you to have a Wikipedia article, but stupid that they just reject you arbitrarily until you loudly complain.”
This seems to be fairly common, and ‘arbitrary’ appears to be a common descriptor for Twitter’s systems around protecting high-profile users among both those who are and aren’t verified. The system doesn’t feel built for much of the gaming space, despite gaming’s importance to and on Twitter. Nibellion is an extreme example as a lone individual, but I’ve heard of similar playing out with brands attached to proper companies with full-time employees and oodles of evidence - they arbitrarily get left in the wilderness of easy impersonation - though as McDonald points out, impersonation is now considered “no longer relevant to the verification process.”
“I got rejected a stupid number of times, but then I met someone who worked for Twitter,” one games media editor says of their website’s brand account, while wishing to remain anonymous. “They waved it through. Verification has helped us; we’ve had far less problems since.”
I got a verification tick next to my YouTube channel name. Now everyone knows where to find the real Lance McDonald pic.twitter.com/B0ZLw78OSc— Lance McDonald (@manfightdragon) January 11, 2021
Verification isn’t necessarily the problem, of course. And fake news itself can also come from ‘legitimate’ outlets – something proved well in political circles in recent years. But verification is also one of the only solutions available for protecting significant people and brands – and that lack of protection makes any journalist or news influencer on the platform treat it with extreme caution. Verified accounts also appear to be more likely to get access to some of the tools Brown earlier described, too. Some of gaming twitter’s finest newshounds and mid-range brands likely could sell quite a lot of Super Follows, for instance – but they’re unlikely to get access to those services.
It also betrays, I feel, one problem with Twitter’s gaming approach; that it is overly esports-centric, with the requirements set up in a way that’s less appropriate outside of that bubble, where people have visibility as parts of teams and organizations that vouch for them more specifically.
“In the sense of verification, it's difficult to go into too much detail as it's not my area of expertise,” says Twitter’s Brown, noting that his team is not directly responsible for the rules around verification or moderation of content.
“Um... what I would say is we... we have been part of – and when I say we, I mean the gaming creator content partnership team – have been part of conversations, particularly when they were relaunching verification. So, obviously for a while that was closed, now anyone's able to submit for verification themselves.
“Throughout that process, we were part of the team. Or we were one of the teams that were asked to provide input into what those benchmarks would be. And so what I would say on that is that we're always looking at ways to kind of evolve our products or make them better for our audience, and as part of that process the creator-specific and gaming teams were part of that team that gave their input. So, I think it’s something that we understand.
“To your point, it's not clear-cut on what verification should look like. But we were part of the team, which is what you want to be seeing. You want the insight to be coming from not just people who work in TV, or not just who work in sport. So that's really the only thing I can touch on with that subject.”
VG247 invited Twitter to put forward a response to this query from the team directly responsible, but the company only offered a link to its fairly vague Verification FAQ.
“It seems to serve esports people and the most traditional content creators first and foremost,” Nibellion argues. “So, whenever I fill their form for verification, what I do doesn’t necessarily fit against the options provided. I’m not part of an esports organization, media outlet, or YouTube channel – and there’s no nuance to the decision-making process. You tick the ill-defined boxes, or you don’t. I’d be fine with not being verified if they could offer a solution that avoids misinformation being spread in my name. Every time that happens, it’s nauseating.
“I don’t feel like leaving Twitter because it is my favorite platform, and I do believe that text-based communication has an important role in our world. But like every human I do have my limits as well and if the abuse/impersonation issue grows bigger, I'd take time to think hard about what to do next.”
So, Twitter has grand plans. Hearing Brown speak about everything his team is working on makes me excited as a Twitter end user, but also as somebody involved in the management of several gaming brands. There’s a path here for creators to make money on Twitter, for a start, which helps to then fund better content for Twitter – which is ultimately good for the denizens of Twitter’s gaming communities. It’s all very good. As features such as Super Followers and Spaces trickle down to more users, I expect to see the way we all use Twitter change – and likely for the better for all involved.
New features need to only be the start of Twitter’s more hands-on approach, however. Users like Nibellion and McDonald are perfect examples of gaming community individuals raised up by Twitter as a platform – and these are people that, currently, it doesn’t correctly support. To some extent, these issues have their roots in the mile-a-minute, meme-obsessed nature of video game news and content. Frankly, there’s no other community quite as chaotic. But for Twitter’s lofty ambitions to be fulfilled, they must be addressed. Arguably, Twitter is already the center of the hardcore gaming conversation online – but to solidify that position, it has to make good. Here’s hoping its investment continues.