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September 13, 2021

Transmission 10: Social Features

TR10: Social Features

Transmission 10
  Social Features in RTS

I wrote about socialization in RTS before, but with the new discussion topic on r/FrostGiant, I thought it's worth revisiting it. After all, socialization is important and helps to grow the community around the game. Plus I believe there are social features that have a potential and could be looked at.

★ ★ ★

My interaction with social features in StatCraft II (SC2) has been fairly limited. I mainly use discord and reddit for communication related to gaming. And of course, YouTube and Twitch deliver most of the video content, while Twitch is also a decent place to interact with other viewers.

While I did use official forums, I'm not sure it's worth having them when discord and reddit fill those rolls well and are more accessible and discoverable. It would be good to promote these communities (reddit, discord, etc.) in the game – together with currently live streams and other community content.

Basic features like a friend list, party chat, and direct messages are still very useful for communication in-game. A good ping system can reduce the need to chat in team games and lowers language barriers. But a built-in voice chat is something I have never used in any RTS game.

Some older games (BW, WC3) managed global chat channels a bit better than SC2. I also like the idea of putting players into chat channels based on their location (in addition to the global chat). It's probably a better experience to see players you have something in common and players you might see again, rather than a randomly selected group of players from the whole server.

★ ★ ★

Now let's look at some more interesting features. Some of them might be bigger in scope, but I believe it's the small changes that can make the biggest difference by reducing the barriers in how players interact with the game. This includes how easy and fast is it to go from talking with someone on discord to playing a game together, or the other way around – how easy is to share things to social media. If a feature is awkward, takes too many clicks, or doesn't work consistently, then players won't use it even if the feature itself could be great.

A player could generate a special link and post it both outside or inside the game. Clicking the link would send another player directly to join a lobby, a party, to an in-game spectating session in progress, to join a clan, a group, or to a replay hosted on the game's servers.

This could be a good improvement given how much communication nowadays happen outside of the game. Often times setting a party with someone is just a bit too much work for one or two games. With this you could generate a link, post it into the chat, and clicking it would automatically add the player to your party. The goal is to reduce the time and work it takes to go from chatting with someone to playing with them. Though links could have many other uses.

To prevent clicking on the link and launching the game only to realize the party or session is long over, the link could go first to a game's server. The server would check whether the session is still available, and if yes, redirect the user to launch the game if necessary and to the session. A feature isn't very good if it doesn't work consistently.

The game launching fast helps as well. I can go from desktop to killing demons in Doom Eternal in 10 seconds if I smash buttons. But I will be more reluctant to play few games if launching the game takes a significant amount of time.

Every second counts in games (source)

2. Easily shareable content

Another way to reduce barriers is to make sharing in-game content easy. I already wrote about post-game screens which tell a story that can be shared. I tried creating such post-game screens in my MM maps (image) and SC2 Co-op Overlay.

Post-game information in my SC2 Co-op Overlay
Opus Magnum is excellent at making it easy to share your solutions

Another interesting feature would be if after each game few interesting moments would be automatically identified. Players could replay them in-game (a sort of mini replay) to remind themselves of the cool moments, save them to their profile or share them. There could be an option to render them into a video for sharing outside of the game. Players could choose specific times from a replay, but having those moments automatically identified would make it significantly easier.

3. Streaming integration

Streaming integration can help to make streaming more engaging for both streamers and viewers. I wrote about it previously and created my own implementation as a proof of concept for my MM maps and the overlay app.

I believe there is some potential, especially for PvE modes. Other games have their implementations like Warhammer: Vermintide 2 where viewers can add buffs or items to players, spawn enemy units or activate mutators; or Riftbreaker lets viewers join as enemy mobs, and vote on upcoming events.

Viewers joining the game – no gameplay effect but it's still more engaging for the viewers

4. Social context when playing

Playing a competitive 1v1 or team games in a random queue can feel lonely. Giving more social context to the game can make it less lonely and your achievements more meaningful. Leveling a commander in Co-op feels more meaningful because you know you will be able to play it with other players (even if you switched to your main commander right back).

Other things that could help:

  • Showing notifications to friends or clan members when a player achieved something. Blizzard games do this to some degree for "achievements", but that mostly comes off as spam. Only the truly important events should be shown (e.g. a player advanced into the next league in 1v1).
  • Leaderboards for players in a clan or local area.
  • Show MMR in relation to people you might know. SC2 has divisions, but I don't think people care about the random players in a division. It could be better to frame your progress relative to noteworthy players like your friends, common opponents, etc.
Things in sections #2 Easily shareable content and #5 In-game spectating can improve the social context as well.
The focus on losing points isn't good, but the game nicely shows your progress relative to your friends
(StarCraft Remastered)

5. in-game spectating

In-game spectating could be a good addition to the game. I can see it work in various situations:

  • Spectate a friend's ladder game. This would be good for socializing and learning. The vision would be limited to your friend, and ideally no or minimal added delay. Low delay would be very helpful for coaching as well.
  • Spectating selected or a random player in the chosen league and matchup. This would be good for learning and socializing if more spectators are there. Spectators have full vision, can chat with each other. But there is an added delay to prevent abuse.
  • Spectating tournaments.

I wrote about this topic before:

There could always be a list of ongoing games that you might find interesting. You could update your preferences based on matchups you want to watch, favorite players, or leagues. Games with more viewers or with your friends would be more likely recommended.

Spectators would be able to chat with each other, form a party to join another game together, or bet on game outcomes. There could be cosmetic rewards tied to spectating and betting.

Overall, I believe this could be good for socialization, learning, and just maintaining interest in the game. Some days you just don't want to play, but you might hop in and spectate a few friend's games or with friends. I don't believe online streaming provides quite the same experience, it has a barrier to entry, and not everyone can or will stream.

My naive image of how in-game spectating could work with the lockstep architecture

6. in-game Betting

In-game betting could accompany in-game spectating. It's a lot more engaging to watch a match that you have bet on – even if it's meaningless internet points.

I imagine it being similar to the betting system on Twitch. There would be a betting currency that players would be given for free periodically. The only way to use it would be to bet on in-game matches or tournaments. Winning would get you more of the betting currency and there could be a chance for other rewards if the game supports it. But other than that, the betting economy would be self-contained without any option to purchase the currency or cash it out. Its sole reason is to make spectating more interesting. The only things to gain is to show your betting stats and occasionally gain few cosmetic rewards.

Betting has been done in the peepmode (arcade map) in games like StarCraft II, you can bet your Twitch points on Twitch, and Dota 2 has an extensive betting system.

Betting with Twitch points on a game's outcome

7. Clans & Groups

I have thought about clans for some time, but it's hard to find a good use for them in a game like StarCraft II. Most of the communication already happens outside of the game, and then going from there to playing the game should be as easy and quick as possible.

Still, some support for players to organize in-game is good – whether it's a clan or a group – basic features like shared chat, moderators, ability to post links and announcements.

Other clan features could include:

  • Clan leaderboards (of clans or players in a clan) if there are good metrics for that.
  • Clan cosmetics for all members – those could be obtained by individual members or by "leveling" the clan in some way. Perhaps these cosmetics would have more options for customization and combination to make them uniquely clan-specific.
  • Some small rewards could be given to everyone in the clan when a player obtains a certain reward. The goal of these would be to make clan members appreciate the one particular member who is directly responsible for that reward.
  • Then there are always clanwars but implementing things like that is likely to be difficult.


Thank you for reading. I highlighted a few social features in this article, and hopefully we might see some of them in future RTS games. I believe there is a potential for improvements – whether it will come from bigger features like streaming integration or from smaller changes reducing obstacles and framing things better.

Interesting links to check out:

  For discussion check this thread on r/FrostGiant. And check out my previous posts and transmissions.

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