What Happened to Social Gaming?

Guest blog by Charles Huang

In 2005, my company, RedOctane, released a game called Guitar Hero. It helped spark the social games boom. These were games (mostly on consoles) that people played together in the same room. 

Back in that era, friends getting together in person was a big part of gaming. We promoted the idea of Guitar Hero parties after seeing this phenomenon amongst our earliest players. Lorne Michaels is the long time, esteemed producer of the decades long hit TV show, Saturday Night Live. In a 2008 New York Times interview, Michaels said, “Our biggest competition is not so much other television shows as it is Guitar Hero.”

It wasn’t just a social phenomenon, it was big business. In the years 2007-2008, Guitar Hero was the best selling video game franchise in the world. And our competitor, Rock Band, was also a top selling game. In 2006, Nintendo released the Wii. It came bundled with a title called Wii Sports, a pack of mini games that were incredibly fun to play together. The popularity of Wii Sports powered sales of the Wii, which became the best selling console of its generation. Nintendo rode the Wii’s success to become one of the most valuable companies in Japan. 

Families enjoyed the unique, multigenerational interaction. Shortly after we released Guitar Hero 1, we received a written letter from a dad who told us he spent an evening playing GH with his teenage daughter. She asked him questions about the rock and roll music of his childhood. He asked her questions about how to play video games. He ended the letter by saying, “I just wanted to thank you. It’s been years since I’ve had an evening like that with my daughter.” As a young father myself, I was moved to tears. 

When people play games together in person, they connect with one another. Those video games were a great social lubricant that built or strengthened friendships and families. People playing video games together in person have a different vibe. 

Online, that behavior often changes. Players are sometimes reclusive, sometimes toxic in their  interaction. This behavioral change is predictable, if you never see the human being on the other side of the screen. This doesn’t just happen in video games, it happens in every corner of the internet. 

Online games are a fantastic innovation in video games. However, I do think bringing back some of those social games would get gamers accustomed to interacting with each other, both online and offline, in less toxic ways. 

About Charles Huang

Charles Huang – LinkedIn

Charles Huang is a co-founder of RedOctane and the co-creator of the Guitar Hero video game franchise.  In 2005, the company published Guitar Hero, which went on to become the fastest video game to reach $1B in sales. Activision acquired RedOctane in June 2006. Guitar Hero was the best-selling video game in the world in 2007 and 2008. Mr. Huang currently serves as board of directors of several startups and non profit organizations. He teaches entrepreneurship at the University of California at Berkeley and is the past Chair of the UC Berkeley Foundation. He serves on the board of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Mr. Huang immigrated to California as a young child and currently resides in Silicon Valley with his wife, Lillian. They have 2 daughters, Kaylan and Charlotte. Mr. Huang holds BA’s in Economics and Asian Studies from UC Berkeley.