Social Networks & Video Games

In the eyes of many, video games carry a negative stigma. When I was growing up, my parents would often scold me for playing video games, calling them a waste of mental energy that distracts you when you need to be productive. However, with the rise of social media in the past decade, video games were able to carve out a segment on these platforms that revealed the social and technological aspect fulfilled through video games and also a new segment within the video gaming industry – online streaming.

When the video game industry first started, there were only three major consumer segments. You were either a console gamer, a PC gamer or a hardcore gamer (both PC and console). It wasn’t good to be classified in either of these segments because the majority of the world saw them as overweight, unsociable acne-ridden males who live in their parents basement equipped with the latest meme that only other gamers can relate to.

Fat Gamer

However, in 2007, Facebook released Facebook Platform and created a new gamer segment in the process – social gamers. Zynga was the pioneer in this space with Farmville, which reached 10 million daily active users in six weeks. Through the success of Farmville, Facebook acquired Gen X and Baby Boomer users in droves and discovered that games on the platform gave this demographic socially accepted opportunities to reconnect with contacts in their network by helping them build their digital farms.

Facebook Platform provided cross platform opportunities that lead to the continued growth of social gaming through mobile device games. The leader in this department is King’s Candy Crush Saga. Originally developed as browser only, King did not sleep on the growth of smartphone users and released iOS and Android compatible versions of the game in late 2012. These versions allowed users to connect their Facebook profiles to the game and offered a leaderboard system among their friend list. Their initial weekend launch numbers were ten times greater than estimated. This is likely because King underestimated the competitive social value created through their game and the rapid dispersal of their game through network effects. Candy Crush Saga quickly overtook Farmville as the top played game on the Facebook platform and continues to be the leader, with over 1 trillion games played.

While social gaming has been one movement in removing the negative stigma associated with gaming, traditional PC gaming and console gaming has also been brought into better light through the live streaming platform Twitch. Launched in 2011, Twitch initially served as a medium for people to broadcast live footage of them playing video games. Many people would stream the most popular titles or new releases and Twitch quickly became the go-to platform for gamers to dump their cognitive surplus by communicating their ideas and thoughts to the streamer. It became a threatening force to traditional text-based game demo journalism because viewers had an interactive platform that allowed them to both contribute and consume content at the same time in real time, helping viewers and streamers learn more about the game being discussed, thus maximizing playtime efficiency.

Twitch also created a new job industry with their partner and affiliate program, which allowed people to monetize their streams. This opened the door for passionate elite gamers to create their own brand by putting out high quality, entertaining footage. At the same time, gamers of all levels would learn of these streamers and join Twitch to learn directly from the pros, gather ideas to create their own stream or simply for the entertainment. This cycle allowed Twitch to grow very quickly and by 2014, 43% of their $3.8 billion revenue came from the streams of their partners and affiliates. In the midst of this also came the birth of eSports, a genre of sports specific to video games that involve teamwork, objectives and goals. The most popular games would sponsor eSports tournaments with cash prizes in the millions subsidized by companies like Nvidia and Intel. These tournaments are normally hosted on Twitch but recently, channels like ESPN have started to add eSports showings to their programs. This industry is growing at a rapid rate with no signs of slowing down and business moguls such as Mark Cuban have already invested a lot of money for further development.

Mark Cuban

Facebook must have recognized this potential and introduced Facebook Live. This feature was to allow people to stream directly to the Facebook platform and would pop up in the respective news feeds. Although they did not have as much emphasis on video game streaming as Twitch, they offered a lot of compatibilities with the most popular titles. Last year, I tested Facebook Live by streaming Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft for about an hour and what really amused me was that there were people who I haven’t spoken to in years and people who don’t play video games watching the stream and posting in the chat.

Why is something that has been so negatively viewed becoming such a big deal? Why is this market expanding so rapidly? Because within this industry, there are huge technological innovations and network effects. As much as the majority would hate to admit, a lot of the trending technologies (ie: VR, AR, AI) have seen prototypical implementation in video games before being brought mainstream. A lot of relaxation hours online have shifted toward watching and interacting with streams on Twitch, bringing it to #4 in internet traffic during peak hours because there is a wealth of information there, gaming and non-gaming. So to stay ahead of the technology curve, replace some of your time on Netflix and learn about some of the video games for your phone and computer, especially as this subculture assimilates more closely with the social characteristics of the generations to come.

6 comments

  1. Nice post, but I have to call you on the statement “When the video game industry first started, there were only three major consumer segments. You were either a console gamer, a PC gamer or a hardcore gamer (both PC and console).” My friend, you clearly never played Pong, had an Atari 2600, let alone play Zork on the Commodore 64. When the video game industry first started, there was only one segment – a bunch of geeks in a MIT computer lab playing Space War in the 1960s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacewar! The rest of the post is solid, though. Just respect your gaming elders (like me). Haha.

    1. I should have put a disclaimer that I was referencing my generation. I didn’t mean to offend you!

      1. Haha. No offense taken. Its just fun to talk about “the old days,” particularly when I lived through it. Honestly, when I go back and look at some of those games now, I think “how did we ever play this for hours on end? It’s pretty dull”

  2. Great post. I have had all four PlayStation consoles, from the original PlayStation in my early childhood to the PS4 now. I was never a serious gamer, and was not a very competitive one either, until recently. You hit the nail on the head with the evolution of gaming through the years – back in the day, there was limited interaction between the gamers unless a friend came over to your house (at least for console games). Now, the online features of the PS4 has reignited my interest in gaming and has made me far more competitive. I don’t have a single friend who doesn’t get frustrated when they lose a game of FIFA, and trash-talking over the Bluetooth microphone when playing Call of Duty has become an integral part of the game. With the introduction of VR gaming, playing video games will become even more interactive, and appeal to people who never even had an affinity for them. Imagine being submerged in the same gaming world as a friend halfway across the world, hunting a couple zombies or playing sports, and being able to physically interact with each other.

  3. Hi, Dillon! Nice post! I really liked your choice of topic. I don’t know too much about video games (what little I do know comes from my uncle who works in securing voice talent for video games) so I found this post to be very informative. I had never heard about Twitch before, but after reading this post I looked it up and scrolled around.
    One thing that might also be an interesting piece of this rise of video games is the presence of gaming on YouTube. I know that many YouTubers are gamers or have a separate gaming channel. Some of these channels are the highest subscribed channels. This might be contributing to the increase in the buzz around video games or it might just be a byproduct.

  4. I was part of Tech Trek 2017 and its amazing to hear what you say of all these companies like Zynga and Twitch, we went to visit both of them. What they’re doing in the industry is amazing with Facebook Social gamers and eSports. I will be very interested in knowing how eSports will be a major business and how NFL is partnering (http://www.patriots.com/news/2017/03/30/tackling-tech-esports-teams-coming-nfl) with EA and Activision Blizzard (BTW parent of King Video Games). Actually Activision partnered with Twitch to focus on streaming deals in games like: Overwatch, Hearthstone, StarCraft, and World of Warcraft.
    I also thing eSports will become the largest sector within the gaming industry, its not about games or consoles, it will be about professional teams, streaming and people buying and investing in those teams to win “World Championships”. Great Post!

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