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.
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.
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.