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We’ve all grown up playing video games. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time playing Super Mario Brothers 3 on Nintendo, passing the controller between my brothers and I. For me, watching video games meant being physically present and literally watching someone else play games on the TV, which I’ve spent countless hours doing.
As time went on, and I moved from GoldenEye to Halo through Counter-Strike, World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, more and more of my gaming time was spent playing games with other people -- except not in person -- we were all playing together remotely. The games industry realized that games are more fun when they are social, and consequently almost all big games that are released now have some emphasis on a networked multiplayer mode.
Recently, we’ve seen games evolve beyond basic multiplayer. For the top players, tournaments and leagues have emerged with their own celebrities. Recognizing that an entire entertainment vertical is growing up around watching gaming content, savvy designers are producing games with spectator modes that are designed to be broadcast, recorded, edited and shared.
Combined with the explosion of user generated video services, every year we’ve seen more and more gaming content get shared on the web.
This is a major marketing inflection point for an industry that has traditionally reached its consumers through traditional print, TV and digital media campaigns -- now your players are creating and distributing video about your game for you.
Of course, one of the natural outgrowths of this is a shift in power in terms of media consumption when it comes to how gamers are being influenced in the way they think about and talk about games. Whereas in the past, traditional games media outlets like GameSpot and IGN were the trusted sources of games knowledge and opinion, today consumers are turning their attention to the games that world class players are playing and they’re placing their trust in the opinions of people who they can actually see playing and beating games.
This isn’t what we set out to do. It’s a grass roots swing away from the mediated opinions of journalists towards the less mediated, more spontaneous but demonstrably expert opinions of the world’s best best players and the communities that follow them.
My guess is that this is much more than simply a shift in habits, but represents a shift in thinking and, ultimately, power too.
The challenge to game developers and publishers now isn’t just to make the best, most immersive, addictive and playable games imaginable but also to make games that are easy and fun to watch. By doing this, developers and publishers can create games that can be self propelled as their own marketing and social platforms -- empowering players to create interactive communities that breathe life in to games as a never-ending stream of social events and touch points that, ultimately, lead to greater sales.
When I started our company five years ago, we had no intention of doing anything in video games at all. We started off as a general internet platform for live video that anyone could use to produce and share a live broadcast with as many people as they wanted. This worked well; over the course of the next four years, we grew the platform, called Justin.tv, to over 30 million unique visitors every month. At the same time (2007-2010) video consumption on the Internet continued to grow, with more and more consumers replacing their TV time with watching web video across many different categories.
One of these categories happened to be gaming video: people watching other people play video games. We first noticed this phenomenon on the site when users started doing it organically: people were creating broadcasts around playing new releases and their favorite games with their fans. At the same time, more and more competitive gaming broadcasts were popping up, streaming the best gamers in the world playing games for prizes.
By the end of 2010, gaming streams were reaching 2 million viewers every month on Justin.tv and we finally got it through our heads that we should figure out what was going on. A small team, lead by my partner and co-founder Emmett Shear, started building gaming specific features to improve the experience of watching and broadcasting video games on the site. This started off as an experiment: could we make the gaming category grow faster than it was already?
After a month, we had grown the gaming specific viewership 15 percent. That seemed pretty good, but we wondered if it was sustainable. Another month, another 15 percent. After six months of solid growth, we decided that the gaming vertical should be its own web site, and in June 2011 we launched TwitchTV at E3, a new site dedicated to watching and sharing gaming video. By December, we had 12 million unique visitors coming to the site every month, and we had shifted the main focus of the company to TwitchTV.