Twitch.tv and Video Gaming as a Spectator Sport

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Video Gaming

As online video viewing has become a staple of Internet behavior, YouTube and Twitch.tv have facilitated the growth of video gaming as well. And this is a case where correlation is in fact causation: Twitch.tv grew out of Justin.tv, specifically because there was a need for a dedicated gaming channel. Gaming was dwarfing the rest of Justin.tv.

Watching others play video games has always been part of the gaming experience. Emmett Shear, co-founder of Justin.tv and Twitch.tv, traced the origin to the video arcade: “That was where the first video games were. And one of the interesting things about the arcade was you watched more than you played… Everything that’s old is new again,” he told Polygon.

From this viewing came recorded footage that was passed from person to person. It was generally footage of fighting games, and the VHS (and later DVD) recordings were called “combo tapes.” When Justin.tv became available, the old recording methods could be hosted live online in just a few minutes, or even seconds.

Justin.tv was originally broken into categories, but when the founders realized that gaming was ballooning faster than any other sector, they launched Twitch.tv to cater exclusively to gaming content. Jeff Green, a consultant for Hit Detection, acknowledges that there are barriers, but they’re falling away quickly.

When I tell people I’m doing a live-stream of Dark Souls and I tell them I’m playing this game online and people are watching, citizens like my family — who are non-gaming people — always ask, “Why would anybody want to do that?”… Once you see it done by someone who knows how to broadcast, who knows how to entertain, or someone who’s an expert at the game, you start to think, well, this is pretty entertaining.”

When that entertainment combined with easy-to-use tools and social integration, Twitch.tv became a titan. Sony and Microsoft wanted in, so their new generation of consoles now carry built-in Twitch.tv broadcast tools. PS4 owners created 1.7 million streams in the first six weeks after launch.

TwitchPlaysPokemon demonstrated that people are interested in doing more than just watching — they’re interested in participating. The project attracted over 36 million viewers with over 1.1 million participants. And the higher-trafficked channels are raking in the money; some are making six figures, according to Matthew DiPietro, Twitch’s VP of marketing.

And Twitch isn’t satisfied to sit on its laurels. The next big Twitch development could be the streaming mobile game content. “Asphalt 8: Airborne” is the first mobile game with Twitch streaming built in. It’s exclusive to iOS for now, and players will be able to use the forward-facing camera and microphone to stream. Mobile games can become sensations overnight, and now it looks like the ability to livestream the latest game is on the way.

Twitch has come a long way from Justin.tv’s “livestream your life” idea, but with gaming integration, it may have come full circle.

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