Watching others play video games the next big thing This frame grab taken from Twitch.tv shows two gamers competing and a streaming chat, at right, as visitors to the online network watch the two gamers go head-to-head (AP photos)
Watching others play video games the next big thing
Lexile

Video games have been a spectator sport since teenagers crowded around arcade machines to watch friends play "Pac-Man." And for decades, kids have gathered in living rooms to marvel at how others master games like "Street Fighter II" and "Super Mario Bros."

But today there's Twitch, the online network that attracts millions of visitors. Most watch live and recorded footage of other people playing video games, in much the same way that football fans tune in to ESPN.

Twitch's 55 million monthly users viewed over 15 billion minutes of content on the service in July, making Twitch.tv one of the world's biggest sources of Internet traffic. According to network services company Sandvine, Twitch generates more traffic in the U.S. than HBO Go, the streaming service that's home to popular shows such as "Game of Thrones" and "Girls."

Fans watch for the same reasons ancient Romans flocked to the Colosseum, to witness extraordinary displays of agility and skill.

Jacob Malinowski, a 16-year-old Twitch fan who lives outside of Milwaukee, admits that some may question the entertainment value of Twitch's content.

"(But) I think it's interesting because you get to watch someone who's probably better at the game than you are," he says. "You can see what they do and copy what they do and get better."

Amazon's commitment to purchase Twitch for nearly $1 billion this week is an acknowledgement that the service's loyal fan base and revenue streams from ads and channel subscriptions present enormous opportunity.

Most Twitch viewers are gamers themselves. They not only see the live and recorded video sessions as a way to sharpen their abilities, but also as a way to interact with star players in chatrooms or simply be entertained.

Sorah Devlin, a 31-year-old mother of two from Geneva, New York, says she watches Twitch with her 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter and enjoys it more than children's television programming. Their game of choice is "Minecraft," which lets players build or break things out of cubes and explore a blocky 3-D world around them. Devlin and her kids watch popular "Minecraft" players who go by names such as iBallisticSquid and SuperChache show their skills. The players, she says, have a sense of humor and are good at keeping the content "at most PG" so she is comfortable watching them with the kids.

Twitch fans are mostly male and between the ages of 18 and 49, an important demographic for advertisers. Nearly half of visitors spend 20 or more hours a week watching Twitch video, according to the company.

"You've got a hyper-growth platform with a niche audience," says Nathaniel Perez, global head of social media at advertising firm SapientNitro. "It's basically the best you can get, from an advertisers' perspective."

As a result, Twitch commands premium prices from advertisers. The company's cost per thousand views, or the amount an advertiser pays to run one video ad 1,000 times, is $16.84 in the U.S., according to video ad-buying software company TubeMogul. That's well above the average $9.11 per thousand advertisers typically pay for video ads placed on other sites.

Twitch can be lucrative for talented gamers, too. The site allows some gamers who set up channels what the company calls "broadcasters" to charge $5 monthly subscription fees to viewers. Plus Twitch gives a portion of all ad revenue to broadcasters.

Twitch didn't start out as a video game-focused company. The company, based in San Francisco, spun out of Justin.tv, a quirky service that revolved around a video feed tracking the daily activities of co-founder Justin Kan. The focus shifted to live video for gamers in 2011.

Brett Butz, 26, who works as a compliance officer outside of Boston, says he's spent $20 to $25 to watch content on Twitch, which is "more than I ever paid for YouTube," which also broadcasts games. While YouTube is popular with gamers, Butz says he prefers Twitch as a place to view games.

Amazon is promising to let its newest acquisition operate independently. But for some gamers, the deal brands Twitch with a corporate stamp.

"I'm curious to see if, in a year, it'll still have cache," says Patrick Markey, psychology professor at Villanova University who focuses on video games. "It's definitely considered a gamer platform but now that Amazon is buying it, is it becoming mainstream ... is it going to lose its coolness?"

Critical thinking challenge: Why does Amazon want to buy Twitch? What would Amazon do with it? How could Amazon make more money with Twitch?

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COMMENTS (27)
  • devan4223
    9/02/2014 - 09:49 a.m.

    I do not believe that is fun i would rather play than watch. You learn by yourself.
    I think its a good idea but i would not watch that channel just cause i like to play how i play not play how the people on twitch play.

  • StevenT-Wit
    9/02/2014 - 10:53 a.m.

    This article in my opinion is cool. A website dedicated to watching and playing video games and you can even get paid. In my opinion I would love to join this site and participate in it. I play video games myself and I love to watch walkthroughs to help me out, and this site allows me to have easier access to this. And to be able to get paid to have people watch you as you play is a fun way to earn money.

  • dringgold-Cla
    9/04/2014 - 12:08 p.m.

    Do they play madden. How many people like to watch them play. Do they have any tordaments. i would like to try this one day with some of my friends.

  • dringgold-Cla
    9/04/2014 - 12:08 p.m.

    Do they play madden. How many people like to watch them play. Do they have any tordaments. i would like to try this one day with some of my friends.

  • juanp-Koc
    9/07/2014 - 06:36 a.m.

    I think twitch it perfect for gamer to watch live there favorite gamer compete. Before this you just had to watch on YouTube and it would be live. As a fellow gamer my self twitch really gave what the audience wanted. Just barely going viral an getting an offer com amazon it pretty amazing

  • basketballstar7
    9/08/2014 - 01:10 p.m.

    I wouldn't want to watch someone play video games, I don't even like video games. I think it would be really boring watching someone play video games.

  • Jacksonwh-Fre
    9/09/2014 - 01:10 p.m.

    I already use this site,and I love it! I love seeing people who play the same games as me play,while I get to interact with them. The setup process to get streaming is hard and confusing,but i'm hoping it'll be worth it. I love helping out new players to certain games,and giving tips to the ones who aren't new. But,that's off topic. Again,I love this idea of interacting with people who play the same games that you do. Of course,not all games are on the site,but that's just a nit-pick.

  • BRyan-Cas
    9/10/2014 - 06:21 p.m.

    I use this site almost everyday and it is awesome. If you are into gaming like I am, it is an awesome way to watch others play your favorite games. You may also want a game, but don't know what to expect. It is very easy to post a comment on the live and always updating "comments." You can get other viewers opinions on the game.

  • carsonl-Orv
    9/11/2014 - 04:38 p.m.

    oh god how I hate you twitch, YouTube, and any way other way to watch video game videos. the ONLY reason why I would EVER watch a video of video games is to look at all the collectibles. imagine watching someone else read a book. pretty boring right? they say its to get better but i'm at 30k gamerscore and have never watched anything on twitch!

  • PAntonio-Cas
    9/11/2014 - 05:33 p.m.

    I love this site so much I watch it everyday. There are so many people that love to stream and a lot of them have great personalities and information on the games they are playing. I also like how you can interact with the streamers and other people by typing in their chat box. My favorite streamer to watch is Trick2g because he is very funny and can provide so much entertainment.

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