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Twitchy Fingers

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Sean Black's picture
If given the choice to watch football on TV or go play football outside, which would you choose? Most people would respond by sinking deeper into the couch and turning up the volume. Is that the way gaming is going as well?
 
Twitch
 
 
It seems absurd to say that gaming is in any way comparable to watching sport on television because watching a football match has become so normalised with our everyday cultured life, so much so that watching it on TV is as ordinary as eating with a knife and fork. And it seems even more absurd to consider a person watching someone else playing a video game.
 
Those who are in any way attuned to online gaming in general will have heard about, and most likely have watched, twitch.tv. For those who are not, twitch.tv is a live video streaming service that is focussed around gaming and e-sports; essentially a broadcaster (any person in the world) streams their gaming online for others to watch, and interact through online chat.
 
The success of let’s plays
 
Gaming is no longer considered a child’s pastime, video games are to this generation as drive-in cinemas were to the young adults of the 70’s and discos were to those of 80’s. Gaming, and online gaming in particular, is entertainment at it’s finest: interactive.
 
There has been an exponential increase in popularity of this kind of video consumption; what is affectionately known as “let’s plays”. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the interactive entertainment? Many people outright don’t agree with or understand the phenomenon because why not just play the game yourself, right?
 
One could argue that the reason for the sudden boom in popularity of platforms like twitch.tv and “let’s plays” is because of the increased normalisation of video games and gaming culture in everyday life. Gaming is becoming a staple of the entertainment industry and a go-to for passing leisure time.
 
In a way, it only makes sense that this is the route gaming would take – I mean, there are already dedicated StarCraft television channels in South Korea.
 
Google
 
Recently, 18 May 2014, Variety.com reported that YouTube (Google) would be buying Twitch for $1 Billion. Since then The Verge has reported that the buyout price has already been decided and negotiations about Twitch's autonomy are being discussed. 
 
What are the ramifications of this though? From a purely economic standpoint, this deal is unbelievable. Going from a relatively small start-up cost of $35 million to turning it over to Google for the reported $1 Billion? Imagine all that Twitch could accomplish with Google backing it. Isn’t that every small business’ dream? Shit, if I could sell my company to Google for a Billion dollars (while remaining autonomy) I would probably do it in a heartbeat.
 
That, however, does raise some of the potential issues that this acquisition poses. How will this affect the current streamers and subscribers? Will there be restrictions placed onto what content is streamed – like the stringent restrictions that are currently enforced on the YouTube service. The policies at Twitch don’t seem to be as rigorous as the YouTube policies. Will streams be taken down now? And (God forbid) a stream is not available in my country. All that is part of the magic of Twitch and arguably why is has become the success that it is; it is a platform for the gaming people by the gaming people.
 
There are also ethical considerations to consider. Google, as we know, likes to buy things, things that can collect lots of data about you. But with an acquisition like this would see YouTube essentially take the monopoly of online video. ‘TwitchTube the maniacal superpower of Internet video’ sounds like a comic book villain, whose evil is only matched by The Necromancer, Sauron.
 
TwitchTube
 
 
That said, the general public sees Google as a nice, friendly company. Everyone wants to work there, everyone uses Google Search, and everyone loves the doodles on the homepage. So there is potentially a glimmer of hope but gamers remain sceptical, and so they should because (firstly) Google has yet to prove that it will hold the front-line for its users and (second) the Twitch community is one that was grown organically and if spoiled by an influx of noobs the service may die.
 
So essentially, the gist of it is that, the deal is done. YouTube is buying Twitch, that part you have to accept. But whether or not the service remains a success will largely come down to the autonomy that Justin Kan and Emmett Shear can retain.
 
Effect on advertising
 
The popularity of twitch.tv throws a jackhammer into the works of traditional marketing. The advertising industry has had television nailed down for a long time and perhaps some ahead of the curve have branched out to YouTube through popular channels but what about live streaming? Is that even possible?
 
Well, yes. This challenge can provides marketing companies with unique opportunities. Companies can approach popular streamers and collaborate with them to advertise. This also allows streamers to monetise their channels. For example, a popular streamer crumps2 will take a break from his stream and play 10 inutes of ads. This presents a unique and dynamic way for advertisers to interact with its consumers.
 
Furthermore, some creative methods of advertising are cropping up amongst independent games developers. Like what Vlambeer have dubbed ‘performative development’ – basically setting up a paid subscription service where users can watch the development process of their newest game.
 
 


Watch live video from Vlambeer on TwitchTV

 
So what?
 
What all of this all means is that gaming and lived game culture is becoming a more normalised thing. It is no longer fringe activity of a select few, but rather a viable sector of the industry - proved by the amount of advertising money poured into digital video broadcasting. And furthermore, when the Google deal goes through, Twitch, gaming, and live-streamed gaming will be brought to a more mass audience.
 

It also means that love them or hate them, let’s plays and twitch.tv are here to stay. One only has to look at the percentage of U.S. peak traffic to find out. And that gaming is seen more and more like a sport we watch on television.

So perhaps in the, not so distant, future we will be sitting on a Sunday afternoon, engulfed by the sofa, screaming why no one called mid missing in the live-streamed Dota 2 match. 

EDIT: All but confirming the Google's takeover of Twitch is the implementation of their Live Annotations service. The official Twitch blog described, on 20 June 2014, the promotional alerts users can opt to include in their YouTube videos the moment content is streamed on Twitch.

Twitch Live Annotations


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