According to the stereotype, hard-core gamers have little interest in watching regular TV, instead preferring to be in the thick of the online action playing World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, or Halo with their friends. But does that mean they do not want to watch video just like the rest of us? There are already over 120 channels on YouTube dedicated to gaming. As well, some of the most popular videos are promos for new games (a video showing a new mod for League of Legends has been viewed 3.5 million times at the time of writing this piece) and people showing their own gameplay (warning: this video contains foul language and screaming, though it has been viewed 1.4 million times!). Clearly, videos related to gaming are a big deal.
Machinima is already tapping into this new market for video entertainment. The channel is targeting the gamer community with original shows, editorial comment, and community programming, and claims to be the most popular YouTube channel with 183 million unique viewers. Stars of this new entertainment medium are already emerging. Toby Turner, aka “Tobuscus,” has already generated two million subscribers to his YouTube channel, providing a variety of gamer videos including some that make fun of game promotional trailers. Tobuscus has become so well known that Game Stop, a video game retailer, hired him to make a TV ad for the game Assassin’s Creed Revelations.
On Friday, we visited with Onlive, an online video game service, and saw another piece of the gamer entertainment puzzle fall in to place: live broadcast game play.
How does Onlive’s service enable live broadcast game play? The company’s cloud architecture means that the games users play are actually running on computers in Onlive’s data centers. What the gamer sees on his device is actually a video stream sent from these cloud computers. This is very different to the game console world where the game software runs on a console in the home and displays directly on the TV screen. If you think this means that Onlive games are slow to respond to real-time commands, you’d be mistaken. Our experience found it is just as fast and responsive as console gaming.
Onlive is taking advantage of its architecture to enable a feature console vendors simply cannot provide—one that could change the face of social gaming. Users can enter an area called “the Arena” and watch anyone currently playing a game on the system. This audience can rate the gamer’s play, chat with the gamer, and even talk with other viewers. It’s easy to find a good game to watch: when you enter the Arena the players with the largest audience are featured in the center of your screen.
The possibilities of this new gaming experience are vast. The best game players will attract larger and larger audiences and look to compete with one another via scheduled multiplayer events, which Onlive could promote to even larger audiences who sign in to watch the “match” (thus providing a unique target marketing opportunity).
Entertainers, like PewDiePie, could use the system to take their comedic approach to gaming live. One can even imagine professional leagues forming around teams that play together in games like Call of Duty and Left for Dead. If that happens all the trappings of traditional team sports are sure to follow including star players, trades, and even lock-outs!
If you think this is total fantasy, think again. A gamer called “Chinchilladave” has already scheduled live comedic plays of the game Skyrim (an RPG, or role-playing game) using Livestream. But perhaps we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. It is very early days for both Onlive and the live gaming audience it enables. But if the size of the audience for on-demand gamer videos is anything to go by, it may not take long for live broadcast gaming to build equally large audiences.