This Monday, May 19, 2014, the big gossip was the acquisition by Google – via its Youtube.com arm – for a relative bargain fee of US$1bn, the video game-streaming company Twitch Interactive. So far they’re keeping mum about it, but it’s already way bigger than Hulu and HBOGo.
Among committed gamers, Twitch is very much respected as a well-run, relatively glitch-free video-sharing site and community. Indeed, what seems like a high price tag to the folks who call themselves pundits at Variety is truly a bargain. It seems that some of these videos are embedded live-streams and, consequently, the Internet being what is, potentially NSFW (not safe for work). The truth is that trash-talking gamers aren’t making it susceptible to a lunatic fringe. Instead, it’s more a case of us needing to open our minds to foreign culture.
One thing that makes them different is that Twitch has long worked hard to convince users that watching other people play video games is like watching sports, or like watching professional poker. This has been the case for many years in places such as South Korea, the Philippines and Japan. South Korea has a serious en masse woody for Starcraft. It champions TV celebrities who appear on chat shows and other game shows. Now other titles, such as League of Legends and Counter Strike, have spawned massive huge audiences for their broadcasts, which come complete with color commentary. Champion competitors are becoming millionaires.
Sandvine estimates that Twitch accounts for nearly 1.5 percent of peak-time U.S. Internet traffic. This actually leaves HBOGo coughing in the dust. At the same time, The Wall Street Journal put Twitch at 1.8 percent traffic, also ahead of Hulu, trailing only behind Apple, Google and the almighty Netflix.
Having already forged partnerships with the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 teams, as well as Amazon’s Fire TV service, it is almost nightly streaming games to those major game communities in real time with at least 61,827 views nightly from subscribers. This is not chicken feed. The platform reported earlier this year that it has at least 45 million people watching more than 12 billion minutes of video each month. This is fantastic growth considering it’s been done by word of mouth, without any help from advertising, P.R. or promotion. The number of minutes watched doubled between 2012 and 2013. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Twitch has become a prime platform for gaming companies to reach their customers. So much so that Gameloft, one of the biggest mobile studios out there, has its own channel on Twitch to preview new releases and receive gamer feedback.
The average person may not know much about Twitch yet. Moving beyond what might ordinarily be classified as a ‘cult’ or ‘minority’ audience, it has become a huge platform for testing out new ways to play and for gaming companies to receive instantaneous feedback on products and ideas. An ideal case in point being a weekend in March where the presentation was: Twitch Plays Pokemon. With the cooperation of Nintendo, a wholly organic movement drew at least 120,000 players together to play one game of the first version of Pokemon. Since then, the community has come together to tackle other versions of the popular game, and is now on its sixth game. The latest stream has gathered over 60 million views.
Got some spare money in the cushions of your couch? You could do worse than investing a few bucks in Twitch.