Twitch’s Rising Popularity

Seth Stevenson of trying to understand Twitch’s popularity:

When news broke that Amazon was buying Twitch, a videogame-themed online streaming site, for nearly $1 billion, the most striking thing in all the media reports—at least to me—was the sheer number of people who will willingly watch other people play video games. I’d previously thought that when somebody else was holding the Xbox controller it was time to prepare oneself a snack. An ex-girlfriend described watching another person game as “the most boring possible thing I can even conceive of.” Yet Twitch is racking up 55 million unique visitors per month. Audiences for some of its real-time events can rival the viewership of major league sports playoff broadcasts on TV.

Twitch continues to gain steam. It’s likely that many (such as myself) discovered Twitch mostly after it’s inclusion in the Xbox One software. The exhibitionist inside everyone might spurn enough curiosity for someone to try starting a stream of them gaming, and eventually go see what other people are doing. But much of the content is what Stevenson discovered later:

What about those low-key channels where it’s just one dude gaming, and shooting the breeze with his thousands of viewers? Well, those viewers are finding a community of like-minded souls, they’re engaging over a shared interest, and they’re getting tips from superior gamers on how to win at the games. How is this different from watching a cooking show that mesmerizes you while also teaching you how to make a soufflé? Or, for heaven’s sake, watching a show about remodeling nondescript houses in suburban neighborhoods?

There is a big difference. And it’s what makes Twitch so hard to grasp even for a lot of people who do play video games. The payoff for cooking something is how good it tastes. The payoff for building/remodeling/etc. a house is improve the place you live everyday. The payoff for video games is mostly entertainment. Being good at them might increase the level of enjoyment, but the basic payoff is still there. When watching someone make a souffle, it’s something that most people might struggle to do on the first few tries. And failing at that is not a fun proposition, even for the most dedicated amateur chefs. Remodeling houses is something that requires both a house in need of remodeling, and generally a fair amount of money, not to mention skills that most people don’t possess.

But video games are completely different. Most people have fun playing video games no matter how good they are. And they really don’t require specialized skills, and come at a heckuva cheaper price than home renovation. And that’s what doesn’t make sense about Twitch. Why would someone want to sit for hours and watch someone else play video games? As Stephenson alluded to, anyone that grew up before online games knows how boring it was to sit and wait your turn on the couch next to friends.

That is what makes Twitch different than sports, cooking shows or HGTV. The kind of people that watch it are very unique. And probably aren’t doing it for the reasons that most people think. Until video games become so cutthroat competitive, or the barrier for entry gets higher, it’s hard to see watching them become much more popular, because it’s more fun just to play them.