Summers have traditionally been a time where I hide from the thick and sticky heat in my cool, air conditioned basement, clipping through my backlog of game purchases and reliving past timesinks. This summer was different. I spent more time at concerts, parties, events, bars, outside, playing guitar and spending time with friends than was typical. I got back to reading more than long-form articles and less time with large open world games. In spite of all of this distance from gaming, I feel I gained an invaluable perspective on my favourite hobby. This is what I observed and experienced from a gaming perspective.
These past few months made me believe that the console, a set specification computer in front of a TV, will be around for a long time. Despite not playing many games at all, I used my Xbox One every single day as a Chromecast extension, Twitch streaming box, and YouTube theatre. While all of these could be completed by a product less than half of the cost, I think the growth of mainstream awareness, and acceptance of video games as a hobby for more than teenage boys in their mother’s basement, will bring more people in for engaging experiences that those cheaper boxes won’t quite provide.
The opportunities in eSports, from a business perspective, seem tremendous. Instead of spending hundreds of hours playing video games this summer, I used a lot of that time to watch them played at a competitive level. The first thing that is clear is that most competitive players are huge leaps and bounds above the average player, despite not really believing that to be the case. Despite this, players often carry themselves on stream and in tournament promotion as if their success is temporary and fleeting while tournament promoters try and build narratives that play opposite to that. I think this comes from two specific sources.
The first is that salaries for players are small, and security is low. They feel like they can be replaced because there are millions of people who would love to play games for money. The second is that the rise of eSports over the past five years or so has meant that these players, and in some cases games, haven’t been around long enough to see a consistent track record that means anything. If someone was able to go in and ensure higher compensation and security, as well as guide their careers with long-term planning, I am confident that player perception would shift and more elaborate grand narratives would form naturally.
In addition to the room on the player development end, the opportunities for integrated brand promotion and exploitation of ad space are largely underdeveloped. Tune into an average stream and you will find a webcam overlap in some corner of the screen, a banner notifying donations and subscriptions, and the rest of the space dedicated to the game itself. In a few instances, one can find ads rotating for the traditional digital advertising roster (Audible, Crunchyroll, Soylent, MeUndies, Squarespace) and not much else. The opportunities, for almost every game, to have a sponsored segment or integrate products into the webcam window authentically are tremendous. There could be a 5 Hour Energy stream showcasing how the product helps concentration, focus, and energy without the caffeine jitters, or a Chiquita banana segment for StanCifka.
Aside from watching a lot of competitive gaming this summer, I did get around to playing a few games. My perennial game, Hearthstone, took up most of that time although I did get around to playing a bit of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Spelunky. If there was a game that I had seriously and deeply hoped would be a Games With Gold game, it was Spelunky. Following Chris Remo’s Spelunky adventures on the Idle Thumbs podcast and Patrick Klepek’s streams of the daily challenge really made me want to try it, but the $20 price point made it a bit tough for me to justify. I’ve enjoyed my brief time with it so far, and will probably put some more into it, but it definitely did not hook me in the same way that it did them.