Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Twitch and Reminiscing about Nintendo Power

"On Monday, Amazon said it would spend more than $1 billion for Twitch, a website for watching video games. The site, which started three years ago, was never supposed to exist. Today, thousands of players are broadcasting, or streaming, their games on the site at any given moment, with many amassing a loyal audience...Those viewers can translate into revenue: Top streamers can earn money from ads, donations and subscriptions from their followers, who watch videos on the site for almost two hours a day, according to Twitch" (from the New York Times).

Besides spending hours a day in front of screens playing games, kids apparently spend hours in front of screens watching others play games. I first noticed this phenomenon on, which Twitch spun off from, where some of the most popular streams are just someone streaming their video game progress. While many internet users had not heard of Twitch before this week's announcement, "Twitch accounts for nearly 2% of peak U.S. Internet traffic." Ostensibly this helps you get tips and tricks to getting further in the game or just serves as entertainment. There has been some marvel at this, and I've recently read articles of parents (who are about my age) complaining of their kids spending so much time watching video games rather than playing them. My first thought was "Really? That's what kids waste time on these days?"

But was my generation in the 1980s any different?  I used to subscribe to Nintendo Power magazine which showed me screenshots of games I didn't have, previews of upcoming games, and tips or step-by-step guides to beating levels on games I did have.

Mall rats used to hang out at the arcade watching people play Street Fighter or other games they couldn't afford at the moment. My sister had a friend who could beat Mario Brothers pretty easily, and a couple times she called him to come over and show us how he beats the game (there was one level he could only complete if he used his feet instead of his hands on the controller...was bizarre but good entertainment). That's a good hour or two watching someone go all the way through that game. Nintendo Power also had a 900 number hotline you could call for help with specific games where one of their "Game Counselors" would pop in a particular game and play it over the phone to get to the level you were having trouble with; walk you through step-by-step.

So, I guess it's not that unusual and had been in the workings for a while. Seth Godin recently wrote that he had an idea for an early version of Twitch back in 1989, but couldn't find an investor willing to stick with it. Some of the programming courses on Udemy are essentially recorded screenshots of programmers writing code, solving particular problems in order to teach a language. I think that's a decent use of screen time.Just not as popular as video games, I guess.

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