YouTube recently made a splash in the gaming world with its rumored acquisition of Twitch, the world’s largest and arguably most popular video game destination. Twitch draws in Hulu- and Netflix-like traffic numbers, on a platform that is predicated on user-generated live content. This was hardly the first indication that YouTube is relevant in the gaming world, in many ways it only highlighted how important gaming is to the success of YouTube (five of the top 10 YouTube channels are gaming related, while over 9 million gaming videos have been created on YouTube).
But these numbers are not only proving YouTube’s strength in the gaming world, they are dramatically affecting
how video game publishers and manufacturers do business. The impact of content creators on both YouTube and its partner in crime Twitch is so drastic that there is a strong chance YouTube will affect the outcome of game sales, and the proverbial war of console sales between Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Here’s how.
The way we play video games has dramatically changed over the past two generations; there’s online multiplayer, one-touch buttons for sharing gameplay, and other websites where we can upload our game information/stats/user data to compare our skills to people from Belgium to Beirut. The deciding factors determining what console we want to buy haven’t changed, however, the way we digest game content has.
Back in the day, unless you were “one of the rich kids” who could afford both consoles, you would choose between either a Sega or Nintendo as your gaming console of choice. What determined this decision? Sure maybe a commercial here and there, but it was primarily what your friends on the street were playing or thought was cool. You wanted to buy the console with the games that everyone on the block was playing; you didn’t want to be left out.
Today, YouTube is the cul-de-sac; it’s the street where you first get to hear and see what everyone is playing, and
where you get to share your greatest moments. Wouldn’t you know it, user-generated content by everyday gamers generate 19 times more views on YouTube than videos produced and published by game publishers. In 2013, for example, 95% of all video views for “Call of Duty” came from fans — only 5% came from Activision’s (the game’s publisher) official page.
Earned media, i.e. user-generated content, is the tail that wags the dog and game publishers know this; these numbers are no secret. Inevitably what this all means is that the response of a game on YouTube, the ability for content creators on this destination to share the content and create various forms of media around it will ultimately determine a video game’s or gaming console’s exposure. And in the gaming world, unlike any other industry…exposure is the number one factor driving sales.
Sony has gotten a head start on the current console war, outselling Microsoft’s new Xbox One by a couple million units. This is largely the fallout from negative advertising brought against Microsoft for the way it introduced its console in 2012. Where did this negative advertising originate? YouTube.
Where did Xbox’s programming director go to try and alleviate some of this hate? YouTube…specifically the living room of one of the most popular gaming YouTubers on the planet (at least in Arkansas).
No doubt YouTube and online marketing carries tremendous weight in the success of what games and consoles get sold (82% of game sales come in the first four months of a game’s release — when the majority of online content is created around a game). Online communities propagating from YouTube have replaced the traditional word of mouth that ruled your local neighborhood and once made your friend’s house the cool place to be. The games that are not only fun to play but are fun to watch and fun to create content around are ultimately what get sold.
The consoles that are able to discover these games, capitalize on the earned media being generated around them, and make these games exclusive to their device are what will inevitably win the proverbial console war. It’s not about the console anymore, it’s about the battle to control the communities around them.
Paul Nyhart was previously the host of Hulu’s longest running original series, The Morning After, and co-created and hosted Game Talk Live for Twitch.TV. He has over four years experience developing, producing, and hosting online content, syndicated/broadcast on IGN, MSN, Hulu, YouTube, and Twitch.
He writes about all things gaming, sports, politics and the culture of the online landscape. If you want proof you can follow him on twitter @PaulNyhart.