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Facebook and video gaming streaming. Is it for real?

you could summariseFacebook and video games streaming. Is it for real-Get ready! Your Facebook feed is about to be filled with streaming video games. Doesn’t that sound fun?

Facebook is betting that it does, and so is the gaming company Blizzard. They are the one behind titles like “World of Warcraft”, “Hearthstone”, and now their latest hit “Overwatch”. Blizzard has integrated the Facebook API into all of its games. Supposedly there is a “Go Live” button that you click and boom! You’re live streaming your game onto your timeline on Facebook.

You need to set your account details up ahead of time of course, but the idea is to make video game streaming on Facebook super easy to do. But will that be enough to get people – no, gamers – to actually stream their video games on Facebook?

A quick background

The people who play video games, called gamers, have been streaming for years on sites like YouTube. The gaming-only streaming site Twitch has over 100 million active monthly users. Approximately 2.1 million of them stream, the others are watchers.

In a short time, playing video games has gone from a hobby for kids (or delinquent adults), to an actual occupation or career path. The top YouTube gamers make millions of dollars per year playing video games. Thousands of others make a decent living (6-figure living).

Making money as a Twitch streamer is a bit more difficult. There is a process you need to follow to become a Twitch partner before you can turn on advertisements or use other means to get paid. But once you do, the top streamers report earnings of £4,000-6000 per month.

So video gaming is not just big in the popular sense, it’s also very big in the money sense. Both Facebook and Blizzard know this. But the question still remains whether streaming games this way will interest the gamers at all.

The problems they face

There are reportedly 650 million people who already play games on Facebook or “with” Facebook. Many games, particularly mobile ones, give the option to login with Facebook and will connect you with friends who play the same games. It is supposed to make them more social and fun.

But there’s a problem trying to take the existing gaming on Facebook and thinking that these other gamers will want to be on there too.

The first problem I see is demographics.

Most Twitch users are 18-24 years old, and are predominantly male – about 90% so. That’s one of the lowest demographics for Facebook (by age). There is certainly some overlap – but the average age of a “gamer” is reportedly in the mid-30s (I’ve found various numbers in this range).

But when it comes to video game streaming, it’s the younger generation that dominates.

The second problem I see is the concept itself. Gamers go where gamers are. Right now that means YouTube and Twitch. Both services have built a gamer community that not only provides a place to stream, but also a place for discovery of new games and new streamers.

Facebook hasn’t yet built that type of community. Making it easy to stream your game to your own timeline is kind of like a stream on Twitch or YouTube, but with a big difference.

When something is put on your timeline, your friends see it. And by friends that means everyone you’ve accepted requests from. That could mean your gaming buddies, but might also include your Mum, Dad, and your work colleagues.

Do you really want all of them seeing you play video games – especially if you do it a lot or perhaps on those days you call in “sick”?

They’ll know you see, because Facebook will announce to your friends list that you are on now, live, streaming your game. That’s how people will know to watch you.

So, what if you decide it’s best your Mum doesn’t know how often you play video games when she thinks you’re working hard? You just create a new Facebook account right? But then you have no friends and no one will see your stream.

That puts you back to the beginning trying to get people to accept a friend request to your new account.

The process feels awkward, and definitely not at all like the community Twitch has built.

Reactions

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m a gamer. I’ve been playing a long time. My kids play too (as well as stream), and I’m a member of several gaming groups – one of which is on Facebook. We have a closed group so we can chat about gaming, the industry, and who’s playing what without that information spilling out onto our “real life” timeline.

I posted a question in the group about how they felt about the prospect of streaming their games on Facebook. Most of the reactions include language I can’t post here. But you could summarise the group reaction as a very loud “No Way!”  Without exception, they considered their gaming life and their real life to be different things.

The average age of this group I’m in though, is probably higher than the average gamer. I don’t know exactly, but probably early 40s. Most of us are very aware of the privacy issues relating to Facebook and the apps (the games) that need permission to access your account. Perhaps we’re too suspicious, but we don’t trust Facebook enough to share our gaming. And we don’t think everyone we know needs to know about our gaming either.

The future

Perhaps my gaming community is an anomaly. Perhaps younger gamers will gravitate toward the largest social network on the planet in order to be seen by more people. There certainly is the potential for something huge, if Facebook can deliver more than just a “Go Live” button from some games (even hugely popular ones).

They need to build a way to discover gaming streams, to comment, and interact without having to become “friends” with everyone. Part of the allure, I think, of video game streaming is that it is completely anonymous, unless you choose it not to be. But the benefit of Facebook is that you are able to connect with real people and their real lives. That may be just too personal for many gamers.

Facebook is certainly “all-in” when it comes to video. Time will tell whether they can create a place for gamers that will rival Twitch, or even YouTube. They’ve certainly had some successes in the past, but also some failures.

Oliver Burt

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