Are Streams the New American Dreams ?

By Chris Myers

Video games are a thriving industry. Video game consoles and PCs are as common in households as toasters and microwaves. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the video game industry pulls in tens of billions of dollars per year in revenue, which continues to increase as the cost of gaming rises. However, the video game industry is not alone in making money. Video game consumers have established a means of cashing in on these sales merely by playing the games they purchase.

Through a live streaming video platform known as twitch.tv, simply referred to as Twitch, gamers are able to broadcast their gameplay to the public. The setup is free. Anyone interested in live streaming their gameplay creates a profile and channel through the twitch.tv site or app and joins their Twitch account with their gaming source. As Twitch streamers gain popularity, they increase their chances to earn money. How much money? Enough to turn playing video games into a full-time job if they have the dedication.

There are several ways in which streamers are able earn money. Two of the more common means are through advertisements and donations. Yes, donations. Twitch channel viewers regularly submit donations through the site in support of the broadcasters they follow. Though common donations range from $1 to $50, some of the more popular streamers make upwards of $1500 per month from donations alone. The most financially successful streamers on Twitch are partners with the company. Besides donations and advertising, Twitch partners gain a significant amount of their income through subscribers. A subscription costs $5, which Twitch splits, paying the streaming partner $2. However, to apply for partnership one must average at least 500 simultaneous views per broadcast at least three days per week. YouTube broadcasters who average at least 15,000 views per video with at least 100,000 subscribers are also considered. So, in order to really make profit, popularity is a must. Nonetheless, there are numerous ways to make a profit outside of partnership, such as selling t-shirts on which your gaming logo is printed. Again, this brings up the question of just how much money can be made.

Twitch averages over 100 million viewers each month, according the Wall Street Journal. In its 4 years of existence, Twitch managed to become the fourth largest source of internet traffic in the United States. The game streaming market is growing so rapidly that Amazon.com paid nearly $1 billion to acquire Twitch. With an already large and ever growing viewer base, there is a lot of financial opportunity for companies and streamers alike. Although Twitch does not release the financial statistics behind streaming, several top streamers have been interviewed providing some insight into just how much some people are being paid to play. Taking into account every component of their gaming income, some streamers estimate their incomes at over $200,000 per year.

Is it morally and ethically appropriate to accept donations just for playing video games? Perhaps the better question is whether it is morally and ethically acceptable to donate money to gamers. I believe the answer is yes. I feel that these streamers are providing a form of entertainment to an audience. Many viewers donate and subscribe for advice while others donate as fans. These donations are no different than tips paid to anyone else performing a service. Besides, what is the difference between paying to watch a video game match and paying for a pay-per-view mixed martial arts match?

There is a lot that can be said about today’s gamers. While some casually spend time entertaining themselves others appear to be addicts. However gamers are perceived, more and more are training themselves in a future career, whether purposefully or inadvertently. With such a large amount of viewers and broadcasters and an equally large fan base it is only a matter of time before gaming is publicly regarded as a sport. We may someday see video game broadcasts right alongside poker on ESPN. Afterall, streamers have adoring fans, they sell merchandise, they compete against one another in front of large audiences and they are being paid based on their popularity. So, the next individual you see intensely sweating over a keyboard or holding a controller with cool ranch stained fingertips could be the next top athlete, which is great by me.