At one point in time, not too long ago, many people believed video games were played only by the socially challenged. You know the stereotype—awkward geeky youth with unusual ways of thinking and dressing, etc. This myth was perpetuated by the mainstream media with its almost incessant references to twenty-something losers living in their parent's dark basements playing video games all day.
Well, those misguided stereotypes are over!
In 2017, there are more than 2.2 billion video gamers in the world and the numbers grow every year. And to further dispel the stereotypes, those gamers are not lonely, geeky, or socially inept. They are just boring everyday people. In some ways, the geeks, and their unusual ways, are now just the mainstream.
However, many people complement their mainstream life with an active and satisfying social life online through virtual communities made up of liked-minded individuals. These online virtual communities create a huge and lucrative market for a platform to run and manage this activity.
Of course, this huge market, and the billions of dollars up for grabs, has drawn the attention of many high-profile technology companies. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Valve, among others, are all vying to be the company that provides the infrastructure necessary to create the best social gaming experience. Microsoft's foray into this market is called Mixer.
Into the mix
If you are unfamiliar with Mixer, it may be because up until May 2017 the name of the service was Beam. Microsoft purchased Beam in 2016 to give the company a kickstart into the video game streaming service market, with the primary competition coming from Amazon's Twitch and Google's YouTube Gaming.
For many of you, this may be difficult to comprehend at first, but a video game streaming service does exactly what it says: It provides a virtual platform that customers can use to watch other people play video games.
But there is much more to it than that. The platform also provides the foundational infrastructure for interaction and community building. Hosts playing the game can interact with viewers and vice versa. Not only that, but viewers can interact with each other, forming a community around a host, a game, or an event. All of this interaction and commonality of purpose creates a satisfying social experience for millions upon millions of customers.
From Microsoft's perspective, that means millions upon millions of engaged customers from the younger demographic spending hours upon hours on its platform. And when you add in the fact that Mixer will be an integral part of both Windows 10 and the Xbox, you can understand why Microsoft is salivating over the potential business possibilities.
According to Amazon, Twitch has 9.7 million daily active users and more than 2 million unique streamers per month. Google's YouTube Gaming probably has similar numbers. So while this may be a nascent market, it is also a very competitive market. Microsoft must execute to near perfection if it hopes to carve out its niche in the landscape.
Microsoft Mixer plans to distinguish itself by creating a platform that is technologically superior. When it comes to viewer interactivity and community building, Mixer plans to stand head and shoulders above the competition. By decreasing lag times and adding real-time cooperative play, for example, Mixer wants to bring the social experience to the forefront, generating more opportunity for community involvement. That sounds like a winning strategy, albeit an ambitious one.
But Microsoft really has no choice because there can be no doubt this is where video gaming is heading. Gaming is not (and never really was) a solitary endeavor as many have tried to paint it, but a virtual social experience. Providing the platform that makes that social experience possible should be an extremely lucrative business—a lucrative business that is crowded but still up for grabs.
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Would you watch someone else play a video game for hours at a time? What if your friends were watching with you—would that change things? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.