Play video games for a living? TwitchTV is making it happen

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(CBS) - Mothers, go ahead and let your kids play video games. They just might be able to make a career out of it. The video game streaming website TwitchTV is the phenomenon you've probably never heard of.

Launched in June 2011 by the folks at the video streaming site Justin.tv, the site garnered over 8 million viewers in its first few months.

So, how can you make a living playing video games?

TwitchTV's has a revenue-sharing business model. Meaning, you get paid based on views. More views equals more money.

"We see these professional teams that actually pay a salary to their players based on the time that they stream," TwitchTV host and producer Marcus "djWHEAT" Graham told me over the phone.

"There are probably players that made six figures last year. Hundreds made five figures last year."

Those are impressive numbers if you consider how many hours are spent playing video games for free. But, don't think you can just plug in and see the cash roll in.

TwitchTV
A typical channel on TwitchTV
TwitchTV

Graham described a typical day in his life and it's more than just playing games. Between working his regular job at TwitchTV, the host and producer spends an additional two-to-three hours streaming and promoting his shows.

"Not everyone making money are cream of the crop gamers, but they're great entertainers," Graham said.

Is it just a fad or here to stay?

"Some will call it a fad, but I call it a dawn of a web 3.0.," Graham said. "Live streaming hasn't just taken over the Internet, it's taken my personal lifestyle by storm. Not only do I make a living off of live streaming, but I see an increase in individuals doing that around me."

It's not a phenomenon that's exclusive to TwitchTV. With evolving camera and video technology, more people are broadcasting their lives on sites like Jusin.tv, ustream.tv or Livestream.

Last summer, a family of Bald Eagles called the Decorah Eagles captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers. A recent view count of the channel is 214 million.

TwitchTV
Live streaming menu organized by video games
TwitchTV

When I spoke to Justin Kan, co-founder of Justin.tv and the original "lifecaster," he likened the phenomenon on TwitchTV to sports casting.

Kan pointed out that people tune into sports casts to hear commentary and opinions on strategy or gameplay. In a country like South Korea, where the video game StarCraft II is like a national sport, millions tune in to watch tournaments. Game casters add to the excitement of an event by bringing a narrative, much like in sports.

In 2007, Kan and his partners Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt launched Justin.tv, which was just a web camera attached to Kan's head. During the 8-month period, Kan popularized the term "lifecasting."

What's in store for gamers?

TwitchTV also created a niche market for promoting video games.

"When suddenly someone has the opportunity to see the upcoming Modern Warfare game, being played multi-player by the developers, that is opening new markets, not just for marketing but for the audience perspective," said Graham.

For a video game lover, like myself, the site is addictive. Not only do I get to see games that I'm interested in before deciding to buy, but also get to watch how other people play.

Whether or not a site like TwitchTV will truly create a new job market for gamers remains to be seen. But, you can't deny they're off to a running start.

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