Twitch: Amazon recently acquired the online video service for $970 million
Twitch: Amazon recently acquired the online video service for $970 million
A view from Jason Kingsley

Media Owners take games into their own hands

A new generation of gamers is sharing and viewing content in ways that have caught the attention of media owners. But can they harness these trends to grow their businesses? Jason Kingsley OBE, chief executive of games maker Rebellion shares his thoughts.

The news that Buzzfeed is getting into games development won't come as a surprise to many in the gaming world. After all, if all the cool kids are sharing their Sniper Elite bullet cam kill feeds, it's only a matter of time before the kid who writes endless lists wants a piece of the action.

I jest of course. But it is extremely interesting that behavioural trends among gamers have finally caught the attention of companies who believe they can harness these trends to grow their businesses.

Take Amazon for example. At the end of August, it agreed to pay $970 million to acquire Twitch, a service that lets users watch and broadcast video game play.

That's right – each month millions of people tune into Twitch to actually watch strangers play video games. The production qualities of games are now so lifelike, that vast numbers of people are choosing to view the medium instead of watching television or going out to the cinema.

We've seen it here at Rebellion. In fact, I was speaking to a friend who works in television recently and I asked him how many people watched his recent production that cost £500,000 to make.

He told me a number and I asked him if he’d be horrified to learn that 1.7 million people (four times the number that had seen his programme) had tuned in, just to watch four guys multi-play one of our titles over the course of a single weekend.

This shift in behaviour is creating a whole new area of distributed media. Driven by the YouTube generation of millennials, it has the potential to completely alter what we thought we knew about the way traditional media works.

I therefore applaud Amazon for being in touch with the way this generation is choosing to consume and share media. However, I also offer a word of caution for what is an extremely high-risk acquisition.

We’ve all seen it – acquisitions that have burst the trend bubble and turned a soufflé of an idea into little more than a quiche, still with the same ingredients, but lacking in grandeur and excitement. Two years ago, Zynga spent $200 million on buying OMGPOP in a deal that was completed in record time.

The Draw Something studio app hit a 15 million user peak a few days after the deal was signed and then basically fell off a cliff, losing five million daily active users over the next month.

The game just stopped being cool under its new owner and any attempts to sell advertisers in as the words to be drawn, just made it an even bigger turn-off.

If Amazon has plans to monetise Twitch, then it should take heed and remember to put the needs of the user first. These millennial gamers are a cynical lot and don't like to feel that they're being overtly manipulated by advertising. One wrong move and this generation will find another outlet for game play viewing.

As for Buzzfeed? Well, anything that drives gamification as a respected media channel has to have a positive knock-on effect for our industry. As I understand it, Buzzfeed intends to react to current affairs by producing simple and topical games in the hope that some will turn into crazes.

Predicting what will turn into a craze and what will disappear without trace is akin to trying to analyse the 100-foot waves that sometimes appear in blue skies and calm seas. There's no easy way to predict it, it just happens.

Buzzfeed has ridden the 100-foot wave of shareable content for some time now and is perhaps staring out onto calmer waters. At least Buzzfeed is developing its own games and steering its own ship. Those that throw huge sums of "hope equity" at trying to buy up the next big thing, rarely see their investment go the way they'd planned.  

Jason Kingsley OBE is chief executive of Rebellion