HomeEditorialsVideo Game Live Streaming: An Overview

Video Game Live Streaming: An Overview

Live streaming video games is when individuals send out footage of a video game being played for others on the internet to watch. This often also involves showing the player’s face and voice to capture their reactions to what’s happening in the game. The concept first appeared in 2010 and has now grown to be one of the largest industries in the country. Originally used for sharing a tournament with other fans not at the event or purely gameplay, the platform has evolved into a much more interactive experience. The person displaying their gameplay, the streamer, is simultaneously playing a video game, reacting to the game, and interacting with a chat tool that lets viewers communicate with the streamer. Technological advancements have made it so that the stability of the streamer’s connection, the quality of their video/audio, and the proliferation of hardware/software have made live streaming accessible to the average individual.

Popular Platforms

There are many websites that host users who want to stream themselves and their gameplay to others. The most popular site by a wide margin is Twitch.tv which in 2020 reported roughly 41.5 million Twitch users in the United States alone. But there are competitors who hold other, albeit smaller, pieces of the live streaming pie. Youtube Gaming, Facebook Gaming, Periscope, etc. Choosing which site to stream on is a matter of preference.

How It Works

Let’s say you wanted to start live streaming your gaming sessions. Where would you start? There’s several things you’ll need to decide from the get go:

  1. What game(s) do you want to stream? Pick your favorite game, or a new one that people are excited to watch. There’s no wrong answer here.
  2. What site do you want to stream on? Like it was previously mentioned, the most popular site is Twitch, so that may be a good place to start.
  3. What equipment do you need to stream your specific game? The answer to this can vary greatly by the nature of what you’re trying to stream. Streaming the gameplay directly from your computer is pretty straightforward in that you don’t have to do much setup. Consoles usually require more setup, sometimes a specific device to get it to work. For example, retro consoles require finding the right cables to convert the TV signal into a digital one that can be filmed. The average computer now has a webcam and microphone built into it these days, which can cover your basic needs to record yourself as part of the stream. The bridge between the gameplay footage and your Twitch stream is what software to use to record the video and audio. Popular options include OBS and StreamLabs. These software options let people manage their stream. This includes the graphic overlay that helps structure the look of their live stream, transitional slides as they change cameras, tools to manage the stream’s chat, etc.
  4. Do you want to do it as a hobby, or to make money? While the most popular streamers are millionaires, the majority of users are not so lucky. Many people use live streaming as a source of side income. A desire to make money using this platform requires several points of consideration. How niche your game is affects the potential amount of viewers. One important thing to consider is just how difficult it can be to shift your attention rapidly between gaming, the chat, and managing the stream itself. 

Money, Money, Money

Streamers make money from their live streams via a couple different methods. Once a streamer reaches a certain level of metrics, they have the option to then run advertisements put on by the hosting website. They also incentivize their viewers and fans by displaying or discussing “sub goals.” Viewers can pay an average price of $5 to subscribe to a given stream for a month. This subscription is incentivized with individual emotes provided by the streamer, by the streamer themselves offering to answer their question, or sometimes by offering to fulfill a promise. These sub goals range from benign to absurd. Fans naturally want to pay their favorite streamers to show gratitude and encourage more content from them. They also will sometimes offer a link to accept direct donations of any dollar amount.

Why Are People Watching?

If you’re not much of an avid gamer yourself, it can be difficult to understand just why streaming video games is so popular. Some people cannot stand playing video games, let alone watching someone else play them. There are several factors that contribute to the growing success of this industry. The younger generations, especially millennials and “zoomers”, often grew up playing video games. This led to a greater cultural acceptance of streaming. The most successful live streamers are typically very skilled at a particular game and/or have a very charismatic, engaging personality, with several gadgets to support their career, from flagship monitors, strong computers and peripherals up to quirky hand warmers. This person is usually one individual sharing their gameplay, thoughts, and feelings to an audience of potentially thousands of people. Streaming almost always involves interacting with their viewers, much like a musician at a concert would to get the crowd excited. In the same way, viewers are attracted to watch because they either are fans of the gameplay, or they enjoy the excitement of witnessing a live event along with a potentially large “mob” of other chatters. This shared experience drives a lot of the desire for viewers to return for future streams.

Choose Your Own Adventure

The amazing thing about live streaming video games is the sheer diversity in content. While the majority of content is about displaying gameplay versus more social content, the context of what that gameplay is can differ multitudinously. Even within one specific video game title, multiple sub-communities can exist. A great example of this is speedrunning, where gamers compete to finish their game of choice in the fastest time possible. People find different aspects of a given game interesting, which results in a variety of ways to share a game with an audience. It’s a combination of the streamer’s personality and the specific game they’re playing that can result in a completely unique experience for the viewer.