A bit of news today has been that of Steam hitting a record nine million concurrent users. Data on concurrent Xbox Live and PlayStation Network users is tough to find (I only know that XBL hit 2 million in 2009), but nine million is not an insignificant market, neither is 76 million active accounts.
What I’m interested in right now though is the event that actually pushed Steam to its new record. It’s something basically no other game platform is doing, and I wonder if Valve is charting the future again.
From what I gather, there was a recent Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament that ended in an unusually exciting finale, drawing the viewers to bolster Steam’s numbers. A simple tournament for a Valve game doesn’t do this entirely through participants, but through viewers watching the tournament in the game client. I understand this is a big thing now with CS and DOTA 2, but console games are only just beginning to scratch the surface of mass in-client spectating.
What CS is doing DOTA 2 already takes to another level in how Valve monetizes that game’s tournaments. If you don’t know, Valve offers a microtransaction that basically amounts to an enhanced ticket or pay-per-view sale. It gives viewers all kinds of extra incentives and unlockables for the game. It’s pretty much the forefront of monetizing both e-sports and free-to-play games.
Console games like Halo and Call of Duty have tried to incorporate e-sports into their clients, but you never hear about massive tournaments watched en-massed through Xboxes, bolstering the number of Xbox Live users. Fighting games are arguably the most competitively played console games right now, and today they do commonly support spectating, but not at the scale we’re talking about here. Capcom hasn’t designed Street Fighter so millions of people could watch Evo matches by simply booting up the game (or heck, what about advertising tournaments in-game?).
I guess a big reason for the discrepancy is the most popular competitive gaming competitions mostly happening on PC right now. A lot of that is due to how console games are produced which is a whole other discussion really.
Changes are starting to happen in console operating systems though. Both Xbox and PlayStation are now centered around watching other people play games through Twitch. We just haven’t reached a point yet where console games are designed to accommodate mass competitive events. They support online events sure, but not with the kind of viewership and participation that stands toe-to-toe with pro golf.
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