From Spectator to Star Player in the Press of a Button

The evolving world of streaming, sharing and spectating video gameplay lets players engage with content in exciting ways.

Parker Barry

The year was 1990. There I was, 10 years old with a killer side-spike, in the living room helping my dad point our family video camera at the TV. I needed to document what was about to happen. I hit the record button and picked up my Nintendo controller to capture one of my greatest childhood achievements — beating the end boss on Mega Man 3.

Sure, I was a bit of a fanatic. Why I ever thought someone would actually want to watch my 10-year-old self play video games is a mystery. But I knew I needed the ability to share and relive that moment.

Twenty-five years later, the idea of recording and watching gameplay is a little different. But that magical feeling you get when you share those memorable experiences with others is still there and stronger than ever.

Tools make sharing gameplay easier than ever

Live-streaming, recording and sharing gameplay isn’t exactly a new trend. A few famous videos I remember date back to 2006, just a year after the first YouTube video was uploaded. Today, there are thousands of channels and millions of people spending countless hours watching Let’s Play live-streams, video montages, game-review talk shows and more.

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But the recent explosion of popularity is somewhat new. Faster consoles and user-friendly editing and broadcast tools essentially brought watching and creating video game content beyond the technically savvy. From news about PewDiePie’s $7 million paycheck or even YouTube’s big push to become the leading provider, these new features and technology have opened the floodgates to basically turn video games into a spectator sport.

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A little something for everyone

At any given moment, consoles like PS4 and Xbox One offer live channel streams with everything from Minecraft builders giving exclusive tours of their giant castle creations to football fans re-enacting last year’s Superbowl matchup in Madden. You’ll see big events like Street Fighter competitions or community join-ups for “easter egg” hunting. Nearly every channel is filled with gamers and fans of all ages, from all over the world. Host personalities and awesome soundtracks build subscribers and keep viewers coming back for new videos.


Personally, aside from the occasional “funny moment” montage videos, I find a lot of value in taking a peek at live-streams featuring newly released games. Since usually I’m on the fence about buying a new game and I can’t stand overproduced (and sometimes biased) YouTube review videos, I find this is great way to see real footage and help decide if I need to own it or not.


Sports meets storytelling

You could make plenty of comparisons to watching sports in general.

  • Within each game, everyone has a common understanding of what the playing field is and knows what the standards of performance are.
  • Friends and foes are made over (virtual) high-fives, inside jokes and endless trash talk.
  • Unlike professional sports, you can mute anyone unruly or go from spectator to star player by just pressing the start button.

Competition can get heavy here with points and objectives, but each game still has its own unique story. Every human player you add to the equation adds a level of surprise and unpredictability within each adventure. Experiencing those unique moments together provides that same level of excitement and thrill you might get watching the Sunday game with friends.

Spectating can lead to deeper undertanding

It only takes a little passion before gamers start to seek out content and new ways to engage in their favorite titles. Spectating others’ play will lead to discovery and can build a deeper understanding of a game you’ve already put hours to. With open-world or sandbox style games, sharing or streaming becomes a “visit the world I’ve built” type of experience. There’s plenty to learn with all the creative minds out there when you just dive in.

As these games and play experiences become more complex — in both story and technology — streaming, sharing and gameplay spectating will continue to evolve and open up the world beyond just being a player. No side-spike required.


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