Gaming popular with players, watchers

Published On: Mar 02 2014 09:48:51 PM EST   Updated On: Mar 03 2014 06:20:00 AM EST

Videogame designer Katie Hallahan loves to play games herself, but she also loves to watch.

"You get attached to different personalities and you like the people who are essentially hosting these videos," she said.

Hallahan is not alone.  Gaming is now a popular spectator activity, with millions of people logging on to watch videos or live streams of their favorite players as they navigate games and provide commentary.

"It's become a new form of entertainment.  People who play games also enjoy going out there and watching the best or just the most interesting people play," explained Emmett Shear, founder and CEO of Twitch, a website that lets gamers live stream their play. "We've been seeing 45 million monthly unique viewers.  Per unique viewer per day that comes to the site they watch more than an hour a half of video."

And, YouTube is filled with videos of gamers. The most popular can actually earn a living posting their play for viewers like Hallahan.

"They get sponsorships or they're able to get a cut off the ads that show during their streams or their videos," she said.

So what is the draw?  Experts say just like watching professional sports, people want to watch the best players, and it's a good way to learn tricks to improve your own game.

"For games that involve more strategy obviously watching other people play can be very helpful cause you'll get new ideas or see things that work or don't work," said Hallahan.

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Richard Ryan studies video games, and says the psychological satisfaction watching games provides is different than if you're playing yourself.  

"Playing video games is a really satisfying thing to do," said Ryan. "They provide people satisfactions of competence because you can always feel like you're increasing in your skill, and they give people a sense of autonomy because there's a lot of choice and freedom in games.  Watching games is a social event so a lot of the satisfaction is just watching social interactions between other people and the, the humor and the exchanges that they have."

Ryan points out that watching games isn't as engaging as actually playing the games, so over-watching isn't as big a worry as over-using them, but there are concerns to watch for.

"When it's driving out relationships, when it's driving out other satisfactions then it's, then it's an issue. And that's when somebody should be concerned about it," Ryan explained.

Hallahan watches only a few hours a week, but she says like a good sports game, sometimes the videos can draw her in.

"Sometimes it can be tough to walk away. Mostly if, you know, they're at a really intense part of the game, or towards the end," she said.

As for how much watching games has exploded in popularity, Major League Gaming, which streams professional competitive play online, says it has seen 600% growth in its audience in the past three years, and they've got 9 million registered users around the world.