Video Game Tournaments Point To Future Mass Medium

Back when details of the Xbox 360 first started leaking out, one of the rumors suggested that the next-gen video game console would include an "audience" mode for its Xbox Live online service.

Too bad it was just a rumor. The rumor rang true because it makes perfect financial sense.

Why, after all, did Microsoft get into the video game business? Because it posed a threat to their plan to make their franchise, the Windows operating system, the engine of the home entertainment system. The Xbox 360 will be able to communicate with Windows XP Media Center. Video games are also, happily for Microsoft, an increasingly lucrative new market in which to compete, so they are not simply defending their existing dominance of the operating system market, but creating another cash cow in this new market.

By placing themselves in the middle of the home entertainment infrastructure of the future, Microsoft could not only dominate the interactive entertinment market, but create a new medium that strongly resembles the television model: A mass market passive entertainment format.

An audience mode could potentially turn video games into a mass market passive entertainment medium that could be a mass advertising vehicle that rivals television.

A recent Associated Press story illustrates that potential.

The story reports that video game tournments–events where games meet in massive numbers to compete against one another–are becoming so popular that organizers say they are becoming the next spectator sport: "Only about 4,000 spectators showed up at the Hammerstein [event in New York], organizers said, but more than 63,000 followed the games live on the Web," the story reports.

Given the popularity of the National Football League, it takes little imagination that it’s virtual equivalent could garner mass spectator appeal. Games such as Halo and Halo 2 are built specifically to take advantage of online competition. It’s not a stretch to imagine Halo enthusiasts paying for a pay-per-view event of competition among the top 10 Halo gamers.

I think it’s only a matter of time before the video game industry figures out that they can cash in on not just gamers, but the audience their competition can create.

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