Gaming videos giving passionate players a social leg up

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

The man wakes up early in the morning and boots up a video game to play. While playing, he simultaneously utters his unfettered feelings into a microphone to alert hundreds of thousands of young Japanese fans that he is online and ready to rock.

This is what Gatchman does for a living. The 36-year-old player, who refuses to disclose his real name but is widely known online by his screen name, boasts more than 130,000 followers on his Twitter account.

“It’s like playing sports in front of audiences,” he said. “Playing video games alone is surely fun. But what’s even more pleasing is when many people watch my games — the moment I become the center of attention.”

Many people think playing video games is a waste of time, and those obsessed with them tend to be viewed as antisocial geeks. But the proliferation of social media has made the activity more accessible and created a new culture that is acting a catalyst for faceless online communication — the type embraced by people who like to watch gamers live on the Internet or view videos of their performances.

Gatchman posted his first game video in 2008 to show his friends how to get through a first-person shooter, one of the most common types of video games. But his notable skills and comments won him legions of fans, pushing him to become one of most prominent figures on the Japanese gaming scene.

Some of his uploads to the video-sharing website Nico Nico Douga have logged more than 1 million views.

A tofu maker until 2012, Gatchman now works full-time as a player who, at the request of a game maker, produces videos of himself trying out new titles, similar to the “Let’s Play” videos spawned by gamers in the West.

It was a risky challenge for a man with a wife and a 5-year-old daughter. But being a long-time gamer, Gatchman was more fascinated by the job of conveying the fun of gaming through social media.

“Playing video games today is not just playing alone, but rather sharing the fun with many people through online . . . by watching the same thing together and talking about it,” he said.

As the culture of online gaming became more prominent, the business world started to acknowledge this as an opportunity to promote games to social media users, including non-gamers.

Nintendo Co. in January launched the Nintendo Creators Program, which allows people to post videos of their Nintendo escapades on YouTube with full authorization.

Video makers who join the program can receive part of YouTube’s advertisement revenue, which used to be given only to Nintendo, which holds the copyrights to the games.

“We acknowledge that (the emergence of video-sharing) is a sign that the way to enjoy video games is starting to become more and more diverse,” a Nintendo spokesman said via email, noting the company has actually hired a popular video creator to promote its titles.

Some companies also see this as a good chance to establish a new business model based on the video game industry.

In early April, CyberZ Inc., an affiliate of Internet ad company CyberAgent Inc., launched Openrec Studio, the first recording studio in the nation specializing in gaming videos, to offer players an environment where they can fully commit to the activity and help gamers network with the business world.

As more people began watching the videos in their spare time, game makers started eagerly looking for more people to create and share their conquests online as a new way to market new titles, said Takahiro Yamauchi, CyberZ’s CEO.

The trend has even prompted the Tokyo School of Anime, a vocational school for anime creators, to set up a course on how to become a popular video gamer.

Making money from gaming videos, however, often generates controversy in online forums.

“Some viewers criticize video gamers who have business contracts with companies as ‘money-mongers,’ ” Gatchman said. In his case, view counts for his videos dropped after he revealed signing a contract with a game maker.

People who profit from their online activities tend to be labeled as lazy in Japan, Yamauchi said, because they appear to be making money without much effort. But many makers of gaming videos work hard behind the scenes to entertain their viewers, he noted.

Many in Japan in fact are still prejudiced against video makers and even players in general, causing the market to lag those in the United States and South Korea, he said.

“Some people think video gaming is no more than a kids’ hobby in Japan,” Gatchman said, in contrast with countries where the activity has become akin to a sporting event with big prize money and frequent competitions.

This, however, implies that there is a chance for the Japanese market to develop further as smartphone apps encourage people to drop their prejudice against video games and draw in non-gamers, Yamauchi said.

“You don’t have to play a video game alone anymore . . . talk while playing, record your game, and then share it with others to enjoy the interaction,” Gatchman said.

“This is my life, and I’ll continue this job — the thing I love,” he said.

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