500 million people are watching videos of video games

Hard at work.
Hard at work.
Image: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier
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Felix Kjellberg is a 25-year-old Swedish man who made $7 million last year playing video games. Known on YouTube at PewDiePie, Kjellberg records videos of himself playing video games and uploads them to his channel, which has nearly 38 million subscribers. By contrast, Taylor Swift’s YouTube channel has 15 million. Kanye West’s has fewer than 2 million.

Kjellberg is the public face of a vast, yet largely unknown business: video content about video games, which market research firm SuperData estimates is worth $3.8 billion globally today. SuperData reckons that nearly half a billion people are watching gaming content. Some 125 million of those are in the US alone.

“Gaming video content” is a broad church, ranging from official trailers posted by game companies to walkthroughs by the likes of PewDiePie. It also includes reviews, a form of competitive gaming called eSports, and livestreams—where players broadcast the games they’re playing as they’re playing them, as seen on Twitch, bought for almost $1 billion by Amazon last year as the next YouTube.

Watching other people play video games is popular in the same way as watching other people play soccer: for leisure and fun. Though video-game viewers also learn and pick up tips to improve their own performance.

The big chunk of this market is in the United States and Europe, and the vast majority of money lies in advertising and subscriptions around the content. PewDiePie is proof of just how profitable video game content can be.

Perhaps most notable about gaming video content is that while publishers rely on advertising for the bulk of their revenues, they also make substantial amounts from recurring subscriptions and one-off donations. “More than half of viewers donate almost $5 a month to content creators and 44% pay for a subscription,” according to SuperData. “Regular subscribers on average spend $21 each month on paid content.”

And huge donations are not unheard of: last year, a gaming streamer named KittyPlays unexpectedly received a donation of nearly $7,000.