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Is becoming a game player and twitch streamer a 'real career'? And what does Fortnight have to do with our classrooms?

Friends, 

In my current Developmental English class, I am working with students as they move through college and I am continually amazed by the number of students who want to be game players. They are not interested in developing computer games, but desire to earn a living as a professional game or twitch streamer. A professional game player would compete in video game tournaments for prize money. I've been teaching for a number of years and this is not a new concept, but it is now becoming more mainstream. A twitch streamer is  a person who receives a commission on games they are playing which they live stream. The popular game Fortnight has brought this conversation to the forefront with parents paying up to $35.00 an hour for children to receive coaching on this popular game.  Yet, educator's across the country are lamenting the classroom distraction caused by Fortnight as it becomes a new cultural phenomenon.

What does all of this mean for the adult education classroom? How do we prepare teachers to address cultural trends in the classroom? And how do we guide students toward a more realistic career choice? We've discussed using online games such as Minecraft in the classroom?  Is this different that the use of games like Fortnight, which is a game based on survival through battles? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sincerely, 
Kathy Tracey

Comments

Edward Latham's picture

For the record, I play more games (digital and non digital) than most adults feel I probably should. I have studied games, gaming trends and have constantly been thinking about ways to better leverage the attraction of games to teach youth and adults. In my experience, I seem to hit a wall or more appropriately  a gap. Education has goals and content that has "worked" for so many generations it is not surprising to find that a majority of teachers feel quite supportive of current standards and goals. In contrast, on the other side of the gap, there are many outside of education that lament a lack of ability in people to flexibly think, to problem solve, or to creatively construct unique ideas or prospective. Graduates of our systems have shared that many of the "stuff" they learn about does not directly help them find or keep employment.  Further, academics will promote that educational conquest increase employment opportunities (based on data that is often 3 or more years behind) while recent graduates from colleges continue to struggle to get into initial placements in their chosen professions (outside the major degrees like medical or some STEM). These gaps have encouraged people to try to develop other ways to creatively provide income. 

Making money off of game play is not a new thing. Almost 20 years ago, a card game called Magic the Gathering became so popular around the world that million dollar world championships were created and national and regional contests all offered money as well. Back then, people would drop out of college or even quit existing jobs to become professional gamers. With that in mind, it is not shocking that digital games are going through a similar competitive sporting shift. The players that are really good at these games have highly trained and practiced skills that very few of the normal population has. In fact, digital gaming has become a sort of an ongoing international Olympics with players having financial sponsors and many companies making a killing on advertising. Make no mistake, there is much money in gaming today for those willing to train and become professional digital gamers (provided they have some skills of course). 

Another element of this has to do with entertainment. When the radio became "the thing", families from all over would come to the one house that had a radio to listen to nightly programs together. Television experience then became even more of a nightly entertainment event that was available to many. Today, people have started shifting to watching game experiences as a form of entertainment. Some games have such incredible story lines being written by talented authors.  Unlike television entertainment, the video games allow for choices that impact the nature of the story. Since every player will take different choices and paths in any given story line, people watch gamers play to see what that player's unique experience within a popular story line is like. Even in shot-em-up type games, the choices individuals make in terms of character development, logistical choices, team tactics and individual's reactions to events all make for entertainment for many viewers today. More and more, the viewing of game play is replacing the viewing hours of television and movies. With so many watching, there is much money to be made.

Yet another element has to do with is the economic reality of people that stream their game play. In almost any streaming network , like Twitch, Youtube, and others, when a streamer gets to thresholds of viewers and subscribers (people that sign up to get notifications when the streamer goes live), the streamer gets to a status called Sponsored. This puts the streamer on the economic map where advertisers and game developers start to throw money, games and merchandise at the streamer simply to promote products and for the streamer to offer perspectives or reviews on their product that often help sales of the game being played. All of these streamers are interacting with the audience that is watching in real time. As the steamer is playing, he or she is also reading a constantly scrolling text chat list from their viewers. How a streamer professionally interacts with his or her audience goes a long way in increasing the level of Sponsorship and viewership the streamer has. I have helped 5 young people become professional streamers. Two of these individuals would be people we typically would say lack soft skills, but their work on starting up their stream to get Sponsorship forced the individuals to become aware of what soft skills were missing and what needed to be improved. Viewing audiences do not tip toe around issues and are often brutally frank if something needs to be fixed or improved. This can be quite a contrast to educational experiences in that potential negative feedback the person receives is perceived differently. Streamers can react to feedback or not, if they don't, their viewership often declines and their opportunities to grow sponsors decreases. Streamers can directly see the negative effects in real time during their show and can react and even address the issues with the audience right in that moment. We don't really have an equivalent in education. 

A note about Twitch, it is not just for gamers. Artists of all sorts also have live streams on Twitch with their audience and they are raking in nice money. One brother and sister I watch both graduated from high school and went on to have careers in the business world. Both were unsatisfied and felt underpaid and under appreciated. Since the two came from a family that always was musical, the two decided to quit their jobs and start streaming music together. They were not a hit musically at first, but their interaction and entertainment value when they started were very high. Viewers would tune in daily for 3 hours and listen and watch to them playing all manner of songs and instruments. The couple would often stop, go back a stanza and fix something they did not like and fans would offer advice along the way. Viewers actually become part of the growth process and as the couple started to produce albums, viewers could point to a song lyric or rhythm they suggested and feel they were a part of that success. Oh, it is not about just cutting album either.

During a stream, game or artist, viewers often offer financial tips called bits. These are analogous to $1 donations and it is not unusual for viewers to often throw 10-20 bits at streamers they enjoy on a frequent basis. Additionally, people can subscribe financially to streamers. These are monthly donations of set amounts which are usually in $5 increments. Of course single donations are also accepted and streamers I have watched have ALL received a $100 or more donation at least once. That couple playing music, I started counting how much was donated or subscribed every 3 hour show they did each day of the week. I tracked this for 3 weeks. In that time, they AVERAGED $500 per day. Let me remind you that streaming is free. The streaming service will take a cut of the donations (10-30% depending on volume, sponsorship, and other factors) and of course taxes need to be paid to IRS. Still, they make this much every day for 3 hours of work online entertaining people while they publicly work to better their craft. This does not account for the advertising these two people (now in their early 30s) are getting due to the hundreds of thousands of followers they have daily. They do this by the way, in their living room, or kitchen and are often in bumming around clothes like you or I would wear around the house on the weekend. 

For most of us that are over 40, there is much ignorance about this form of entertainment and employment opportunity. We don't know how people start up,  we don't know what is needed to do well, we don't know any of technical skills needed to set up fan websites or how to manage one hundred thousand fans all typing things at us while the streamer is performing. In spite of our ignorance, the world of gaming as either a competitive sport or as a form of entertainment is a very real career field.

When I think about our academic goals skills we try to impart upon learners and I compare those skills to those needed for successful streamers, I can understand why learners interested in streaming or gaming might feel a disconnect. As I mentioned, soft skills are a must if entertainment is the goal. That is an easy tie in we can use.  Gamers and entertainment streamers both need a personality that people can find entertaining. We can help learners develop that personality or online persona. This may look alot like drama type exercises, but they will help with the form of communication learners need when streaming. That does not mean persona's have to be all flowers and polite and such. Some streamers or gamers are downright publicly unacceptable in their language and approaches and yet their character is good enough that people look past those missing skills. Heck, sometimes it is that rough attitude or approach that increases viewers. 

Perhaps we may all benefit from checking out 20 or so twitch streams and sharing what we find or what our perspectives were. Try some of the games, try some of the arts stuff (they are under IRL and Creative topics in the Browse page). You may see some horrible streams, you may find some gems. As you explore, look for some of the following: 

How many followers do they have? If it is in the high hundreds, thousands or even more, there is something in that stream the public values. Can you see what that might be?

Do they have ads or any blatant advertisement in or around their stream page? If so companies see value in this stream and are paying the person to carry these ads. Why might this be?

Did you enjoy the persona presented? If so why? If you did not, can you pinpoint what it was that turned you off?

Finnally, keep an eye out for subscriptions (called Subs, or if they are renewing the subscription they are called ReSubs), thanks for bits, and donations. Try to keep track how much money is getting thrown at the subscriber during the time you are watching. 

 

To help you I offer links to some streams you might find are different from each other. NOTE: many streamers have intro music and downtime so you may have to scroll ahead in the recorded videos in their library to see their recordings if they are not live when you check on the links below. 

MeeMaw: A lady that uses facial software called FaceRig to have her appear as a cat as she plays games. Scroll to 8:10 mark for the start of a recorded show

CothCarnage: A super popular gamer that has thousands of recorded shows. If he is not live when you check out his page, click on Videos at the top of his page to see any of his thousands of videos.

ChewieMelodies: This guy listens to audio clips people share with him and then he composes a complete song around that clip right there on the spot! If he is not live, be sure to click on Videos at the top of his page to see one of his recordings. 

A_couple_streams: 9:55 mark starts a recording of their show. This is a couple sharing their love of music with fans. 

Vicki Sexton's picture

Edward,

You have given me a great deal to absorb! I enjoyed reading and learning from your perspective as a game player. For those of us who have not discovered the love and joy of gaming, we have a lot to learn about the skill sets that are required to be successful in the games and how those skills relate to successful work skills and academic skills. My mind is now racing with how a gamer can create games from ideas that incorporate more mathematical application along with life choice decision in a gaming setting to successfully teach GED students who grew frustrated with the lecture type classroom setting. 

My research will now include more gaming opportunities for my student's lab time. Thank you!

Alecia Ohm's picture

I find that games involve hidden skills that are transferrable to other areas of life. Teamwork, navigation, and problem-solving are a few that come to mind. Overall I see games in the classroom as a mix of digital literacy and entertainment. Can games be distracting? Yes, especially if it's the "newest thing" and players are competing. But I see this as a challenge that teachers can harness. If students are playing Fortnight in class, why not incorporate that into the lesson? For instance, if math is involved you could have them tabulate the number of times survived until the end of a round. If they haven't made it through any rounds, maybe break them into small groups and have them discuss their strategies to playing the game. 

And on the career note, while some may not see professional gaming as a sport it does allow people to earn money and build an online presence. Ed's already provided some great examples. The act of building a follower base, setting up a website, and even using a webcam (as the example from MeeMaw player demonstrates) are valuable digital literacy skills to employers.

Kathy_Tracey's picture

Hi all, 

I have to admit, Ed's post gave me a lot to think about. Originally, I viewed twitch streaming as a crazy idea. After all, a person doesn't enter any form of sustainable career pathway that will provide sustainability. Or so I believed until Ed's articulate examples.However, we are now talking about  more than teaching academic content using games, but rather - building skills in entrepreneurship, and using gaming and twitch streaming as examples of how to enter the gig economy. From this point, we can teach skills such as marketing, budgeting, establishing long term business goals, communicating, and of course using/integrating technology. 

Now, about teaching with web based multi-player games. I agree with these broad concepts and Minecraft is certainly an example of this collaboration and critical thinking skills, and while Fortnight has certainly become wildly popular, it is an online shooter game. So, do we simply recognize the value of online games and the examples of successful twitch streamers and gamers who play in tournaments? Should our classrooms allow all types of games, or do we draw a line in the sand about games that are considered violent? And if so, how do we make these distinctions? 

We know that we need to meet students where they are and capitalize on their interests to engage them in the academic preparation, but where do we (or even, do/should we) say no? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Sincerely, 
Kathy 

Edward Latham's picture

Good day Kathy and all, 

Just a couple thoughts to add into the conversation.

Back in 2008, there was some efforts to explore what the business world thought of youth and adults pumping in thousands of hours into online game play. Interestingly, many of these explorations found that many attributes that businesses wanted in candidates were being found in people playing these games. One article that highlights leadership findings is shared here. At that time, games like Fortnight were not really available. There were games like Halo that were popular. Although Halo was extremely popular at the time, players could only play if they had a Microsoft Xbox. The big innovation with today's shooters is that they are accessible from any console, computer, tablet and even phones and all those devices can play together in the same combat worlds. The field became more accessible to all. Now that we have game titles that span all the available hardware, the focus has been on what is it that draws in people and keeps them hooked. The simple answer is Loot Boxes. In almost every game that is popular today, players continue to pour in hours to get randomly dropped loot boxes. These are little packages that carry random equipment and weapons that players can then use to customize their game experience. With hundreds, if not thousands of types of equipment available in these loot boxes, it is an interesting study to see how people mix and match items to create the flavor of play style they prefer. Heck, some players change their style up weekly just to try something new. So there is the anticipation of "What's in the next loot box/" combined with the ability to almost endlessly customize the play style that keep these games so viable for so long. 

Beyond that, I think we might benefit from stepping back from analyzing the types of games people are engaged in and focus on, "What are you here for?" when conversing with our learners. If learners are showing up to our educational settings simply to have access to hardware and internet access that is decent so they can play games they enjoy more, well then their purpose for being with us is misplaced and the "No!" hammer needs to fall as needed. If a learner can creatively integrate game play into developing specific skills needed, then I think it is up to the flexibility of the instructor and of the educational organization as to whether the proposal is acceptable. Notice I did not say the game play, I focused on the proposal of how the game play would enhance the learners's goals. Here are some examples that we may all think about as possible "acceptable" proposals:

  • I want to compare and contrast my game scores with two different strategies. In strategy A I want to just grab the first weapon I can get and go after people with it. In strategy B I want to just go after loot until I get weapon X and then I will go after whomever is around at that time. I will play 10 quick games using each strategy and I will chart how long my game lasted and what my point total was for each of the 20 games. After that I will graph each to make my judgement and, if necessary write up my findings to propose which is best for other players. 
  • I want to watch video play of Fortnight and compare what I see to a similar game, PubG which was all the rage before Fortnight came  around. I want to know what makes the games different because I have seen much that is similar. Why was Fortnight able to grab the spotlight from PubG? What game elements or loot box elements differed. After watching 10 minutes of videos of each game, I will take that 20 minutes of observation and notes and write up what I found and propose why Fortnight's game design or game play became more popular than PubG's. 
  • In Fortnight, the maps can be fixed in terms of where different types of loot can drop. When the game launches, I get the chance to determine where I pop in. Using a standard map, I want to explore different paths from loot drop zone to another to find the more efficient route between at least 10 loot boxes. I will plan out my route attempts before each game and while playing the game I will have a stopwatch going to time how quickly I can get to a 10 loot box total without dying from interaction with other players. I am curious if it is better to dive into the center of the map or to stay on the fringe where the environment continually encroaches and threatens me but there are less people. (This proposal ties into mathematical study of nodes and systems in Geometry nicely)

In each example, the learner is tying in game play with some exploration that can easily fill an academic request a teacher may have made. The game is the lab they use to learn more about something. The challenge in this is that the learner is often the expert in the games they play while the teacher is often the expert in the content field and what requirements need to be met. Both parties are often quite ignorant of what the other's area of expertise is. Sure, teachers can start studying more about specific games, but you can trust me on this as an educator that logs thousands of hours into game play, teachers will never have enough time to catch up on the ins and outs of all the popular games out there. So this leaves it to the learner to be able to create integration ideas, be able to articulate those ideas well, and to have the confidence to self advocate especially in classrooms that may not feel open to student input. I think that we educators can have some control over helping to create ideas, articulation, and even self advocacy. I don't think we have much control over game choices individuals will gravitate to. We certainly have the right to drop the ban hammer (game term in which administrators completely shut down access), but we may run the risk of individuals closing off hopes of academic success to retreat to "safer retreats" where one might more easily just focus on escaping into games. Instead, we have a potential tool available to us with the wealth of games in our learners' lives.

If we can learn how to use these tools as learning labs of sorts, we gain the opportunity to help pull individuals into success in academics without the individual feeling they have to leave the world(s) they have already decided to spend so much time in. Please don't misunderstand, I am not advocating that game players that can not leave digital wolds are in any way healthy nor that we should encourage people to escape into game worlds. I think we can simply meet them in their world and help them learn the skills to tie our worlds together to pave the way for more success in this real world we keep hoping to prepare people for. If a student can answer, "What are you hear for?" and rationally tie it into their choice to play a game , we may want to consider it. If their answer is simply, "I want to use your facility to escape..." that becomes a much more complicated discussion as we wonder what they are escaping from. 

I am curious, do people think it is possible to turn almost any recreational choice into a learning lab of some sort? If established inquiry questions are in place, methods of data collection are defined and output products parameters are articulated, can't we use most any environment as a lab to collect and analyze data and then be able to communicate the experience to others? 

 

Alecia Ohm's picture

I saw an upcoming session with Mimi Ito here in Chicago and immediately thought of this discussion on LINCS. The event is sold out but I'm sure we can find some of her research online. I'm copying the description below:

You may view new media in the hands of young people as an essential tool to personalized, interest-driven engagement—OR as a dangerous distraction from real-life interaction and learning. Mimi Ito is a cultural anthropologist who challenges us to look beyond this either/or debate and consider the digital world from the perspective of diverse youth. Author of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, Ito has extensively researched the wide ranging and often surprising ways young people use technology and new media. In this she shares essential takeaways from her research, including ways the online world can be used to support learning, sharing, and social connection, and how parents and educators can support those kinds of engagements.

David J. Rosen's picture

Hello Integrating Technology colleagues,

In this Quartz article on the future of gaming Video games teach us systems literacy—the literacy of the future Frank Lantz, the director of the New York University Game Center, argues that just as reading and writing became the communications instrument of the future 5,000 years ago, "systems literacy" is the literacy of our future, and that video games are a forerunner of that new literacy.

Lantz writes,

The process of acquiring written literacy is therefore sort of a brain hack. In order to read, our brains had to appropriate and modify existing modules that were originally dedicated to listening and talking. When we learned how to read and write, we were augmenting existing hardware—splicing together old systems in order to create a special visual interface that was originally built for processing sound.

That’s what literacy looks like: the glacial grind of evolution trying to keep up with the break-neck pace of human inventions, institutions, and cultures.

Spoken, written, and verbal literacy have all come about as a consequence of societal and intellectual revolutions. So what new form of literacy will our hijacked and re-programmed brains need to understand in the future?

The answer is systems literacy.

  • Is video game playing not mere entertainment, or a new employment opportunity, but the beginning of a new system of human literacy, one that may be the answer to our survival as a species?
  • If you are teaching old fashioned reading and writing, would you share this article with your students, at least with those whom you know to be avid video game players? Why or why not?
  • Where are you on the continuum between "yes, Lantz is spot on" ......... to............ "I am not really sure I agree" .............to ............... "This is rubbish. "  Please tell us why you put yourself there on the continuum.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Alecia Ohm's picture

David, this is a really interesting lens to apply in an educational context. I am open to learning more about systems literacy and this "new mode of thinking."

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