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Kelly Evans: Video games are the new social media

CNBC's Kelly Evans
CNBC

I am not a "gamer." I think I played Mario Kart a few times growing up, and that was pretty much it. (Actually, there was a strong "Zelda" phase, too.) 

 So I've been as surprised as anyone at just how incredibly popular playing and, especially, watching video games has become. But after listening to a podcast this week about video games and culture, I realize I shouldn't be. As Fr. Blake explains, the three main types of games each speak to a longing of the human soul: MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) for community; RPGs (role-playing games) for identity; and FPSs (first-person shooter games) for mission.  

Perhaps that also illuminates why video games have become even more popular during the Covid shutdowns; not only are people stuck at home with extra free time, but they're often shut off from external sources of community and mission. Sure enough, both Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard are trading at two-year highs today and within touching distance of their all-time highs.  

How much more popular can gaming get? I suspect a lot more. We're just starting to see projects like Philadelphia's $50 million "Fusion Arena," a 3,500-capacity dedicated Esports facility. There aren't any other cultural forces that can really offer what gamers are craving. Perhaps video games really are the new social media, as Fr. Blake suggested. (They certainly experience as much controversy these days as Facebook and Twitter.) 

And in fact, Facebook--the world's biggest social media platform--launched its own gaming app in April. It faces an uphill battle against the three main incumbents: Amazon's Twitch (probably one of the best acquisitions of all time), Alphabet's YouTube, and Microsoft's Mixer. Except that in a shocking move, Microsoft last night pulled the plug on Mixer less than a year after poaching Twitch star Ninja for reportedly between $20 and $30 million. And Microsoft says it is now working with Facebook Gaming to move its gamers over.  

What does Microsoft get out of this? I'd love to know. Or perhaps they felt they couldn't compete in the long run against Twitch and YouTube. (We'll be talking about this on Power Lunch today.) But as The Verge reported, users aren't thrilled about the idea of having to go create or link to a Facebook profile to continue gaming, and most will likely defect to Twitch.  

While this may all sound a little inside-baseball, you better believe advertisers are paying attention. Want to get in front of people, especially guys, in the key 18- to 35-year-old demo? They're on these platforms. For hours at a time.  

Quick side note: what happens when the older players grow weary of gaming? They might become YouTube gardening stars. Pretty much the only thing I've binge-watched lately is this great series of how-to videos from Kevin Espiritu on the Epic Gardening channel (give this guy an HGTV show!). Apparently he started messing around in the garden after getting tired of playing video games all day. Anyhow, highly recommended.  

And, thanks to Kevin and YouTube, the raised garden beds are so far doing pretty great. I had no idea cucumber leaves got so huge! Photo below--and this was a couple days ago. They're even huger now.  

See you at 1 p.m... 

Kelly 

Twitter: @KellyCNBC

Instagram: @realkellyevans