Is boating competing against video games?

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In the marine industry, we talk about competing for the discretionary dollars with golf, RVs and so on. But have we ever considered video games?

On a flight back to Tampa, the two guys next to me were playing video games on their smartphones and iPads. So were a couple of others I could see across the aisle. Am I the only flier using my iPad for work here, I thought. What am I missing?

“Holy cow!” as the late Harry Caray famously said. A little research into the video game market has me realizing either I’m either too old, not tuned in or way out of step — or all three. If the trade group Entertainment Software Association is correct, 60 percent of Americans now play video games. That’s a bigger percentage than tuned into the Super Bowl and a helluva lot more than go boating these days.

Truth is, the popularity of video games is a big surprise to guys like me. Oh, I know kids play video games. My grandsons love Super Mario on their Wii. And I think kids are spending entirely too much time indoors on video games. So, as an industry, we need to be urging parents to get kids away from the tube and into boating and fishing in the healthy environment. But kids aren’t the real story here. It’s adults and it’s big money.

Witness: Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Majong, the creators of “Minecraft,”; Facebook dropped $2 billion to buy a virtual reality gaming company called Oculus VR; and Amazon spent $1 billion to purchase the game-streaming network called Twitch. Even many colleges like American University are now offering degrees in game designing, according to School of Communications dean Jeff Rutenbeck.

With video game sales hitting a whopping $21 billion last year (compared to movies at $10.9 billion and music sales of $7 billion), the big names are betting heavily on a forecast: “The entertainment people consume for the rest of their lives is what they found compelling in their late teens,” Strauss Zelnick said. He is the CEO of Take-Two Interactive, the creators of the record-selling game “Grand Theft Auto 5.”

If we now see gaming as another competitor for boating, what’s even more concerning is that Zelnick foresees a broader market blossoming in which parents share a passion for gaming with their kids. That will guarantee bringing in the next generation and the growth will continue. Moreover, people like me, who thought playing a video game was pretty much a loner thing are really out of touch. Check this out:

Gaming is a big spectator sport. Oh, not here yet, but in Asia and Europe thousands of fans are packing arenas to see “esports” professionals (yup, there are pros) battle in games like “League of Legends” and “Battlefield,” according to reporter Hayley Tsukayama’s recent story in the Washington Post. In Frankfort, for example, fans filled the 35,000-seat Commerzbank Arena to watch a “Defense of the Ancients” tournament featuring star players, complete with color commentary and a grand prize of more than $200,000.

And the big audiences in arenas pale in comparison to the online audience. Some tournaments have logged in up to 23 million concurrent viewers, Tsukayama discovered. That’s about the same number of people tuning into Game 7 of the World Series. Further, she found that Twitch pioneered the way pros and amateurs live-stream games they’re playing through computers and game consoles. As a result, when Amazon bought it, Twitch was the fourth most -rafficked site on the Internet.

It’s notable that Rutenbeck says: “Anybody who is trying to develop an entertainment strategy — a political party, an advocacy group — should look at game design.” His observation bolsters the fact that video games are not a niche market anymore and, while they’re not filling arena seats in the U.S. right now, how far away can it be?

I’m not suggesting developing a challenging video game around boating or that such a game would have any boating market impact (such a concept is clearly above my pay grade.) However, one thing is eye-opening: the incredible growth of adult video gamers, if only measured by the billions they’re shelling out, reinforces the compelling need to get out boating’s message of “get up off the couch and experience the exciting boating lifestyle.” It’s never been a more important part of the industry’s outreach (via Discover Boating, for example) to bring in more boat buyers and grow the industry.

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