Mitchell is probably the greatest arcade-video-game player of all time. When the Guinness Book of World Records first included a listing for video games in 1985 (discontinued in 1987), Mitchell held the records for Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong, Jr., Centipede, and Burger Time. In 1999, he achieved the Holy Grail of arcade gaming, executing the first-ever perfect game on Pac-Man. The feat requires navigating 256 boards, or levels, and eating every single possible pellet, fruit, and ghost, for the highest score of 3,333,360, all without dying once. ... Mitchell enjoys his semi-celebrity status, but he rarely shows it off by actually playing video games. When I convince him to play a game on the well-worn Ms. Pac-Man in the back corner of the restaurant, a waitress hurries over to watch because she has never seen him play, despite working there for nine years. ... He holds the joystick loosely with his left hand, maneuvering it with precise flicks of his thumb and index finger. “I use their personalities and put them in places, positions, and patterns advantageous to me.” ... “Absolute control. I’ve eliminated the mad, scattering chase. That’s probably how they intended the game to be played, running around out of control. But that’s not how I play.” ... Mitchell also seems to possess a genius for recognizing patterns in space and foreseeing the way complicated scenarios will play out—his intuition is set to some higher frequency.
To get to ReSTART you can either ruin your life by playing video games 20 hours a day or you can take Route 202 15 minutes south from downtown Redmond. The road runs between stands of pine trees so tall that they register as dark green canyon walls. The whole landscape, once you get clear of the strip malls and self-storage facilities, feels damp, forested, vaguely Jurassic. ... has treated something like 200 people. A typical stay lasts between 45 and 90 days, and costs $26,000 (expensive-sounding, but typical for live-in rehab of any type). Upon arrival patients must surrender all digital devices. Nearly every ReSTART patient is a male between the ages of 18 and 28. ... video games are the meth of the digitally addicted world: wildly popular and horribly destructive. It isn't that video games are so different from other online fixations, the founders of ReSTART believe, it's just that they're more extreme. The devout social-media user might worry what people think of the witty “character” he plays on Twitter; Callum cared so much about the fate of his World of Warcraft alter ego—a tall blue-haired elf he named Voga—that he adopted the schedule of a Navy SEAL.
The video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in which players form teams of terrorists and counterinsurgents and shoot at one another, is a favorite of the professional e-sports circuit. A tournament in early April sold out Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, where the NHL’s Blue Jackets play, and generated 71 million online views over four days. In May, TBS and WME/IMG will launch their own league for CS:GO, as the game is called, streaming games online and broadcasting them on TV on Friday nights. ... The game’s current success has made it easy to forget that CS:GO wasn’t an immediate hit for game maker Valve. It was the latest in the aging Counter-Strike series and came out at a time when there was no shortage of other shoot-’em-up games to choose from. Everything changed when Valve introduced something new: decorative virtual weapons, known as “skins,” that could be acquired in the game and sold for real money. ... In-game purchases weren’t new, but the cash trade was Valve’s special twist. Within two years, the number of people playing CS:GO had grown 1,500 percent. Today, there are 380,000 people around the world playing the game at any given time. ... People buy skins for cash, then use the skins to place online bets on pro CS:GO matches. Because there’s a liquid market to convert each gun or knife back into cash, laying a bet in skins is essentially the same as betting with real money. ... By one estimate, more than 3 million people wagered $2.3 billion worth of skins on the outcome of e-sports matches in 2015. ... The best way to get players deeply engaged in games, the company had determined, was to give away virtual items of random value and encourage a robust market to trade them.
Since its July launch Pokémon GO, a free “augmented reality” game by Niantic Labs in which players capture virtual characters mapped to real-world locations, has piled up superlatives. Apple said the game had more downloads in its first week than any other app in history. One in ten Americans plays Pokémon GO daily, according to App Annie, and SurveyMonkey estimates that the game is hauling in as much as $6 million a day from in-app purchases in the U.S. alone (the game is available in 37 countries). ... Just 12 months ago Hanke was an increasingly restless Google employee (he launched Google Earth, among other things) and his company, Niantic, was an overlooked gaming skunkworks lost in the search giant. As Google reorganized itself into Alphabet, Niantic looked likely to be rolled back into the company’s Android division or simply shut down. But Google had the wisdom to let Hanke seek outside investors and spin the company out. That paved the way for Hanke to approach Nintendo and the Pokémon Co., which oversees the brand’s intellectual property, and make the smartest mobile-gaming deal of all time. ... As of May 2016 Pokémon products had grossed $45 billion in lifetime sales.
When she took it for validation to a used video game store in Charlotte, the young man behind the counter rustled open the plastic bag and beheld the game -- pristine in its cardboard box covered by much of the original cellophane -- coughing the words "Oh my god." He offered her all the money in the register for it. She turned him down. ... Before Stadium Events for the Nintendo Entertainment System came into their lives, Jennifer and her now-husband, Jeff, were scraping by. They lived in a double-wide trailer with a mouse problem and a buckling floor, so close to the Carolina Speedway that the sounds of engines from the dirt track kept them awake at night. ... It is seductive because of its rarity but also a testament to the darker side of a hobby reaching new heights of popularity. ... It isn't a good game. It's a boring game. Released in 1987 by the Japanese company Bandai, Stadium Events was made for a piece of peripheral hardware called the Family Fun Fitness mat. ... Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa thought the technology could be huge, so the company purchased the mat and relaunched it as the Power Pad. Stadium Events was then rebranded as World Class Track Meet ... what happened to the Stadium Events that had already been made? Nintendo and Bandai have declined to shed any light on the matter, leaving collectors to speculate.
The first-person-shooter game pits terrorists against counterterrorists and was played by an average of 342,000 people at once in 2016. Its biggest tournaments, such as the ELeague Major scheduled for Jan. 22-29 in Atlanta, can have million-dollar prize pools and as many as 27 million streaming viewers. An estimated 26 million copies of the $15 game have been downloaded since its debut four years ago, helping make its manufacturer, Valve, the world's leading distributor of PC titles. ... While other titles such as Call of Duty offer similar gameplay, one distinctive feature has helped fuel Counter-Strike's growth: collectible items in the game called "skins." Although they don't improve anyone's chances of winning, the skins cover weapons in distinctive patterns that make players more identifiable when they stream on services like Twitch. Users can buy, sell and trade the skins, and those used by pros become hotly demanded. Some can fetch thousands of dollars in online marketplaces. ... Valve controls the skins market. Every few months, it releases an update to Counter-Strike with new designs. It decides how many of each skin get produced and pockets a 15 percent fee every time one gets bought or sold on its official marketplace, called Steam. Valve even offers stock tickers that monitor the skins' constantly shifting values. ... Some $5 billion was wagered in skins in 2016 ... roughly $3 billion worth flows to a darker corner of the internet -- one populated by fly-by-night websites that accept skins for casino-style gaming.
To the uninitiated, the figures are nothing if not staggering: 155 million Americans play video games, more than the number who voted in November’s presidential election. And they play them a lot: According to a variety of recent studies, more than 40 percent of Americans play at least three hours a week, 34 million play on average 22 hours each week, 5 million hit 40 hours, and the average young American will now spend as many hours (roughly 10,000) playing by the time he or she turns 21 as that person spent in middle- and high-school classrooms combined. Which means that a niche activity confined a few decades ago to preadolescents and adolescents has become, increasingly, a cultural juggernaut for all races, genders, and ages. How had video games, over that time, ascended within American and world culture to a scale rivaling sports, film, and television? Like those other entertainments, video games offered an escape, of course. But what kind? ... Technology, through automation, had reduced the employment rate of these men by reducing demand for what Hurst referred to as “lower-skilled” labor. He proposed that by creating more vivid and engrossing gaming experiences, technology also increased the subjective value of leisure relative to labor. ... As with all sports, digital or analog, there are ground rules that determine success (rules that, unlike those in society, are clear to all). The purpose of a game, within it, unlike in society, is directly recognized and never discounted.
Talking Tom Cat was an instant hit, launching a franchise whose titles have reached No. 1 in more than 100 countries on the App Store. Today, almost 350 million monthly active users support the apps, and Tom’s YouTube channel has more than 2 billion views. Unlike many mobile app creators, the Logins have proved adept at turning popularity into profit. Playing Talking Tom triggers an onslaught of advertising and in-game purchase offers, and Outfit7 earns more than $100 million a year. In early 2016 the Logins decided to cash out, hiring Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to find the most lucrative deal. ... The industrialists were willing to match the Logins’ asking price of $1 billion and let their team maintain autonomy. Samo and Iza signed away their company—having never taken money from outside investors, their stake was worth about $600 million. ... It’s hard to see the synergies between a maker of chemical solvents and a digital cat perched over a toilet. And curiously, the buyer, which had recently been renamed Zhejiang Jinke Entertainment Culture Co., had revenue of only $133 million in 2016, according to Bloomberg data pulled from regulatory filings, and its gross profit was $55 million. Jinke won’t say where the money to buy Outfit7 came from. ... The deal activity can best be understood as a consequence of quirks in the Chinese stock market. In China, industrial companies trade at valuations they’d never receive elsewhere in the world. ... some may trade at as much as 100 times their annual earnings—more than four times the multiple of General Electric Co. This means they can acquire companies at what is effectively a discount. ... Chinese companies are betting that by adding game studios that have better margins than a stodgy industrial business, their stock price will rise.
The takeaway: Gaming may be mainstream entertainment, but game companies are hit-driven—and none has successfully expanded beyond videogames. ... Activision Blizzard hopes to be the first. It’s not just dragon-centric TV shows that are being spun out of its massive vault of proprietary characters ... There are multiple movies under development, loosely based on the bestselling war-game franchise Call of Duty. There’s a newly launched consumer products division, tasked with developing everything from comic books to apparel based on Activision Blizzard’s intellectual property. ... And most notably, there is an “e-sports” empire in the works—a major foray into the booming world of competitive videogaming. That genre, once merely a niche, is reaching a tipping point. About 385 million people worldwide are expected to view e-sports events in 2017—mostly online, but increasingly on cable television and at live competitions. ... It might be more accurate if ESPN not only distributed football games but also owned the National Football League—and made all the footballs in the world as well.