Blog Post

Game face: how teens use mobile game videos to reinvent Machinima

When I first heard about Kamcord and other services that allow players of mobile games to record and share their game-play, I assumed that this was primarily about gamers showing off their skills, boasting how fast they can complete certain levels and explaining tricks to master challenges that others get stuck on. Then Kamcord co-founder Aditya Rathnam told me about Talie Bell.

Talie Bell is a freshman in high school who is using Kamcord in a way that I didn’t even consider: As a kind of animated video blogging service. Sometimes she invites her friends to join her via Skype, then facilitates impromptu roundtable discussions about random topics like Halloween costumes and trick or treating. It’s kind of like a talk show, except you don’t see any of the participants because all the action happens in a mobile multiplayer game called Mini Carnival.

In other videos, she sings songs she wrote herself, talks about the things she does all day, plays piano or even takes the ice bucket challenge by jumping into the icy, virtual water of a mobile game. It’s all very raw and random, and the kind of stuff that you’d expect to see on YouTube, starring real teenagers who look straight into the camera. Talie uses her avatars instead, which makes her videos charming, but also shows that there is a whole lot more to gaming than just action-packed challenges.

Kamcord’s Rathnam told me that the service’s users have now shared more than 25 million videos. Interestingly, more than 11 million of those videos are coming from one single game: My Talking Tom, which is about taking care of a kitten. All those videos simply feature crazy dressed up cats talking in high-pitched voices while not really doing anything else. It’s hard to understand the allure of this if you were expecting action-packed game sequences, but it’s probably pretty amusing if you’re a 16-year-old.

Using video games to tell stories in virtual worlds is nothing new. Aspiring bedroom filmmakers have used game engines for some time to produce animated shorts and even entire TV shows on the cheap for years, something that’s being called Machinima. But services like Kamcord, which makes its recording SDK available to mobile game producers and then aggregates the recorded videos on Kamcord.com, take Machinima to the next level by literally putting video game recording capabilities in everyone’s pocket.

There are some obvious parallels between Kamcord and Twitch, the live streaming site for video games that got acquired by Amazon for a reported $970 million this summer, and I was also reminded of PewDiePie, the Swedish YouTube star who managed to amass 6.5 billion views with his combination of crude jokes and video game recordings. But Kamcord seems to play in a league of its own because it makes recording so easy. Rathnam said that more than 1.3 million people shared games on the platform over the last 30 days, arguing that this is more participation than on Twitch.

He wouldn’t tell me how many people actually watch these videos, and most of Talie Bell’s clips have only been seen by a few hundred viewers. Of course, the same is true of many YouTube videos, but that hasn’t stopped viewers and creators from embracing that platform. “There are a billion people that play mobile games,” Rathnam told me. Chances are that many millions of those want to interact with their other game-playing friends — and Kamcord wants to be the platform to do just that.