How do you define “game”? Usually, a game is considered something fun, something that is not of importance but which one choses to do for amusement. Therefore, if you wanted to stress the seriousness of something, you would exclaim: “This is not a game!”. A game is also something that is opposed to work, something you do as a pastime.
Games and Money
Enter money. If games develop a large numbers of followers, there is a profit to be made. We know this from sports, which attract a huge number of fans and therefor sponsors. This leads to professionalization, the game enters a new dimension and suddenly becomes much more than a game to a lot of people. It can now even become a valid career option, evidently opposing the above definition of a game.
Magic: The Gathering
But could this happen outside the world of sports? It can, and it does. Chess, for example, is considered to be a kind of sport by a lot of people, is a game that has professionals. And it was only the beginning. The card game Magic: The Gathering was not only voted one of the top five mind games by Mensa in 1994, it has been so successful that to promote it, a Pro Tour with several tournaments is held every year, each tournament paying $40,000 to the winner and the overall annual prize payout of the company being several million dollars. Other card games have since followed, for example the World of Warcraft adaption that paid its world champion $100,000. That is more than most working people make in a whole year and so top players use their hobby as a means to finance their studies instead of spending money on it.
Poker and Virtual Gaming
An even better known example is tournament poker. Players can make millions, and even on the lower levels it can support a comfortable living. Computer games, too, have attracted a huge following, not only creating a whole business branch for their design but also being played at tournaments that, especially in some Asian countries like Korea, are even broadcasted on TV and thus include the whole machinery of fans, sponsors and merchandising. In the new wave of mass online games, people pay real money to purchase virtual bonuses that other players have achieved. The high demand for virtual gold in the World of Warcraft online game has created a business called gold farming. Workers are paid to play and then the gained in-game currency is traded for hard dollars via the Internet. This industry is worth billions of dollars but is a serious health risk to the hired players, many of them underage Chinese who play for 12 hours or more every day.
Why Professional Gaming Is Good for Business
For gaming companies, it remains crucial to advertise their games and the best way to do that is by giving every player the hope of fame and fortune, to make them before everybody else believe that they are not just playing a game and wasting their time but in fact have the chance to turn their hobby into their occupation and to become a professional. To create stars and pay them to be just that means is the best promotion they can wish for.
Of course, not all players aim for such a goal. Some even feel that this takes the fun out of gaming and thus are opposed to any commercialization apart from making their game available for purchase. But in a society that values entertainment as high as ours, it should be of no surprise that there can no longer be any clear distinction between gaming for fun and gaming as a career.