Just five years ago, the only time you were likely to see someone else play a video game live was if you were stuck in the same room with a game that didn’t support enough players to let you join. Today, live streaming sites like Twitch have revolutionized video game viewing for millions of viewers and $970 million acquisitions. An entire esports industry has sprung up around the idea of gaming as a spectator sport, and streaming subcultures have developed around everything from speedruns to jump scares to Minecraft.
But the rise of Twitch and competitors like Google’s YouTube Gaming has done more than just change the way we look at games. Developers and publishers are increasingly taking notice of the live streaming revolution and are changing the way their games are developed, marketed and played to specifically benefit the Twitch audience.
From watching to playing
The famous Twitch Plays pokemon experiment was one of the first and most public signs that live streaming was creating entirely new forms of play. The popular stream used Twitch’s IRC chat channel to put viewers in control of the action pokemon red directly, crowdsourcing input from what can be thousands of viewers at a time. The result was a chaotic, slow-paced slog that bears only a passing resemblance to the game as “it’s meant to be played”, but the experiment nonetheless attracted mass attention (and countless imitators).
It’s unlikely that most of those curious viewers would have taken much interest in a decades old pokemon game if not for Twitch’s social glue. “The only reason any of us were there was because of everyone else,” says Twitch Plays moderator Alex Rose pokemon subreddit. “I wouldn’t just sit and play pokemon red…. It was a nostalgic journey where everyone almost anonymously had a little bit of input. So the internet culture grew out of it, I think. Or went into it.”
While Rose first checked out Twitch Plays pokemon as a curious spectator, he was soon drawn into what he calls a ‘gigantic social experiment’. For Rose, the chaos and lack of direct control was part of the appeal. “Once it reaches tens of thousands of people, one person’s actions don’t matter anymore,” he said. “As long as a decent percentage of people are trying to do the right thing, it will offset the essentially random input from everyone else, so it’s kind of like a giant weighted random input experiment.”
As important as the semi-random gameplay itself, however, was the social metagame that grew around the chat itself. As the channel evolved, viewers battled over whether the stream should accept all input immediately (“anarchy”) or pause briefly to allow viewers to vote for the best input (“democracy”). The back-and-forth battle between the two sides took on an almost religious fervor, Rose said.
“[The anarchy vs. democracy system] immediately divides everyone into two factions: “We want to be there and complete the game” and “We want to see funny things happen,” he said. actual religious extremism within the game,” such as deliberately discarding key items or Pokémon representing the other side.
“There was a lot of argument and debate, and for me it was great to be able to comment live on the updater, there were some people who literally just watched my text updates at work because they didn’t have access to Twitch,” he added please.
The Kids of Twitch Plays pokemon
The designers of pokemon clearly never imagined that their game would be played through a massive social livestreamed video channel. Today, however, developers are increasingly taking lessons from Twitch Plays pokemon to heart, explicitly designing their games to be at least partially controlled by viewers watching live.
Rose, a game developer herself, is one of those who are so inspired. He is working on integrating Twitch viewer controls into his own current game project called a rock solid platformer Super Rude Bear Resurrection (SRBR). The game inserts viewers’ chat messages into the stream itself, allowing the player to read them without looking away. Viewers can also vote for random events every 60 seconds, such as deciding whether the player will receive a barrage of homing missiles or a useful reduction in gravity.
“So people could vote, largely if they want to be nice or mean to the player, and the player tries to keep playing while the chat spoils their gaming experience,” he said.
Rose isn’t the first developer to incorporate Twitch into a game in this way. A trio of PS4 zombie games were among the first to experiment with Twitch viewer interaction last year. Daylight let viewers enter chat channel commands to trigger everything from a scream sound effect to flashing lights in the game. #killallzombies and Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition give viewers more direct control over gameplay by voting on effects such as what weapons will be available and the difficulty the player faces.
This summer is called a game Choice Room took those ideas to the next level and built an entire game around the idea of viewer control. In choice room, viewers control practically every aspect of the game that the streamer experiences for them. Viewers can edit enemy attributes, give the player new abilities, create warp zones, summon “gadgets” to aid the player, edit weapon effects, and more. The result is usually many streamers screaming at their audiences for help, or at least less evil.
Since this is the internet, you might think it’s more frustrating than fun to put your fate in the hands of a bunch of trolling strangers. In practice, though, letting a bunch of random jerks rule the game is pretty engaging for both sides.
“It’s just really funny being a dick to the player,” Alex Nichiporchik, CEO of Tiny Build, said of the Twitch integration into his company’s game. Party hard (in which the player is asked to kill everyone present at a party without being seen). “We quickly discovered that even with five people in the chat, it’s really funny to mess with the player… You’d think it would break the game, but it’s an experience. It’s something you get to do with your fans handles.”
And if more than five people are watching, it’s like sitting in a very busy, rambunctious living room. “When a streamer has a few thousand people, the chat starts playing against the streamer,” said Nichiporchik. “Sometimes you can trigger events that help the streamer win, but then you see these situations where there are still two people on the map and they have to grab those, and then the chat triggers a convoy to arrive with a dozen people to party with.”
“Most of those people who watch you, if you have a huge fan base, are more or less your friends,” he added. “You know the streamers out there and they know you.”