Media Lab, Aalto University
for Games Now! 2016
Keywords: Video Games, Mobile Games, Game Development, Game Design, Streaming,
Competition for publicity in the game industry is fierce. As games are ever increasingly viewed a social phenomena, to succeed, a paramount importance has grown around building and catering a community of fans. YouTubers and Twitch streamers have risen to influential position in finding and engaging these players . However, video makers and streamers come with particular preferences. A game that retains their attention has to be designed including these perspectives. This essay explores recent developments in game design discourses around the topic of live streaming, and means of finding solutions that are beneficial to all stakeholders involved. The focus is mainly in the live streaming service Twitch. While the YouTube is the most popular game video platform counted bytotal viewership, it appears that the innovative features spearheaded around Twitch provide rich insights to the future of game business.
Benefits of streamer exposure are major during the whole product life cycle. Streaming helps in marketing, building energy around the game, gathering community, providing valuable development feedback and keeping the retention rates up. There is researched causality between twitch streams converting to sales, especially when timed with publishing platform promotions. Unsurprisingly, games designed for streaming have improved conversion rates from viewers to players .
There are technical and legal issues related to streaming. However, these issues are not significant from the design and development perspectives, as better solutions for them are being constantly evolved. Streamers will make the content regardless of technical challenges if the game is tempting enough, as was seen with multi-phone setups used to stream Pokemon Go and number of applications tackling on the problem of mobile streaming. There are immaterial issues involved, such as licensed music triggering autodetection algorithm and causing transferral of the video profits from the broadcaster to external copyright holders. Developers and platforms are aware of these questions and are addressing it, for example by patching the game with option to turn off content that might clash with interests of copyright holders. Also, the stream viewers are accustomed to watching content from DIY setups with lower overall technical quality, just as long as the sound quality is tolerable [4, 8, 10,11].
Twitch streams are only partially about games. The overlooked part has been seeing the broadcasters as professional performers creating a show for their audience. Popular streamers make their living from their shows, and the rest aspire to reach this. As performers they have their own distinct brands: a persona with catchphrases, poses, common jokes and reactions that play to their particular audience. For a game to be a successful source for entertaining shows, it must provide ample opportunities for spontaneous showmanship. The performers are constantly looking for opportunities to react and inject their brand in the game .
Importance of engagement over the ease of streaming, was an observation that Twitch developer team learned during 2015. The company made an update focusing on making content creation easier. This increased the total number of streams but did not affect the total viewership. To address this, Twitch turned their attention to making the streams more engaging, leading to the release of “Stream First” tenets in March 2016 with support available for developers embracing them [1, 4]. These tenets, alongside content design practices for emergent storytelling, and integration of influencer marketing, form a signpost guiding the coming years in the quickly shifting landscape of game industry. The rest of the essay explores these viewpoints in detail.
- DESIGN PERSPECTIVES
2.1 User interface
Foremost, the user interface should be legible to the viewers. While the player is aware of different contextual information about the state of the game, if a viewer arriving at midgame cannot figure out the current situation at a short glance, he is likely to leave [2,4]. This means having both a clear visual interface, but also a reactive environment that reflects the progress and success of the player. Legibility desired by streamers is the same that makes the game accessible and inviting for a player that enters the game for the very first time . For a seasoned player, some information and acts become mundane, even reactive, even though they are significant in understanding the flow of the game, and thus must be expressed, even though the player might no longer have use for it. Example of this are the building upgrades in Starcraft 2. They used to happen so fast in professional matches, that observing their initialization and completion was almost impossible. To address this, a patch added a countdown slider visualizing the last 15 seconds before upgrade completion. This simple addition transformed the StarCraft commentary. On mobile games, the legibility is constricted by the small screen space of the device itself, but compensated by the proportions of the stream, leaving room on the both sides of the actual game play view. Clash Royale has pioneered the use of this space to show the contextual information and succeeded in making the game a highly streamed mobile e-sport [4,16].
Broadcasters, their audience and developers have all vested interest when looked through the lens of inclusion . The developers want to build recognition for their game, stabilize a community and acquire rounds of feedback before the game is officially launched. At best, developers find their target audience early in the development project and engage them in the forums. Twitch recommends engaging the community early and often. There is a fear that showing an incomplete game early will create a negative image and discourage streamers from playing it again. Answer to this lies in having built a community of engaged fans who, being informed of the state of development process and knowing that their opinion matters to the developer, will defend the game in their streams and focus on the potential. There is a high value in having such involved community as it lets the developer test how well the game performs among streamers. The benefits of involving the community closely at the core of the development process outweigh the costs.
A broadcaster, especially a mid-tier one, is eager to increase their foothold. They are always looking for exclusive content and means of making their show more entertaining. Common practices by the game developers to help the broadcasters in reaching these goals are giving them event access, promotion, asset packages and customized in-game items. A broadcaster with their brand injected in the gameworld is more likely to continue streaming the game . This can happen for example through allowing them to name objects or modeling an NPC with their face to the game. On mobile front, Seriously has succeeded in this with Best Fiends by hiding symbols of their broadcasters in the game, which when found, give the fans huge rewards and great engagement. This requires a fast update cycle built hand in hand with the marketing team . A promotion feature brought up is inclusion of the relevant twitch streams within the game menu, thus guiding more watchers towards the most active channels. Exclusive content can be e.g. early builds of the game, developer interviews or even developers visiting within their stream, answering the questions of the viewers. Also, developers themselves often become broadcasters streaming their workflow and thinking. There is a stable audience for this kind of broadcasts, and for many indie studios, the small streams of income from Twitch microtransactions can be a significant motivation .
Lastly, the audience enjoys being engaged with both the broadcaster and the developers, and having their voice heard. Stream viewers want to play with the broadcaster both through the interaction provided by the Twitch and in the actual game. Currently, there is a lack of games with straightforward matchmaking tools to add and queue players from a twitch channel. The scope of this feature can be expanded to support matching viewers of separate broadcaster channels to play as teams against each other.
Inclusion of the fans is significant especially in the the designs of e-sports games. For a new game to succeed, it helps to embrace the bubbling community with ability for them to organize their own tournaments, ladders, and rewards and supporting this organic activity with publicity. Supercell did this during the very first week of Clash Royale. There was single broadcaster in Twitch who wanted to organize a small tournament by himself. He contacted SuperCell, who then agreed to advertise this tournament though by short message within the game. This brought new free exposure to their new game and its features while multiplying the followers of the said streamer. Another example of engaging the Twitch community to build launch hype was the release of Tiny Pills Punch Club. Backed by the lessons of their previous game, developers launched a channel with the game and a co-operative controller mechanic popularized by “Twitch plays…” -stream’s. They promised the community that if the fans can complete the game the game before the official launch date, the game would be released immediately. Developers expected the playthrough to last for a week. Instead the Twitch viewers got through the game in two days. This made it another win-win situation, where the viewers got the game early, and the developers got a boost in publicity [4,16].
2.3 Influencer marketing
Engaging broadcasters heavily in building game publicity is influencer marketing. Guidelines and code of conduct have been created to keep the marketing ethical and within the law. For example, paid streamers, or early reviews with contract to only say positive views of the game, must be clearly identifiable as marketing. 
2.4 Viewer feedback as game input
The core of Twitch focused games is the ability of the audience to influence the gameplay. Audience becomes input to the game as the chat acts as a programmable controller. The phenomena of “Twitch Plays … ” -streams is solely structured around removing the broadcaster persona altogether. For games with a player, common methods of interaction are things affecting the environment, enemies and powerups appearing in the game by voting through chat. Messing with the gameplay of the broadcaster offers plenty of opportunities for entertaining performances by the broadcaster. This interaction creates personal bonds within the channel [4, 12].
Active participants in the channel enjoy being personally recognized by the broadcaster. The first crude iterations of this were messages appearing on the gameplay screen, often paid for by the viewers. This however breaks the flow of the channel and abrupts the concentration of the player. More subtle solutions have risen in popularity since. They aim to display content from the stream chat in a manner that is more in line with the game world. This can be automated, or initiated by the broadcasters. For example, naming NPCs, enemies, and gravestones etc. by the viewer handles gives the broadcaster an opportunity to engage with their audience on a personal level .
Another way of motivating the viewers and encouraging conversion to customers, is rewarding channel audience activity with in-game currencies and community achievements. These stats are tracked even though they do not own the game themselves. Once they buy the game, the assets from gained by Twitch viewing are transferred to it. Participating to a stream becomes thin mean of actually playing the game, which rewards all all of the participants. Players get head-start, broadcaster involves their audience in rewarding way, and developer gets an higher sales from the already involved players. 
However smoothly the interaction through chat flows, the barrier to actually use the chat in Twitch is surprisingly hard. As much as 58% of viewers never say a word in it and just watch the stream. As everyone in the co-operating community should feel included, Twitch guides and supports the developers to build alternative methods of participation. In practice, this means building a mobile application where these viewers can take part in voting by pushing a button instead of writing their selection in the chat window. These mobile controllers have also other features, such as gathering a bingo of in-game events, betting on match results, and showing contextual information such as delay times. These have proven successful in involving the more introverted audience members and others who are uncomfortable with chat [4, 16].
2.8 Emergent content
Games with a sandbox world to explore thrive when they provide a multitude of unique unexpected, unpredictable events for the broadcaster to react upon. Making the playthrough unique for each player allows the producer to improvise jokes, reaction and show his wit in storytelling and narration [9, 12]. The player should also be able to express their brand by injecting it into the gameplay. For this, ability to modify the environment, character and create things like houses is paramount. By doing this the broadcaster is offered a plethora of opportunities to perform for his audience and create humorous content. Example of this is Besiege. It is a game that thrived solely on the ability to create most imaginative medieval siege machines and seeing them succeed or fail in a spectacular fashion. Besiege became a viral phenomenon in 2015 leading to 10/10 score in Steam with over 19k positive reviews .
Overall, to find out the most popular content for stream audiences, there are two heuristics to follow: What are the players who play most doing in the game, and what are the best players doing. Recording and dissecting this data provides the map on features to prioritize during the development process, and providing the type of content that stream audiences love to watch. These can be e.g. better visualization on item crafting, or slowdowns of the skillful gameplay by the very best players. One surprising popular category are videos, focusing on opening random loot chests and booster packs. This category is popular mainly with mobile games. These videos benefit from the minor opportunity for the viewer to be able to win an copy item from the loot by just being present in the stream.. Catering to the known popular stream content among the fans, the developer improves the engagement and longevity of the game. The user installation data, and the publishers promotion dates can be used to time stream content provided by the developer’s community team. There is a critical window of 3-6 days after installation during which the retention drops most. To keep this player involved, installation dates can be used for targeted engagement with the player. Another important window is when a platform updates its promotion page. This causes a peak new players to research the game. On the days following the update, it is important to provide the onlookers with quality streams, leading to higher sales. 
Streams are all about community. Engaging with the community early and often, and including their perspectives should be seen as a rudimentary building block of iterative game development and promotion. The multifaceted benefits gained by this integration improve the chances of the game to succeed by any meter. Understanding streaming is paramount for any game developer, as it has been stated that the amount of streamed hours that can be produced from the game is a metric of its quality .
- Twitch, 2016
Stream First Tenets
Manifest on Twitch Developer page
- Kathy Astromoff, Twitch, 2016
Talk given in GDC 2016. Accessed 13.12.2016
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Talk given in Casual Connect USA 2016
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Presentation slides from GDC 2016
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Talk given in Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki 2016
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Market Analysis on Website Newzoo, accessed 13.12.2016
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Article on the website GamaSutra, accessed 13.12.2016
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Article on the website Make Use Of, Accessed 13.12.2016
- Phil Cameron, 2015
Article on the website Gamasutra. Accessed 13.12.2016
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Article on the website Greenbot, Accessed 13.12.206
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Article on the website Gamasutra. Accessed 13.12.2016
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Article on the website Gamasutra. Accessed 13.12.2016
- Steam, 2016
Steam store statistics for Besiege, Accessed on 13.12.2016
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Gamasutra Explains: The YouTuber Phenomenon, Accessed on 13.12.2016
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Panel discussion in GDC 2016, Accessed on 13.12.2016