It’s been some time now, and there are many things that happen over the course of a day that make me wonder about different facets of the game industry. When most people think of the game industry, they take to the development side of things; the programming, the modeling, the animations, the physics and world of games. So much goes into a game that it can be quite daunting sometimes and at times I believe it’s something people take for granted when they sound off on a forum or a blog about how bad they believe a game is. But this is not going to be concentrated on what you think it may be. This is about game streaming. I have been watching game streams, particularly on Twitch.TV for a little over a year and a half because I wanted to know what people were so amazed by in watching someone play a game rather than playing it themselves.
From what I have experienced watching streamers, I can certainly tell you that my opinion of them have changed, but let’s start first and foremost at what I originally thought. PewDiePie was just a ridiculous guy to me at first, someone that just really made a mockery of games to just get a laugh out of people. He originally demeaned games to me because of his very unorthodox play style. There was something to me about how the game has integrity to me. That deviating from the design was improper and should be followed to experience the essence of the game. But as I watched players like PewDiePie and others, it came to me that besides the intended style of player, there is the fun factor that is important that make people change how they play. The original method of design is but one style of play, and I still hold onto that idea that it is one that people should focus on when they think about their game reviews, because it is there that the intent of design is important. Of course it is still important to point out flaws and such to where people can either exploit or even break a game, though it should not be what makes a game bad. If the game breaks the logic of its own design, that is where the fault resides, not with the way people play the game, as no one designer can calculate the exact means of play by all players. With that said, I reexamined how I looked at streamers and really earned a good deal of enjoyment for their commentary.
Now watching PewDiePie is different from the style of commentary of those streamers on Twitch. PewDiePie has just now started going into live commentary rather than his earlier videos on YouTube where he strictly recorded himself with a presented commentary. His method gave him more of a chance for a script he could follow although, in truth, it could have very well been that it was not he playing the game in the first place. And while that could be, it really doesn’t dissuade from his commentary. The same could actually be said of Conan O’Brien, as he takes on the persona of “Clueless Gamer” on his talk show. Again, regardless if it is or not, the commentary of what he says doesn’t really change from its intent. Their intent is comedy, so being good at the game isn’t what they are trying to convey to the target audience.
Going back to my main source of viewing with Twitch.TV, comedy was what I was looking for mostly, as well as a bit of the failure aspect, because if I wanted to watch someone play calculated and controlled, I would play the game myself. I am a very precise player, as I want to try to experience as much as the game has to offer at the same time as having fun. It used to be so much for me to deviate from the intended method of the design of the game, that I probably had what some would consider to be a more ‘purist’ style of play. The important thing learned here is that there are many different ways to play which has made me reconsider my approach sometimes and possibly want to go back to play a game I played before, just in a different manner. We’re not all individual snowflakes and such, but there are a variety of ways to play.
Now watching these people play games is one thing, another part of the streaming trend is the way people are making money through game streaming. It does go further than game streaming, since there are now different types of shows appearing on Twitch such as gaming talk shows, live-streamed tournaments, and even computer illustration and game development. But games is the main content being aired. The illustration streams are something I’m particularly becoming fond of, as a number of well-known comic book artists are beginning to draw either issues they are working on or special pieces they maybe working on for an event appearance. Cosplay design streams are also very fascinating to watch, showing the evolution of some of these fantastic costumes that we see at events like BlizzCon or San Diego Comic Con. The creative section of Twitch, which is where I found these comic and game art, and development channels, has definitely got some interesting options to watch as well. There was even a live stream cooking show, and while it was a little funny to watch, it really wasn’t anything of interest to me in terms of food, although I’m certain there is a niche crowd that enjoys the channel. They did have a nice setup of cameras as they had multiple outputs and displays to see close-ups of the burners, the span of the kitchen, and probably most importantly a view of the sink so you knew they were washing their hands. There are number of channels that use such views to give you a variety of what’s going on instead of the more simpler gaming channels that focus on the main output of the game, with a face cam view there to just observe their expressions as they play the game. These streamers have invested a good amount of time into developing their channels with colorful graphics, informational sections of the channel, and chat emoticons that subscribers of the streamer’s channel can use exclusively. Not to mention the setups that some streamers have, with thousands of dollars invested into sound-proof professional studios. It can be quite a production, and all these elements along with their natural charisma are what streamers use to attract followers and earn subscribers.
Before you go thinking that this is can be some sort of easy cash cow to make a living off of, there are things to know, at least when it comes to Twitch. A subscriber’s cost to exclusively follower a streamer is $4.99 on a monthly rate, of which Twitch takes 50% of that per subscriber and that is before taxes. So a streamer with 1,000 subscribers at $4.99 would earn $2,495 a month before taxes after Twitch takes their cut. We’re talking U.S. tax dollars here but there are streamers from around the world where Twitch does well in helping sponsored streamers sort out their earnings. Going on those numbers though, and again these are more raw numbers, with 1,000 subscribers at $4.99 per subscriber a month that would give the streamer a yearly gross income of $29,940. A thousand subscribers is a large number considering just how many streamers there are, but are somewhat small in comparison to how many viewers there are. And a streamer with around 1,000 subscribers normally has a huge follower base. One such streamer going by the name of DuckSauce, or Matthew Rhodes to give him his real name, who also happens to be dating the internet-dubbed “Queen of the Nerds”, Adrianne Curry. He has a huge follower base with over 275,000 followers, however despite that number he is only closing in on 4,000 subscribers. I say ‘only’ in light of that number because the percentage of subscribers to the number of total followers based off these gross estimates is that ‘only’ 1.5% of his total followers are also subscribers.
While the ideal situation for every streamer is to have all their followers be subscribers, all of the streamers I viewed are very humble and thankful to every subscriber they earn. However they are also openly expressive to those who just follow their channel. This is one of the beautiful parts of Twitch, because no user is obligated to subscribe to a streamer by any means. Streamers like DuckSauce don’t commercialize themselves to earn more subscribers, as they concentrate on producing a content-worthy channel. But of course, streamers like DuckSauce do often get approached by companies to market their products through giveaways and contests, which do help them earn more followers and possible subscribers. This is great for the streamer because people love the possibility of getting free stuff but again, streamers are extremely humble for the opportunity to do such things. I feel it’s also important to note about Mr. Rhodes that he has been streaming games for quite some time, even before he was dating Ms. Curry…before you start thinking he’s only gained popularity because of her own television fame.
DuckSauce has a very entertaining presentation from my perspective and well he should, as he has a solid and very well-established audience, but there many streamers that are working hard to get to his level. A number of competitive players stream through Twitch, such as members of Team OpTic, currently ranked number 2 in the United States and ranked number 9 in the world in Competitive Counter-Strike tournaments. Ten years ago, the team that was making headlines in Counter Strike was Team 3D. I think to myself what they would have if they had the chances of streaming and the earnings popular players like they were then, compared to what some competitive players make now. But players like these competitive players grind hard on what they do, they live and breath the game they play, but their streams are much more passive from their competitive play. MLG (Major League Gaming) runs a Twitch channel where they air such nationally-ranked tournaments, where you can see the difference in the way they play. These players earn endorsements from tech companies, much like drivers in NASCAR that sport logos on matching shirts while they play. But it’s another story on stream, they play just to play. They still hold a measure of professionalism to continue to perfect their tactics and style of play. This is part of their attraction along with the giveaways they sometimes market on their channels. The majority of their giveaways are much lower-end and frequent than those like DuckSauce have. While they do have hardware giveaway items, given to them by their sponsors at times, most of their giveaways revolve around graphical items in the manner of item skins for different appearances of player weapons in the game they play, with some players doing giveaways every day. One particular competitive player has promoted that there is a giveaway after each game session where in Counter Strike, sessions can be as short as 20 minutes and players sometimes stream over 8 hours in a day much like a job.
And that is not unreasonable, as gaming really is their career.