Twitch is a pretty hot topic lately – it’s just changed its conditions, it supports female streamers, and some of its ban habits are as questionable as always. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there are ever more streamers happy to play and tell, trying to compete for the most viewers, subscribers and donations.
While the whole streaming games thing was a pretty odd thing when it first came up, now even services like YouTube offer streaming options, and plenty of people make a living from streaming. Yes we are jealous, both of the fact that they play games for a living, and of the fact that they can make a better living off of it than we could ever hope to make.
Streaming has become a million dollar industry (seriously, it’s made plenty of people millionaires), so it’s probably no surprise that it’s started to take a direct influence on the video game development industry. It sounds a little backwards, but it’s undeniable – here’s an example.
In 2014 (when the whole business was still a lot smaller than it is now) PewDiePie had some 35 million subscribers on YouTube. He featured the game Skate 3 in his games quite heavily for a while, and because of that, the game re-entered the UK charts after leaving them for a while. Now, of course, this could have happened because of some other, unknown sudden factor that caused an interest spike, but let’s be realistic here.
Since then, even the big head-honchos of the gaming industry have caught on, and they are pandering to the streamer crowd strongly – not only do both the PS4 and Xbox One have built in video streaming features – something that before that generation was mostly reserved for PC gamers – but they simplified the process to the point where all it takes is a button or two to get going.
Even Nintendo – a company that just loves to skirt past mainstream trends and consumer wishes, allows video uploads of some of their games like Mario Kart 8 – coincidentally, one that did pretty well in sales.
That much for general access, but what about specific perks – they exist, and they have been around for a while. It used to be common knowledge that developers would give copies of their games to gaming magazines etc, in order to get some good pre-release reviews – so far so good. More recently, so-called ‘Streamer-keys’ have come up – keys intended for streamers so they can promote the game without having to pay for it.
Of course, this is hugely beneficial to the streamers – they get free games, views and subscriptions in exchange for the coverage, and the company that hands out the key gets other players interested in the game, increasing their sales of said game. It’s a win-win deal, although, if you’re involved in either streaming or developing, you’re probably aware that there will be dozens if not more people begging for streamer keys, which can be quite annoying.
That aside, it doesn’t stop there – since another phenomenon has popped up, the so-called Stream Sniping, the special treatment streamers get has expanded even further. Streamers open themselves up to be targets by streaming – in games like Fortnite or PUBG, their streams reveal their weapons, positions and more.
Because of that, players in the same game with access to the stream have a much easier time killing the streamers, or using their ‘additional’ field of view to get more kills. In most games, this is against the rules – rules that were put in place specifically to protect streamers from an unfair disadvantage.
In some games of course, this has taken over completely, and especially with smaller devs and bigger stream-names, vindictive streamers will punish and have banned players that kill them – justified or not. Of course developers have to make an effort to keep their marketing team happy (that is what they are after all), but when this takes over, it ruins the game for the rest of players.
Obviously, this shouldn’t be the case, and usually it isn’t but it is definitely an effect caused by the huge impact streaming has had. Then there is the other side of the coin – while clever campaigns and free keys can absolutely help companies promote their games, it can also cause them losses.
How so? Well, narrative-driven games, visual novels, or even games like Persona 5 always unfold the same way. Sure, in games that let you make decisions those decisions affect the outcome, but it’s still essentially always the same story.
Not unlike a book that you probably wouldn’t read again if you had already had it read to you by someone else, this can have a negative impact on sales – viewers that watch a streamer play a story-focussed game probably won’t want to purchase a game they may otherwise have bought, simply because they’ve already seen everything there is to see in a stream.
If the game was absolutely exceptional they still might buy it, but the incentive is mostly gone – in other words, there are games that developers do NOT want streamed. Atlus’ Persona 5 is actually a good example – the company has released multiple memos, requests and even threats of bans against people who stream the game.
They can’t outright stop people form doing it, but they can do their best to discourage it – an activity that not only hurts their image (after all, it makes the company seem petty) but also doesn’t protect their sales as much as they would like (people ignore it anyway, and the ban alone might put some off buying it completely).
In this scenario, a win-win turns into a lose-lose, at least for the company, because one way or another, certain game concepts financial viability is hurt through streaming. Short or long-term this too will have an effect – instead of narrative-driven games, we will see more and more Battle Royale type games, more FPS games like CSGO and the like – they are the ones that benefit from streamers.
This will impact the common gamer too – no matter how much you, personally, may want another Persona title (because seriously, that series is amazing), Atlus might just not make another if it’s not profitable for them – we can’t blame them for that either, as no company wants to lose profits.
To sum it up, streamers have completely changed the way (many) companies market their games, it’s changed how they present them, how they sell them, and in the future we will even see changes in the type of game that we will get to play – out with the narrative-driven games, in with all possible variations of repetitive multiplayer arenas.