Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment


Nathan Brown writes a col­umn ol­umn on Twitch, and promptly for­gets or­gets it

Even if you didn’t spend your uni­ver­sity years play­ing Mario Kart 64 in smoky halls-of-res­i­dence dorms, the hu­man mem­ory is an un­re­li­able thing. Our short­term me­mories can, by de­fault, only re­tain be­tween five and nine pieces of in­for­ma­tion at once. Trans­fer­ring them to our long-term me­mories only works with con­scious ef­fort – re­vis­ing for uni­ver­sity ex­ams, say, if you aren’t too busy per­fect­ing the mush­room­less Koopa Troopa Beach wa­ter­fall short­cut.

This is es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous in an era of monthly sub­scrip­tions and pa­per­less bank state­ments. As one con­fer­ence speaker put it a few years back, when you sign up for World

Of War­craft, you for­get about your gym mem­ber­ship – both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. My monthly out­go­ings are pep­pered with tiny trans­ac­tions: a few quid on a Net­flix un­blocker that doesn’t work any more, the use of a Skype num­ber that comes in handy two or three times a year, stuff like that. I’m grate­ful that the ser­vices are there when I need them, but af­ter­wards I tell my­self I re­ally ought to can­cel them. And I am firm in my re­solve for the en­tirety of the 30 sec­onds it takes for me to for­get about them again.

Still, there’s one I’ll never can­cel: a monthly fiver to sub­scribe to the Cap­com Fighters channel on Twitch, giv­ing me ac­cess to Street Fighter tour­na­ment archives. Ev­ery other channel I know pro­vides this for free but, hey, this is Cap­com we’re talk­ing about. I watch a lot of Street Fighter, and I think of this like a Sky sub­scrip­tion. It is, how­ever, the ex­tent of my en­gage­ment with Twitch’s pay­ment sys­tem. I pay money to a com­pany, not an in­di­vid­ual, and I mostly watch tour­na­ments, with a host of play­ers and pun­dits in­volved. But I feel like an ex­cep­tion, not the rule. The big­gest Twitch stream­ers aren’t the likes of Cap­com, but peo­ple in their bed­rooms play­ing games re­ally well for hours at a time. Twitch’s great suc­cess is that, like YouTube, it fosters a di­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween cre­ator and con­sumer – one that grows more per­sonal over time.

So where I dimly re­sent giv­ing Cap­com a fiver a month be­cause I have no choice, oth­ers will­ingly pay much more on Twitch for en­ter­tain­ment they could have for free if they wanted. They do so be­cause they en­joy the streamer’s work, of course – but also be­cause they feel like they know them. A new sub­scrip­tion is met with some on­screen text and, as time goes on, an in­creas­ingly in­tru­sive fan­fare of some kind. The streamer reads the sub­scriber’s name out and thanks them pro­fusely. Cru­cially, they sound like they mean it. And why not? Un­like YouTube, where viewer num­bers af­fect ad rev­enue, the vast ma­jor­ity of a Twitch streamer’s in­come comes from di­rect subs.

While off work re­cently, too ill to play games, I de­cided to watch some­one else do­ing it. A Des­tiny streamer, Kraftyy, was us­ing a lot­tery sys­tem to ran­domly select view­ers to play along­side him in Tri­als Of Osiris. Kraftyy is an ex­cel­lent player and seems a thor­oughly nice chap, but his streams truly shine be­cause he blurs the lines be­tween per­former and au­di­ence, pick­ing some­one out of the crowd and invit­ing them on stage, maybe even get­ting them some sweet loot in the process. When some doeeyed YouTu­ber gazes into the cam­era and says, “I love you guys”, they are speak­ing to an amor­phous blob of ad-rev­enue con­trib­u­tors; no doubt they are grate­ful for the fact that vlog­ging yes­ter­day’s drive to the su­per­mar­ket has cov­ered the down-pay­ment on their next SUV, but the whole thing rings a lit­tle false to me. Yet when a viewer throws Kraftyy a $50 tip, he thanks them per­son­ally, in­di­vid­u­ally, and seems ab­so­lutely made up.

Clearly all is not as pure as it seems. JoshOG, a like­able CS:GO streamer, has been caught up in the same skin-bet­ting scan­dal that re­cently peeled back the cur­tain on YouTube cor­rup­tion. But for the time be­ing, at least, such things are rare on Twitch. In an in­creas­ingly cor­po­rate in­dus­try, it’s nat­u­ral that some­thing like this, which feel pro­foundly un-cor­po­rate, res­onates so deeply. YouTube feels, to me, a lit­tle too much like a busi­ness – a home for care­fully edited, ag­gres­sively mon­e­tised con­tent made in­creas­ingly to a best-prac­tice tem­plate and tar­geted at the col­lec­tive com­po­nents of a sales graph. Twitch, by con­trast, feels pleas­ingly lo-fi, home­brewed, per­sonal and hon­est. Un­like so many of the en­tries on my bank state­ment, it feels like some­thing well worth pay­ing for. Not that you should can­cel a mag­a­zine sub­scrip­tion – to pick a ran­dom ex­am­ple – to make room for it, ob­vi­ously.

When you sign up for World Of War­craft, you for­get about your gym mem­ber­ship – both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively

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