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