How Twitch TV is (Also) Hurting Gaming

I put the word “Also” in a parenthetical note to imply that Twitch has done a lot for the gaming community. There’s no doubt of all the positive ramifications of turning the online world on its heads by making gamers into mini celebrities and providing some with a nice career. However, the implied “Also” here means for me the dark side of Twitch (and YouTube to a slightly lesser degree).

I don’t want to include YouTube as much in this discussion because of how 1) it hurt itself by killing communities and promoting algorithmically content into people’s front page; 2) YouTube acts as a far broader platform. In the case of Twitch, it’s exclusively a gaming vertical and pretty much has become the de facto go-to spot for people who want to broadcast and share their gaming activities.

That said, I want to talk about the darker side of Twitch. I’ve covered certain topics here and there but I want to go over several key things that have cropped up over the past few years, which, in my opinion, has caused some level of detriment to the gaming industry at large.

The first aspect is indirectly putting more pressure on the e-sports aspect of gaming. Obviously, games can have a very competitive nature to themselves, but the emphasis on e-sports gives room for only a few games to really excel. The way the content is exposed on Twitch depends exclusively on views so a lot of good games end up buried way beneath the perpetual top games, which tend to be dominated by competitive ones. Because of this method of surfacing content, some games end up getting junked once the community grow bored. And it’s sad because it makes the game feel “uncool” to play and not allowing some to really blossom (e.g. Neverwinter Nights).

In addition, the e-sports/competitive nature of gaming creates pressure for broadcasters to do high end/competitive content. The word “casual” is tossed out as a four letter word for people who want to play at their own pace. This part really gets me because it puts more pressure on the gaming studios in polarizing their audience whenever they make decisions on how features and difficulty are rolled out. In some cases, the situation has gotten out of control to the point where developers get threatened.

From there, another major issue occurs where everyone is trying to do whatever the latest and greatest content is in order for the Golden Ticket – Partnership. I think the Partnership idea is a great one in allowing excellent streamers to be able to make some money and receive support from their viewers in building up their community. However, what has happened in truth is a massive rat race. I’ve stated this before and I’ll state it again: I don’t think everyone should get a Partnership.

These days, it’s become extremely easy for people to obtain this Holy Grail status because the barriers to entry have been lowered massively. Unfortunately, the way the Twitch formula works, it caters exclusively to eyeballs (i.e. viewers/followers) because of how the platform is seen as an advertisement platform. As explained with how content is surfaced, what ends up happening is that a lot of good games and good gamers/streamers easily get lost in the shuffle while some people who either aren’t skilled or cheat (for a lack of a good word) their way to the top sometimes get favoritism.

Yet the way this ends up working out seems downright wrong to a degree for me. You might say, “Well, it is democratic because people are getting the eyeballs, right?” That’s part of the disease of online advertisement in trying to push eyeballs as easy money. Sometimes, I’ll watch a stream and wonder to myself, “Just how the hell did this person get a partnership in the first place?” In some cases, it’s downright obvious. But the other aspect is that I think you really don’t end up having good communities at the end of the day. What happens when a game’s popularity suddenly sinks? Or what happens if a person realizes that they just can’t make enough money? The only clear winner in this is Twitch.

Also, even though the idea of the Partnership is to help support streamers and it’s purely a gesture from the community to help these people out, it’s very straining on the community and the streamer alike. I know some streamers who have partnerships and ended up taking extended breaks or decided to return to school. And it’s in their right to do so as well as the community’s right to withdraw their money. Still the end result doesn’t sit well with me either way. Part of my decision to support a streamer is because I want to watch them stream. I feel that the demand realistically cannot meet the existing supply in this case.

Another sour point that has come up numerous times is exploiting on stream. One of the most recent exploits occurred when one streamer did an exploit to boost themselves during the seasonal ladder for Diablo 3. The situation was quickly hot fixed but it’s something that won’t go away. For myself, I don’t care if people run exploits. Heck, prior to online games, I would run tons of cheats so that I could finish up a game faster. But the situation ends up putting a black eye on everyone. Twitch can’t easily control the situation (honestly, the streamer should’ve been banned) and no computer software is without bugs (this coming from a very experienced web developer). Still, at the end of the day, everyone gets hurt, even the people who intend to use the exploit without the intention of harming others.

But again, this ties back to the idea of how the gaming industry has been stymied by Twitch. I can’t imagine the hell that the developers who had to work over the weekend to hot fix that particular exploit constantly have to deal with in these situations. But if the game wasn’t competitive (i.e. without seasons/ladders) then so what? These days, you have to play the games according to a very strict design/funnel defined by the developers and quite often that funnel might not exactly be the most entertaining thing in the world.

What about sexism and sexual exploitation? I’m someone who has a very pro-gamer mind set. That means, I want games to be fun and for everyone to enjoy. So I love seeing female gamers in this world that traditionally has been viewed as male dominated. Twitch has opened the door to allow females to not only enter but even dominate this arena, which has been great. Growing up, I only knew one female gamer and in college there were two girl gamers in my dorms but none of them were serious at all. Usually, if you were a computer gamer back in my jr high and high school days, no girl would ever want to speak with you. You were looked down upon, you were the guy people would pick on and tossed into the locker or just hang out by yourself behind the bungalow because you were too into your games.

Twitch has provided a platform for girls to finally show themselves to the world as gaming purists and it’s great because now gamers can be viewed as cool too. However, the community (especially the trolls) is extraordinarily offensives to many of them. Some have no issues with it and deal with it accordingly. But many receive horrible messages that clutter up the chat with adolescent nonsense. Yes, it can be funny at times admittedly, but on average, most comments just have no place in the world. This is something that frankly Twitch needs to determine how to deal with at the cost of viewers because plainly stated it’s sexual harassment. I deeply admire the strong willed women (and witty ones) who manage to provide sharp responses to these little fuckheads, but it still sickens me to read half the garbage that goes on. It saddens me because I know most of these people are 10-15 year olds and that says a lot about society on a whole.

But even though I support female gamers, what I personally do not support are girls who blatantly use their sexuality to exploit viewers on stream. I know some females will nod their head in agreement with me on this one as they share the same sentiments. These female gamers help contribute to the filth that I just wrote about and overall hurt the perception of gamers in general.

Worse yet, watching some of these people play games makes me sick. I don’t find anything entertaining, educational or socially contributing in value in what they do outside of fulfilling some 10-15 year old’s wet dreams. I’ve heard some horrible stories where, for instance, some of these people have obtained Partnerships and use as their “subscriber perks” Snapchat to send naked photos of themselves to their subscribers. Some of that just crosses the line for me. You no longer have a community for gamers but people who just use the stereotype of the “lonely, fat/ultra skinny geek kid in his basement” to get a quick buck.

I guess what also bothers me about this part is that these people just suck at gaming. I mean, it’s horribly painful to watch some of these people. They have no skill and no noticeable interest in the games they play. Instead, they once again use their viewers to get ahead in the games. I don’t mind carries; I carry people myself whenever I can. But at the very least the person should have some sense of sincerity for what they do rather than reek of a socially subversive stance. (On a side note, popular guy streamers can get carried often too because viewers want to hang out and help them; but the differential here is that popular streamers tend to have contributed to the community in some way either by being good or providing entertaining/helpful content via YouTube. In the case of the female ones I’m referencing, it’s pretty clear how they use their sexuality to exploit viewers. I’ve yet to hear of a case where a guy uses their sexuality to get carried by women)

Maybe I wouldn’t feel as bad if as a male, I could do the same. But the truth is that the demographics for gaming never can favor someone like me. Maybe in the scheme of things this is an equalizer. Reminds me of a saying by Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, “Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon. The best one’s between your legs.” Either way, this doesn’t sit well with me and I know both genders also feel similar in that regard.

Another dark moment that shall never be forgotten is the infamous ZilianOP incident. While people like NoHandsKen have done a lot to improve the Disabled Community’s image, it will be tough to regain the trust of people over time because of what ZilianOP had done in manipulating the public’s pity for his fake condition. Similarly, there was an incident of a girl who was robbed at point blank on her stream. Some people said that the incident was faked in order to gain views. Yet these cases demonstrate how the Partnership and Donation aspects can be abused potentially by unethical streamers.

The reverse can happen too where popular streamers can be abused and harassed. One example was Swifty who on multiple occasions would have pizzas ordered to his home directly. How people obtained his address is anyone’s guess but the situation did cross the line big time once. In that case, cops were called to investigate a kidnapping at his home and he was forced to go down to the police station to file a report. That part really crosses the line in terms of invading one’s privacy and doing a so-called practical joke. It’s not funny and can be hurtful to people who just want to entertain and help others out.

Similarly, there was the infamous Zyori situation. I don’t want to go into detail but the bottom line is that you have to be very self-conscious about your habits while streaming. If you have thin skin and make one mistake, the community can completely wreck you. Essentially, you’re at the mercy of giving up your privacy so only certain types of people can really stream effectively.

Overall, I wanted to make this post to demonstrate the other side of Twitch that few people really talk about on a whole. There’s a lot of buzz right now from marketers/advertisers who are licking their chomps at sinking their teeth with the upcoming Amazon.com buyout. But when I read various posts, I tend to find only a very small fraction of the story being told. However, as a developer, blogger, tech industry expert, game lover and Twitch addict, I have to show both sides. I’m not condemning Twitch by any means but I do wish to show other sides for people who aren’t aware of Twitch and might want to know a little more about some major concerns that exist.

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