Twitch.tv – The Cultu̶r̶e̶ of Livestreaming

Twitch.tv And The Changes It Brought

Twitch.tv Logo

Surveillance and privacy should be a concern to many in this day and age, but have you considered that millions of people voluntarily broadcast themselves and their activities, live, in real time, to tens of millions of viewers worldwide?

Since its inception in 2011, Twitch.tv, a gaming-focused livestreaming platform, has exploded into the popular service it is today, with 15 million daily active users, and 2.2 million creators. Unlike other video delivery platforms that provide a seemingly similar service, such as YouTube, Twitch.tv creators deliver content to users in real time, as it is being made. This has changed the traditional relationship between the creator and the consumer, or perhaps even created a whole new dynamic.

Furthermore, with the rise in popularity of the platform, privacy concerns, and even security concerns has been thrust in the spotlight. As creators continue to further broadcast their activities, the line starts to blur between the public version of themselves shown to the audience, and their private personal lives. As we will discuss later on, this perhaps unwitting intrusion of the private lives of the creators, can lead to major consequences for the creator.

The Origins of Twitch(.tv)

Twitch.tv originated from another service, “Justin.tv”, which initially began with a focus of real-life creators broadcasting their lives. For example, Justin Kan, the one of the founders of the service, broadcasted his life 24/7, and used the concept of lifecasting liberally, though it never became a popular term. As the site grew in popularity 2008, the content diversified into different categories, with the gaming content becoming the most popular content of all. In 2011, the gaming content was spun off into a separate, new site called Twitch.tv, which focused on gaming content primarily.
“We realized we weren’t good at making content, so we had to invite other people in. And people hooked up their Xboxes and started broadcasting. We had never even thought of that.” (Emmett Shear, 2013)
In August 2014, the parent site, Justin.tv, closed due to the parent company now focusing their resources on the more popular, and more profitable platform of Twitch.tv.
Unlike other video-delivery platforms that existed back then, Twitch.tv provided a revolutionary new way for creators and the audience to interact with each other over the web.

On platforms such as YouTube, the creator would have to publish their video, wait and receive feedback such as comments, and likes/dislikes (ratings), then react accordingly, such as modifying their next video to reflect the audience feedback.

On Twitch.tv, however, the creators get to communicate and interact with their audiences live, which gives the audience a lot more of an active role in how the content is created. In other words, the audience can feel more involved, and the creators can also receive a lot of helpful, and supportive real-time feedback while the content is being created.

Twitch.tv and Amazon.com

Currently, Twitch.tv is owned by Amazon.com. Its revenue comes from the users being able to purchase a currency on the site called “bits”, which they can use to donate to the creators and “cheer” them on. The livestreams on the site also feature occasional advertisements. Supportive audiences can also “subscribe” to a creator, giving them a monthly revenue and gaining some perks exclusive to the creator’s channel.

Additionally, in 2016, Twitch.tv announced a premium model called “Twitch Prime”, whereby if a user purchases a monthly subscription to Amazon Prime, they will have access to exclusive perks in Twitch.tv such as advertisement-free streaming, access to some games for free, and more bonuses. Twitch.tv is also becoming a popular, exclusive platform for broadcasting e-sports competitions live, which earns them sponsorship revenue.

The Ecology of Twitch.tv

Twitch.tv’s main demographic are primarily male gamers, over half of which are between the ages of 18-34. This demographic also regularly frequents YouTube, which leads to the logical conclusion that they are competitors existing in a similar webspace.

In fact, Google already reportedly proposed to buy out (“acquire”) the company in May, 2014, a few months before it was revealed that Amazon had acquired the video-streaming platform. However, the deal was rumoured to have fallen through due to concerns of anti-trust laws if Google had acquired Twitch.tv, as they would have a near monopoly on the online media platforms, with the ownership of YouTube as well.

“Google was unable to close the deal, said sources familiar with the talks, because it was concerned about potential antitrust issues that could have come with the acquisition.” (Mac, R. 2014)

Twitch.tv Ecology diagram

Societal Innovations of Twitch.tv

Before Twitch.tv became popular, there were two ways of watching someone else play video games:
  • Watching a recorded video, or;
  • Watching them play in the same room as them.

Of course, it is much better to be able to look over the player’s shoulder, and yell either encouragements, tips on how to play the game, or funny things at them, so the player acts accordingly with your feedback. The trouble is that this method does not support many spectators, as a room can only hold so many people. Additionally, if you have a friend who resides a few countries away from you, they would have to travel to your house on a long journey, if they were to see your riveting gameplay.

Twitch.tv solves all those problems, and brings back the more intimate relations between the player and the audience. Whereas on platforms such as YouTube, an inevitable schism between the creator and the viewer emerges, as the creator’s work has to be published before it can receive feedback, Twitch.tv creators receive live feedback and interaction with the very audience they are broadcasting to.

It is as if thousands of people were looking over your shoulder, watching you play the games, shouting and giving you support. It is a wonderful concept that any gamers could enjoy and revel in.

TwitchCon, where avid users gather to celebrate the platform.

Dark Side of Twitch.tv

However, despite these positives that a platform such as Twitch.tv can bring us, we must also mention the negative societal impacts that the service can bring as well.

Popular Twitch.tv creators often receive much attention from viewers worldwide, and while most of the viewers have no ill intentions, it cannot be guaranteed that someone out there watching, hiding behind the veil of anonymity, doesn’t get creative and begin thinking of ways to mess with you in real life.

“Swatting” is a term referring to the act of falsely reporting a serious crime at another person’s address, in order to incite a major emergency response to the person’s address, as a part of a hoax or a “prank”. The term relates to the U.S. law enforcement unit “SWAT”.

The act can simply be called a hoax, or a prank, but in recent years, the term spread over the internet as a more “21st Century” version of these types of hoaxes.

Google Trends result of “swatting”

Twitch.tv creators, even if they are not aware of it, are broadcasting more than what they want to show the audience. Their location, their name, their habits, all of which, if someone were to investigate deep enough, could lead to the real identity of the creator behind the screen.

Once the real identity of the creator is obtained, a malicious individual could, using any justification, “swat” the creator who is usually livestreaming at that moment. The law enforcement, believing there to be a serious crime taking place at the address of the creator, would take appropriate actions to subdue the threat, and this action might be caught on the livestream, which is the main goal of “swatting”.

Take, for example, an incident in 2014, when this exact situation happened live on air. Or worse yet, in 2017, a similar “prank” got an innocent man killed, because of a minor argument between two gamers.

This unethical practice wastes valuable public resources, and also damages the community as a whole, when the creators cannot simply trust their audience to not turn against them.

Happy Path

Fortunately, there have been actions taken by law enforcement in the U.S. to deter this act. Recently, in October 2018, the Seattle Police Department has created a registry that, according to their blog post, “where residents concerned about swatting can communicate those concerns to their local 911 Center.” (Best, C. 2018)

This service allows people at risk of being “swatted”, to enter a registry which relays extra information to the police while they proceed with the call. It does not delay the process, but rather allows the police to be much more informed of whether the call is a hoax or not.

Good Twitch, Bad Twitch

Twitch.tv is revolutionary. It created a whole new culture on the internet, where you can have the pleasure of shouting profanities at creators while they’re gaming, or cheer with joy when they manage to pull off the impossible.
With such a large impact on the culture, it is not surprising that there were some negative impacts as well. However, society and culture has also evolved to consider those impacts, and responded accordingly. That, in summary, is the effect of a platform such as Twitch.tv, rising to prominence.

References

Ewalt D. (Nov 13, 2013) The ESPN Of Video Games. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidewalt/2013/11/13/the-espn-of-video-games/#281191703dd7

Mac R. (Aug 25, 2014) Amazon Pounces On Twitch After Google Balks Due To Antitrust. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2014/08/25/amazon-pounces-on-twitch-after-google-balks-due-to-antitrust-concerns/#6b9606095ab6

Best C. (Oct 1st, 2018) Protect Yourself from Swatting. Retrieved from https://www.seattle.gov/police/need-help/swatting

Timothy Lau
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