As recently as five years ago, the only time you were likely to watch someone else play a video game live was if you were stuck in the same room with a game that didn’t support enough players to let you join in. Today, livestreaming sites like Twitch have revolutionized video game spectating to the tune of millions of viewers and $970 million acquisitions. An entire e-sports industry has grown up around the idea of gaming as a spectator sport, and streaming subcultures have developed around everything from speedruns to jump scares to Minecraft.
But the rise of Twitch and competitors like Google’s YouTube Gaming has done more than change the way we watch games. Developers and publishers are increasingly taking notice of the livestreaming revolution and altering the way their games are developed, marketed, and played in order to take specific advantage of the Twitch audience.
From watching to playing
The famous Twitch Plays Pokémon experiment was among the earliest and most public signs that livestreaming was creating entirely new forms of play. The popular stream leveraged Twitch’s IRC chat channel to let viewers control the action in Pokémon Red directly, crowdsourcing input from what could be thousands of viewers at a time. The result was a chaotic, slow slog that bears only a passing resemblance to the game as it’s “meant to be played,” but the experiment drew massive attention (and countless imitators) nonetheless.