As an older gamer, one of the stranger trends to watch unfold would be the rise of streaming and watching plays. Despite the downplay and eventual death (at the moment) of shows based around video games, the internet and sites like YouTube and Twitch have become havens for let’s players, streamers and online celebrities. For developers out there, it’s important to understand this new audience and market when designing your game.
For the older developers and gamers reading this, we’ll talk briefly about what’s going on. Video-based content for video games has exploded in recent years thanks to major players like YouTube and Twitch. What started originally as simply watching matches from major tournaments has evolved into daily videos and streams of a variety of topics; from video opinion pieces and reviews, to multi-hour streaming of games. The ability to watch actual game footage straight from a title has also had the impact of causing the downplay of game demos; due to people getting their impressions through footage.
Another impact has been on competitive or team-based games which originally started this trend.
Titles like Starcraft 2, DOTA 2 and so on, now feature actual commentator modes to let the game be shown from an audience point of view instead of just watching a direct feed from the players.
And last but not least, popular streamers and video makers have achieved internet celebrity status with the number of popular streamers increasing it seems by the month.
The impact of streaming video games cannot be understated for developers who are looking to get their game out there among an ever growing market.
The old adage: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” fits perfectly to discuss the importance of streaming and game footage recording. Being able to watch a 30 minute video about a new game and see what it’s about, provides a lot more on a title compared to an 800 word article. When I spoke with Erich and Travis from Double Damage Games on Rebel Galaxy’s success, they talked about how much it helped getting the game in the hands of streamers and recorders to get early game footage and buzz going.
If your game is great, the buzz from the video can help you with notoriety and game sales; none of which you had to actually spend money on an ad campaign to get. Conversely, if you release a game with problems and bugs, the audience will be able to see that as clear as day and it will come back to bite you (see the War Z as an example.)
With that said, there is more as a game developer to think about with their game than just advertising and awareness, but designing your game to be streaming friendly.
Video games and streaming is still a young concept despite the growing popularity; there are many developers who don’t think about streaming either from a technical or design point of view. Starting with technical, one of the things I’ve seen as I’ve gotten more accustomed to streaming and recording is that some games are not recording friendly. Some games seem to have a lot of stability problems when trying to record; such as stuttering, game crashing, resolution problems etc. One of the oldest technical problems has been games that act up when you alt tab out of them and go back in.
In the old days this wasn’t a huge deal, because when you’re playing a video game, you’re not going to be alt tabbing out to do other things.
However things are different today; with steamers and recorders setting up multiple displays, graphics on screen, chat integration and so on, they need to be able to go in and out of a game to make sure that everything is working properly.
As a small, yet critical point, depending on what distribution service you use for your title, being able to generate press keys before the actual release can help you with getting early footage and coverage. Speaking to developers, I know that some of them had trouble with getting keys generated specifically for press or before the game’s release date.
From a design point of view, it goes back to talking about competitive or team-based titles. In today’s market, everyone wants their title to be the next great E-sports craze. Making a popular game to stream and show off is not just about the technical issues as mentioned, but making it accessible for people watching, commenting and playing.
Besides designing a UI for someone playing the game to understand, it’s becoming more and more important to have commentating and viewer UIs to make it easier to properly show what’s going on. Starcraft has come a long way from the days of just watching someone’s view point. Today, commentators have extensive tools to properly show relevant information at a moment’s notice; information that is then presented neatly to the viewing audience.
Chances are, if you’re designing a small scale multiplayer game or singleplayer title, you’re not thinking about having a unique UI for commentators or streamers to use, and that’s okay. However, free coverage can be worth its weight in gold for getting your game and name out there in front of many potential clients. You can no longer avoid or ignore people recording your game; anything you can do to make their life easier will ultimately benefit you.
Finally, this should go without saying, but it’s important to touch on trying to actively dissuading people from showing your game; either by not fixing the issues mentioned or making false DMCA claims to get footage taken down. In today’s world, people are connected from multiple avenues; if you get caught trying to stop someone from talking about your game, it will get out and cause a lot of trouble for you.
There are many ways to consume video games today, and it’s important to make use of all them to give your game the greatest chance of success as possible. And of course, if we’re talking about streaming and let’s plays, I have to mention the Game-Wisdom Twitch Stream and Youtube Channel that I’ve been working on for the latter half of 2015.