Yesterday, Twitch announced a new initiative to involve developers in designing games specifically for streaming: Stream First. The idea is that Twitch will work with developers to create games where streamers and their viewers can play together in different ways, as an alternative to the passive watching experience.
Right now, though, the way this actually works is pretty limited. This is to be expected, as it’s just been announced, but the three games that Twitch used to showcase this new idea did not do the best job of explaining it. The only way that you can interact with the games is typing things into the chat, which might have been a fun novelty for players of Twitch Plays Pokemon/Dark Souls/whatever else, but doesn’t strike me as a good foundation for game design. It reminds me a bit of old text adventures, except instead of typing “kill jester” you’re typing “#cthulu”.
The first game shown off, Superfight, is a card game where two participants argue who would win in a hypothetical fight between the two characters shown on the cards. Then viewers would vote on the outcome by typing in hashtag commands. Twitch brought in some popular streamers for a couple of rounds, but I have to say, it was neither fun to watch nor fun to play. The problem was that the streamers in question mostly just kept yelling words like “HASHTAG JACK BAUER” rather than coming up with creative or interesting things to say about the hypothetical match-ups, and then whichever of them was most popular won.
This concept of loyalty to favourite streamers was mentioned often during Twitch’s presentation: the idea of pitting different personalities’ fans against each other seemed to rather excite the company. I do not understand the point of this, as it just turns any given game into a popularity contest. Any voting-based system is hugely open to exploitation: what’s the value of a contest whose outcome is pre-determined by whichever participant has the most fans? It was compared, in the presentation, to pitting the fans of rival sports teams against each other. But I’m not sure I understand why that’s appealing, because in that scenario the equivalent of Manchester United would win every time through sheer numbers.
The second example game - Streamline - is an arena combat game that let viewers vote to change the rules through Twitch chat, whilst teams of players and broadcasters tried to kill each other in-game. This one kind of worked as a spectator sport: it was a team-based action game with a twist, and the Twitch integration was a twist on the idea rather than the foundation of it.
The third example was the most interesting, but also the most difficult to understand. Wastelanders is a chess-like strategy game in the very early stages of development, in which the streamers acted like generals and the participant players could move around the board, attack and defend strategically, and try to claim resources form the board. Players could either follow their general's orders or go rogue. I can see this one turning into something good, but the actual mechanics of play - typing hashtag commands into a chat box - still felt… backwards.
I think it's fair to say that the idea of this initiative is a lot more interesting than the early examples of Twitch integration in action - but again, that's to be expected. As more developers sign up, and Twitch learns how best to help them, we'll see how much potential the idea of creating games for streaming really has.