It’s all just fun and games until something wins a Cannes Grand Prix. Then it might be worth taking more seriously. Below, our deputy ECD, Jason Cascarina, reveals what makes live streaming video platform Twitch so appealing to the masses and how the ad industry can use it to take their ideas up a level...
So, then. Twitch. What’s it all about?
When I excitedly tell people it’s a platform that lets them watch people play video games live, their response is often the same: "Why would I want to watch someone else play a game, when I could be playing the game?" (That and: "Christ, you’re a nerd.")
But a description of what it is doesn’t really give you a sense of what it does. I didn’t understand this myself, until a couple of years ago when I spent a lunch hour at my desk watching a streamer called Gothalion playing Destiny, my favourite game, on Twitch.
(Because I really am a nerd.)
Yes, you could watch the gameplay. But far more interesting was how the streamer was interacting with his audience as he played. Twitch channels have a live chat window. So unlike YouTube, where someone posts a video and you leave a comment some time later to say how much you hate them, their video and all their family, Twitch lets you communicate in real-time. So as the streamer was playing, his audience was sending him messages about what he was doing, which he’d read out and reply to on the spot. And this particular streamer had a hilariously sharp tongue.
It seemed to me that Twitch behaves more like a favourite radio station. You’re into the music. But a big part of what you enjoy is the DJ and what they’re saying around the programming. Add in the live chat window and it felt like a modern take on a ‘phone-in’ show. The chat wasn’t just limited to gaming either. As he played, discussion turned to films, food and beer, with viewers commenting to each other as well as the host. I came for the game tips. I stayed for the chat.
The next thing of note was how the streamer was literally getting paid in front of my eyes. There were a couple of buttons under the video window. One for a sub and one for a tip. Hit sub and you are ‘subscribing’ to the channel, offering the streamer a few dollars a month to keep up the good work. Hit the tip button and you could give an on-the-spot donation of any amount from your PayPal.
Every time someone did this, the streamer would receive a notification and thank the donator personally, calling out their name and triggering a celebratory sound effect. It’s essentially a new twist on busking. The streamer does his thing and if you like it, you hit a button to drop a crypto-coin in the virtual hat.
So far, so niche. There are hundreds of channels on Twitch, devoted to specific games. But it has already started to branch out with Twitch IRL (In Real Life). Same format, but instead of dropping in to watch someone playing a game, they could be cooking, creating a piece of art or hosting a chat show.
Sound interesting? Amazon thought so. It bought Twitch for a reported US$970 million. And Microsoft was so interested, it set up its own rival platform, Mixer. But so far, it’s struggled to win over Twitch’s loyal fanbase. Three weeks ago, Mixer even paid a ‘transfer fee’ of $50 million for Ninja, one of Twitch’s champion Fortnite streamers, in the hope that he’d bring his massive audience with him.
With such a growing appeal, you’d think Twitch would be ripe for some creative marketing opportunities. And you’d be right.
This year, an idea using Twitch for Wendy’s won a Cannes Grand Prix. Wendy’s only uses fresh beef in its burgers and had streamers smashing up the freezers that appear in Fortnite on the brand’s behalf.
A streamer called HBomberguy was so upset at calls to have National Lottery funding for transgender causes rescinded, that he urged his followers to spread the word. And by streaming Donkey Kong for 57 hours straight, used the built-in payment buttons to collect £250k in donations (and raise massive awareness) for the trans charity Mermaids.
Then to launch a new range of fragrances inspired by nature, Old Spice created a live action video game hosted on Twitch. It dropped a hiker in the middle of a forest and let viewers ‘control’ him by sending commands through chat. The case study claims it reached an audience of 2.5 million.
No wonder more and more teenagers are saying they want to be Twitch streamers for an occupation. The allure of playing your favourite video games and getting paid every few seconds by an audience of adoring millions is understandably powerful. Of course, not all have come to the realisation that they themselves are the product. They need to be the unique, interesting, entertaining element, not the game. Not forgetting there’s a delicious tension between someone with the ability to play video games for hours on end. And someone who is good at engaging other human beings.
So, then. Twitch. What’s it all about?
For me, it’s a mash-up of video content, hobbies, radio DJs, phone-ins, busking, influencers, crowdsourcing, fundraising, entertainment, socialising, prospective employment and occasionally, advertising.
Though most importantly, back on that very first lunchtime, it was educational. Not only about what the platform really was. But for how to beat the ending of Destiny and claim a sweet high level pulse rifle for my space Warlock.
(What part of ‘nerd’ was unclear?)
Jason Cascarina, deputy ECD at Proximity London.