Streaming as a new-old phenomena in gaming

If this blog hasn’t hammered one thing in by this point is that video and computer games may be relatively young medium compared to literature, music, film and other forms of entertainment like theater, but at its core the reasons for playing these games and methods are not new in themselves. Nevertheless, the evolution of technology does mask old things with new coat of paint. Old things in a different way for the new generation.

This whole post started from listening to a discussion about streaming, to be frank. It is true that streaming has become a way of life and making a living to certain people, and its the kind of work that almost permeates the streamer’s life. If you’re also doing normal video work on Youtube, preparing pre-scripted material with voice over, graphics and video, that’s off from everything else alongside streaming. No kid who wants to grow up to be a streamer should think that’s its an easy or stable job. On the contrary, being a content creator via streaming and video creation takes loads of hard work to get good at it, and even then you might fail because you don’t find the audience or your charisma just isn’t up to the task.

Streamers on platforms like Twitch and Youtube are self-employed. They do no work for Amazon or Google they’re just users like any other. Youtube may have started as a site for people to put videos on that couldn’t be longer than ten minutes, but it’s evolved to this massive network of content providers, which essentially means Google has outsourced the content at their site to people who do it for free. Sure, there are partner programs and such, but ultimately users are external from the company itself. The same applies to Twitch. The money is made from sponsorship and donations from viewers.

None of this is new, and comparisons could be spun to whichever direction we’d want. For example, peeping shows on the net rely on monetary donations from the watcher for the provider to provide some visual titillation and more. Another example could be anyone doing public sports, who has been slabbed all over with sponsorship logos on their shirts, pants and who knows where.

Arts patronage is more or less a dead concept and has evolved into modern sponsorship, where it used to be high-position people like kings and queens supporting their chosen people for arts and crafts, while nowadays the equivalents would be large companies and individuals. There was an interesting paradigm shift about ten to twenty years ago with modern technology, which took place in very slow pace, where tipping someone for their content moulded into the donation via Patreon and other services we have today.

All this is new for current paradigm of electronic games regarding the users themselves, both content providers and supporters. While it all really stems from people wanting to watch other people doing something for their enjoyment (IRL streaming and such are just another form of Big Brother), modern communication technology has broken the wall of interactivity between the watchers and actors. For example, you can watch Casposaurus’ videos and comment on them, to which he’ll most likely reply in a cuntish way. You can also watch his streams and directly interact with him via the chat. The last wall breaks down when you can go to his Discord channel and talk with him directly about pretty much anything. We’ve come from people discussing about things on an online forum to real-time, anywhere at any time. It may not seem like a major change, but the underlying element here isn’t just being able to connect with the audience, but who is doing the connection; a person.

Generally speaking, the separation between a provider (e.g. a corporation) and its consumers is beneficial as it providers a buffer between the front and the back. While this buffer exists between the example content provider above, it is much thinner barrier. You can’t exactly contact a script writer or director directly and discuss their latest episode or a movie with. With streamers and other content providers, that is a solid possibility with most of them.

Content providers who take up streaming and video making as their full-time job are dependent on their content. If the barrier between the user and provider is thin and the product is themselves rather than the content they make, their personal actions and choices can and will affect the rate of viewers and possible revenue. Internet Drama may be fun to watch and laugh at times, yet it can have heavy consequences if those actions cause major loss in viewers. While providers can state that they won’t change their methods or content whatever the sponsors say, the reality is that they have to create content that satisfies at least certain audience. Effectively, providers create something they think to be of value, and hope their submission is worth the patronage of the crowd, that the value can be found in them.

Watching a streamer is akin to watching a sports. People don’t watch sports just for sport itself, because simply watching it for the technical execution can get a bit jarring on the long run. It’s the “drama” they watch it for, the tension of things. The same can be said of streamers’ audiences, who are not looking for just well played game, but the self-contained community surrounding it all. What’s the value viewers hold in the streams is different, though we can generalise them as for the viewer, for the community or for the style of content.

Stream community and cultures have a low-entrance barrier as anyone can enter it either as a viewer or streamer themselves. Everything related to the communities and the sub-culture is easy to understand and grasp by just looking at it for a moment, similar to sports. This is somewhat opposite to high-entrance barrier parts of culture, like high art galleries or opera, where the viewer has to put more of that grey matter into work to get the intended enjoyment. As such, it is only natural for video and computer gaming to adopt something old in a new way for itself, considering it has became one of the largest entertainment industries.

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Netflix style gaming

Some time ago I was asked what do I think will be the next big thing in gaming. Usually I tend to argue that digital will not replace physical release for some time now (digital distribution has been said to obsolete physical media for some fifteen years for now) but I do recognize that cross pollination between the media is common. The future of gaming can once more found in the past, and that probably will be streamed games.

Streaming games isn’t anything new and few companies have already tried it few times over. Nintendo’s Satellaview service is perhaps the most prominent example next to OnLive’s cloud gaming. These two functioned rather differently, with Satellaview requiring a specific cartridge that would download and save the game on the cartridge itself, whereas OnLive’s MicroConsole TV Adapter (that’s what their console was called) would access a title on OnLive’s servers and stream it directly to the console.

Netflix’s and other streaming services’ success is something modern game industry is probably highly envious of. Games and movies don’t only affect each other visually speaking, but also how the industries sort of work. Modern mainstream game industry is just as corrupt and full of itself as Hollywood is, and both are envious of each other of their successes and products they put out. The consumer really loses in this little battle with each other.

It could be argued that modern technology isn’t up to perfect game streaming yet. Satellaview was more or less a similar service to Steam in how the game required a specific setup in order to be played, and OnLive’s service stated that the user needed to live thousand miles of within their server in order to get quality service. The Internet speeds are the bottle cap of the system overall, and as games require more and more oomph from the machine, the machines need to reflect this in their hardware. However, hardware still doesn’t reflect the quality of the games, as that’s still up to the developers how their games are designed and optimised, two things that seem to be missing from current mainstream industry.

One of the main reasons why companies would want to aim for game streaming is that they can claim it to be fighting against piracy through that. Claim is the choice of word here, because game companies don’t like people trading their games with each other. It’s better for them if everyone bought their games new from the stores. A streaming service would keep their the control of the market in their hands. Purchasing of games wouldn’t be a thing as the consumer would subscribe to a service. Except for the DLC, that would always be a separate thing. Of course, the user wouldn’t need to use any of his HDD space for the games due to cloud based service. In regards of history archiving, stream-only games would be hard to archive for future generations. Satellaview games suffer from this, especially with the radio broadcasts that went with them. Even now, a game that has its license expiring will be removed from stores and online services whenever applicable, and the same will apply to any streaming service.

Of course, the ownership question always pops up. With a streaming service, you would only own the console you would use for streaming, and for computers you wouldn’t probably own the software. You’d need to subscribe to the service itself and would have no control over anything in the end. Without a doubt, regional variants would continue to exists, just like with Netflix and other streaming services that limit what can be streamed in which country. This sort of regional locking is something that isn’t an issue with modern consoles any more, but with stream-only services a user wouldn’t be able to access games from another region without a VPN.

Which if the Big Three would launch their own modern game streaming service first? Sony certainly should have the basics for it, as they bought out OnLive. They should have all the documentation and basic framework how to set up a similar cloud gaming service. Perhaps this could be their ace in the hole to compete against Nintendo’s hybrid console. Microsoft on the other probably won’t do anything of the sort for a while now before they see how Project Scorpio turns out, and probably will mimic whatever Nintendo and Sony put out while trying to trump them with something over the top (see; Kinect and WiiMote.) Nintendo on the other hand seems to be already testing some waters with Switch’s paid online, as the current word on the street is that Nintendo’s paid online service has been delayed until 2018 and rather than offering a game for the subscribers to play, they will be able to access a plethora of classic games. Of course Nintendo would only offer classic games and nothing newer, as they don’t give a damn about their classic lineup of games. On the surface it does seem nice, with the cheaper price and all, but this most likely also means Nintendo won’t give two shits about Virtual Console, which was one of the reasons people bought Wii. Perhaps in their eyes a streaming service of these classic games could increase console sales, especially if the service was cheap enough.

I admit that companies hoping to take control over the consumers’ consumption of goods into their hands does sound like conspiracy theory to an extent, but no company would pass such an opportunity, because ultimately it is all about the money. By having all the string in your fingertips, a company could log in all the preferences of a consumer, supplement them, hit the right spots and sell the information forwards while still selling their own  product (i.e. subscription service and DLC in this case) to the consumer. The current consumer trend is to give control of products over the companies, and Steam probably exemplifies this the best alongside with Netflix. Certainly it is cheaper and you don’t amass large amounts of discs on your shelf. Perhaps there is too much trust put into these companies with all the information we give them.