Twitch: Gamers Selling Games
Not long after the industrial revolution, the introduction of graphic design into creating logos for private companies and corporations were implemented. By post-World War II, clothing industry realized the ingenious simplicity of stamping their corporate logo onto their attire. Striking the perennial two birds with one stone, the sartorial designers understood its imprint served twin marketing functions.
The first is disseminating brand awareness at point of sale (display rack) as the consumer identifies with the merchandise. When a white cotton t-shirt looked like any other, how could the public tell one manufacturer’s line from the next? As Nike grasped, a large Swoosh on the chest of a t-shirt is unmistakable on the display rack. But it also extended beyond merely differentiating brands, but free residual product recognition. Ambling around with a Nike Swoosh was the classic case of the walking billboard; it was mobile advertising. Essentially, the consumer was indirectly paying the apparel company to market their brand to the outside world. Building on this very concept is consumers dressing up as their favorite fictional characters.
Cue the contemporary multimedia entertainment expos like Comic-Con and AnimeCon. Sartorial creativity and branding transcends a whole new meaning gilded by the rise of cosplay. To the uninitiated, cosplay is a portmanteau of “costume play” devised originally from the world of Japanese animation. As consumers masquerade in costumes representing their favorite characters from a range of multi-genre and multi-medium art forms, media conglomerates realized its vast marketing potential. While the ritual of costuming in these conventions symbolically act as a thread pulling the expo community together, in branding it functions in parallel to the logo imprinted t-shirt. Cosplayers craft homemade costumes as likenesses of these copyrighted characters from the digital screens of film and animation.
Among the different prongs of marketing strategies, anime production companies rely on the familiar principles that Nike realized sometime ago. Professional cosplayers follow the annual convention circuit. While they generate profit through all mediums of media, their role playing advertises the iconic figures that media companies monetize (turn into profitable commodities). In fact, in some cases, these companies realize they can forgo in creating their own living mascots, since it’s all taken care of and advertised by the cosplayer. Similarly, consumer-interactive marketing of corporate brands has spread to online gaming.
What is Twitch.tv?
Splintering off Justin.tv, Twitch.tv adopted the synthesizing of a deceptively simple, but arduous-to-execute concept of grafting live-stream with live chat. A common realization now, the hybrid idea was in its early stages a mere nascent musing. A real-time 24-hour internet broadcasting, conjoined with viewer interaction, was actually the passing reveries of a pioneering tetrad. Amongst the founding four is the site’s eponymous Justin Kan, whose surveilled-life would be inspired by the arch theme of modern reality-based televisual entertainment.
EDtv meets cyberspace, it was an experimental celebration of self as celebrity. In its original webpage mouse-print, their intention was innocuously “to see what it was like to be Justin.” Inspiring digital low-brow’s version of cinéma vérité (fly-on-the-wall documentary filmmaking), Kan was an ear-piece camera with legs. Divvyed into different content types, its gaming category outgrew other streaming materials. Spinning its most publicly favored channel then was its logical conclusion, subsequently being acquired by Amazon.
Twitch stations are mainly mapped around a hodgepodge of digital-gaming titles and a handful of side-interest programming. In lieu of rubbernecking behind a shoulder, Twitch saddles the spectator in the same seat of the gamer. From such established series as the League of Legends, World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike, spectators are spoiled for choices in following other streamers engaging in their favorite digital pastimes around the clock. However, its menu hierarchically shifts based on its viewer numbers. Top-aisle games feature immediately on the scale’s peak. Under-whelming titles fall under the pecking order on the totem pole. Some of these less desirables are buried deep, requiring more turns on the mouse scroll wheel.
Once inside a selected broadcasting title, there emerges a panoptic* panorama of hosting streams transporting the viewer into cells and chambers of the gamer’s living rooms or bedrooms. Once more, the channel hosts ushering in the most subscribers hail supreme, couched on the apex of the gamer’s selection page. Opting a channel typically unveils the host’s gaming screen. What is actually broadcasted online is the very monitor that the gamer herself exercises her split-second motor skills. While monopolizing the audience’s window is the same real-time game play onscreen. Concurrent is a smaller display capturing the gamer’s physical appearance.
While the action of the gameplay unravels, pegged in the corner of the spectator’s monitor is the emotional and verbal response of our immersed host interacting with the featured title. On rare elaborate cases, broadcasters elect a third-adjunct screen. These exceptions are its enviably rich artistic potpourri of its Creative and Music programming. Comprising the montage of screens, music-specific broadcasters include a triad of streaming windows. Each three may individually capture the musical workstation (DAW), themselves (their visage and backdrop) and their hands dexterously manipulating the dual turntable or musical instrument (midi keyboard, guitar, drums, etc.). All the while, the webchat interface allows the audience to communicate with the host. Financially, each monthly subscription is worth around $5.
The dynamic between the gamer, viewer and the interactive electronic product cultivates a fascinating triangular relationship. For the live streamer, persona is everything. She is both a subject and a digital gamer, synthesizing the dual roles. In fact, as traditional television, radio and filmic personalities, the Twitch broadcaster is in every right – like that of the YouTube vlogger – a carefully crafted personality. In academic nomenclature, they are an online iteration of a meticulously tailored subjectivity. Nominally on the surface, they aspire to project a self-image of an authentic individual, where they can be “themselves,” just playing video games. However, in most cases, they are sophisticated forms of subjects designed with nuanced caricatured traits from popular culture or imagination.
Parody and ironic indifference as comedic personas, or sultry and seductively manicured cosplay characters, an ensemble of invented selves lure subscribers through their engagement with certain titles. Subsequently, a gamer need not be the best performer in their chosen title, as most Twitch streamers are not professional gamers. What allures potential consumers to the title is the outlandish persona as a conduit.
Cartoonish in braggadocio, absurdly dead-pan and exaggeratedly pantomime, Dr. Disrespect is an apt model of a scrupulously devised character. His highly popular channel follows his ridiculously unscripted reaction to Daybreak Game Company’s H1Z1. Handlebar moustache, jet-black mullet, wrap-around shades and a hyperbolic sinister locution, Dr. Disrespect maintains the face of an anachronistic farcical villain. All the while maintaining character, he interacts with both game and viewer. What makes Dr. DisRespect a double threat is not only his comically eccentric character, but his first-person shooting abilities. Depending on the type of game, some highly skilled professional gamers stream faceless. Treating their channel as an instructive clinic, it acts as a workshop for fans to learn tips, tricks and skills, or clues in unlocking a difficult stage. In such exceptional cases, pure gaming competency matters.
As an interactive audio, visual and textual experience, Twitch broadcasts are shrink-wrapped content and packaged for monetizing both identity and computing platform. Screen-to-screen streaming simulates the direct visual and auditory experience of the host. While the host facilitates the action of the game, the subscriber as voyeur (or its more sinister argot of “lurker”) is as close to direct immersion, while lending feedback via the text function. It is here the fourth wall breaks down. The gamer interjects to publicly read enquiries and comments posted on the chat board, thereby responding directly to the subscriber. More powerful than when a protagonist addresses the filmic audience, the streamer is momentarily video-conferencing their follower. Because one of its main theatrical values is the title’s ecosystem, it seamlessly functions as a driving force in marketing digital commodities.
While Hollywood’s studio system is fingered for its racial, ethnic and gender imbalance in representation, Twitch, like YouTube, reinforces the premise that cyberspace is a better-served leveler over other established forms of entertainment. Its accessibility reflects, however a skewed cross-section of US social landscape, but open to a vast ambit of the international community. Indiscriminately interspersed within its general menu, streamers from all continents host specific language-based content.
Yet, to say that Twitch is a likeness of US social cross-section would be disingenuous. African-American, Latinos and markedly senior presence are marginal. However, perhaps per socio-economic factors, Asian-American and Asians are visibly represented. Clearly, it is gender disparity that the streaming space directly readdresses. Hybrid roles of the cosplay gamers particularly gain notoriety by donning the façade of familiar female anime figures. A single cosplayer may shift costumes as she broadcasts their game online, interplaying the world of anime and online gaming.
Like YouTube and its foot solider YouTubers, Twitch gamers freely circulate the logistics in becoming a streamer. Unsurprisingly via YouTube, the established streamer welcomes the public into her bedroom-converted studio, touring through the various logistical kit and gear (type of computer, webcam, USB mic etc.). Meanwhile, a cottage industry emerges in spreading such knowledge by following a Twitch gamer’s footsteps. They are explicit about the type of brand and model that has brought them digital fame. All angles are monetized. Most world-title championships based on a given title is aired live in multiple languages on Twitch. Cited by ESPN, the 2016 League of Legends World Championship finals alone was followed by 43 million people. Viewership of the baseball Worlds Series has not broken the 40 million mark.
Under the stewardship of Amazon, it has birthed its own second-annual convention: TwitchCon. Akin to comic-con as a stage for consumers to double as marketer via masquerading as iconic multimedia characters, Twitch pushes the envelope of this very concept. As a platform converting the enthusiast gamer into its disguised salesperson, the website is a concept beyond the dreams of the marketing department of multimedia corporations. As its recent iteration of 3D broadcast realized in Boom.tv, the consumer is now also the talking and playing three-dimensional digital billboard.
*an aerial view akin to one like a panopticon (a self-surveilling circular prison devised by Jeremy Bentham).
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