As one of the largest live streaming platforms in the world, Twitch has had significant social and cultural impacts on the internet. Twitch has transformed our understanding of the internet by propelling live streaming and gaming culture into mainstream media and redefining spectatorship and what it means to be a content creator. On the flip side, Twitch has also transformed how people express harmful political beliefs and discriminate against vulnerable groups. This article will explore the conception and cultural spread of Twitch, ownership and business in Twitch, and the social, political, and cultural impacts the platform has on the internet.
The start and spread of Twitch
Twitch.tv, or Twitch, is one of the world’s largest live streaming platforms with almost 9 million active users per day and 2 million live streamers. These streamers produce almost 250 million hours of content per month. (Todd & Melancon, 2019, p. 472). Twitch initially started as a gaming-related live streaming platform under parent company, Justin.tv but, was bought by Amazon in 2014 to become the Twitch we know today (Bowman, 2018, p. 179). Twitch has since shifted from being a video games-based streaming platform to a multifaceted live streaming platform that incorporates streaming topics and themes beyond gaming.
Whilst platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram have implemented live streaming in their services, they are not focused and centred around live streaming in the way that Twitch is. In other words, live streaming is an integral part of Twitch rather than just a feature. I argue that it is this focus on live streaming that accounts for Twitch’s transformative effect on live streaming and the understanding of live streaming cultures.
Twitch & Amazon: the making of an effective business model
Twitch.tv is owned by a popular technology company, Amazon. It is important to look at the ownership of Twitch by Amazon because it represents the Amazonification of both live streaming and games. This is best seen through the business model of Twitch. Twitch provides an on-demand live streaming service that features publishers, media outlets, casual content creators, game developers, and eSports platforms (Bowman, 2018, p. 179). Users can view content produced by these entities based on specific categories, topics, and tags and interact live with the people producing this content.
Content that is live streamed on Twitch can range from game walkthroughs, game testing, and eSports tournaments to live chatting, live eating, and live art (Bowman, 2018, p. 179). Since the content produced and featured on Twitch is seamless, accessible, and engaging versions of the content that is live streamed on other social platforms, it is difficult for other companies to keep up and compete with Twitch. I argue that this reflects an Amazon business model where a service, in this case, live streaming, is provided in such an innovative way that becomes the standard and representation for that industry.
In summary, Twitch creates a successful business model through turning these interactions between viewers and streamers into a form of revenue, attracting viewers who are interested and willing to spend time and money on the platform and featuring the video games that they are partnered with.
Partnership, Regulation & Power on Twitch
Shortly after its launch, the online video game Rocket League grew from being the 165th most viewed game on Twitch to being in the top 5. This growth resulted in almost 5 million sales for the online video game. Since then, Rocket League has entered a partnership with Twitch to launch a competitive series that will be broadcasted on Twitch (Johnson, 2019, p. 671). This growth represents the power Twitch holds to bring a relatively unknown game to popularity. It also reflects Twitch and live streaming as a marketing strategy and how the platform can be used to broadcast products and services to consumers in a way that is interactive and personal. It is these characteristics of Twitch that make it a prominent platform in both the gaming and live streaming industries.
1. Partnerships & Perks
Amazon provides Twitch with a gaming perks feature known as Twitch Prime or Prime Gaming. Users of Amazon Prime get Twitch Prime for free by linking an existing Twitch account to their Amazon account. Twitch Prime gives users free perks for popular games such as League of Legends, Valorant, GTA V Online, and Apex Legends whilst also enriching their experience as a viewer through the provision of one free subscription to a channel on Twitch per month (Taylor, 2018, p. 253).
Not only does this encourage people to regularly engage with Twitch, but it also encourages people to make use of their Amazon account. I argue that the gaming goods provided by popular gaming companies through Amazon to Twitch is a means Amazon uses to get more people to use their services, thus, reflecting the Amazonification of video games and online games.
2. Power, Identity & Status
In addition, Twitch is a place on the internet where people from different social and cultural backgrounds with different interests can exist in the same space and perhaps even find ways to relate to one another. However, I argue that it is this ability to bring different groups together that causes friction and even discrimination
Gamer cultures dominate video game live streaming platforms such as Twitch. These cultures include an array of different social and cultural identities but seem to be represented far too often by the hypermasculine cisgender male identity. This identity is exclusive of those that fall outside of it (Maddanari, 2015, p. 332). Whilst Twitch does provide services to viewers and streamers from different social and cultural backgrounds, I argue that the platform privileges this white cisgender male identity that benefits and profits off gaming communities.
In turn, groups such as female gamers and LGBTQIA+ gamers are commonly stripped of power, status, and identity as a result of this white cisgender male privilege. The video below illustrates the experiences of trans women and cisgender women on Twitch and the criticism and abuse they receive on the platform for their gender identities.
Video on female experiences of sexism and misogyny on Twitch
3. Regulation & Content
In comparison, Twitch is filled with content that is provided by streamers. In other words, these streamers make the platform what it is and allow Twitch to provide its innovative live streaming platform to viewers. The provision of content is regulated through the platforms Affiliate and Partner programs where established streamers can receive payment for the content they create (Taylor, 2018, pp. 3-4). Notably, Partner and Affiliate streamers are required to adhere to Twitch’s terms of service to keep their status and payment. This takes the labour of regulating terms of service and other rules on the platform and gives it to the content creators and their channel moderators.
The transformative effect of Twitch
1. Transforming spectatorship on the internet
There are different methods streamers use to interact with their viewers. This ranges from one-sided streaming where the streamer focuses on themselves and the game they are playing to mediated and indirect cooperative streaming where the streamer interacts with the audience and the audience with each other (Diwanji et al., 2020, p. 2). These methods are important because they reflect how Twitch has transformed our understanding of spectatorship on the internet from being impersonal to personal and intimate (Ross, 2019, p. 156). Additionally, Spectatorship on the internet has transformed from being based on pre-recorded videos to now being inclusive of live streamed content. I argue that Twitch has played a significant role in facilitating this transformation and continues to push live streaming as a type of internet transformation into new and more innovative directions.
2. Transforming content and discrimination.
Although Twitch is a gaming-based live streaming platform, it still finds ways to include content that aligns with more mainstream forms of digital media. This includes streams where streamers chat to their viewers without games, streams where viewers watch television shows with viewers, and even streams where streamers show their day to day life (Taylor, 2018, p. 256). Another example of different uses of Twitch include libraries that utilize the platform in to reach out to viewers who are interested in reading (Ralph, 2020, p. 67).
This shift in the content on Twitch represents how the platform has transformed our understanding of content creation on live streaming sites. These sites are no longer just a domain for gamers to stream the games they are playing but rather a mainstream live streaming site that is inclusive of content creators that fall outside of the gamer umbrella. However, as a point of critique, the inclusivity of content creation on Twitch does not solve the underlying issues of racism, sexism, and discrimination that is prevalent on the platform. I argue that Twitch, in this regard, has also transformed the ways viewers express their discriminatory views on people from different social and cultural groups.
3. Transforming the ways people socially and politically connect online.
Twitch has transformed the ways users can interact with the content creators produce and other users viewing that content. The platform allows users to be in a conversational space with other users and content creators all whilst watching the content that is being produced live. Users can give suggestions, be welcomed by the streamer, provide their own commentary, and even discuss personal matters with the streamer and other users (Taylor, 2018, p. 75).
In some cases, Users can also use live streams to participate in political protests and help facilitate social change. This is possible because the platform affords users with live chat features, rewards for participation, and opportunities to co-operate with streamers. Live streaming on Twitch is unique and innovative because it offers opportunities to interact and community experiences that are difficult to provide on other online platforms (Spilker et al., 2020, p. 616). From this, I argue that live streaming on Twitch allows users to access a live and innovative conversational space where they can socially and politically connect with others that other sites on the internet do not.
In conclusion, Twitch has had significant cultural impacts on the ways we work and play. Twitch has transformed live streaming as a career, providing a means for Partners and Affiliates of the platform to profit off the content they are producing. Twitch has also transformed the way we play, turning spectatorship into a highly interactive and personal experience whilst popularizing different types of video games. Without Twitch, live streaming and gaming cultures online would not be what it is today, for better or for worse.
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