New Ways to Play: Twitch Evolves

New Ways to Play: Twitch Evolves (Tiffany Chu plays Sophie in the live-streamed series "Artificial," which uses Twitch's interactive features to give the audience a voice in the storytelling. (Source: "Artificial" publicity still))

Twitch, the premiere live-streaming video site best known for gaming is experiencing a wave of experimentation both inside the company and from independent producers using its platform.

While most people will think of eSports when they think of Twitch, the site has featured everything from hit role-playing game streams like “Critical Role,” to Bob Ross videos to collaborative multi-player game experiences like “Twitch Plays Pokemon.” It was the latter that was an evolutionary leap that showed Twitch’s potential for massive multi-user experiences with an eager community. From a tech and audience standpoint, this is one of the platform’s biggest advantages.

Two current projects show new ways that Twitch is being used.

“Twitch is a communal platform with a lot of technology. It begs for engagement and interactivity, but it doesn’t require it. That flexibility with innovation is what attracted me to it,” said Bernie Su, the co-creator of “Artificial,” a series about an artificially intelligent robot named Sophie (played by Tiffany Chu), that is becoming human. The series is on its second season on the platform.

“You can just watch our show and not participate and if you like our story, you’ll enjoy it,” said Su. “But if you’re commenting, debating with the rest of the audience, voting on polls, and playing with us you’re getting a rich participatory story.”

Su is no stranger to interactive web series, having earned Emmys for his work on ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Emma Approved.” Those shows used social media to create an interactive experience for fans that rolled out alongside and around the episodes, but “Artificial” is performed live for the streaming audience, and the interactive elements become a part of the story.

“A lot of new viewers come into our series and don’t realize that it’s live, that they can participate, or wonder if Sophie is a real robot (she’s not). It’s a new habit. You don’t watch “The Avengers” asking if Iron Man is real or if you yell at the screen, [thinking] he might listen to you.”

Changing the relationship between viewers and show runners isn’t the only way that Twitch is evolving online entertainment. The site itself launched its first in-house game, and while the Twitch community is known for first-person shooters, battle royales, and MOBAs, the first game from Twitch is a karaoke game.

“Twitch Sings” lets users broadcast their karaoke sessions, naturally, but it is the social aspect that will make or break the game.

“We’ve been thinking about this for some time. Streamers have always wanted the ability to sing rights-cleared music on stream, often for charity or community rewards, so in many ways the genesis has been the desire of the Twitch community,” Joel Wade of Twitch told YR Media. “It’s been a fascinating project to be a part of because it’s both a game and a creator tool, built to be seamlessly streamed live on Twitch.”

Sure, there will be emotes for audience members to cheer on singers, but it’s the ability to pull someone — be it a friend or a fan — into a duet that sets this effort apart.

“We strongly believe there’s an opportunity for a new category of game to emerge that’s made to be streamed, where the audience isn’t just ‘nice to have’ but a part of a shared interactive performance,” said Wade. “ We knew karaoke would be the perfect place to start. It’s great live, it’s always entertaining, and there are really fun ways we can allow the audience to participate with singing challenges and voting for the next song.”

In some senses these experiments reach back into the DNA of Twitch, which started out as part of the “lifestreaming” platform before the focus on watching people play games became so popular that the parent company changed its name. Now, as part of Amazon’s vast digital empire, the platform acts as a pioneer of social interactivity that goes well beyond commenting and chat rooms. (Not that those go away, as the success of Discord amongst the gaming community shows.)

Both “Artificial” and “Twitch Sings” point towards a future for the platform where live events provide a catalyst for new forms of collaboration, even co-creation, between producers and fans.

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