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The Power of Streaming: assessing the developer-streamer relationship

In my experience as an assiduous Twitter user, I have read plenty of bad tweets. However, Alex Hutchinson’s take is probably one of the worst I have seen in the past few weeks.

In his now-infamous series of tweets, Hutchinson, the creative director of Stadia Games’ Montreal studio, argued that “streamers should be paying the developers and publishers of the games they stream”, since they earn profits by streaming those games. 

Chaos immediately descended upon his Twitter profile, and the reaction he got was so intense that Google had to release a statement distancing themselves from his tweets. I can’t say that I am surprised at the backlash.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand his reasoning to some extent. There is a possibility that people watching online streams of video games might decide in consequence not to purchase the game, as Hutchinson argues. However,  I see this as an extremely rare case, one that would happen sporadically. 

I struggle to think that there are many players who choose to substitute the hands-on gaming experience for watching an online stream

The truth is, despite my trying to see both sides of the argument, I am inclined to think that what he wrote is just plain wrong.

I struggle to think that there are many players who choose to substitute the hands-on gaming experience for watching an online stream of a video game. The joy of gaming is about being able to interact with the game itself, about being able to play it first-hand. To think that most players, as Hutchinson seems to think, would rather watch an online stream, is mind-boggling. 

Naturally, it might play a role in dictating their final choice about whether to purchase the game, but is that really bad? Don’t players have a right to know whether they will enjoy the game before purchasing it, or whether it is really as good as advertised? 

You could argue that in a way, game streams function as reviews: you get to watch how the action unfolds and then decide whether to buy the game or not. It seems like an over-exaggeration to think that Twitch streams provide such a deterrent for players interested in a game that it warrants a huge revenue loss for developers.

There might be people who watch streams of games they will not end up purchasing, but is this really a consequence of having watched the stream? As the price of gaming increases, there are a growing number of people who cannot afford to purchase the most recent video games. When these people watch streams of the game, can you count this as an insidious profit loss for developers, or is it instead the democratisation of the games industry?

One of the great things of the streaming era is that you can watch gameplay for free, without needing to own the content. For someone who might have always dreamed of playing video games, but does not have enough funds to afford them all, it is a brilliant opportunity, one that is – among other things – perfectly legal. Much better than trying to download the game illegally.

But what about game developers? Are they really adversely affected by game streams? I think not. 

The truth is that streamers provide free game advertisement

Contrary to what Alex Hutchinson might argue, streaming is mostly beneficial to developers. You only have to think of all low-budget and small-scale games that have exploded in popularity thanks to streaming. If it had not been for the latter, games such as Among Us would have never spread far and wide, bringing glory (and money) to the developers. 

The truth is that streamers provide free game advertisement, and rather than drive sales down, they very often push for the contrary to occur. It is not a coincidence that major brands have caught on the importance of this and have started to recruit streamers as ambassadors.

One example of this is Nintendo’s Brand Ambassador Program: in exchange for providing screen-time to their games, streamers get exclusive access to Nintendo games, sometimes even before release. Obviously, Nintendo – and other brands too – have realised just how impactful streamers can be, and how their contribution to revenues is far from negative. Streamers cater to many kinds of people, and can be instrumental in their choice to purchase a game (even one that they would have never thought of buying in the first place).

As a final point, I think Alex Hutchinson’s take is terribly bad, as it seems to assume all game streamers earn a profit from their activity. This is far from the truth. Despite what he might think, a lot of streamers are not solely focused on streaming for profit: rather, they do it because they genuinely enjoy it, and want to share the fun with as many people as possible. Would it be fair for them to pay a fee?

I am not saying that developers should just be grateful for the support streamers provide to them, and not dare speak their minds about issues within the industry. However, I think there are far better ways to face the issue of the relationship between streamers and developers. The hope is that future suggestions will simply just be better thought up.

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