I’ve recently become more involved with the live streaming community and especially with Twitch.tv. I’ve always been a lurker on early sites like Ustream and Livestream as well as YouTube’s Let’s Play; I tried to broadcast (which failed miserably), but ultimately it’s always been a great source of entertainment because of the relationship that live streaming offers. Unlike YouTube or watching normal TV, live streaming allows the caster and audience to engage together in a direct and meaningful way. As someone who has grown up alongside internet culture I understand that the anonymity the internet offers allows some individuals to embrace every misogynistic, bigoted, racist, hateful idea that pops into their heads but it also has the capacity to foster creativity, collaboration and challenge existing viewpoints. I’ve shared experiences and joy with those I’ve “met” on the internet from my early days of playing World of Warcraft and using Ventrillo to speak with my guild or uploading my silly YouTube videos. Every comment, whether negative or positive, strengthens my resolve to put myself out there because I know firsthand that people can be inspired by the creative efforts of others.
This isn’t however, the celebration of community that I wish I could be writing. Rather there has been a growing trend among Twitch broadcasters toward cutting off the public from engaging in their chat by going sub only and requiring a monthly subscription fee. Sure, you could utilize other means of connectivity and dialog – most of these casters have a large enough web of Twitter and Facebook fan pages or random other means to keep the conversation going during downtime, but the simple chat which has always been an instant means of conveying your message can now be yours for a $4.99 fee! I wasn’t around during the conception of Twitch.tv so this isn’t about how that price point is jacked; this is about a simple utility that is being abused in order keep out a certain demographic. I’m not saying that subscription only chat doesn’t have its benefits; I respect the intentions of those casters arguing that they are doing it to protect their loyal viewers from trolls, spoilers and the vitriol of the internet. That being said, at some point you need to understand that for some successful casters you’re trying to run a business, which means you have to let your audience expand. Narrowing the gap of potential viewers by only allowing subscribers to engage might seem beneficial both financially and mentally, but ultimately you’re creating an insular community which will lead viewers to find other means of entertainment. I hate to be the asshole to point it out, but the whole idea of sub-only chat is a huge contradiction for those casters who preach about how much they love their communities or say how humble and fortunate they are to be playing video games for a living; shouldn’t that be enough?
Granted, most of these casters have worked hard to achieve their success and at some point you deserve some form of entitlement – but that’s already in place! With ad revenue, sponsorship’s, Twitch.tv events and front page promotion, merchandise and THE FUCKING SUBSCRIPTION option, what else do you want?! I personally love tons of casters and before going Turbo I would do everything I could with what little I had to support their channel, but still I am being ostracized from engaging a community simply because I don’t commit to a channel. I tallied up how much I would have to devote each month to get the full “quality” of my viewing pleasure and it would cost me $35 dollars each month. That’s simply bogus and insane! I mean, other online entertainment offers so much more for so little, hell, that’s almost reaching premium channels on TV that have real production value.
I’m not trying to attack any one particular caster with this article, I’m just a fan offering a perspective. During the first few days of this trend I did what any good organizer would do – I protested on Twitter each time a caster opted for sub-only chat. To my surprise, Man vs. Game tweeted back asking what solutions I could come up with. I thought about it and laid out some of the key flaws inherent to sub-only chat, but as far as a solution, my first instinct was to tough it out. That seems like a lame solution, but count how many times going sub-only is really necessary. Some casters have complained of the ending of a game being spoiled, a rabid fan-base crushing their enjoyment and criticizing choices made in games. This is the price you pay to be an entertainer and if that wasn’t what you signed up for then play offline. That was a bit too harsh so I spoke with unbiased sources, among which were government officials, campaign managers, and business owners and asked if given this sort of problem, what they would do? The majority agreed that the people, whether fan or customer should be your priority. Making any decision without the consent of your audience or constituents is bad form unless it’s a dire emergency. Also, you have systems in place for your chat to be filtered as well as moderators to oversee chat discussion, which can be overwhelming at times, but like Spider-Man’s lament, with popularity comes responsibility.
The $4.99 subscription price point is determined by Twitch, so lowering the fee to filter out immature 12 year olds without credit cards can’t be argued. If a caster really feels that they have no alternative but go sub-only, what can make the service more valuable or beneficial to the consumer? An ad-free viewing experience, dumb little emoticons, and the privilege to type a message in chat can’t be all you’re offering. Instead, consider subscriber-only monthly drawings, promotions and giveaways, along with the ability to vote on what games are played next and interactive fan engagement such as playing with subscribers, the possibilities go on and on. Set aside one day a week to allow non-subscribers to engage in chat. Again this falls on the individual caster and I haven’t felt the pressure of internet fame, but these are just my thoughts. I will continue to protest until compromise is made, but I don’t do it out of hate. I’m simply a fan who wishes to be part of a once small but ever growing community that I can be proud of.
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