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The Commodified Gaming Community: Networked Publics on Twitch

twitch logo

Twitch is a streaming website predominantly used by gamers to broadcast their game-play or watch others play. While this was its original goal, it has since expanded beyond just game-streaming services.

With in-built donations through PayPal, monthly subscriptions and support services such as likes, follows and donation messages, Twitch has become a Commodified Networked Community.  To investigate the Twitch community an understanding of  Boyd and Ellison’s (2007) networked publics is required.

Online spaces are changing the way we interact and present ourselves to each other. Networked publics have emerged from the internet and social network sites (SNS). Networked publics can be seen as the space they construct and occupy on “networked technologies” and the “imagined collective” that is created through their interaction with each other and their networked space ( Boyd 2010).  In the context of Twitch, the networked technologies are the stream channels and the “imagined collective” is the viewers various interaction between each other, the streamer and Twitch moderators.

Twitch is an interesting hub of networked publics to look at due to it’s commodified SNS approach. Users can have a profile page, friends lists, followers, as well as private and public messaging. While it seems like Twitch is just a platform for  streamers to simply play videos games, it is actually much more. Gamers watch twitch to get advice on video games, because they are attracted to certain streamer personalities and because it is an online community full of people just like them. Twitch provides an online area for networked publics.

Publicness, Representation and Donations

Streamers  open themselves up to the internet on Twitch. Whether it is their real or staged personality, they do it to make a living.  SNS’s such as Twitch are commercial ventures and streaming has become a full-time job for many. Hinton & Hjorth (2013) have cautioned to remember this when thinking about how we are paying for these “free services”. While Hinton & Hjorth stop at data as a currency, Twitch streamers seem to sell themselves, the networked individual. Instead of just data, online personalities are the currency.

Sacriel reacts to 1k donation train

Sacriel template photo for vid link
Link above (start at 21 minutes 15 seconds): Twitch streamer Sacriel receives over 1,000 donations from Twitch viewers over the course of a few hours of streaming. The donations are a minimum of $2.50 USD. 

In a capitalistic Western setting, Twitch streamers flourish as humble, ingratiating individuals who are constantly worshipping loyal subscribers and donators online. However, is this their true representation? Does that even matter? And what are the consequences when your online identity is revealed as fake?

The Twitch community is just as supportive as it is unforgiving. In the clip above, you can see a streamer, Sacriel, who receives an enormous amount of monetary support from his viewers just because of his stream and online personality.  The networked public he created around his identity streaming on Twitch supports him. However these networked publics created by streamers can also become cut throat.

Since its creation, multiple streamers on Twitch have mislead their networked public to believe that they are something they are not. A streamer who went by the name, emilyispro faked to her viewers that she had cancer. Many of her viewers supported her in the best way they saw possible: donations. When it was revealed that she did not have cancer, her Twitch community turned on her, throwing verbal abuse as well as even donating to her so that she could see the donors abuse (Twitch has a function where if you donate to a streamer, you can also send a message that will be sent directly to the streamer in live-time as well as the rest of the stream. These messages  pop up in the middle of the stream window).

emilyispro exposed for faking cancer on Twitch

emilyispro template photo
Link above: Twitch streamer emilyispro gets exposed through YouTube about misleading her viewers to believe she had cancer.

Boyd (2010) highlights the dangers of networked technology  being able to play a dictating role in “controlling information and configuring interactions”. The networked public can be influenced and manipulated by the networked individual. When a networked technology like Twitch is manipulated by a networked individual, such as emilyispro, the other side of networked publics is shown. In a public that has only been created relatively recently, unrealised forms of manipulation can negatively affect all individuals in the community.

Ain’t no online community without trolls                

twitch chat time photo paint
Image showing how quickly Twitch chat moves with messages on a stream.

Online communities revolve around communication. This communication can be
positive, negative or simply just noise. When stream channels have over thousands of viewers on at one time, the communication is constant and sometimes overwhelming. As a result, many messages go unnoticed.

While trolls have always been cunning, a chat that moves this quickly requires adaptive thinking. Coleman’s (2012) understanding of the evolution of the troll reinforces this cunning ability to wreak havoc in new and inflammatory ways, where ” rapid-fire conditions magnify the need for audacious, unusual, or funny content”.

With Twitch chat, I suggest that in order to for the troll to have an impact his message needs to be seen and be trollworthy enough for fellow networked individuals to repeat his exact chat spam through copy+paste.

Twitch allows for its users to donate to their favourite streamer. When they donate, they also have streamer provided options. These include writing out a donation request and in some cases, requesting a song.

The networked publics on Twitch are full of trolls and Twitch moderators are aware. While there are options to implement “slow mode” on chat which only allows users to post a message once every 30 seconds, as well as delete messages containing particular words and symbols, the Twitch donation message has become a haven for Twitch trolls to swap streamer chats with addictive spam. The chat then becomes a collective troll, spamming so much that the chat’s original function becomes obsolete.

twitch chat spam 2
Screenshot of Twitch chat spam when a well-known song Sandstorm, by Darude is requested on a stream via a donation.

The troll makes a mockery of anything that should be taken seriously (Coleman 2012). When the troll is given an outlet to have his message promoted above everyone else through stream donations, it is abused. While the impact is usually temporary and the chat spam dies down in a few minutes, another troll usually takes the spotlight with another inflammatory donation message. Stream chats can be hijacked for hours and some streamers even encourage it through allowing certain spam messages to not be filtered out, as well as purposely overreacting when a troll donation is given.

Instead of dealing with the phantom and ever-present online troll, streamers on Twitch have managed to utilise the troll for monetary gain. The uncontrollable troll has become controlled. Streamers have the tools to promote or completely negate troll behaviour on their chat. While their effectiveness is varying from stream to stream, positive gaming networked publics have been created on Twitch with the absence of trolls. Take Sacriel’s stream clip (above) for example, not one donation throughout the entire donation train on his live-stream was a troll, all were to show support to him for everything he had done for his viewers.

While the troll will be perpetually adapting to its environment, Twitch has been able to manipulate the troll for monetary gain and re-direct the majority of them onto streams where their spam and inflammatory content is embraced and promoted. While this is hard to conclude as a permanent solution, it is a very interesting and new approach to dealing with trolls.

Troll donations on Twitch

twitch troll
Five examples of how trolls provoke and generate a reaction out of streamers. Profanity is used throughout the clip.

Conclusion

Twitch provides an example of a frontier SNS that has created new and exciting networked publics. Scholarly insight provides the foundations for investigating such networked individuals and their interactions with each other online. However it is essential to extend their concepts and apply them to relatively under researched networked publics such as Twitch. This allows for a greater understanding of how networked technologies and individuals are shaping networked publics.

Twitch’s trolls reinforce Coleman’s understanding of their adaptive nature. While trolls have a variety of reasons for provoking other networked individuals online, people’s response to them is usually the same: argue with them or ignore them. Looking at Twitch and how they have managed the overwhelming presence of trolls highlights a new area of trolling. The troll has become a currency. Many streamers embrace and try to attract as many trolls as possible to their stream because they know they donate money in order to get their message across.

The future of networked publics is exciting, and the research into how networked individuals interact with each other is constantly playing catch-up. While this uncertainty of direction can be worrying, it is also fascinating to investigate and be a part of.

References

Boyd, D., 2010. Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics and Implications, Ed., Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network sites, pp. New York: Routledge. pp.39-58.

Boyd,D., & Ellison, N.B., 2007. Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship, Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, viewed 25 April 2017,  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x/full.

Briz, 2015. Twitch Song Request Troll – Ep. 1, viewed 25 April 2017,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPx5Rn2aIog

Coleman, E.G., 2012. Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls. in M. Mandiberg, Ed., The Social Media Reader, pp. 99-119. New York: New York University Press.

EloHell, 2016. Twitch Chat Spam, viewed 25 April 2017,  http://elohell.net/chill/230184/twitch-chat-spam.

Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. 2013. Social Network Sites, Understanding Social Media, pp. 32-54. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

League of Fun, 2016. Twitch Troll Donations Reaction Top5- League of Legends, viewed 25 April,                                                                                       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DeqE6oKcXs&feature=youtu.be&t=11

Steam Community, 2016. Effective Communication in Twitch Chat, viewed 25 April 2017,  http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=494987028.

Twitch, 2016, downloadable logo assets, viewed 25 April 2017,  https://www.twitch.tv/p/brand-assets.

Twitch, 2016, 1k support train pt.1., viewed 25 April 2017, https://www.twitch.tv/videos/134892237.

Van DijkJ., 2012. The Network Society, Social Structure, pp. 166-170. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. 

Vexxed, 2016.  Twitch Runescape streamer Emilyispro Fakes Cancer for Donations??, viewed 25 April 2017,                                                                       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fWPnvbH2fk.

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