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Twitch wants viewers to work with streamers in-game and in-stream

From polls to actual gameplay decisions

Twitch extension
A Twitch extension in acton.

Twitch executives are trying to think three steps ahead.

Fortnite, Ninja and Drake are the current trending topics right now, but three months, six months and even two years down the line that will change. A big part of Twitch’s philosophy is trying to get ahead of what its audience wants. It’s what Amir Shevat, vice president of developer experience at Twitch, thinks about day to day. Shevat’s interests lie in figuring out how to bring the connection between streamers and viewers even closer, and he believes the next step is increasing interactivity tenfold.

“We’re all about shared, real-time experiences, and I want to add a layer of interactivity beyond that,” Shevat told Polygon during a visit to Twitch’s offices during the Game Developers Conference. “As a viewer, I’m so into the game because I don’t only watch, but I interact. It could be as simple as a streamer saying, ‘Hey, I’m doing this quest; should I turn left or should I turn right?’ So I open up a poll and let my viewers be a part of that community.”

That’s only the start of it. Shevat’s plans for bringing more interactivity to Twitch within the next couple of years extend to even more elaborate design and engineering choices. Think Twitch Plays Pokémon but even more elaborate. One example Shevat used was letting viewers examine a specific sword in a game, pulling the sword out and looking at it close up or with additional details, and maybe eventually playing with the sword. He did not, however, explain how this would work.

Shevat did explore how Twitch plans to handle “noise” concerns, referring to the busyness that often comes with interactive experiences. Twitch’s design and engineering teams need to take into consideration the audience who don’t want to participate in interactive aspects of a stream, and just want to watch their favorite caster in peace. Shevat said they’ve thought about this, and pointed to polls as an example of a low-noise interactivity starting point.

“Could there be things where I, as a person, can contribute to an interactive engagement that does not create a lot of noise?” Shevat said. “Polls are something that come to mind. I want to ask people, ‘Should I play this music or that music?’ There’s not a lot of noise. There are only two bars that are raised, so it doesn’t create a lot of noise, but it has 10,000 votes on it so people are engaging. It doesn’t create a lot of noise, but creates a lot of engagement.”

The teams at Twitch are trying to find ways to make it work for streamers and game developers who want to give viewers more, but it will still be an opt-in process, according to Shevat. Streamers will have to decide what extensions and interactive components they want to add to their streams, and figure out what works best for their community.

Twitch extensions
Twitch extensions in action.

Twitch first introduced extensions in August 2017; a series of overlays and interactive elements that let viewers see a player’s stats, vote on gameplay decisions or include widgets that display PC parts for viewers who may want to build their own rig. More than 2,000 developers are building extensions and about 150 extensions have been created since then, according to Shevat, but the company is working with independent and AAA developers to build more extensions. The program is still in its infancy, according to Shevat, but it’s an area the company is devoting time to developing.

“I see a world where every game has interaction with Twitch, making it awesome to view, to stream, to play and to interact with another level of players,” Shevat said. “I see every viewer as a potential player in this new cohort of game players. This is the place where I come to see my favorite streamer to stream a favorite game, but do a little interaction there and do a little gameplay there.

“I want to reinvent how we play games and how we watch games.”

Streamers are encouraged to play around with different extensions, and if they notice it becomes too much for their viewers, they’re also encouraged to opt-out of using that specific interactive model. Shevat compared it to app push notifications; if they become too much and seem almost spam-like, people delete those apps or turn off notifications, Shevat said. That’s what streamers are likely to do as extensions start to be integrated into Twitch’s environment.

It’s not just game casters that Shevat’s team is targeting with extensions, he told Polygon. Shevat said he thinks about interactivity and IRL streamers, one of the fastest growing subsections on the platform, “all of the time.” Shevat uses examples like painting or exploring that can rely on polls, encouraging people to help streamers decide what they do next — or even helping budding artists.

“If I’m drawing something I can talk about my paints, and see an extension that shows my color palettes so people can see it,” Shevat said. “What if viewers can sample the color palette by clicking on a color and getting the hex of that color? These are the small types of interactions that take Twitch viewers from saying, ‘Yeah, I see this and I’m inspired’ to, ‘Yeah, I see this and I’m inspired and I take action.’”

It all sounds very positive, but even though Shevat has only been at Twitch for a short while, having made the move over from Slack, he understands Twitch’s community can be problematic. Shevat told Polygon that every extension must be submitted to Twitch for approval before it can go live on the site, and must comply with the company’s terms of service. If an extension is being used by streamers or developers for nefarious reasons, Twitch will investigate.

Twitch bits. Twitch

That’s an important aspect of the extensions program as Shevat’s team starts exploring the next topic in interactive viewing: using Bits in extensions. Bits are cheering tokens that viewers can purchase and give to their favorite streamers. Most Bits are purchased, but some can be attained by watching ads. There was controversy recently when multiple streamers were banned after being accused of using the advertising model as a way of harnessing Bits for themselves.

Bits are a form of currency on Twitch, and Shevat wants to figure out how to use them in extensions to reward viewers for participating.

“How can you create engagement and put Bits inside an extension?” Shevat said. “I think that’s pretty exciting. Like, ‘I have a kitty and I want to but that kitty a different hat, so I use my Bits to empower that kitty for that streamer.’ We’re working with developers to figure out the best case uses to use Bits and extensions to make a better experience for everyone.”

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