How Does the Future of the Streamer-Developer Relationship Look?

In our sprint meeting this past week, the question of paying streamers to play our game on Twitch and YouTube came up. It led to a longer discussion and brought up some important questions that I’d like to bring up here, and without trying to reach a conclusion, make people aware of the things we have to consider for the future.

The conversation centered around the idea that we want some streamers to play our new update to our game Ultimate Chicken Horse a few days before the release, so that we can build some hype around the launch of the new content. How should we approach these streamers? Do we pay them directly? Do we go through something like the Twitch Bounty? Do we simply offer them the exclusive early content and hope they play it without compensation? There isn’t necessarily a clear answer for this question, so I’ll try to formulate some thoughts here.

The first thing to look at is the relationship between all of the parties. The ones involved here are:

  • game developers
  • streamers
  • Twitch, YouTube, etc. (we’ll call them platforms)
  • companies that pay for ads on those platforms (advertisers)
  • viewers of content (viewers)
  • purchasers of ad products (ad consumers)
  • people who buy and play the game (gamers)

So here’s what I think the current situation looks like, and the green arrow with the ‘?‘ is what my team discussed in our meeting.

If you look at the relationship between any two groups mentioned here, it should make sense; for example, platforms receive money from advertisers, and advertisers get visibility in exchange. Advertisers also pay streamers directly and get visibility directly through them. The cash comes back to them from viewers of the content which become ad consumers when they buy the products being advertised to them.

The relationship between the streamer and the developer is the more complicated one here. The developer creates games that the streamer can use to create content for their viewers, and content for the platforms to show to their viewers. In return, the game developers get visibility from the streamers (because of their viewers). The question we were discussing seems to be whether or not the creation of the game is enough to justify the visibility being given to the developer, or if there should be money involved that comes from the developer and not only from the advertisers (either directly or through the platform).

So if we look only at the money flow, it gets injected into the system by people who are engaging with the system, presumably funded by their jobs. The cash comes to the developers when the viewers are convinced to buy the game and become gamers. The cash goes to the advertisers when people become ad consumers. The cycle can continue because the developers, streamers, platforms, and advertisers are making money and the gamers and viewers are happily spending it.

I won’t claim to know what is best for this system or how we should go about ensuring that everyone is happy and well-paid. I’m glad the conversation came up in our meeting because I think it’s useful to write this kind of thing out, and it brings up some interesting questions:

  • Should developers be paying streamers directly for the exposure they give to the game?
  • What kind of precedent do we set for this interaction, in either case (developers paying streamers or not paying them)?
  • Who “owes” who more, between devs and streamers? That is, a huge influencer playing a small game is much more advantageous for the dev than the streamer, but a huge game being created and given for free to a tiny streamer is more advantageous to the streamer. Where’s the tipping point? Does it matter?
  • If developers are paying streamers, how do we decide the basis for the payment? Time? Viewers? Engagement? Actual game purchases?
  • How do we avoid viewers being turned off by constantly seeing what are considered “ads” (paid streams) as opposed to content that was chosen without bias by the streamer?
  • How do we open the communication between developers and streamers without going through platforms to discuss these things?
  • What do we think is fair to all parties (including advertisers and platforms)?
  • How much should the advertiser money (ad revenue) be going to the streamer as opposed to the platform?

Another thing that came up, for better or for worse, was the idea that indie game studios sometimes ride on the big marketing budgets of the AAA companies in terms of streamers getting compensated. If a streamer makes $30k for playing a new Ubisoft game, they won’t bother asking a small indie for $200 for the same amount of time in their game (for many reasons). If the decision is that developers should pay streamers for the visibility they provide, is it fair to ride on the back of these huge studios?

I realize that this post is asking a lot more questions than it’s answering, but that’s kind of the point. We don’t know what the future of this relationship will look like just yet, but it’s going to be us (developers) alongside streamers who will need to figure it out. We all want what’s best for all parties, and we want to be fair to all parties above all else.

What do you think about this?

We Don’t Need To (And Can’t) Know Everything

Socrates said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

There isn’t necessarily a universal truth for all problems. People have tried to find the “right” way to run a country or a nation, and we’ve come up with democracy, capitalism, communism, fascism, dictatorships, and more. Every time people thought they had arrived at the objective truth and “proper way”, it turned out to fail the test of time. The only objectively true conclusion is that a lot of problems don’t have objectively true solutions. Often the solutions are positive or negative based on your perspective, and this relativism is important to keep in mind. This post is inspired by a Very Bad Wizards podcast where they talk about Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

This does not mean that ALL issues are relative however, as some people seem to claim. Most of science provides good examples for this, while we don’t necessarily know the truth about certain phenomena, we can say with a high level of certainty that the truth does exist, and it’s the same no matter how you look at it. This claim that all issues are relative starts to show when people lose faith in the systems which have failed them; they may start to lose faith in ALL systems. Some systems however, while not necessarily objectively the “best”, can still be good and can be improved upon slowly.

We don’t need to know everything. We don’t even need to strive for that. As Socrates said (or supposedly said), wisdom is realizing that we don’t know everything. Knowledge, on the other hand, speaks to objective truths that we do “know”.

We can focus on accepting that we have limited perspective and we’ll always be influenced by biases and our point of view.

If we DON’T do this, we start to think that the things we do know objectively can apply to other things that cannot be known objectively. The example used in the podcast is a Silicon Valley tech person who’s really good at programming and then learns some psychology, and thinks that they can create happiness with their app. (Seems like this has already happened a few thousand times…)

We have to realize our limitations when it comes to knowledge and be wise about how we use and share the knowledge that we do have. If we want to openly discuss, think, or progress as a society, we need to be aware of our perspective and aware of the problem that we’re trying to solve, especially if there is no correct solution.

Some People Just “Have It”

I was speaking to my father last week about public speaking, and about the talk I’m going to be giving at GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) this March. I mentioned how there are some people who just “have it”, they speak and it comes out perfectly and everyone simply needs to listen to them. Then he told me a story.

He was at a law event, a dinner I believe, and someone wanted to make a little speech. Off the cuff, he broke out this flawless, heart-warming narrative thanking the partners for their service and he was met with thunderous applause for this improvised speech. Afterwards, my father told someone how impressed he always is that this guy can just whip out these speeches and deliver them with such grace, and without any preparation either. The response, from a friend of the speaker, was surprising. “You didn’t see him practice that in the mirror 6 times before coming into the room then, did you?”

It takes hard work and practice to be good at something. Often, if not always, the people who we think are “blessed” with innate talent are really just people who have worked harder than everyone else to get to where they are today. That could be with regards to sports, public speaking, academia, singing, or fine arts. Sure, there is some amount of genetic influence and some people are able to learn certain things more easily than others, but let’s not take away the fact that the people who are really exceptional at what they do have also worked their asses off to get there.

Paying them the respect they deserve for their skills humanizes them, and makes us realize that we can get there too through hard work and dedication. It also increases our ability to be proud of them and grateful for what they bring to the table, as opposed to resenting them because they’re simply born with talents that we don’t have.

The Opposite of Progress

In the last few years, I’ve seen countless examples of regression in social change and equality under the guise of progress. One that I saw this morning was so blatant that I needed to share it:

This article in the BBC News came up, and is a complete failure in my opinion. The answer to the question, and this entire article, should read as follows:

“Yes.”

That’s it. End of conversation. But apparently not…

At the end of the article it talks about the cycle where a lack of mixed-race people at universities leads to the idea that mixed-race people won’t feel like they belong (which is true). It concludes with: “Is it right for me? I’ve got to decide by May.” Are you fucking kidding me? You have the privilege to go to Cambridge and represent mixed-race people across the world in an Ivy League university and you’re asking whether or not you fit in?? For all mixed-race people, to set an example, to reach your highest potential, and to prove equality between all people, yes you should go.

I’m not sure what the article was trying to prove or suggest, but apart from being topical in order to get clicks, I don’t think it realizes the incredible damage it can be doing to the progress we’ve been fighting for for the last 60 years. We’ve reached a point where a mixed-race person has the opportunity to go to Cambridge, and now we’re going to publicly, in the form of “news”, question whether they should use this progress and opportunity to make real change in the world?

Yes, it’s going to be harder for that person to fit in at Cambridge, harder than it would be for a white person. I can understand that at the individual level, there would be some hesitation or nerves about it, no one will condemn someone for that. But the next step is to push past that hesitation, be the change you want to see in the world, and make a difference for every other mixed-race child that thinks about Ivy League schools for the next hundred years. The hesitation that you have to overcome will simply not exist for the next generation of children who follow your example.

We need to encourage this progress by simply answering “YES” to that article. On top of that, we should explain the statistics (as they do in the article) and use that as fuel to powerfully, strongly and unapologetically encourage this positive change.

Appealing to Commonalities

I recently listened to an amazing podcast with Joe Rogan and Jonathan Heidt which I highly recommend checking out. One of the topics that came up was how to fight the current sociopolitical climate and how to make real change, or rather how to get back on track to diminishing racism, sexism, and other forms of judgment based on people’s appearances.

As they mention in the podcast, Martin Luther King Jr. called out to his “white brothers and sisters” several times in his famous speech. Countless other influential people who fought for the rights of the oppressed have aimed for change by pointing out the similarities between all people, and asking members of opposing groups to understand where they’re coming from without attacking those groups.

We’re not doing that anymore. There are a number of factors and I won’t claim to have done the research to prove it statistically, but I think it’s clear that we’re seeing a trend away from the progress of the last 50 years. What we’re seeing now is lots of name-calling, divisiveness, dismissing opinions of people based on their race or gender or socioeconomic status, and we’re seeing this from all sides. This is catalyzed by social media, and has led us to the tension we feel today.

We can change this and get back on track, and I sincerely hope that we will.

If we can open our ears to people with different opinions, listen to them as people and not as the “enemy”, and realize that we’re all just people, we can get back on track. We can agree that everyone, regardless of who they are, faces certain human problems. We can feel for someone from a completely different world because we’ve had the feelings that they are having at some point in our lives. We can start talking to each other logically and clearly, and more importantly we can start listening to each other without labeling or extreme bias. We can stop focusing on what colour our skin is or what gender we are, and realize that none of that is important if we want to become closer to one another, build trust, and ultimately live in a world of true equal opportunity.

Choosing Your Inputs and Avoiding Overwhelm

If you’ve read my blog recently, you’ll know that not long ago I discovered Seth Godin and his genius wisdom. At one point in his interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast, he talks about controlling your inputs in order to overcome a feeling of being overwhelmed. In fact, not controlling your inputs can lead to overwhelm, stress, ignorance, dependency, and more, so I’d like to talk about this idea today.

Everything you read, hear, see, and do comes to you somehow as an input. The news you read in the morning, the stories your friends tell you, the tasks you choose to do at work, the art you choose to go see, these are all inputs that you engage with. But what happens when these inputs are too many, too time-consuming, or too demanding? We feel overwhelmed and stressed. What I’m about to discuss can apply equally to your work life as it can to your personal life, and I find that this is a problem I’ve faced while running the business side of my game development studio.

Many inputs!

In Godin’s words, it’s a systems problem. We’re not controlling or managing the inputs we have in an efficient or effective way, and it leads to stress. The imagery he used (which I absolutely loved) was that “drinking from a firehose is a really bad way to get hydration. It’s a dumb choice to drink from a firehose,” even if it could hydrate you. I, of course, pictured someone grabbing a firehose, turning it on and carefully trying to get their lips in the stream only to have their face blown sideways by the ridiculously high pressure water over and over again. So how do we manage these systems?

Removing and Rebuilding Inputs

The first step toward diminishing stress from overwhelm is to remove all unnecessary inputs, to the best of your ability.

In Seth Godin’s case, he says that he doesn’t have a television, he doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter, and he doesn’t go to meetings. Not every input can be removed of course, but many of them can. When I say unnecessary inputs I mean anything that you have control over, even if it’s something you enjoy and feel that you need. Then, you can properly start from zero.

Zero inputs!

The next step is to add carefully picked inputs back into your life. By choosing the ones you care about most, you may realize that some of the things you do are done without you really wanting to. Again, I’m not talking about the things you don’t have a choice about, but rather the things that you do have a choice about but you might not realize it. Once this breakdown and rebuild of inputs is done, you will almost surely end up with less inputs than when you started.

Say No to More Things

In both business and in our personal lives, a lot of us (myself included) have trouble saying no. We think we’ll be missing opportunities or that we’ll offend someone, but I’ve found that saying no to things frees up my time and energy for much more useful things. I almost never miss much, and I’ve always found people to be more receptive to “no” than I thought they would be.

More specifically on the work side: do you really need to follow that business lead? How long will it take you to look into the new software they’re offering? Who told you about the software? How long will it take you to learn it if you do follow through with using it? For our company, I try to make sure that we choose the inputs we see when it comes to things like software. We don’t just open our ears to anyone selling us anything, we seek out a solution to a problem we have only if it’s an actual problem we actually have. Otherwise, I try to defend my team from the noise firmly and unapologetically.

Prioritizing Inputs

Sometimes we feel like we just have too much to do. Maybe this concerns work, maybe it concerns our social lives, and maybe it concerns hobbies. We’re overwhelmed, and we don’t know where to start. I can think of two good ways to prioritize these inputs: starting small and pushing past discomfort.

Starting small is the best way to get past any kind of procrastination, and is an equally valuable strategy to get started when feeling like we have too much to do. When you look at a messy room with clothes everywhere, dust on shelves, and papers on a desk, you can start by choosing a small corner, working on it until it’s done, and moving along from there. This is an over-simplified situation, but it’s an example of a negative input that you didn’t choose and you need to deal with. In the past, I’ve written very brief outlines for documents I’ve had to prepare. This was as simple as starting a 90 slide presentation by writing six bullet points on a page. That was my first bit of work on the presentation, and that’s all I did on the task that day. From there I could go back another day and put more bullet points between the ones I had already created, and start moving along from there. The tiniest commitment to the start of a task can make a huge difference.

The second situation when prioritizing is to decide whether or not you have the energy to push past what might be a negative or difficult input. In Godin’s (paraphrased) words:

Do I care enough to experience discomfort to get to the other side? If I don’t, then I should turn off the input. Because sitting with an uncomfortable input when we don’t care enough to make things better is just a formula to be unhappy.

As I mentioned above, sometimes it’s not worth the effort to deal with the input. Oftentimes, the seemingly impossible-to-turn-off inputs can actually be turned off.

Control Your Inputs on Social Media

This one relates more to our personal lives, but could have applications in work as well. In our everyday lives, assuming you’re using social media, you’re being bombarded by ideas and thoughts and suggestions of what to do, where to go, how to dress, and what to think.

As much as Facebook’s algorithms are good at serving you information that you already want to see, you can’t stop there. If you do, you risk complacency and ignorance. Facebook, Google, etc. do not control your inputs, and I find that blaming them for your lack of balanced information is irresponsible. You actively choose to use their platforms to get your information, and even within those platforms if you stick to only the things that are being served to you, you will end up missing out on finding greater knowledge and truth.

Read opposing views of news stories that involve conflict between two sides, do the fact-checking on topics you’re going to consider sharing with others or being passionate about, stop spending time scrolling through your personalized news feed, stop falling into YouTube holes watching silly videos… these are all ways of reducing your inputs to things you actually control.

Seek Out Inputs, Don’t Let Them Seek You Out

To conclude, the common thread in this whole post is that you’ll be better off if you actively choose to seek out specific inputs. If you can avoid inputs that throw themselves at you and more purposefully seek out inputs, it can lead to less stress, less feelings of being overwhelmed, less time wasted, less ignorance, and less complacency. Generally speaking, this will create space and time for you to improve in the way you want to improve and live your own life, and not the life someone else tells you to live.

From Funnel Marketing to the Teacher-Student Dynamic

I wanted to talk today about two opposing concepts in marketing and how they might apply to game development. This article is strongly influenced by Seth Godin and I highly suggest reading some of his work (his blog, TED talk about the spread of ideas, his book “This is Marketing”, ) if you haven’t already. I’m going to try to discuss what I learned from him in a recent podcast and apply it to game development in a way that hopefully is instructive to some.

The marketing legend and wizard, Seth Godin

The first concept is the traditional view on marketing, which is the idea that you start out trying to reach the widest audience possible, and some of those impressions become clicks, some of those clicks become further clicks, and eventually some of those become customers. This funnel method is how TV ads, web page takeovers, and other mass impression strategies work. According to Godin, this is what happens when young and inexperienced marketers have money to play with, and this method is on its way out in many markets.

You may be already saying to yourself: “but I don’t do that kind of marketing, plus we don’t have the budget to do that kind of thing even if we wanted to”. Unless you’re a massive AAA company, that is likely true. But even without paying for TV ads, you may be finding yourself analyzing your follower growth under a microscope, paying for Facebook ads to get page likes, or trying to plan how to get your Reddit post on to the main page of the Gaming subreddit. These are all things that use the approach of “how do I reach the biggest possible group of people and pick some off as future customers”. What I’d like to propose is another way to look at the problem.

Seth Godin calls this the classroom method, or at least refers to a teacher / classroom dynamic when describing this. The people who like your game(s), buy your games, join your Discord communities, and come to meet you at expos, these are the students in your classroom. Remember your favourite teacher in school? Probably not the most conventional, and probably not everyone’s favourite teacher. But this teacher had a style and a way of teaching that you liked, and they surely showed that they cared about you as an individual. As Seth describes, your goal shouldn’t be to produce the most appealing thing to that giant funnel and hope you get some customers in the end, it should be to

cater to the students in your class who are already
paying attention to you, who are there for you, and who would
be disappointed
if you didn’t give them something interesting.

In an age where we fight not only for attention but for trust, we need to focus on serving the customers (gamers) a high quality experience that doesn’t try to please the masses. By doing our thing, doing it well, and caring about the people we do it for, we can actually create greatness which appeals to a larger niche than we expect. By dumbing down our content and product and trying to hit ten million people, we risk not creating something that’s special to anyone. If you can’t capture the single person and make them passionate about your product, you won’t be able to do it for the masses either.

Image by Vectorpocket

This is not to say that we don’t need to have a lot of people see our work in order to have financial and critical success. What it encourages is changing the focus, and in focusing on the small, personal aspect of what we do, we have a better chance of achieving that wide market and critical success.

This is a massive shift from thinking of your target audience as all the people who don’t already like your product to thinking of your target audience as the people who you already know like your product and trust you.

These are individuals with personalities, thoughts, feelings, and lives and by respecting that you give yourself the best chance to succeed.

Your goal should be first and foremost to make a quality product, and then to serve your customers (in this case, your game fans) in a way that makes them want to come back and makes them want to talk about you. By focusing on this smaller core and caring about them at the smallest level, you create an atmosphere that is highly valuable.

I think this new approach is especially instructive when it comes to the community and has a very clear link to the development and sustenance of the community around your company and game. The goal is to create the experience (or product) for that person in your classroom that makes them feel like they’re getting value from it. The value one gets from being part of your game community can be many, many different things. On the surface, it can include fun and exciting content, new people to play with, direct communication with developers, new strategies and play guides, etc. On a deeper level, this community can also provide: comfort, excitement, emotional support, friendship, and other more fundamental human needs. We need to take special care to offer whatever value we can to our community and make sure that our players know that they’re appreciated and taken care of. If you treat people right who are already your in classroom and who are willing to learn, the word will spread because these people will feel truly special. If you advertise that anyone and everyone could enjoy your community because it pleases everyone, you’re likely to 1) miss that audience because it’s not offering interesting value, or 2) appealing to people who you don’t even necessarily want in your community.

What about with respect to the game or game design itself? I’m not entirely sure where I stand on that, so if people have additions to this please feel free to write in the comments… but I’ll give it a shot. I think that intelligent, consumer-facing design decisions should do the trick here: intuitive UI, proper difficulty curves, in-game moderation, etc. These will be done differently for different games, but should always be done to serve the small classroom of people who have come specifically for you (your game in this case). Making something interesting, exciting, and different is a way to engage this classroom in the same way your favourite teacher growing up did for you. By making something that is so inoffensive that you think no one will be turned off by it, you try to reach this massive audience and it could lead you to making decisions which alienate your biggest and most dedicated fans who are also your champions. Where this becomes complicated with respect to the classroom model is that I’m not sure if the classroom is already established or if the classroom gets filled with fans of your game. That is, are you creating a product to serve these students or are you creating a product and the students come to see you?

I hope this blog post was useful to some people in helping them focus on the smaller-scale, person-to-person care that goes with creating and sustaining a good community. In our company, we will continue to focus on this approach and hopefully the word will spread about our game and community.