Dote Night: Twitch Reflexes

My Dota always looks exactly this swooshy and cool.

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.

Yesterday Valve announced the beta for its Steam broadcasting service. It predictably prompted a slew of headlines which instantly put the service in competition with Twitch, another game-focused streaming service.

It might well become a competitor to Twitch at some point but at the moment they’re very different prospects. I thought I’d spend this week’s Dote Night digging into the current situation a little more, not because it’s Dota specific but because Twitch is how I consume the majority of my Dota 2 pro matches so the potential impact is worth keeping an eye on. Should be back to game-focused shenanigans next week!

I should also point out that Twitch is by no means the only broadcasting platform out there but it’s one the majority will, I think, have heard of and which has been repeatedly referenced in these discussions.

Okay, so let’s look at what Steam Broadcasting currently is.

At the moment Valve are billing the service as being very much focused around friends. “Watch friends play, with the click of a button,” read the introduction to the beta. “Want to show off? Invite a friend to watch your game. Friend stuck on a level? Watch and give them live pointers.”

Once you and a friend have signed up to the beta it should just be a matter of clicking the dropdown menu by their name and selecting “watch game”. According to a friend who has been using the service that’s the in-client rule, but if you’re watching via the browser only the broadcaster needs to have opted in.

When someone requested to watch my game it popped up a menu where I could set access to my broadcasts. Privacy options are currently: friends I invite, friends whose request to watch I have approved, people I’m friends with, and “anyone”. Other options in the broadcasting tab let you tinker with the video dimensions, maximum bitrate and chat as well as offering the ability to broadcast your desktop when not in game, use microphone input and show upload stats.

I regret that the muttering was audible

What it’s offering at this point is really the option to view the other person’s screen with a few extra bells and whistles if you fancy. It’s Valve following their “Well, here’s a thing we made, let’s see what happens now we’ve opened it up to you lot” model.

Tinkering about with it this afternoon I had three viewers – two were helping me test what I could and couldn’t broadcast, the other one was Brendan who decided it would be funny to watch. I’m not sure that boy understands humour.

The full FAQ adds that you have to have made a purchase in Steam and not be Community Banned to use the service. You also agree not to be uploading other people’s intellectual property and to abide by a general set of rules which includes not making threats of violence or harassment, not casting NSFW content and not “Soliciting, begging, auctioning, raffling, selling, advertising, referrals.”

The last point is the one I’m interested in here. A lot of the channels on Twitch that I know make money through a number of methods. There’s a partner program which lets channel owners use commercial breaks to generate income or a subscription model which gives the subscriber access to particular things – archives, chat, HD stream – that sort of thing. Twitch also has space on its pages for steamers to put little biographies as well as information about their rig (PC parts from particular manufacturers and so on) and link through to separate donations pages of various flavours. The way it uses OBS and so on to get the content from your PC to Twitch also means you can use overlays, add a webcam and so on.

Why are 191 people watching ability draft? We may never know.

If you’re a streamer looking to make something approximating a living wage there’s absolutely no reason to abandon Twitch for Steam just yet, although obviously you’ll be keeping an eye on developments in case that changes.

To bring this back to Dota, I was talking to Ted ‘PyrionFlax’ Forsyth about the announcement and what it means for him and his fellow streamers. He’s currently in Los Angeles for The Summit 2 LAN finals. The general feeling seemed to be that Steam streaming is curious but currently more for when you want to show something cool or interesting or that’s causing you confusion to a bunch of mates. (After all, Brendan spent whole SECONDS watching me waddle a particularly lovely red panda courier round in cinematic view).

There’s nothing there at the moment which would prompt someone to switch if they’re currently making money elsewhere and have built up a subscriber base but Pyrion echoes my earlier point by saying “Knowing Valve, this is them testing the water for some future project and just seeing what happens” and that “it could become awesome”.

I ask what he would like to see added in order to make the service a viable alternative to Twitch for professional streamers and the main point comes back to advertising – “Make it ad-block proof. Have adverts for the games you are selling ON STEAM and give people either ad money, or a teeny cut of the sale of the game.”

With Dota (and other free-to-play games) that would be less straightforward than a game with a set price point. You’d be more looking to direct people to workshop items or ticket sales for events – that sort of thing. Then again, Valve might also end up setting completely different monetisation options for partners based on the information and tools at their disposal.

Magnifying glass not included in Broadcast service

That’s one way of looking at it, but I’ve also been wondering whether the Twitch comparisons have overshadowed what watching a game means to Valve. A lot of the conversations I’ve seen thus far assume that attracting professional streamers is an end-goal at all. With the potential audience Steam offers (if you’ve set your broadcasts to be watchable by anyone) that’s not an unreasonable prediction but the more I think about it the more I’m wondering whether just having the ability to peek at a friend’s game is of more immediate financial value. For Valve, at least.

In terms of paid-for titles it would let you have a snoop and see whether the game looks fun to play. More importantly it would show whether someone you’re likely familiar with was engaged and finding interesting things to do – a powerful recommendation, that.

In terms of something free-to-play but with a reputation for being obscure and difficult (YES DOTA 2 I AM TALKING ABOUT YOU, STOP SMIRKING) it could make it more accessible, functioning as an easy teaching tool or way to peer in on friends’ games and offer advice (solicited or not) without committing to a coaching role.

GO AWAY DAN I'M LOSING

Obviously there are some downsides to watching other people play Dota. You might become even less likely to try it if, for example, you see the usually mild-mannered lady from work transform into a ragequit-threatening flamer when battling online wizards. But you get where I’m going with all of this.

Essentially, I’d say Steam Broadcasting has the potential to rival Twitch but it’s not doing so at the moment. It could also take a different approach, using small close groups of friends to spread interest in games and to bring players into challenging environments like Dota 2. Or perhaps a hybrid approach. I think that’s more likely. Groups of mates, plus some professional monetisable options which could also be used to funnel people towards item sets or tournaments they might be interested to see.

The thing I’m currently most worried about is remembering to switch it back to “by request only” after a Dota binge for when playing embargoed content. Actually, perhaps I should stick with Twitch for the moment…

19 Comments

  1. danijami23 says:

    Hi Philippa :)

    While I have been enjoying these articles, I’m a little bit disappointed that you haven’t spread your bread around as it were. Why are other games in the genre not being covered? I’d love to see more of the likes of this covering League, and even the smaller games like Smite, or the upcoming Heroes of the Storm.

  2. Horg says:

    DotA 2 is one of the games that this would impact the least I think, certainly from a friend list PoV. The client is already free and has easily the best spectating features of any game yet made. It makes open or private streaming a bit redundant. If popular streamers start using the steam client for streams it might make life easier for people to see when they go live without having to fart about with twitch.

    If they do set up a future where people can monetise streams, I hope they come up with something more creative than Ad spam. Anyone who watched the ASUS ROG Dreamleague finals last weekend will probably have the ”Hey Biiiiiiiiiirds…….” advert lazer burned into their subconscious -.- It was the sort of repetitive advert that makes me not only want to avoid all ASUS products, but actively tell other people to do the same out of spite. Annoying, over long, repetitive adverts are a scourge on modern streaming as there is no set quality standard as with TV advertising slots. Instead of doing as Pyrion said and ”make it addblock proof”, I would look to Valve to be innovative. If they go down the route of allowing monetisation, come up with something more viewer friendly instead of maintaining the status quo.

  3. chiablo says:

    I’m actually quite interested in this feature. Now instead of asking a friend what he thinks of a game he is playing, I can just watch him and get some direct feedback via microphone.

  4. Lacero says:

    “Twitch is how I consume the majority of my Dota 2 pro matches”

    Wait… Why? It’s all blurry and full of macro blocks, especially in fights, you can’t read anything the casters never put the camera in the right place, you can’t rewind to check something that happened before from a different camera angle and you can’t look at items or map visibility.

    I’m genuinely curious now, you clearly understand the game far better than me and watching a stream just feels to me like I’m watching the game through a tiny box instead of being there. I mean, the one time I would consider it is if I could sit on a sofa and watch it like normal tv, but then as well as all the problems I mentioned you have the fact it’s 10 feet away and even harder to make out detail.

    Did you do an article on watching these things yet? Is it time for one? Might even be more useful for people than discussions of playing them.

    • JElc says:

      Honestly, the main reason to watch on Twitch is that if you’re watching pro matches that aren’t from The International, you have to pay for a ticket to watch in client. That means every tournament you want to follow costs you ~$5-8. It’s not a lot for a tournament you want to watch all of, but if you’re just going to tune in for a couple of games, or the finals (which many people will do, because there are a fair number of tournaments out there, and you can’t watch all of them, but often want to see the teams that are on top of their game at that moment).

      • Lacero says:

        That’s a good point. I don’t buy many, but watching in twitch is so annoying to me I only watch with a ticket. I guess a lot of people would rather not buy the ticket and put up with twitch.

        • ddm999 says:

          I watch with VoDs so I can skip pauses, and so if nothing’s happening in a game I can skip to the next kill or team event.

          Am I alone in this? D:

  5. Mordaedil says:

    I’m a bit curious about this hypothetical situation here; if I were to mod Skyrim with sex mods and play that and one of my friends decide to watch, would that suddenly become streaming porn by the definition of terms of agreement?

    • MaXimillion says:

      If those mods aren’t allowed on the Steam workshop, I’d assume streaming them wouldn’t be allowed either. Of course, with Valve you never know.

      Another interesting dilemma is their ban of “cheating, hacking, game exploits”. I’m assuming that only applies to multiplayer titles, but it’s not specified. Even then, what exactly qualifies is really hard to determine.

      • Jalan says:

        In terms of hacking/etc. it seems like they don’t want someone actively demonstrating or otherwise talking about that sort of thing. Something like broadcasting a tool-assisted speed run of a game but without ever showing what tool(s) were being used in the process or otherwise divulging what was being done to get that edge for time seems like it would fall under the grey area of that rule.

        Also, in regards to nude Skyrim mods – there are already titles on Steam (some even free to play) that contain nudity which could be broadcast. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Valve eventually puts a limitation such as the one they have with Family Sharing onto broadcasting such titles.