Twitch, on an E3 high, talks about what’s coming next

June 27, 2013

After two years, Twitch — a company that lets video game players broadcast what they’re playing to friends and strangers over the Web — has found itself in the midst of a revolution of sorts.

The company reported Wednesday that it hit a new traffic record earlier this month at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, as 4.3 million unique viewers joined the firm to watch press conferences from Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts.

But even on an average day, Twitch is seeing some strong numbers, said vice president of marketing Matt DiPietro. When the site launched, it was getting around 3.5 million unique viewers per month. That number has now jumped to 35 million uniques logged this past May, lending some serious credibility to the company’s ambitions to make video games a spectator event in the vein of professional poker.

And all that has come despite some technical barriers.

“Historically it’s not easy to broadcast gameplay” DiPietro said. “You have to use third-party software. And on a console it’s even harder...you have to some geeky know-how.”

That much, at least, is about to change. Twitch broadcasting, which is already integrated into some titles, will be built-in to Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One — meaning players can join the broadcasting ranks with just the push of a button.

And Twitch is making changes to open up even more opportunities to developers to make broadcasting an integral, and social, part of playing.

Brooke Van Dusen, of Twitch’s business development team, said that a new software developers kit should help developers play with the idea of broadcasting gameplay in ways that can help build a community around the brand. Twitch, he said, is “working with game developers to make the broadcasting experience better — particularly the post-live experience.”

That’s a slight departure from the live-streaming focus Twitch has had in the past. But Van Dusen said that the company’s relationship with the Xbox One console and developers grants them access to more data, which in turn allows them to come up with more opportunities to build sharing into their titles.

“There was a problem where if I was going to sit down and play for an hour and a half, there’s just a 90 minute block of video to watch,” Van Dusen said. “Now instead of a chunk of video file — where we had no information except maybe what game they were playing — we now have very detailed information.”

So now, Van Dusen said, a developer could highlight a particularly awesome moment from that gaming session — a record race time, say, or an impressive kill — and automatically ask players if they want to share those moments with friends. They can also more easily engage with their players by pulling out specific types of data. Because developers can now know things such as what type of gun, model of car, game level, players are working with, they can set mini-challenges for the whole community.

“Maybe you want to highlight players on a certain track,” Van Dusen said. “Or maybe you want to see the top time for players of a certain experience level. As long as the game has this information and they decide to expose that to us, we can create cool applications on top of this.”

The increased visibility, he said, also opens up new ways for publishers to advertise new content or show off how players are interacting with different parts of a game.

“If you’re do something like introduce a new battle axe, instead of telling them about it, you can show players how their peers are actually using it.”

Related stories:

Xbox One: Microsoft updates policies on used games, Internet connection

Innovations: Microsoft does for 3D printing what it did for 2D printing — makes it mainstream

Planetside 2 to incorporate live-playcasting from Twitch

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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