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Broadcast anywhere: A look at Twitch's move into mobile game streaming

Andrew Hayward | June 10, 2014
Games are for playing, not watching--right? That's the conventional wisdom, but try telling that to the 45 million monthly viewers on video game streaming service Twitch, who tune in to watch more than a million broadcasters that operate from living rooms and competitive gaming events alike. Twitch has become big business and commands a staggering slice of overall web bandwidth these days, and it's drawn some interest from Internet heavyweights: YouTube is reportedly nearing a $1 billion acquisition of the service following failed buyout attempts from others.

It really is as simple as loading up the game, hitting the Twitch button on the main menu, and tapping the "Start Broadcasting" button — after signing into (or up for) a free account, of course. You can choose the streaming quality, opt for the camera and/or microphone to be on, and decide whether to keep a chat log from viewers, but otherwise it's kept delightfully straightforward and free of confusing jargon.

I kicked on my Asphalt 8 broadcast and started tearing up the virtual tracks within moments. During my first event, I didn't draw a single viewer. On the second run, however, I pulled in a chatty user who seemed to think I didn't know how to play the game — not much of a confidence booster, considering I'd pumped hours into it while writing a review months prior.

"Try not to hit the walls," he said. "Nice," he added, after I took down a pair of rivals with glorious, glass-spattering crashes. I couldn't tell if he was patronizing me or earnestly tying to help and encourage, but I'll admit: I enjoyed the attention, even if it was only a single viewer watching my apparently mediocre driving skills.

Prior to the SDK's launch, Asphalt 8 finished first in a poll about which games should add streaming features, and Gameloft says that Twitch reached out about updating the game to make it the first with native broadcast abilities. "Being both highly popular and skill-based, Asphalt 8: Airborne seemed like an interesting game to test with the Twitch mobile SDK," says Baudouin Corman, Gameloft's vice president of publishing for the Americas. 

Gameloft worked closely with Twitch to implement the service and make sure to find the right balance between streaming quality and gameplay performance. Based on what I played, I'd say they nailed it — and according to Corman, more than 1 million Asphalt 8 streaming sessions have been initiated from within the game since March. That tally follows the more than 300,000 viewers that tuned into Gameloft's 24-hour livestream event to detail the streaming features upon launch.

Crowd control

Clearly, there's notable interest from mobile and tablet gamers in live streaming gameplay, but building a consistent community may be another subject altogether. I searched for active Asphalt 8 streams regularly over the course of several days and rarely encountered more than a couple broadcasts at a time, and never with more than two viewers tuned in to a single stream.

Asphalt 8 is a very entertaining game, and maybe the best racer of its kind on mobile devices — but while indeed skill-based, it's rather straightforward and doesn't allow for a huge array of strategic approaches. The games that yield ample viewers on other platforms are often complex, multiplayer-centric affairs with wide tactical opportunities; or they might be single-player titles that can be manipulated in entertaining ways, like speeding through a campaign as quickly as possible, or hunting down every obscure collectible.


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