The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the ways in which Twitch.tv has been able to impact on the
consumption of entertainment on the internet while also creating communities based around
shared interests and popular personalities. It will show how the technologies involved allow new
ways to socialise while consuming the same content together, how it has changed viewing habits as
well as cover how it has or could impact other forms of viewing like television.
The internet has created many new technologies and platforms that have enabled new communities
to be established. Following on from the creation of online video systems, Twitch.tv took a new
approach where the community of gamers were able to use its new features to create a unique
social environment. This essay will cover what the new technologies are that make Twitch.tv
distinctive and how the community has embraced this and established new communities around the
act of watching someone else play. I will show how a streamer provides the content and how the
viewers interact with it and demonstrate how it can differ from other social platforms online.
Online streaming has become the preferred viewing method for many with notable declines in
television viewing over the past few years and within the under 24 age group even showing only half
of viewed video content may come from television (Johnson & Woodcock, 2018). A stream can play
out much like a live television program with the streamer being available during the same timeslot,
allowing viewers to be able to locate when the stream occurs. The fascinating part of this is how
viewers have been able to find excitement in sharing with the content creator’s passion or
enthusiasm for the game on show, whether it is viewing an organised e-sporting event or just an
every-day gaming session.
Spilker et al. (2018) note that much of the research on streaming’s impact on television and radio
have centred around on-demand services, where the content is provided in a way that can be
consumed in any order, but have found that live streaming as such as with Twitch.tv has also begun
to show noticeable impact on peoples viewing habits for example in the cases of e-sporting events
being viewed much in the same way as more conventional sporting events like football. When
compared to other live viewing formats such as television, streaming has found a niche in its ability
to be able to also generate live feedback to the content creator through live chat as well as the
solicitation of tipping or direct funding (Blight, 2016). This creates a community of viewers and
creator with a two-way ability to communicate, allowing the content to evolve depending on the
viewers requirements, creating a feeling of ownership of the content by the viewer (Woodcock &
Twitch.tv as a platform
Twitch.tv began as a platform dedicated to streaming from the ground up, the systems deployed and
the user interface and how content was provided to the user had only live streaming in mind. This is
in opposition to perhaps Twitch’s biggest competitor, YouTube, which focuses primarily on
delivering content of pre-recorded material. Where much tele-visual content has leant towards
being on-demand rather than linear, such as found in television or radio, Twitch has shown that
there is still room for what can be considered linear programming (Spilker et al., 2018). It has grown
rapidly from its beginning in 2011 through rapid growth over the last 9 years with, for example, 1
million streamers in 2014, 292 billion minutes watched and 2.2 million streamers in 2016, and
growing to 350 billion minutes in 2017 (Johnson & Woodcock, 2018).
The content that is found on Twitch mostly covers three main classifications – casual, speed running
and e-sports. (Spilker et al., 2018; Walker, 2014). Casual gaming encompasses those streams where a
streamer will provide a running play trough of a game or games during the stream, largely
determined by their interest or the interest of their viewers. Speed running is content where
streamers attempt to complete games and challenges in the shortest time possible, demonstrating
their mastery and knowledge of the game’s mechanics. Finally, e-sports content is usually
professionally produced events that cover e-sport gameplay of professional players that are
members of the many established e-sport leagues across a variety of competitive games with
running commentary of the game.
Twitch and its community.
In his book, Taylor (2018) covers an example of a streamer going live. It starts with the streamer
preparing the stream by notifying his followers on Twitter that it is about to go live and solicitation
of his community of what games should he play in the upcoming stream. Preparation of the
computer systems involves not just software to enable the streaming but a combination of multiple
screens, software to cover the in stream chat, one that does automated pop ups that will appear in
the stream when a viewer subscribes or donates, another separate window where his volunteer
moderators coordinate to provide live editing of the Twitch chat. Throughout the stream the
streamer has to maintain constant updating of the chat window to ensure that he has acknowledged
his audiences’ input, and also his audience will let him know if an acknowledgment was missed. All
through the five hours stream the streamer has to carry on with this constant barrage of information
while still providing the stream with commentary on his gaming and chatting with his viewers. In the
end the streamer suggests to his followers which streams might be interesting to continue onto as
he concludes his own content, the result for the streamer – 50 new subscribers, 800 followers and
$500 in donations (Taylor, 2018). This account is a good example of the casual play streamer, how
much work a streamer must put in to be able to create the content as well as the expectation of the
audience but also shows that a successful streamer can make a successful career out of it.
Twitch has also been able to showcase the rising trend of e-sports competitions, providing content
more in line with what would be expected from television broadcast, namely a scheduled program
time, associated sponsorship advertisement and a slick production. Originally a niche format it can
be seen through rising viewer counts a large market has been established around professional esports. In addition to competitive games that have a community that can interact with each other at
their core there are also other tiles that only offer a single player platform. Even with these mostly
solo games streaming has begun to show that there is a socialisation and community that can be
gained through demonstrating success or sharing in the event of playing through the game’s
storyline (Walker, 2014).
In the case of Twitch, much like many other platforms online, the key income is generated through
advertising and the value that can be derived by having such a large audience of what could be
considered a niche entertainment demographic. For the streamer the incentives are also similar,
with Twitch offering partnership programs where the streamer, if popular enough, can share in the
generated income. Streamers and technology have also allowed systems to be implemented, where
viewers are able to virtually tip the streamer during a live stream. In addition, streamers have been
able to use their personality and viewer base to garner paid sponsorships and promotions to bolster
their possible income. Streamers have also been able to market their success in other ways such as
the creation of online merchandise stores where fans can support the streamer while also
Additionally, there has risen the concept of a stream also providing marketing content and for a
game, a player driven review process. Through the feature that a viewer can join a stream of a game
they may be interested in and see how it plays out, work through the problem solving with the
streamer and seeing how the streamer and his/her audience comment on the game in real time.
This is in comparison to a more traditional review process where it would be provided through
edited content where perhaps only the highlights would be demonstrated, streaming has been able
to provide a community based review of the game where opinions of the game can be cultivated as
a group (Johnson & Woodcock, 2018).
It is through its capability of generating income for successful content that streamers have been able
to take it on as a job, some being capable of working full time, others juggling a traditional job with
the streaming income. Streaming as a service can be very time consuming, even more so than a
traditional job with some examples of popular streamers spending over 70 hours a week providing
their content (Woodcock & Johnson, 2019b). It is also not just the live stream that can take up the
time with preparation work including setting up of the studio, deciding on the content for the day,
providing further feedback to their viewer community as well as scheduling the upcoming content.
Twitch has provided a competitive way within their platform, to reward streamers that are able to
capture an audience, much in the same way a game rewards play with points, providing avenues in
which they can share in the income generated from their content in differing levels. This affiliate and
partner program are directly based on both the number and frequency that content is produced,
encouraging streamers to deliver more, but of the over 2 million streamers on the platform only
about 180,000 have been able to take advantage of this system (Ask et al., 2019). Although it does
not usually make up a large portion of a professional streamers income professional sponsorship can
also factor in. A streamer spends time cultivating a shared community with their viewers and can
monetize this through approaching companies to market their personal influence. It has been noted
though that the audiences on Twitch have been found to be more averse to obvious sponsorship
content compared to other social media platforms (Woodcock & Johnson, 2019a).
Many streamers are able to boast very large viewership numbers, it can be argued that many
streamers are in a proto-celebrity stage, garnering notoriety and influence from merely playing
games. In many cases this celebrity reaches beyond just their established community but into the
When looking at how a viewer interacts with the platform, Twitch has provided a built-in chat
system where viewers can directly connect with the content provider in real time, providing a sense
of contribution to the stream. Their participation though, can be seen to be very multifaceted with
participants using not just Twitch’s inbuilt social platform but branching out into other social feeds
simultaneously such as a related Reddit or voice channel such as on Discord. In addition, a viewer
may not only actively view one stream but multiple ones, only taking active participation as they find
something that directly interests them similar to how a streamer will use multiple screens the
viewers will also be taking advantage of these extra viewing space they have available (Ask et al.,
2019; Johnson & Woodcock, 2019).
At is base gaming can be thought of as a social interaction, obvious in the more traditional forms
such as sports, it can also be seen showing up in the computer form. The ability to connect over a
shared interaction such as a game is what provides the energy behind what makes a Twitch stream
entertaining. Many games do already offer an online community as such with group interaction or
competition being one key factor of their popularity, as can be seen in big budget hits like Fortnite or
World of Warcraft, but Twitch has also allowed this shared interaction to occur even with games
that would usually be played solo. With its in built chat, viewers are able to socialise while sharing
the video content provided and allows them to learn the game even without having to purchase it
first (Lybrand, 2019). Lybrand (2019) did note that, unfortunately, the open access to the stream
chat does allow for anti-social behaviour as well and although not mainstream it is noticeable from
Twitch.tv can be noted for its recent rise and impact on internet entertainment as well as its rapid
adoption by the gaming community. Its platform has allowed some gamers to even monetise their
play allowing for a fulltime professional option to be available which for many would have otherwise
been unobtainable. In addition, its built-in features have allowed new communities to come
together over their shared interests and have shown that through them the streamers are able to
grow some influence and gain sponsorship deals. It can be seen as well that older players in the
online video provider market have taken note of Twitch’s rise and even YouTube have launched
similar streaming systems to compete although with much less success (Ask et al. 2019). It cannot be
denied that Twitch has fostered a new unique form of entertainment to rise that is in many ways
different to other forms of entertainment that came before it and has the potential to become even
more if it is able to successfully create communities outside of its original niche of gaming.
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Blight, M. (2016). Relationships to video game streamers, Examining gratifications, parasocial
relationships, fandom, and community affliliation online. (Ph.D.). The University of WisconsinMilwaukee.
Faas, T., Dombrowski, L., Young, A., & Miller, A. (2018). Watch Me Code: Programming Mentorship
Communities on Twitch.tv. Proceedings Of The ACM On Human-Computer Interaction, 2(CSCW), 1-
Gandolfi, E. (2017). Enjoying death among gamers, viewers, and users: A network visualization of
Dark Souls 3’s trends on Twitch.tv and Steam platforms. Information Visualization, 17(3), 218-238.
Johnson, M., & Woodcock, J. (2018). The impacts of live streaming and Twitch.tv on the video game
industry. Media, Culture & Society, 41(5), 670-688. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443718818363
Johnson, M., & Woodcock, J. (2019). “And Today’s Top Donator is”: How Live Streamers on Twitch.tv
Monetize and Gamify Their Broadcasts. Social Media + Society, 5(4), 205630511988169.
Lybrand, E. (2019). Community in the Crowd: Motivations for Commenting on TWITCH.TV Live
Streams (Master). Clemson University.
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12 replies on “Watching people play games and their communities have created a new genre of entertainment: how Twitch.tv has enabled this change.”
I liked your topic! Definitely relevant as Twitch is having a large rise in popularity over the past few years.
It was great that you touched on that only half of viewable content nowadays is coming from television. I love a good statistic in a paper! It really highlighted how Twitch and other video services are overtaking the traditional media of television.
I like how you highlighted how difficult and demanding streaming can be. It was great to touch on how relevant and disruptive Twitch has been to streaming. I liked how well researched the platform was.
After researching all of this, would you see a streamer as a viable career for yourself?
Thankyou for your comments.
The research on Twitch I found very interesting with quite a few different angles on how its use and consumption has developed.
I agree that the comparison with Television viewing and how much impact Twitch and similar services have impacted it, but it also explains some of how they have been able to gain so much success so rapidly.
The life of a professional streamer, although fascinating, would definitely not appeal to me, I think I’ll stick to just watching. Both the long hours and pressure to remain interesting and engaging for the whole period would actually scare me if I’m being honest!
Interesting topic choice! I personally have never heard of Twitch before! Though it is interesting the whole idea of watching someone play a game and this bringing entertainment almost as much as playing it yourself!
Although you state that YouTube is a different service to that of Twitch, which I understand, it is interesting that from my experience as a nanny children’s watching habits on Youtube are very focussed on people opening toys or playing games like MineCraft. While they are not necessarily engaging in the same way as on Twitch there is definitely a shift toward this style of watching.
What would you say is the main difference between the user experience between Twitch and YouTube? YouTube is obviously less live time engaging though still has a comments section – I wonder if the comments section still provides a sense of community/engagement to users
It is very crazy that people are able to make a living from things like this! Especially E-sports which have a huge following and tournaments every year!
Thankyou for the comments.
Yes I feel in many ways the two platforms of YouTube and Twitch.tv have many similarities and in some way the differences between them are starting to blur as each adopt features of the other.
I would agree that YouTube definitely has a similar interaction with its communities albeit in a slower paced format in the integrated comments sections and you can also find live streaming with a live chat is also in some of the content on there now too. I feel this shows how Twitch’s design has impacted on other parties and how they can develop their communities as well.
E-sports is one field which shocked me as well when i began my research – the level of professionalism and quality of production of many of the leagues are quite astounding. Although I have personally found that watching as an outsider that doesn’t play most of the competitive games can be a bit overwhelming.
I think that is the way with most things when something begins to threaten your territory you adjust and incorporate the attractive qualities of the new program! Just think of all the streaming services or the way that stories started on only Snapchat though their popularity saw Instagram and Facebook adopt them in their own way! I think this is the same as Twitch and Youtube. Youtube saw that Twitch was a similar video streaming site and has incorporated similar attributes due to its success! Or potentially it went the other way!
I think that e-sports are very intense though also a great little community. It takes away the passive and lonesome nature of video games by getting people to work together and even practice together just as regular sporting teams would! I know it doesn’t have the same physical benefits of playing sport though do you think the social aspect and team building it creates is beneficial in its own way?
Really enjoyed your article. I watch online chess streams on occasion via Twitch. I’m new to the world of Twitch, and it was fascinating to read an in-depth discussion of the mechanics of the platform. One thing that interests me in particular is this: What will Twitch mean for TV entertainment and the industry that surrounds content creation for television? At present, we consume stories and shows on TV, in turn meticuously crafted by a team of writers, actors, directors, make-up artists and so on. And this enterprise, in turn, is propped up by advertising dollars and DVD sales. But if the bulk portion of our entertainment shifts online to Twitch streaming, perhaps the imaginative narrative component of TV will go extinct, and everything will become a kind of permanent reality TV show, minus production budgets. Everything becomes regular human beings watching other regular human beings for entertainment. So we move away from the pretend element of creative industries and instead watch non-actors perform and build stories on their own within the confines of a particular interest or game. If this is what people want, then so be it. One likely effect, though, will be a spike in unemployed script writers.
Hi Aaron, great paper. As someone who often watches content on Twitch I’ve often absent mindedly wondered about what separates it from other platforms like Netflix, or as you point out their biggest competitor YouTube. As you so simply state, the difference is in live content. I’m sure YouTube does have some live content but it’s not what they’re known for, and I don’t think Netflix has any at all. Some scholars have pointed out that live content like news and sports broadcasts are what keeps traditional media like television and radio alive. Even though live content is central to Twitch in a way it is not to other platforms, do you think perhaps these other platforms could adopt live content in such a way that it threatens Twitch’s business model? I wonder, what would happen then not only to Twitch, but to TV and radio.
Really enjoyed the read of the article as i can relate myself the use of Twitch. I have used Twitch for a Certificate in games design and the lecture was in Twitch back in 2015. I also used Twitch on Star Citizen back in 2013-2014 on their marathon broadcast outlining their game plan. I also watch tournament games with Magic The gathering on Twitch as an e-sport and watching the professionals slug it out at the championship. Especially for magic the gathering, a card game, i watch the format that i play being streamed in the tournament as it sets the precedent for printed legal cards that have been too powerful in the format, and could get the ban in that particular format. I have played this card game for many years and prefer paper magic over digital online play.
Good read, thanks Aaron.
Links on twitch regarding magic the gathering card game
I enjoyed reading your paper!
I had heard of Twitch TV before but knew nothing about the mechanics of the site so thank you! The growth of the platform is impressive, and I was interested in reading about the different ways a streamer can earn from the platform. What kind of merchandise do the streamers sell?? The amount of work involved in setting up to the stream, finding audiences and multi-tasking through a game seems a lot to take on. What you think drives users to want to become streamers?
Well done again,
I really enjoyed your paper. It’s nice to also see a bit of a different focus on here than all of us MMO writers 😉 I’ve heard so much about Twitch but never before used the service myself, so it was great to get a deeper understanding of it through your paper. It was also great to understand some of the more behind-the-scenes happenings that occur around streaming – particularly where you mention that it can be more time consuming than a full-time job ‘with some examples of popular streamers spending over 70 hours a week providing content’ (para 4). I wouldn’t have thought it would take that much time, wow. Much respect for these streamers 😊I also found it very interesting to learn about all the compensations avenues available to them, also.
Do you think on-demand streaming services will ever fully take over more traditional forms of media entertainment? Or do you think there will always be a place for both of these?
Thanks Aaron for the great read!
Thank you for teaching me something new! That was a really interesting read.
Streaming sounds too intense for me too! Gaming and responding to chat and remaining upbeat and interesting all at the same time must be exhausting! I was really surprised to read that people can make money from doing this, but your description of how and why that happens makes sense. I really like the two-way aspect of Twitch that you’ve described and can see how that would really strengthen the community.
I’m interested to know what sort of social media presence streamers have outside of Twitch. Do they have a preferred platform for growing their personal brand, for example TikTok or Instagram?
Thanks again Aaron,
I personally LOVE twitch and use it all the time. I’m glad you explored the effects it can have on online gaming communities as it is an aspect I touched on in my own paper. Would you agree that it is important for influencers of a specific game – whether that is content-creators or pro players – to cultivate a healthy community around them?