Twitch and YouTube streams aren’t designed to be cooperative or competitive. For all the available chat functions and ways of interacting with other people, the streamer remains the center of attention. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just like sports streams, TV shows, and movies, people tune in to see particular people and characters, and not to chat with any old John or Jane Doe that turns up.
The idea of making streams interactive isn’t a new one, though. The popular bundle of games called Jackbox Party Pack is a good example. Alongside Marbles on Stream, in which viewers compete to finish a marble run first, Jackbox has its own category on Twitch. Marbles on Stream usually commands a combined audience of more than a thousand viewers at any one time but matches themselves are usually quite small, in the region of ten or so players.
What’s interesting about Marbles on Stream is that players don’t actually have to do anything, other than join in with the chat command "!play ". Marbles move through the course at the mercy of gravity and various obstacles. This twists the presenter’s role into something closer to a sports announcer, offering a play-by-play account of the balls’ fortunes. With nothing on the line, the game is just dumb fun.
Experiments with the relationship between streamers and audiences seem to be in a very early stage but there have been some success stories. For instance, a concept known as the live casino uses similar mechanisms to Marbles on Stream to draw players in. With the help of a presenter or croupier, players can join games like blackjack, roulette, and even gameshows, sometimes with others.
Notable games include the Wheel of Fortune-like Dream Catcher, as well as Boom City. These two game shows are designed to provide an alternative to the standard casino experience, where social interaction and immersion are prioritized. Boom City, a betting game on a 6x6 grid, was only released in 2022 but it can be found in The Clubhouse Casino's live casino section. This recent release date emphasizes just how embryonic this genre actually is.
As mentioned, we’re still in an early period for stream/player interaction on Twitch so there may still be plenty more to come from content developers, who tend to be on the indie side of things at the moment. However, the inclusion of tools that let viewers influence a game in the co-op title Warhammer: Vermintide 2 and Killing Room does seem to hint at a possible interest in the space from AAA developers, too.
This kind of feature often results in players ganging up on the streamer, by introducing fresh obstacles and hazards to the game. This can produce humorous results if the audience is feeling particularly cruel. Unfortunately, due to the low number of streamers within the more general gaming population, it’s still hard at this stage to see twitch integration and viewer participation becoming more than a tiny niche of the industry.
Overall, interactive streaming of all kinds does bring fans and streamers closer together. While its potential in video gaming is limitless, the concept is perhaps a bit too gimmicky, as reliant on Twitch as it is.