Streamer Hype

You guys know I’m not a fan of streamers or how they have encouraged horrible marketing trends. Hopping on the streamer hype train and riding it hard is a very clear tell that your marketing team lacks creativity and a deeper understanding of how to build a lasting and dedicated following for your game.

Streamer hype is out of control. Companies fly dozens of them out to their headquarters, load them up on sugar, swag, and free access to the game then set them free. I have my own personal belief that more than a few of their palms are being greased despite Twitch’s supposed rules against it. From what I have heard (and can not find written verification), Streamers are not allowed to take money to speak highly of a game.

The streamer hype credo: Play it if it’s new. Play it if it gets viewers. Act like a buffoon. 

(Okay I added that last part.)

Very few of the streamers who make $10k+ a month are doing so for the love of the games they play. They are doing it because it’s now a job — an awesome job that makes them ridiculous amounts of sponsorship cash. When something risks the cash (like viewer boredom), they jump ship and hop onto the next new/popular game. I don’t fault them for making money, nor do I fault them for playing what they want when they want. Those are their rights and I respect that. I think it’s crap for game companies to abuse it, especially when it’s detrimental to the games.

Most of these streamers have fan clubs that follow them and lick their heels like lovestruck pups. When the streamers jump ship a couple weeks after launch, so do a huge number of players. When the streamers stop broadcasting, suddenly the marketing for that game dries up. Suddenly you start seeing a lot of banner ads and other knee-jerk reactionary marketing tactics to increase visibility. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a true following of players rather than illegitimately inflated numbers?

Streamers getting games for free and playing them to hype everyone up are killing the industry one game at a time. This type of flash-in-the-pan crap is being used to augment early access antics. Toss a dozen streamers free copies of your early access, give them private servers, and ‘encourage’ them to speak highly of your game when launch is less than ideal. I shouldn’t have to say more.

All of that said, let me get one thing straight: I enjoy watching streams. I watch some of the big names like Cohh and Lirik. I find them entertaining at times (albeit sometimes I have to stop watching because they go too far and start acting up for attention). I especially like Lirik who will openly act like a complete dick and decline being a puppet just to be different. It’s his shtick. But he’s definitely a sponsor-whore like the rest. Smaller streams are where you’ll find more of the real fans of the game and less of the hypers. Not always, but it’s reliable.

You and I might be intelligent. We can watch someone playing a game and hyping it all in that moment as super fun and think, “yeah but I wonder what it’s REALLY like…” But Some people watching streams get sucked into the hype and think the game is awesome because their favorite streamer is playing. Their favorite streamer is showing a version of the game that will not resemble their own experience. It’s an illusion.

Using streamers to market your game is asking to be a flavor of the month. If your goal is to grab a bunch of cash in the first 14 days then go for it. If your goal is to attract ‘real’ players who stick around, and you have long-term goals for your game then I recommend you look elsewhere.

  • They can take money in exchange for playing a game, but they have to say in their title or acknowledge they are being played to pay the game and they do not have to speak good about it. For instance CohhCarnage was paid last year to play Firefall, had that in his title he was receiving compensation, but bashed the game the whole time that it sucked.

  • They may have to note if they are getting money in exchange for playing the game, but they don’t have to note the swag, the free game copies, the trips and tickets to gaming cons. Most of those streamers are getting money from donations and subscriptions. They get the donations and subscriptions from playing the newest and hottest game at the time. Their fanboys eat it up, and regurgitate all of their opinions that they have. Twitch chat and Twitch communities of big streamers are such a turn off, when it comes to nearly all gaming streams.

  • @Bartillo: Correct, it’s like when I receive a review copy for a game I have to disclose that I got it for free, etc. The catch here is that it’s in streamers’ best interest to keep up the excitement on that new game until the next one comes up because they’re trying to keep a live audience. Bashing a game while people watch causes people to wonder why they are watching. Hype a game up like it’s awesome and people want to watch that awesome game. So they hype the game then the very next day they stop playing and trash it. It’s like Cohh’s statement about ESO he made this morning about it being a trashy GW2 rip-off. While he was playing it was the greatest thing on earth.

    @Yotor: Yep. Too true. The real issue is their communities regurgitating all of their opinions. It drives the illusion.

  • It would seem that if one became known for trashing most games they streamed they would lose sponsorship, but if they praised games that later were seen to be inferior they would lose credibility.

    It probably would behoove one to not take every sponsorship deal, but restrict themselves one ones where they likely would be able to give an overall positive review and not get called out on it; maybe even purposely throw in a few non-sponsored negative reviews.

  • Confused here. You’re part of the problem and you’re pointing at the streamers? Your points are all valid and then you act against each one, time and time again.

    It’s like watching a drug addict complain about the drugs while there’s a needle in their arm.

    If you don’t want streamers to make money, stop watching streamers.

  • @Asm:

    I know exactly what you are saying, and such a statement would certainly pertain to people like myself, but I tend to give game bloggers a pass because they need to keep in touch with numerous aspects of the gaming industry, positive and negative, to be able to knowledgeably report back to us.

    So while I agree with you, and for that reason generally don’t watch streamers, I wouldn’t be educated enough to write a column addressing specific streamers or even much of the process in general; that’s why I rely on Keen to slosh through the mire, so I don’t have to. 😉

  • I’ve watched Cohh now for well over a year. While he was playing ESO, he never said it was the greatest thing on earth. Part of the reason his stream is so awesome is because he talks about the good and the bad. He enjoyed doing PvP in ESO, but he always said the PvE was lackluster. He didn’t like the grouping mechanics. He eventually found Cyrodil to be boring, once he was max level and been there done that.

    To be fair, Keen, your blog is similar. While you’re playing a game, you talk about how amazing it is and how much fun it is. When you jump ship a few weeks later, you never look back and something else is the new hotness. That’s how most bloggers are, most streamers, most gamers.

    It’s not like game PR was in a wonderful place before this. All of this same stuff happened, except it was game journos who were wooed and swooned for reviews. Fans are now increasingly watching streamers now rather than reading review sites (and seems like you’re in that group too) so of course game marketing & PR is going to follow the fans. When you’re trying to market a game, you have to go where the fans are. Doing anything else is silly business. Obviously “making a good game” is the best PR, but even in those cases – studios still have PR and marketing teams that spend dollars on getting the game in front of as many eyes as possible. It’s a hit-driven cycle, and every game has a peak and a long tail. So yes, getting the game in front of streamers for the maximum impact in the first couple of weeks IS a viable strategy, always has been, and always will be as long as the life cycles and buying patterns of games continue as they have.

  • @Cuppy: I’m very open about how I talk about games. I think reserving the right to change one’s opinions is paramount, especially for bloggers who, unlike streamers, have to come back and write updates rather than showing the raw presentation live. If I love a game in one post, but hate it in the next, there could have been days, weeks, or months of unseen circumstances in-between.

    The difference is putting on the show for the audience to keep that audience. If someone does what I do in stream fashion or written medium then I won’t fault them. That would be hypocritical. But doing so for an audience or because you are being paid (swagged) to do so is uncouth.

    @Asmiroth: There’s nothing wrong with streamers making money. There’s nothing wrong with watching streams. I watch them almost every day. What I don’t like, and what this post is all about, are the antics used by devs to capitalize on using these streamers as marketing machines. It’s one thing to make money by being entertaining and getting ad revenue. It’s another to make money by hyping games because you’re being paid/swagged by a company and throwing them aside when it’s time to get paid for the next one.

  • I think anytime you effectively give away control of your message you are in trouble. I personally do not use any outside sales or marketing people for my company though I do use them for the design phase. Once it gets to the point of delivering the message I like to maintain as much control as possible.

    With streamers I think the big companies like SOE see the exposure outweighing the bad. Some of that exposure can be a good thing for sure… but some of these streamers I would not want affiliated with my product at all. Some streamers use derogatory language and say things that I know SOE would never tolerate in their workplace or want associated with their game, but they can sort of just wash their hands of it since they are streamers. I think though when a company like SOE chooses to fly in certain streamers that have a tendency to behave in a negative way as part of their schtick they are tarnishing their name. Someone in marketing had to know who the streamers were they brought in and I can not believe they would know who they are but not how they act. Of course SOE has proven time and time again they are not the best at controlling and delivering their message… no matter what Smedley would like people to believe.

  • So in summation:

    Gaming companies are brilliant for using a relatively cheap medium to push their games.
    Consumers are stupid for not doing their own consumer research and buying into games blindly.
    Streamers are brilliant for realizing both of these themes are exploit them for profit.

    Really, I don’t see how anyone is at fault here but the consumer. Ultimately you choose what to do with your own disposable income. I find it difficult to sit here and blame companies for marketing their games nor streamers for making a living schilling games. They are risking their reputation, and thus stream income, in doing so.

  • Although I share your sentiment for the most part I don’t necessarily see it as a problem more just the natural evolution of capitalism at play. People are always going to do things they feel will make them money.

    Some streamers are definitely buffoons but I think it’s as much about them being entertainers as it is about them playing games. Many of my favorite streamers could be entertaining in other mediums — they just happen to enjoy playing video games, and I do, too.

    I used to be more inclined to jump on board the hype train and game hop around. I’m more jaded and cynical now and will usually wait it out to see if something is worth my money or time. I don’t feel any need to be there on Day 1 for all the launch issues and beta state most games are launched in. The thought of dropping $20 for the soggy turd that is H1Z1, a game that will be f2p and theoretically less bug-ridden at launch, is unfathomable to me (don’t get me wrong I think the game has a lot of potential but just can’t imagine paying money to alpha test a f2p game). But plenty of people are all too happy to stock Smedley’s giant vault of money he swims around in like Scrooge McDuck.

  • @nukethissitefromorbit: Very, very good lesson there. Handing over your messsage is silly. I’m the marketing manager for an agency that handles very large name clients. I oversee the marketing for both our company and the agency work we do on our clients’ behalf. I can not belief how easily some people hand over their entire company to someone else and say, “represent me to the public.” It’s one thing to hire a professional agency, but it’s something entirely different to give it to a 22 year old who, albeit entertaining, would do things I would never in a million years allow my publicly traded company to say or do.

    @Phandy: Your first point is the one I see as incorrect. Gaming companies are NOT brilliant. See my comment to nuke above and nuke’s statement. Not only are devs relying on someone else to craft their message, they are using these ‘stars’ often as the only real outreach into the community. They focus so hard on streams that it becomes nothing more than an act of satisfying twitch viewers and their favorite streams. They neglect the huge part of the community that will actually be the people who stay and play after the streamers have moved on to the next game and company offering them swag.

    @Misaligned: The capitalism side of it I’m fine with. I think what the streamers do, although somewhat unethical at times, is a great use of their talent (I cringe when I say that sometimes). It’s the relationship between the devs and how the streamers are being used to present games to the public that rubs me the wrong way.

  • Keen
    Would you be willing to do an Allods Online stream? I’m sure it would be very beneficial to you monetarily.

  • @Keen I agree with you that if companies ignore other marketing avenues and just rely on Streamers, then yes, that is pretty dumb. But if they use Streamers as part of their marketing plan it is hard to do anything but applaud them.

  • hehe, pretty much what i said just better worded, I agree fully.
    I am a big fan of Streamers, E-Sports and all things gaming, but the bigger streamers are just as toxic as the bigger publishers

  • I am trying to stream games that I like I need no help from game companies I work a full time job and I feel like it is going crazy but I hope ppl will watch me and watch me flop on my face