Twitch was an accident. The live video streaming service, which boasts over 55 million unique users each month, began life in 2007 as “Justin.tv”: an all-hours video livestream of co-founder Justin Kan’s life. That wasn’t the whole point of the service, of course; later that year, “Justin.tv” opened up to the public, who could then “livestream” to various “channels.” At its inception, Justin.tv was a form of internet television, offering live broadcasts across a variety of topics. One such topic — gaming — took a particularly large portion of Justin.tv’s audience. So much so that, in 2011, the company spun out gaming into its own website: Twitch.tv. Three years later and Justin.tv is dead, the company is now known as “Twitch Interactive,” and Amazon just bought it for $970 million. Not too shabby for an “accident”.
WHAT IS TWITCH?
Like Justin.tv, Twitch.tv is a live video broadcasting service. Unlike Justin.tv, Twitch focuses solely on gaming. More specifically, Twitch focuses primarily on e-sports: the burgeoning world of competitive games played professionally for money.
For example! Twitch hosts a non-stop livestream of “The International,” an annual game tournament. At The International, teams compete in a Valve game named DOTA 2. Twitch broadcasts those games in real-time. This year, over 20 million people tuned in. Over 2 million people tuned in simultaneously at one point. Oh, and the winning team took home just over $5 million.
So, what are those 20 million people watching? They are literally watching live video of a video game being played by other human beings. The live video often has commentary (sometimes by the players themselves, other times by other folks), and often has a picture-in-picture view of the players face. That description can be applied to much of the content on Twitch, albeit with varying levels of production. The International (seen below) is a massive event, so its stream has very high production value.
In short, Twitch is mainly a venue for e-sports fans to watch live e-sports. But there’s another side to Twitch: participation. Within each Twitch user’s channel is an embedded chat widget, enabling the person (or people) broadcasting live video to interact directly with viewers. Interactivity expands the use of Twitch beyond simply watching e-sports being played live.
For example! Game development studio Vlambeer use their Twitch channel to broadcast a weekly stream of game development. Since their game is already available to purchase, fans can offer feedback directly on what they’ve played, see what’s currently in-development, and even influence the final product. It’s a direct pipeline from development team to player.
But these two examples are exceptions to the rule. They represent the “premium” end of Twitch’s content — the “whales” (especially high viewer numbers). Anyone can broadcast games on Twitch — even Engadget! — and, beyond using the web interface on a computer, it’s built into both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. There’s even a new Android tablet with Twitch broadcasting capability built in. That accessibility means that the vast majority of video content broadcast on Twitch is, well, “just some person playing a game.” Some channels attract millions of viewers. Some attract single digits.
WHO’S USING TWITCH? AND WHY?
Twitch’s full user base is enormous: over 55 million “unique viewers” use Twitch annually, and over one million people use Twitch to broadcast each month.
Not these guys
The heavy-hitters — that is, the channels with the most views — tend to be “partners.” Twitch describes its “partner” program as such: “an exclusive group of the world’s most popular video game broadcasters, personalities, leagues, teams and tournaments.” That includes everything from The International to live broadcasts of press conferences; at this year’s big gaming trade show, E3, Twitch carried live broadcasts of every console maker’s press conference.
That said, the people broadcasting on Twitch vary dramatically. Though e-sports dominates the most-viewed list, Twitch is home to some incredible — and incredibly bizarre — user-generated content. Take, for instance, “Twitch Plays Pokémon.” Using Twitch, a programmer in Australia created an interactive game for Twitch viewers. He combined an emulation of GameBoy classic Pokémon Red with a bot that took text from chat. If a viewer entered “up” in chat, the character in Pokémon Red would move up. Simple enough! It becomes far less simple when hundreds of thousands of people are entering commands all at once. The result is what you see below.
Unbelievably, the game was eventually completed solely based on community commands. The system actually defeated a whole mess of Pokémon games. And now, fish are getting in on the action. Really!
Yet another use of Twitch: the phenomenon known as “speedrunning.” The term literally means to complete a game as quickly as possible. Sound lame? Watch this incredible video of Nintendo classic Mario 64 being defeated in under 10 minutes.
One particularly interesting subcommunity is helmed by the group “Games Done Quick” (GDQ). Each year, the group holds two marathons of non-stop live speedruns in an effort to raise money for charity (this summer’s event already happened, and they raised over $700K for Doctors Without Borders). In total, the group’s raised just shy of $3 million for charity by playing games as fast as humanly possible while live broadcasting the whole thing.
As for the general public, live broadcasting became far more mainstream when it entered the living room. With Xbox One and PlayStation 4, living rooms were suddenly thrust online in full view of the world. In the case of PlayStation 4 tech showcase The Playroom, Twitch was forced to outright ban the game; it enabled users to directly broadcast a full screen video feed of their living room. As you can imagine, that led to some occasionally lurid content.
Of course, that’s also the exception — many are simply using Twitch, and game broadcasting in general, as a social platform. Their friends are online, and they can participate remotely in each other’s games, follow the same people, and broadcast or watch together. It fosters community, and it’s instantly relatable to a generation that’s grown up with fast internet and computer ubiquity. As Ben Davis wrote in a recent New York Magazine piece, “So much of social life has migrated online already; why wouldn’t it be the entertainment that was live and social and digital that feels most vital?”
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Perhaps you like money? With Twitch’s huge user base, there’s plenty of opportunity to jump in and get broadcasting. Between running ads on your content through Twitch’s partner program and charging a subscription price to your channel (which gives viewers an ad-free experience), you could make it a full-time gig. Of course, you’re one of millions. But that never stopped anyone before, right?
Okay, okay — let’s appeal to your more reasonable senses. This whole e-sports and live broadcasting thing is quickly becoming a pretty big deal. Maybe you dig traditional sports? E-sports might be your thing. The same rivalries transpire, and it’s full of the same human emotion. All the words they’re saying might sound like jargon at first, but that disappears after a few intense matches pique your interest.
Though e-sports gained prominence with the mass popularity of competitive first-person shooter games like Call of Duty and Halo, the game dominating Twitch’s charts now are of the “MOBA” genre (multiplayer online battle arena). Of this genre, millions are playing League of Legends and DOTA 2. Though from different developers and made independently of each other, both games are nigh identical in the way they play. Like sports, there is only one “arena” where players compete. Teams battle for control of the other’s side, carefully organizing tactics and strategies to win. In so many words, it’s a hell of a lot like traditional sports.
Loaded as the term “e-sports” may sound, Twitch offers a great (and free) opportunity to give them a shot. At very least, the fantasy sports players among you will feel right at home.
WANT EVEN MORE?
Despite Twitch’s relative newness as a company and service, there’s been quite a bit of words spilled in that time. From New York Magazine‘s excellent recent breakdown of the company’s purchase by Amazon, to our sister site Joystiq‘s coverage of Twitch Plays Pokémon, to The Next Web‘s interview with Twitch when the company spun out its video game arm, there’s quite a bit of material out there. Oh, and there’s the BBC‘s recent take on defining the service’s importance to the uninitiated (seen above) and this recent piece from the New York Times which digs in on e-sports.
[Image credit: Twitch (ESL TV), BBC Newsnight ("What is Twitch?"), Suzi Pratt/FilmMagic (The International DOTA 2 Championships, 2014), Vlambeer (Nuclear Throne devstream), Shutterstock ("Gamers"), Twitch Plays Pokémon (via Joystiq), Twitch (Fish Plays Pokémon), Sony Computer Entertainment/Reddit (The Playroom), YouTube]
Microsoft’s 15-year-old MSN Messaging service will soon be a part of computer lore. It has been shut down in most places for over a year, but Microsoft kept it running in China where it was still quite popular. However, with the advent of Tencent’s QQ, Line and other services, Redmond recently emailed Chinese users (on their Hotmail accounts, naturally) that the service would ride into the sunset on October 31st. To give you an idea of how old it is, the service was created in 1999 by Microsoft to compete against AOL’s AIM chat service (disclaimer: AOL is Engadget’s parent company). However, we doubt too many users will get misty-eyed about its demise — the only nostalgia we have is how difficult it was to get rid of.
Via: The Verge
Well, that happened a bit sooner than we expected. The Xbox One update detailed earlier this month is rolling out to everyone over the next few days, according to Xbox Live’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb. The patch brings a revamped party app and multiple simultaneous deletes from the Game DVR in addition to the new GIF-capable (but not MKV-ready as of yet) media player app and bandwidth usage monitor. The latter of which will be very handy to those living with data caps and the multiple-gigabyte updates that have become de rigueur with this generation of gaming. There are a few more bits and bobs packed into the 258MB update, and if you’re feeling impatient you should be able to force the patch this very instant.
- Larry Hryb (@majornelson) August 28, 2014
Via: Larry Hyrb (Twitter)
Source: Major Nelson
Microsoft has been working hard to make Xbox One SmartGlass more useful and appealing for users, and it’s doing a great job so far. The most recent update to the app, however, may just be its best yet. Most notably, you can now record Xbox One game clips directly from the SmartGlass application, making the process easier for gamers who, for example, have a Kinect-less console. In addition to that, you can use the app to view your profile’s activity feed, post status updates on it and share stuff that pops up there. New TV and OneGuide features are here as well, although those had been available previously in beta on some devices. Speaking of which, perhaps the nicest part of this refresh is that Microsoft is doing it across the board — the revamped Xbox One SmartGlass is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
- Larry Hryb (@majornelson) August 28, 2014
OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service formerly known as SkyDrive, just got updated across several platforms. Most significant, perhaps, is its Android app refresh that adds OneDrive for Business integration, so you can easily access both personal and work files without having to switch accounts. You can now also set up a PIN code on the Android app and access OpenDrive files from within other apps. The iOS app, on the other hand, has a new native search box and an AllPhotos view, where you can see all your images arranged chronologically in one window. Finally, the app for Windows Phone 8.1 now has access to the recycle bin, which is extremely useful for people with jittery, delete-happy fingers. If you’re on iOS and Windows Phone but would rather get those sweet, new Android features, though, don’t worry — Microsoft’s bringing them to your platforms in the coming months.
You may have heard that the Windows Store has a serious problem with counterfeit apps; for every legitimate title, there’s seemingly a horde of fakes meant solely to take your money and run. At last, though, Microsoft has detailed what it’s doing to cull these scams from its shop. To begin with, it recently toughened up the requirements so that app categories, icons and names reflect what you’re really getting; hopefully, you’ll see less junk going forward. The folks in Redmond are also scouring the existing catalog, and have pulled 1,500 apps so far. There’s still a long way to go (search for “iTunes” and you’ll see plenty of copyright abuse), but this represents a good start.
For some, the biggest solution may be what Microsoft isn’t doing — namely, paying developers for every app they publish. A promotion the company ran last year gave $100 per finished app no matter how much work was involved, which actually punished those who took the time to write top-notch software. The strategy suggested to some that Microsoft was obsessed with catching up to the quantities of apps in Apple’s App Store or Google Play, quality be damned. Both the crackdown and the end to those pay-per-app promos should go a long way toward changing this reputation, but it will only be successful when you can safely assume that most Windows Store apps are the real deal.
Source: Building Apps for Windows
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 has only been available in a handful of places so far, but it’s about to get a much, much wider audience. As promised, Microsoft is launching its latest Surface in 25 more countries. Most of them are Asian and European nations, including China and the UK; if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you can snag a Windows slate for yourself. All five models are available, so you won’t have to settle for a device you don’t want. You’ll have to be a little more patient if you want the docking station, though. It’s available for pre-order today, but you’ll have to wait until September 12th to pick one up on impulse.
Source: Surface Blog
Simply put, Doctor Who and Minecraft are two worldwide sensations, each extremely popular in their own entertainment category. Thus, it just kind of makes sense to bring the two together. Thankfully for those of you who are into both, Microsoft and the BBC have partnered up to do exactly that, by way of digital downloadable content for Minecraft on the Xbox 360. Starting next month, players will have access to character packs from Doctor Who, including skins of The Doctor himself, his companions and his mad enemies — all from throughout the show’s entire history, not only from most recent seasons. No word yet on if this also applies to the upcoming Xbox One edition of Minecraft, but it wouldn’t surprise us if that was the case.
Ever since Microsoft cut its motion- and voice-sensor from the Xbox One package, the second version of Kinect has been in limbo. Sure, you could still get one if you shelled out $500 for the deluxe version of Xbox One, but there was no way to pick one up on its own. What if, say, a new Dance Central game for Xbox One were to be announced? Microsoft always said it would offer the device standalone, and now it’s got a release date and price: October 7th for $150 ($50 less than the Windows version, for those wondering). Even better: Kinect on Xbox One comes with the aforementioned new Dance Central game. Not a terrible nod to the most important third-party game studio making Kinect games.
Despite taking Kinect out of the box — mostly to stay competitive price-wise with Sony’s PlayStation 4, which is repeatedly besting the Xbox One in monthly sales — Microsoft says the standalone release is more evidence of the company’s belief in the sensor. “We believe Xbox One is better with Kinect,” Microsoft’s blog post reads, “offering unlimited possibilities.” Specifically, the company cites voice commands and Skype as the primary reasons for owning Kinect, in addition to calling out a handful of Kinect-enabled titles (Kinect Sports Rivals, Dead Rising 3, Project Spark).
The key here, Microsoft says, is choice. “We’re excited to offer you more choices for purchasing Xbox One — with Kinect, without Kinect for $399, bundled with games like Madden NFL 15 or Sunset Overdrive, or by adding the standalone Kinect sensor at a later date.”
It’ll be interesting to see what numbers, if any, Microsoft releases on standalone Kinect sales after October 7th. The original Kinect, an add-on for the Xbox 360 game console, sold tremendously well as a standalone peripheral. The approach this time around, however, is a lot different; Microsoft has to overcome the malaise of spurned consumers who didn’t love their first Kinect (which was barely supported, with many bad games) and get past the public perception that the Xbox One isn’t an inferior console to the PlayStation 4.
By design, tablets are less about work and more about play — though you’ll find some notable exceptions in our roundup of top slates for the back-to-school season. Among them are Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which features a keyboard case that makes typing on the go bearable, and the ASUS Transformer Book, which also gives you hardware keys via a bundled dock. Of course, there are still plenty of slates made for enjoying your downtime. Click through the gallery below to see them all, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our guide!