Hello. Twitter got me thinking today – I should note that I’ve not reached any real conclusion, I’ve just got a bunch of disparate thoughts swimming around in my brain – set off by this reply by Shannon (the tweet it’s replying to seems to have vanished):
While I see your point, I also see that keys are a massively minuscule cost for what a dev studio is getting: tons of advertising. A Facebook ad would be 2000 impressions total for $15. Streamers are therefore a far better deal (and highly targeted).
— Shannon Plante (@ShannonZKiller) January 24, 2018
This is a completely reasonable point and, as far as I’m concerned, anyone who’s concerned about handing out a handful of keys in exchange for the off-chance of some decent coverage (and possible sales) probably has bigger problems to deal with in terms of their game. She’s right that the potential benefits when compared to spending money on an advert hugely favour services like Twitch. But is this really a good comparison? To me, it’s not comparing like for like – I don’t regard a stream as advertising. If I were to, I would want a lot more control over how my game is shown than simply handing off a key and having no further input (and I’d imagine the streamer would want more than just a free key). After all, that targeted Facebook ad might be more expensive but I get control over it – the ad is made to my specification, I can use screenshots or artwork which show my game in a favourable light. With a streamer I might hand over a free key for my game and, in exchange, get the thing torn to shreds in front of a large audience. It’s a lucky dip, to some extent. It might not even get played.
So what exactly is a streamer in terms of the relationship between them and developers and publishers? Many streamers have resisted calling their output “reviews” and deny the label journalist. So they’re not press, they’re not advertisers, what exactly are they then? And if they’re neither of those two things then why is handing out free keys an accepted part of our interaction?
I personally have no problem with the current arrangement but a part of me does empathise with those who do – because the whole situation is extremely muddy. Handing keys out just became the thing we do because we need our games to get exposure and indies, in particular, often can’t afford to have a traditional PR campaign. So on some level we’re implicitly thinking of what we’re doing as advertising and yet we step back from having any say on how our game is demonstrated. In fact, were we to make such demands the backlash would be enormous – because the viewers don’t regard what they’re watching to be an advert. So is it an advert or isn’t it? It’s sort of Schrödinger’s advert – it both is and isn’t at the same time depending on whether you’re the person handing the key out or the person watching it be played.
It seems to me that we need to really decide what exactly it is that streamers are, so that we can organise our interactions appropriately. By comparison to traditional ways of generating exposure, streaming is still incredibly new and, as such, I’m not sure that anyone really has a concrete concept of what exactly it is and, therefore, exactly how the interactions between them and developers should work, including streamers themselves. Or maybe we just quietly ignore that and continue what we’re doing and pretend everything’s just fine. Yeah, let’s do that. 😀
In the comments below, I described the arrangement as somewhat lop-sided and I’d like to expand on that a little. What I mean is, I find it comparable to a developer / publisher arrangement. A publisher can (I’m not suggesting this is how they all operate, simply that they could) sign up a bunch of indie games and then basically see what sticks. You don’t *need* to pick and choose intelligently, you could instead just pick 30 games pretty much randomly and, amongst that lot, chances are good that one of them will perform well enough to cover all the costs and them some. Which is great for the publishers, but not so great for the developers whose games didn’t stick.
In the same way, streamers (again not talking about actual streamers, this is just me thinking aloud) get a bunch of free keys. The objective isn’t so much to give exposure to those games but instead simply to see which one sticks as far as their audience is concerned. Find the one which helps your channel grow. Which is great for the streamer, but the developers whose games didn’t stick… well, they’ve not really had anything out of the arrangement.
Ultimately though, even if you didn’t get much in the way of exposure, what have you really lost? A few keys that you have infinite supply of – big deal. But there’s a potential disparity here which I think, at least, should not go unnoticed or unremarked upon.
All of this could, of course, be total bollocks. I’m not stating any of this as fact, it’s just brain farts dribbling out onto the page. But this is why I have some empathy for those who feel contrary to me in terms of how they feel about handing out keys – I don’t think the points I’ve raised are unreasonable or ridiculous even if I personally don’t consider them to be sufficient to change how I feel about handing out keys.