Live Streaming and Embracing Audience Participation

When Tetris 99 introduced Invictus Mode, I switched to playing that mode exclusively. Part of it stemmed from believing that I have the skills to compete at that level. Wins are sparse, but I’ve won enough Invictus matches to feel like this is the right mode for me.

Beyond that, I also chose to play Invictus matches as a means of attracting viewers to the stream. Skill can play a major factor when it comes to drawing an audience, and I felt like I had to play at Invictus-level difficulty in order to stand a chance against other streamers in the directory. Even though the focus of my show isn’t so much about competitive play, I figured that players streaming classic Tetris 99 would get left behind.

Skill still goes a long way, but the factors that determine viewership are more complicated than that.

Case in point: stream sniping. There’s a segment of Tetris 99 viewers that want to play against the streamer. Though Tetris 99 doesn’t have any sort of party system, players have figured out that you have a good shot of queuing into the same lobby if you search at the same time. To compensate for the video lag, the streamer will type the countdown in the chat for viewers to sync with.

While the term is often associated with the unsportsmanlike use of a live stream in order to get the drop on the streamer, it’s not particularly insidious in Tetris 99. Since there are no unique identifiers on-screen, there’s no way for viewers to target streamers or gain any sort of advantage. Really, it’s an opportunity to play in a party in a game that doesn’t have a party system.

Though I don’t outwardly fish for stream snipers, I’ve opened the door for viewers to play with me when asked. Recently though, a viewer asked me to play in classic Tetris 99 with them, as they hadn’t unlocked Invictus yet. Though I obliged, I went back to Invictus mode right after, and the viewer left my channel.

Would they have stayed if I kept playing in classic Tetris 99 matches? Maybe. Could I possibly attract more viewers by outwardly asking for audience participation and playing at the default difficulty that everyone has access to? Possibly.

Recently, I tried an experiment. Changing the title of my stream so that it openly invited other viewers to play with me, a number of viewers took me up on the offer and said as much in the chat. Small sample size, but I’ll certainly try this again.

The bigger takeaway for me from this situation is that I need to be more mindful of the opportunity that comes from audience participation. Going a level beyond entertaining viewers with my own gameplay and personality, we can build even closer connections by playing these games together.

Without putting much thought into it, I’ve done this in the past. A number of viewers have carried me and my brother though matches of Overwatch and Paladins. During this year’s Extra Life marathon, we opened our Jackbox lobby for viewers to play with us. Those games work incredibly well as an experience that streamers and viewers can share together.

Maybe the coolest example of them all is during the times I’ve streamed Super Mario Maker 2. There’s a segment of viewers who ask streamers to try out their levels. During times where I’ve been open to taking levels from the audience, it’s been neat to almost act as a test subject while experiencing the creativity from the community. I wouldn’t recommend being overly pushy in getting streamers to play your levels, nor would I push streamers to play viewer-submitted levels if they don’t want to. However, between consenting parties, it’s a neat way of interacting with someone.

It’s neat that the technology exists for us to connect in this way. Not everyone is going to want to partake, but it could be beneficial for all involved. As a streamer, how often do you play games with viewers? As a viewer, how much do you value the experience of playing with the streamer?

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