“Kelsey’s view of herself is…very large.”
I made this observation as my wife was watching KelseyDangerous stream Animal Crossing: New Horizons (she’s a great streamer by the way and you should check out her show!). Unlike the thumbnail-sized streamer views I’ve seen in the past when the streamer has overlaid themselves over-top of their gameplay, Kelsey’s view was a large square that covered up a sizable portion of the screen. It was also cropped in such a way where you could see more than just her face. In this view, you could everything from the torso up.
As I’ve continued to explore Twitch in recent months, it’s become apparent to me that Kelsey’s overlay strategy is not a one-off. Streamers of all sorts are making the view of themselves larger, even if that means you see less of the gameplay underneath.
Over the years, I’ve come to learn that unless you’re a pro gamer, your gameplay is not a selling point within the realm of live streaming. With so many others covering the same games and playing them at an “average” level, the games themselves are no longer a point of separation.
In a field where the games are the same, it’s the people that stand out. Those who are able to provide value through their words, voice, and actions beyond the game are the ones that are more likely to draw an audience.
This reality has emerged through streaming overlay design in a number of ways. For starters, having a camera has become the standard. Viewers want to see the streamer, as they value being able to put a face to the voice. It also adds more value to the overall experience, from being able to see their facial expressions as they react to a big moment to seeing the cool trinkets they decorate their rooms with. All of that visual data goes a long way towards humanizing the streamer and making the connection with their audience that much easier. Yes, there are still camera-free exceptions, but those without are at a huge disadvantage versus those who do.
Then came the inclusion of the intermission screen. Moving the gameplay aside or off of the screen entirely, this is the place where the streamer is in full-view, engaging with their audience. These interactions between streamer and audience hit the core of what makes the medium of streaming magical. The effect is amplified by expanding the view to your world so that viewers can see you clearly. Drawing from an extreme case in my own viewing habits, I’m not at all interested in the games that TimTheTatman plays. However, I tune in just for his intermissions cause he’s such a cool dude when he’s just hanging out with his audience.
We’re now starting to see the power of the camera view leak into the gameplay view we see most. For ages, streamers have kept their camera view small in order to not obstruct the gameplay. Knowing what we know now about the importance of the streamer over the game, it’s not surprising to see the streamer take more of the real estate for themselves at the expense of the gameplay.
And it’s more than just making the default viewing angle bigger. Streamers are showing more of themselves. Instead of cropping the view around the face, steamers are expanding the viewing angle to show more of their chest and torso. Streamers benefit from being able to express themselves more, from the clothing they wear, to showing more of their body language throughout. The slumping of one’s shoulders in defeat or fist pumping during a victory adds more context to the action.
Admittedly, the shift is a bit jarring to me. Having designed my overlays over the years with an eye on making myself just big enough so that viewers can see me without blocking too much of the screen, it feels unnerving to cover more of the gameplay and show more of my upper body. After about an hour of fiddling, the end result was essentially just a slightly larger window with the same aspect ratio.
But the reasoning for why this trend is taking off is obvious. Viewers want more of the streamer because they’re the ones who make the show worth watching. I’ll figure out a way to make that look work for my stream, even if it seems weird right now.
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