Aug 23

Thoughts on Streaming Speedruns, and *GDQs

These are some thoughts that I had about streaming and the Games Done Quick marathons.

On Streaming As A Skill
I tend to lurk, and occasionally post on, the Twitch subreddit. A common question for awhile was “How do I get a bigger viewership?” or “What are some games I can play that can get me more viewers?” This is perfectly reasonable. After all, if we didn’t want other people to watch our streams, we wouldn’t bother sending our gameplay over the Internet (More on this later). But to my mind, it’s the wrong question to ask for someone just starting out. I went over this in a thread I created on the subreddit, but I feel like people don’t always appreciate that the things commonly thought of as requirements to build an audience/be a good caster, such as talking and interacting with your chat while playing your game/s of choice, is a skill, and one that takes time to develop. If you go back and watch Classic Games Done Quick, the very first SDA marathon, and compare it to Summer Games Done Quick 2014, the most recent, the ability of the participants to talk and play at the same time (Or, alternately, to realize they can’t do that, and have a couch/commentary crew capable of picking up the slack) is like night and day. You should obviously stream games you enjoy, but within that set, when first starting out, you should also stream games that allow you to develop the game-while-interacting skillset. It’s not like interacting with your friends on the couch, or even in online gaming, since your chat is A. not playing with you and B. probably out of your line of sight, so glancing over at your chat is something you have to develop as a skill. You also have to develop filling dead air, so to speak, so that when someone comes in, they see you engaged and are more likely to say hello. These are important to building viewership, though not the only factor.

On Streaming For Popularity
As I mentioned above, one reason we stream is because we want others to see those streams, whether you’re a “variety” streamer, a speedrunner, or go back and forth between the two (Crumps is an excellent example of the latter–he runs Final Fantasy IV, but also plays a lot of MLB the Show ’14, to name just two of the games he typically streams). To put it bluntly, if you claim that popularity isn’t in at least the back of your mind when you stream (Or submit a speedrun to SDA/Youtube/whatever), you’re lying–if you were really “all about the run, maaaaaan”, you’d either not submit to those places, or submit anonymously.

And there’s not anything wrong with that! Hugo Award winning author John Scalzi made an excellent post on his blog where he basically says “What do you mean ‘No one goes into writing to get rich?! I did!” I feel more or less the same way about streaming.

Now, despite Scalzi’s blog post, I’m not saying that you should stream (Be it speedrunning, variety, or hybrid–I disagree that a person has to be one or the other exclusively, hence the introduction of Suffering Saturdays to my weekly schedule) primarily or exclusively to make money or to get popular. This is for a couple reasons–first of all, much like hitting it big in music or writing or some other creative profession, the odds of it actually working out for you are long (Many authors, including some bestsellers, still hold down day jobs). Again, more on this below. Secondly, if you don’t honestly enjoy streaming, it’ll show in an inferior product. Third, as with anything, turning something from a hobby into a career changes a lot of the dynamics around it.

But if you honestly enjoy streaming, and you’re good at it, and you’d continue to do it even if you never hit it big, so to speak, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make some money at it, be it via Twitch partnership/subscriptions, donations, or some other cross-selling that I haven’t thought of. Luckily, as more and more speedrunners have gotten subscription buttons from Twitch, and the hobby hasn’t collapsed from the introduction of “Twitchbux”, the attitude of “How DARE you get PAID to do something you LIKE” that was prevalent in speedrunning a year or two ago seems to have largely gone away.

Indeed, I would argue that more speedrunners doing so full-time is good for speedrunning. Look at American sports for an example of what I’m talking about–whatever else you think about sports players and their salaries, the fact is the quality of play in sports improved markedly starting around 40 years ago, when the rank-and-file players began to make enough money that they could focus on sports as their full-time year-round profession, rather than having to hold down a separate job in the offseason. I think more people spending more time on speedrunning will, similarly, lead to higher quality speedruns and speedrunning streams.

On Games Done Quick Game Selection
Let me preface this by saying that overall, Mike (Or in SGDQ’s case, romscout) and the selection committee do an excellent job of selecting the games that will raise the most money for charities. I’ve told rom in the past that he can feel free to link the donation tracker to past marathons and just say “Scoreboard!” if I ever excessively complain about game selection. I also think that, in general, people’s cries of “salt” or “bitching” about game selection is overstated. Is there a substantial amount of disappointment when someone’s game doesn’t get in? Of course, for some reasons I’ll get into below. But at least on SDA, most of the disappointment and question is polite (There are exceptions, of course), and even when things get heated, there’s a legitimate point as often as not–I maintain that, when rejection reasons were still public, “We think this game could use a break” was a terrible rejection reason in itself. Again, more on that below.

That said, raising the maximum amount of money for charity is, or at least seems to be, the primary goal of Awesome Games Done Quick in particular. There are other factors, of course, but AGDQ is for the charity first, the viewers second, the runners third (Mike Uyama’s contract with PCF should remove all doubt in this regard). Compare this to something like European Speedster Assembly, where that order is reversed. This informs the game selection quite a bit.

It’s also true that the GDQs are by far the most popular speedrunning event each year in terms of viewership. Some people take this to mean “If I can just get my game into a GDQ, I’ll have mega-popularity after the fact!” Well, I’m living proof that this isn’t true. And I’ll admit that for awhile, I felt like the one person at AGDQ2013 who didn’t see a massive viewership boost (Or indeed, any at all).

With some perspective, I now realize that this is due to confirmation and survivorship bias. People, myself included, tend to remember the few examples in which GDQ exposure directly or indirectly leads to someone’s stream blowing up in popularity, while forgetting the many times where it doesn’t happen. The fact is that even if your game makes it in, your getting more popular after the fact outside of the substantial follower boost is still a longshot. Any examples you can think of were likely already established streamers with a core viewership that put them in the top 1% or so of streamers on Twitch before they ever ran at a GDQ (If you think I’m kidding, hit Random on the Twitch directory and marvel at the sheer number of streams with single-digit viewers. Getting into the top 1% takes less than you’d think). In other words, going from 10 viewers to 1500 just doesn’t happen (Even the example you’re no doubt thinking of didn’t happen that way, I promise).

That said, of course people want to play their game in front of an audience regardless. And I’m not going to tell people not to be disappointed when their game gets rejected–I think Uznare hit on why people take rejections so personally in this post (You’ll probably need to scroll down a bit; Taiga Forum’s direct links don’t work quite right). As mentioned above, the primary focus of a GDQ is to raise as much money as possible, which means a certain amount of “AAA” series (Not necessarily games. I had a conversation earlier today where I realized the homogenization of the marathons isn’t as bad as it sometimes seems. Take Mega Man as an example. I believe at one point or another, every Mega Man game in the “classic” series has been at an GDQ. That’s ten different games, but in my head, I tend to just think of them as “Mega Man”, so I don’t blame people for thinking “Great, another 5 hour Mega Man block at another GDQ” even if those blocks have some variety from marathon to marathon) will always get into a GDQ. That proportion is only likely to increase as time passes. So while it’s easy to say “Being rejected isn’t a big deal, just wait 6 months or a year and submit again”, I agree with Uznare’s sentiment–if a game doesn’t get into a given GDQ, does it really have a chance in future GDQs given what I wrote above? I feel like the answer is “no”.

I also noticed, and maybe this is confirmation bias again, that a lot of the people saying it’s not a big deal if your game doesn’t get in are the same people who never have to worry about not getting to represent their game at a GDQ, either because their games are so popular that they can’t be denied, or because the person is so well-loved that all they have to do is say the word and they have multiple games in (Heck, two years ago, I was probably one of those people, though I have no idea where my standing in the community is now. If I had to guess, I seem to be more well-known and highly regarded by other speedrunners than by the viewership at large). It’s a lot easier to “tsk tsk” someone about something you don’t have to worry about.

On that note, kudos to the staff in the thread for being more transparent about the process in general, and more specifically, the fact that yes, certain games and runners have a leg up on others in the selection process. This was something of an unwritten rule before, and I’m glad it’s being acknowledged publicly. As I related above, “We think this game could use a break” was terrible justification in itself, when there are games that will be automatic “ins” no matter how many times in a row they appear (And with good reason. I love Super Metroid, for instance, but if I’m a runner of Spyro the Dragon, for instance, and I submit it, don’t tell me Spyro can use a break when Super Metroid is in for the [#of GDQs there have been]’th time in a row. Sure, tell me the reception wasn’t good, or it didn’t raise a lot of money, or you just don’t like Spyro, or I’m not popular/well known enough in the community, whatever. But the attempts to be diplomatic and avoid hurt feelings just made it look like Mike was trying to BS people as to the real reason their game didn’t make it in. I won’t say “don’t be disappointed if your game is rejected”, but I will say “be prepared to hear some hard truth about why your game is rejected”). It does satisfy me to see that aspect of the selection process out in the open so everyone understands it instead of being confused about why Game A made it in and Game B didn’t–the answer probably boils down to “Game A will raise more money for one reason or another”.

I’m aware how long this is. I’m not even sure it’s coherent. But hopefully it’ll provoke some discussion.

-EE

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