What Twitch Can Do To Improve

The fine people over at Anook.com fired off a quick Twitter poll yesterday asking Twitch (or other) streamers if they felt it was important to welcome their viewers by name:

Personally, I don’t really care. I rarely return to view any amateur channels, and will only view professional (read: companies that stream) when there’s breaking news, so being recognized as a repeat viewer isn’t going to happen for me. But I do know that some people are using streaming to “become a brand” by streaming on a schedule or streaming a specific game. They do up their display with backgrounds, chroma key effects (“green screen”) and tickers. For them, recognizing their viewers is good PR.

Twitch is a great resource for gamers on either side of the camera, but they could really do a lot better for the people who are broadcasting. I’m not a professional, but here’s some thoughts I had that I think would make streaming a lot more powerful for everyone.

1. Multi-Location Input

RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) is a fancy way of saying “video goes in, video comes out”. It’s essentially Twitch’s business, but their system only allows a single stream in, and a single stream out. Most users get around video composting at the client level by using apps such as OBS, FFSplit, or XSplit, all of which allow for multiple inputs at the local level.

But wouldn’t it be great to allow gamers from different locations to merge their video into a single output? It’s possible; You can do it right now. Setting up your own RTMP server is quick and painless, with the right instructions, and you and your friends can broadcast to a custom server, and have another friend accept each feed into a single source, passing it on to a specific Twitch channel. Complicated? Yes, but I’m sure Twitch could set up this kind of merge on their side, and ease people into it to allow remote users to stream together.

2. Live Stream Tools

I used to use a service called Livestream, but that was before they dropped their free tier and went pro-only. That was a few years ago, but their tools were lightyears ahead of what Twitch offers.

Using the Livestream web dashboard, users could merge multiple inputs from multiple remote sources, preview “on-deck” video, and switch over to it on the fly, just like you’d expect from real live broadcasters like your local 6 o’clock news shows. It had built in tickers and watermarks and graphics, and you could add clickable links to the video that users could click for whatever purpose you desired.

If Twitch had something like this, it would work great with item #1. Just these two elements would make Twitch a lot better than it is today.

3. Better Interaction

Users watching a stream can chat with the broadcaster, but it’s more like the floor of the NYSE than a way to interact. In a crowded room, text streams by so quickly that it requires a second person working with the streamer to filter it all and handle the channel interaction. Some users will block off a region of their screen where they can broadcast Twitch chat via the web page or via IRC, but that takes up real-estate.

I really don’t know how to solve this, but better tools for the streamer to keep up with conversations while still playing the game would be a massive boon to interaction on the channel.

4. Pre-Recorded Content

Although Twitch’s bread and butter is live streaming, it records and saves the content that’s streamed for later playback. That means they have storage, and that means that they could offer a platform for pre-recorded video.

As timely and exciting as Twitch streaming is, let’s face it: most channels are just people’s floating heads and a live feed of a game that the viewers could be playing themselves. Unless the streamer is particularly engaging or is offering unique content, a viewer’s time might be better spent playing the same game herself.

Being able to record video, edit it, work with audio, compost other video, and add effects, and then upload it to Twitch (or better yet, be able to do all of that on the Twitch website) could open more opportunities for gamers with more time and skill to reach other gamers. Right now, the outlet of choice is the general purpose YouTube. Twitch could certainly benefit from a healthy stock of videos that have higher production values, and gaming videographers could benefit from opportunities to showcase more than just their gear score.

5. Better Game Integration

This is really outside of Twitch’s control, but if you look at their API you’ll see that there’s a lot of stubs that streaming software isn’t using, like providing the name of the game that’s streaming, or the setting of the stream title. I doubt there’s been any streamer who hasn’t started streaming a game only to realize that they’ve Tweeted the title of their last streaming session. For streamers looking to build a brand, that’s inexcusable.

With Twitch finding its way into specific products, there’s no reason why the service can’t auto-update it’s game and title without forcing the user to visit the website to do it manually.

6. More Platform Integration

Twitch was just a PC thing, but now the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 have it at the system level. I’ve heard that there’s video capture devices for Nintendo xDS, and that Twitch streaming abilities will be coming to mobile and tablets.

One place that Twitch isn’t, and which is as conspicuous as a black hole appearing in Times Square? Steam. Steam is the biggest PC game distribution network, but it doesn’t have any kind of broadcasting abilities. EA’s Origin distribution client does. With SteamWorks as an option for developers to hook into Steam as a platform, why doesn’t Valve integrate Twitch streaming? Maybe they have plans to create their own streaming service…?