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Twitch announces group streaming and a karaoke game for its 1M concurrent viewers – TechCrunch

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The teens were out in force today in San Jose for the annual TwitchCon game-streaming conference. There, Twitch announced that at any given time, 1 million people are watching it (up from 746,000 last year), and it seemed like many game lovers were at TwitchCon in person to meet some of the nearly half-million web celebs that broadcast each day on the service. Considering Twitch said just 2 million were broadcasting per month in December, the service’s growth is still explosive under Amazon’s ownership.

Amongst the major reveals at TwitchCon were a new Squad Streaming feature that lets up to four people broadcast at once in split-screen that will test with select streamers later this year.

There’s also a new Twitch Sings game built-in partnership with Rock Band-creator Harmonix. Broadcasters can play to perform karaoke (though only with fake versions of songs as Twitch lacks major label music licenses). Viewers can use the chat to request the next song and control the lights on the virtual karaoke stage; broadcasters can sign up here for the Twitch Sings closed beta that starts later in 2018.

Twitch Squad Streaming

And Twitch broadcasters can now use Snapchat’s augmented reality lenses thanks to the new Snap Camera desktop app and accompanying Twitch extension launching today. Streamers can use hotkeys to trigger different Snapchat Lenses, let viewers try those masks by scanning an onscreen Snapchat QR code and reward subscribers with a bonus thank you effect. Read our full story on Snap Camera here.

There were plenty of other minor announcements during the conference’s keynote:

  • More than 235,00 streamers now have Affiliate status and are earning money on their channels, while 6,800 have joined its Partnership program so they can earn even more through channel subscriptions and ads.
  • Twitch is revamping Gear on Amazon, where streamers can show off products and earn affiliate fees, renaming it Amazon Blacksmith.
  • Twitch’s Highlight editor can now stitch together multiple clips from across a broadcasting session.
  • New homepage sections will feature up-and-coming streamers, new Partners and Affiliates or streamers local to viewers.
  • VIP Badges will let creators recognize their favorite subscribers and moderators.
  • Moderators can now see how long someone has been on Twitch, view chat messages that person has sent in the channel and see how many time-outs or bans that account has received in that channel to better understand who to boot.
  • 18 billion messages have been sent in Twitch chat and its Whispers feature in 2018, and fans have given creators 85 million Cheers and Subscriptions.
  • 150 million Twitch Clips have been created in 2018 to bring the best game stream and other weird content to the rest of the web.
  • Twitch users have gifted $9 million worth of subscriptions to fellow users in just 9 weeks.
  • Twitch will open its Bounty Board of sponsorship opportunities to 30 more brands, and more Partners and Affiliates in the U.S. and Canada in November.
  • The Twitch Rivals in-person gaming tournaments will double to 128 events in 2019. Some will have million-dollar prizes, and it already gave out $5 million in winners’ jackpots last year.


As CEO Emmett Shear made the announcements, audience members hooted and hollered with delight. They out-yelled even Apple’s keynote attendees. Shear shouted out early users who’ve been with it since Twitch was a Y Combinator live-vlogging startup called Justin.tv. “When people have your back and support you for a long time, we think they should be recognized for it,” he said, revealing the new VIP badges and a counter that shows how many months a fan has been a channel’s paying subscriber.

“You spoke and we listened,” Shear said. That truly seemed to be the message of this conference. Facebook’s F8 conferences held in the same San Jose Convention Center often seem to produce updates that are designed to help the company as much as the users. But Twitch has realized it can’t just be useful. It must remain beloved if people are going keep spending 760 million hours per month watching others game, joke and express themselves. Shear concluded, “I think we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to everyone playing together.”

Twitch Sings

Update: An Interview With Emmett Shear

I spoke with Shear after his keynote to get a sense of Twitch’s priorities and how it’s avoided much of the backlash hitting Facebook, Google, and Twitter. “I don’t think we’re exempt from the problem. We have to work every day on winning the community’s trust. I don’t think you ever get to let your guard down or stop working on that. It’s just through hard work and consistently pushing to build the things that [the streamers] need and that they want.”

Balancing free speech with safety has been a struggle for all the tech platforms, Twitch included. “I think this is the issue of our time. This is the thing that every tech, media, and communications company in the world has to grapple with. We’re not shy about asking people who don’t abide by our community standards to leave” Shear tells me.

I asked whether he’d kick Alex Jones off the platform if he joined, even before violating Twitch’s own rules due to his behavior elsewhere. “We don’t talk about individual cases, generally speaking. Trying to police anyone’s behavior across the internet is hard because of…the internet not being able to tell you’re a dog” he says, referring to the old adage about anonymity on the web. “But we believe for example that harassment on another platform, it’s still you. We have to be able to know it verifiably is you. You can’t jump to conclusions. But if it is verifiably you and you’ve gone off Twitch to harass people, we have no problem banning you for that behavior.”

As for the competitive landscape, Shear beamed “I think it’s awesome to see such vigorous invest in livestreaming globally. I’ve been working on livestreaming since 2006. It’s nice to get the validation that everyone realizes it’s a good idea too…a decade later.” Shear is believed to be under a five-year vesting schedule at Amazon that’s set to complete next year. “I’ve felt incredibly autonomous and supported by Amazon” he tells me. But is he going to leave? “You never know what the future holds. I’m loving my job. I’m loving to getting to work on Twitch, and the people that I work with. Being part of Amazon is pretty good. Compared to friends I’ve talked to raising money from VCs, I think I prefer the current setup.”

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There’s something seriously wrong with Homelander in The Boys S3 trailer

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An uneasy peace will be shattered in The Boys S3.

The Boys is coming back to Prime Video for its third season, and the streaming platform has released the official trailer. Our crew of misfits had arrived at some closure in their battle against the “supes” and gone their separate ways at the end of the second season. But it looks like that uneasy peace is about to be shattered, given the number of exploding bodies and glowing laser eyes showcased in the trailer.

(Spoilers for S2 below.)

As I’ve written previously, the show is based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but are corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. The most elite superhero group is called the Seven, operated by the Vought Corporation, which created the supes with a substance called Compound V. The Seven is headed up by Homelander (Antony Starr), a violent and unstable psychopath disguised as the All-American hero. Homelander’s counterpart as the head of the titular “Boys” is Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a self-appointed vigilante intent on checking the bad behavior of the Seven—especially Homelander, who brutally raped Butcher’s wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanten).

The second season ended with a bloody showdown that saw the demise of Becca as well as the mutilation of Homelander’s supe squeeze, Stormfront (Aya Cash), who turned out to be a Nazi disguised as a “patriot.” Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and Starlight (Annie Moriarty) successfully blackmailed Homelander into loosening his bullying stranglehold on the Seven. Meanwhile, the government cleared the Boys of all wrongdoing after they were publicly smeared as terrorists. A disillusioned Hughie (Jack Quaid) decided to try to fight the Seven through politics rather than violence and went to work for Congressperson Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit)—but he doesn’t know she’s actually a super-powered assassin with her own murderous agenda.

Enlarge / There’s something seriously wrong with Homelander—well, more wrong than usual.

YouTube/Prime Video

So what can we expect from the third season? We already knew that the first episode is entitled “Payback”—the name of an earlier Vought group of superheroes, loosely based on Marvel’s Avengers. Payback members include Eagle the Archer, who appeared in S2 of The Boys (played by Langston Kerman). He’s the one who recruited the Deep (Chace Crawford) and A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) to the Church of the Collective before the cult turned against him. A fictional Seven on 7 news report last summer informed us that Eagle had quit the superhero gig and is now trying to become a rapper.

Expect Payback to play a major role this season, since two other members are joining the cast: Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) and Crimson Countess (Laurie Holden). We also know that the third season will incorporate one of the comic’s most shocking storylines: Herogasm. In this standalone comic miniseries, the Boys infiltrate Vought’s annual superhero party, which turns out to be just one long weekend of kinky sex and drug use on a secluded island.

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Star Wars content flurry confirmed: New Disney+ series, film updates

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Enlarge / We already know plenty about the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi, launching later this month, but a lengthy feature out this week chronicles all the other Disney+ content coming soon from a galaxy far, far away.

Lucasarts

When it comes to learning about new Star Wars content, there’s really no beating a massive, feature-length look behind the curtain at Lucasfilm and Disney. This month’s launch of the simply named Obi-Wan Kenobi series has proven a good occasion to get such a peek, thanks to a sweeping—and at times, frank—documentation of all things Star Wars from Vanity Fair.

The article primarily follows the lead actors of Disney+’s four upcoming live-action Star Wars series, though it also covers the IP’s apparently rocky path away from feature-length films and toward serialized TV content (though, yes, it does get to films by the end). It includes an acknowledgment from Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy that the company’s constant return to the old well, which has included a recast Han Solo and a CGI-tinged Luke Skywalker, isn’t sustainable. When pressed about those attempts, she replied, “Now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that.”

Put Thrawn on notice?

So while the new May 27 Obi-Wan series will return to popular characters and their original actors, the upcoming Disney+ material announced here leans toward expansions of characters who don’t necessarily date back to the original 1977 film. 2023’s Ahsoka will focus on the popular character from Clone Wars and reintroduced on The Mandalorian, and its premiere season will focus on a “continuous story” that will almost certainly involve the character’s refrain of hunting Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Andor, coming “late this summer,” stars Diego Luna as his Rogue One character Cassian Andor and will be helmed by longtime Bourne film series director Tony Gilroy. This “refugee story” will rewind years before the events of Rogue One to the character’s turning point from an anti-rebellion lone gun to a spy determined to stop the Empire’s rapid expansion, and it will revolve largely around the “adopted home” he takes up after his birth world is destroyed.

Lucasfilm tells fans to expect a third season of The Mandalorian somewhere between Andor and Ahsoka (meaning late 2022 or early 2023). Though details on that upcoming season are scarce, the Vanity Fair feature explores the debate original showrunners John Favreau and Dave Filoni had over whether to introduce an infantile, Yoda-like creature in the first season. We learn that Favreau was the one vociferously arguing in favor of “the child,” but the interview never says exactly what put Favreau’s vision over the top.

We do hear Favreau credit artist Chris Alzmann with the design of Grogu, at least. “There were a lot of different looks that popped up, and then we got one that finally clicked,” Favreau told Vanity Fair. “He had kind of a goofy, ugly look. We didn’t want him too cute.”

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Sony reportedly forces Insomniac to stay silent on abortion rights

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Enlarge / A few of Insomniac’s biggest franchises.

Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man developer Insomniac Games has made a $50,000 donation to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), and its parent company, Sony, will reportedly match that number. But those donations come amid public silence from both companies on the contentious issue and reports of internal drama surrounding a response to the Supreme Court’s reported efforts to overturn 1973’s Roe v. Wade precedent.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that PlayStation President Jim Ryan sent an email to staffers urging them “to respect differences of opinion among everyone in our internal and external communities” on issues such as abortion rights. “Respect does not equal agreement. But it is fundamental to who we are as a company and as a valued global brand,” Ryan reportedly continued.

That same email went on to share a more “lighthearted” and detailed story about Ryan’s cats’ birthdays, according to Bloomberg, a tonal disconnect that rubbed some employees the wrong way.

Following Ryan’s message to employees, The Washington Post reports that Insomniac CEO Ted Price sent an email to studio employees last Friday outlining the corporate donations to WRRAP. Sony will also match employee donations made through its internal charity portal and plans to reimburse employees who may need to leave the state to obtain abortion services, according to the report.

But Price’s email also reportedly detailed how Sony “will not approve ANY statements from any studio on the topic of reproductive rights.” That’s despite Insomniac sending nearly 60 pages of employee messages to PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst asking the company to “do better by employees who are directly affected” by any pending abortion decision. “We fought hard for this and we did not win,” Price wrote.

Price went on to address the sometimes awkward parent-child corporate relationship that has developed since Sony acquired Insomniac in 2019. “As far as our freedom of speech goes, while we do have a LOT of autonomy that often gets taken for granted, there are times where we need to acknowledge we’re part of a larger organization,” Price reportedly wrote. “For the most part, our ability to tweet has been unfettered. However, there are rare times when we’re in opposition (like this week) and [Sony] will have the final say.”

A wall of silence

Insomniac’s apparent forced public silence on this issue comes weeks after Bungie became one of a few companies to speak out in support of abortion rights. “Standing up for reproductive choice and liberty is not a difficult decision to make, and Bungie remains dedicated to upholding these values,” the company said.

Psychonauts developer (and Microsoft subsidiary) Double Fine and Guild Wars developer ArenaNet tweeted out similarly supportive statements in the days following Bungie’s move.

Activision put out a more neutrally worded statement regarding abortion rights last week, saying the company is “committed to an inclusive environment that is supportive of all of our employees” and that it “will closely monitor developments in the coming weeks and months.” Microsoft also said last week that it would “continue to do everything we can under the law to protect our employees’ rights and support employees” and pledged to pay for employee travel costs related to out-of-state abortion services.

But even limited public statements like those stand out as exceptions in the video game industry. The Washington Post found that 18 of 20 “major video game companies” it contacted about the issue did not respond to a request for comment.

Those companies may be receiving advice recommending them to stay away from the issue. The Popular Information newsletter recently reported on an email from major PR firm Zeno urging companies not to “take a stance you cannot reverse” on “subjects that divide the country.” On issues like abortion, Zeno wrote, “regardless of what [companies] do, they will alienate at least 15 to 30 percent of their stakeholders… do not assume that all of your employees, customers or investors share your view.”

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