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.”
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.”
David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars films, has died at the age of 85. Prowse’s agent confirmed the news to the Hollywood Reporter on Saturday evening.
Prowse was a body builder who stood six feet, seven inches tall when he won the Vader role for the original 1977 Star Wars. Prowse also played Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
In 2016 interview, Prowse said that George Lucas offered him a choice between playing Darth Vader or Chewbacca. Prowse chose Vader, and the Chewbacca role went to Peter Mayhew, who died last year.
But while Prowse supplied Vader’s body, George Lucas decided not to use the Brit’s voice. He dubbed in lines by the baritone James Earl Jones instead.
When Darth Vader next appeared in a Star Wars feature film, in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, he was played by Hayden Christensen, the actor who played Annakin Skywalker in the prequels.
The Hollywood Reporter described Prowse’s early life:
Born on July 1, 1935, in Bristol, England, Prowse was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis of the knee and forced to wear a leg splint for four years as a youngster (it turned out he actually had osteoarthritis). Yet he went on to compete for the Mr. Universe bodybuilding title in 1960 before capturing the British weightlifting championship three straight years running, from 1962-64. (At age 50, he was still able to dead-lift 700 pounds.)
Prowse played a bodyguard in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. He also appeared in a number of lesser-known films. He played Frankenstein’s Monster in three different films in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Around the same time, he became known in the UK for playing “Green Cross Code Man” in traffic safety commercials.
Prowse’s agent told CNN that he died after a short illness. Prowse had previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Listing image by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
At this point, it’s practically mandatory for any show set in New York to open with shots of landmarks like the Empire State Building, Central Park, or a row of honking yellow taxis in rush hour traffic. Anything quickly recognizable will suffice, as long as it represents life in the big city. (Looking for arty vibes? Search no further than Washington Square Park.) HBO’s docuseries How to With John Wilson doesn’t break from this tradition. In addition to a montage of New Yorkers on the street scored to tinkling jazz, How to gives us a shot of the World Trade Center, gleaming upwards from Lower Manhattan. There’s a key difference in how creator John Wilson shoots this image, though, one that reveals his off-kilter perspective. Instead of zooming overhead, he positions the World Trade Center in the background. Front and center instead: a grungy dumpster.
An opening that juxtaposes New York’s iconography with its garbage could look a tad obvious, like knockoff Banksy. But How to With John Wilson is one of the most consistently surprising shows on TV—original, not derivative. That early shot is as close to an easily-digestible statement of purpose as the show makes. Its brisk 25-minute installments are framed as tutorials, with the Queens-based Wilson carting his camera around the city attempting to learn how to accomplish various tasks by talking to people he encounters. (“How to Put up Scaffolding” and “How to Cover Your Furniture” are two episode titles.) These episodes aren’t instructive as much as wildly digressive; Wilson allows his chance encounters to unspool into intimate connections with strangers, often venturing into their homes as they divulge their pet projects, theories, and passions. The point is that no one ever knows what they’ll discover when they start asking questions. When he was younger, Wilson worked as a private investigator, and his output has a voyeuristic undercurrent. He’s brilliant at capturing public glimpses of private lives.
The elevator pitch for How to With John Wilson could’ve been something like “Nathan for You meets Humans of New York,” especially since Nathan Fielder serves as an executive producer and the show’s most high-profile champion. Nathan for You, which ran for four increasingly artful seasons on Comedy Central, was also hard to explain—it was a prank show, sort of, that satirized reality television and American business ethics. Fielder hosted in character, convincing real entrepreneurs to carry out ridiculous stunts meant to attract new customers.
There is a kinship between Fielder’s and Wilson’s work. Both of their projects hinge on coaxing real people into revealing themselves. They are both deliberately subdued hosts, all the better to make the chaos they cultivate look organic; Wilson doesn’t even appear on-camera in his show, preferring to remain as the unseen narrator steering the action. A key distinction, though: Nathan for You had a harder-nosed approach to its ordinary-people subjects, who often wound up uncomfortable and embarrassed because of their participation. How to With John Wilson is a far more tender endeavor. Its storylines are fueled by Wilson’s leaps into intimacy with strangers. One episode features startlingly prolonged full-frontal male nudity, the result of one such stranger feeling comfortable enough to Donald Duck his way through Wilson’s interview, curling up into a ball on his bed without pants or underwear. Even when the people he meets behave in objectively bizarre ways, Wilson documents the absurdity without mocking it.
In the third episode, “How to Improve Your Memory,” Wilson enters a grocery store looking for a specific brand of candy he remembers from his childhood. When he asks for help, he meets a man who built software for stocking the store’s shelves. The man can’t help him with the candy, but as it turns out, he has a lot to say about memory. He invites Wilson back to his office, where they discuss the “Mandela effect,” a phenomenon where a group of people remember something differently than how the historical record indicates it occurred. By the end of the installment, the pair are in a Best Western in Ketchum, Idaho, together, contemplating the nature of reality.
Wilson began his film career by posting documentary shorts directly to Vimeo, including videos using the same “How to” framework. They took years to complete, as he shot footage and stitched it together into narratives in his free time while working odd jobs. Their viewership was small but enthusiastic, and when Fielder saw Wilson’s work, he reached out to collaborate. The Nathan for Youcreator helped the resolutely DIY director come up with the project’s real elevator pitch, telling networks the premise was “Planet Earth, but for New York.” By evoking the famously well-made nature documentary series, Fielder nailed down Wilson’s central achievement. Just as Planet Earth captured animal behavior rarely seen on film with unprecedented clarity, How to With John Wilson is a collage of real human behavior that is rarely, if ever, seen so clearly.
In an interview with The New York Times, Wilson described his approach as “letting the story come to you.” He walks around with his camera and interviews people about the subject, collecting hours and hours of on-the-streets footage. He then collages together a narrative from what he finds, using voice-over to tie it together. It’s a method that yields incredible results, but there’s a downside: It took two years to gather enough footage for this six-episode first season, which clocks in at less than three hours total. It’s not a scalable project, which is key to its idiosyncratic charms. To create an observational achievement of this caliber requires patience. Despite its title, Wilson’s show isn’t really a lesson. It’s a reminder of how rowdy ordinary life can be, if you know how to pay attention.
Update: Fifteen years ago around Thanksgiving, legendary film critic Roger Ebert set off a mini-storm in video game journalism circles by taking to his column and poo-pooing the medium. And with Ars staff off for the holiday weekend, we thought it’d be interesting to resurface this analysis of Ebert’s critiques from Ars contributor Jeremy Reimer. While there have definitely been a few game-to-film duds in the intervening years (ahem, Assassin’s Creed), there’s been no shortage of breathtaking video game storytelling (Her Story) or Hollywood looking to new titles (Last of Us on HBO, either. This piece originally ran on November 30, 2005 and appears unchanged below.
Roger Ebert, the famed movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-host of the syndicated TV show Ebert and Roper at the Movies has thrown down the gauntlet on his website by stating that video games will never be as artistically worthy as movies and literature. Ebert does not believe that this quality gap can ever be crossed, as he feels it is a fundamental limitation of the medium itself:
There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.
Whether or not interactive art can still be art is an interesting question. Modern artists such as Chin Chih Yang, who design interactive multimedia projects as well as creating “traditional” art, would probably tell you that whether something is “art” depends on only the artist and the audience, and not the medium itself. However, there are undoubtedly more conservative artists who would dismiss “interactive multimedia projects” as not being worthy of the term art. Of course this debate is not a new one, nor has it been confined to video games. Movies and comic books both struggled (and still struggle) to receive the same level of respect as traditional media, such as literature and dramatic plays.
But is it really the “interactive” part of video games that Ebert is criticizing? To me, it seems like a convenient excuse to dismiss for all time a new form of entertainment that has not only influenced movies (with endless releases of video-game-themed movies such as Tomb Raider,Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, etc.) but at times even seems to be in competition with cinema itself. Every time movie sales go down, some pundits start looking to the video game industry as being the source of the problem.
I don’t believe the “interactive” nature of video games is what Ebert is really railing against here. While he gave a poor review to the movie Clue, which featured multiple endings, he admitted in his review that it would have been more fun for viewers to see all three endings. He seemed to be indicating that if the movie itself was of higher quality, being given a choice of endings would have made it even more entertaining. Like Clue, video games can feature multiple endings or storylines, but all of them have been written by the writer ahead of time. The fact that the player can choose between them does not make any of the choices less of a creation by the game developers.
A closer examination of Ebert’s comments seems to indicate that he is critical of the artistic value of the games themselves, not their structure:
I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.
Some might be eager to tell Ebert about games that he may not have ever seen or played, such as Star Control II, or Planescape Torment, where the story is given higher focus than the graphics and is at least comparable to literary fiction. Or games such as ICO, where the atmosphere and feel of the environment and characters is on par with any “serious” art film. But perhaps Ebert hasn’t heard of these titles because video games in general have been deluged with an endless parade of flashy sequels and movie tie-ins that favor graphics over gameplay. Perhaps if a viable analog to the independent movie industry emerged for video games, Ebert might change his tune. But is this likely to happen?