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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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The Callisto Protocol review: A relentless horror spectacle

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Enlarge / Hello, gorgeous.

In the survival-horror genre, building tension and ramping up a sense of dread is the backbone of the experience. As a new sci-fi horror IP coming from the creators of Dead Space, The Callisto Protocol homes in on that creeping sense of unease as it forces you to confront its many grotesque threats head-on. When playing The Callisto Protocol, I always felt on edge, even during moments when I could have let my guard down.

The game takes some strong influences from its spiritual predecessor Dead Space and puts its own spin on a more visceral type of horror experience. That said, The Callisto Protocol‘s influences and genre are abundantly clear, and it occasionally falls back on familiar tropes and some frustrating combat encounters. Still, it maintains its solid, relentless poise as an unnerving yet still thrilling survival-horror game.

Welcome to Black Iron Prison

You play as Jacob Lee (Transformers’ Josh Duhamel), a far-future freelance cargo hauler with a murky past who crash lands on Jupiter’s titular frozen moon. After getting abducted by the ruthless head of security, Captain Ferris (Days Gone’s Sam Witwer), Jacob finds himself trapped in the mysterious and inhumane Black Iron Prison.

Eventually, a mysterious viral outbreak mutates nearly everyone inside, turning them into ravenous monsters called Biophages. Launching an escape with other prisoners, including the enigmatic anti-corporate activist Dani Nakamura (The Boys’ Karen Fukuhara), Jacob delves deep into Black Iron Prison and the moon’s lower depths to uncover what happened and make it out alive.

Right from the start, and despite the grotesque, over-the-top horror setting, there’s a palpable sense of realism to The Callisto Protocol’s story and visuals. This is hard sci-fi through and through, in the vein of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon or John Carpenter’s The Thing (or the original Dead Space series, unsurprisingly). The game plays it straight with its unsettling vision of a future gone awry, which provides a rich environment to play in. Aside from rare one-liners, there’s not much levity, which keeps with the game’s bleak narrative and atmosphere.

Remember to breathe.
Enlarge / Remember to breathe.

As a cinematic, story-driven game, The Callisto Protocol keeps its pace and structure tight, focusing on Jacob’s ordeal as he’s ferried to different encounters and events in a mostly linear fashion. Aside from chapter breaks and more in-depth cinematics, you’re always viewing events from Jacob’s perspective. The performances from the main cast do an effective job of selling the plot’s sense of urgency and dark tone. While the story largely keeps its twists subdued and doesn’t venture far from its initial premise by the end of its 12-plus-hour campaign, it still succeeds as a solid vehicle for an intense and brutal horror game.

What truly sells The Callisto Protocol and its setting are the fantastic visuals and sound design. The presentation is incredibly effective at establishing mood, with small details combining together into the most impressive and effective survival-horror tapestry I’ve seen in a long time. This is especially evident in the gruesome design of the Biophages, as well as the numerous, wince-inducing death scenes.

When the visuals and sound design all work in concert, it creates a stark sense of dread and unease that sticks with you to the end. One section had me explore the depths of the prison while the power was fluctuating, creating moments of darkness for the enemies to move around unseen. Just trying to keep track of where these monsters were put me on edge. It was an unnerving section that really showcased the craft of the game’s impressive presentation.

While Black Iron Prison is slightly similar to the USG Ishimura from Dead Space, the setting comes into its own once the game’s scope expands, showcasing fantastic views of the outside frozen lunarscape and the darker depths of Callisto. The game’s linear progression and tight pacing cut down on backtracking. That said, there are still moments where you can venture off and explore hidden rooms, mainly to uncover some intriguing clues and audio logs about Black Iron Prison history and what came before.

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The Mandalorian season 3 has been delayed—but only a little

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Enlarge / A promotional image for the third season of The Mandalorian.

After months of silence about it, Disney has finally revealed the premiere date of the third season of its first live-action Star Wars TV series, The Mandalorian. The new season will premiere on March 1, 2023.

That’s just a little bit later than what Disney said to expect the last time it made an announcement; the release window was announced to be February 2023 in a tweet in May.

Minor premiere date slipping aside, it’s been quite a time since the previous season in either case. The second season premiered back in October 2020. That said, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that it’s been more than two years since we last spent time with the show’s two central characters, Mando and Grogu.

That’s because both appeared prominently in The Book of Boba Fett, a limited series that ran from December 2021 through February 2022. In fact, they were so prominent in part of that show that we called it The Mandalorian season 2.5 when we reviewed it.

Expect them to be the main focus of The Mandalorian season three when it premieres March 1, though; that point is driven home by the promotional image shown above and by the plot threads that carry over from The Book of Boba Fett and prior seasons of The Mandalorian.

The Mandalorian received generally positive reviews when it premiered—a stark contrast to the divided responses to most of the recent Star Wars movies. Thus far, the various TV series have been helmed by a different creative team than the movies. Accomplished director Jon Favreau and Star Wars animated series veteran Dave Filoni seem to have done a better job satisfying fans than some of the other directors, producers, and writers of the films.

Disney sought to spin off several additional live-action Star Wars shows from the series, several of which stem from characters who had guest roles in the second season, including the first live-action rendition of Ahsoka Tano from the popular Clone Wars animated series.

Not all of Disney’s now-numerous live-action Star Wars series are Mandalorian spinoffs, though. Earlier this year, Disney+ ran a limited series focused on Obi-Wan Kenobi that took place between the prequel films and the original trilogy. The same goes for the thriller Andor, which just finished its first season to widespread critical acclaim.

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Nintendo apologizes for Pokémon performance problems, promises “improvements”

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Enlarge / Portrait of the author learning that some of the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet performance problems might be fixed.

Andrew Cunningham

Our review of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet mentioned some of the game’s pervasive performance issues, and we weren’t the only ones. Even more mainstream outlets like The Guardian and CNN noted the games’ performance problems. Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry team, known for its in-depth analyses of game performance, called the games “comprehensive technical failures,” also calling attention to their blurry and poorly tiled textures and “low-geometry” environments.

Players have noticed plenty of other problems, too; these include a bug that allowed players to run twice as fast by connecting two controllers to the Switch, bizarre animations and clipping problems, Pokémon that blast off into the sky like Team Rocket, and some evidence that online battles were using the same probability seed for every match, making it easier for attentive players to make low-accuracy moves hit 100 percent of the time. I captured a screenshot of a Hoppip that was casting three shadows simultaneously (though it’s possible the Paldea region has three suns that I just don’t know about).

I'm no scientist, but I don't think this is how lighting works.
Enlarge / I’m no scientist, but I don’t think this is how lighting works.

Andrew Cunningham

Nintendo released a 1.1.0 update for both Pokémon games today that includes “select bug fixes” (though the company didn’t specify which). But alongside that mostly routine post-launch update came a less-routine acknowledgment of the performance problems and a suggestion that the company would provide fixes.

“We are aware that players may encounter issues that affect the games’ performance. Our goal is always to give players a positive experience with our games, and we apologize for the inconvenience,” the statement reads. “We take the feedback from players seriously and are working on improvements to the games.”

Notably, “tak[ing] feedback from players seriously” and “working on improvements” don’t amount to a promise that every single dropped frame and ugly texture is going to be fixed. But like Sword and Shield, Scarlet and Violet will likely enjoy a decent amount of post-release support, including functional updates like Pokémon Home compatibility and substantial new DLC content. This should hopefully justify the time and money needed to make noticeable performance improvements, even though the games as they currently exist have still managed to be the fastest-selling titles Nintendo has ever released.

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