eSports Streaming and the Digital Economy: A Study of Twitch.tv

Objectives

The first objective is to understand the factors that have contributed to the growth and impact of Twitch.tv, the world’s undisputed leading video game live broadcast company, using participant observation and formal interviews at their headquarters to develop an understanding of their company. The second objective is carrying out an examination of media coverage of Twitch, through both document analysis and interviews with technology journalists, to understand mediated representations of the company, its business model, and strategy. Thirdly, the researchers seek to understand the careers and practices of Twitch’s streamers, using this year’s “TwitchCon” conference in San Diego as a unique opportunity to interview a large number of leading professional streamers from all around the world.

Research

The researchers are undertaking novel empirical research in collaboration with Twitch. Over the next few months, twenty semi-structured interviews will be conducted with streamers and employees of Twitch, providing important insights into the new global phenomenon of streaming. They will also carry out initial investigations of how Twitch is presented to the public and the public reception of the service, as well as spending time within Twitch’s offices, and networking extensively with leading streamers and third-party companies to further develop relevant connections and research opportunities.

Team

Principal Investigator: Dr Mark R Johnson (Science & Technology Studies)
Investigators: Dr Jamie Woodcock (Management), Dr Eddy Borges-Rey (Journalism), Dr Murray Gouden (Human-Computer Interaction)
The team is headed by Dr Mark R Johnson, an STS scholar whose work focuses on games, and himself a game developer and former professional gamer, and he is joined by interdisciplinary colleagues from Management, Journalism and HCI research. The team thereby covers the relevant domains of the streaming phenomenon - its technological elements and affordances, the emergence of a new business ecosystem, its presentation to and reception by the public, and the integrations between players, viewers, and the intervening technologies. Drs Woodcock and Johnson also bring extensive interviewing and ethnographic experience to the project, facilitating the acquisition of a deep and rich understanding of highly contemporary phenomenon. This first project is also intended to lay the groundwork for a larger funding bid between the researchers named here, which will be put together at the concluding workshop.

Outcomes

This collaboration will produce at least two published papers aimed at high-ranking international journals in business and sociology. One will examine the organizational structure and culture of Twitch, its business models, and unpick its success in forging a new branch of the digital economy, and the other will explore the use and navigation of Big Data by Twitch, its partners and its streamers. The researchers will also host a workshop for developing a larger future bid upon conclusion of the research to which they will invite other relevant academics, staff from Twitch, and high-profile streamers. This workshop will develop a major funding proposal to the EPSRC and/or ESRC exploring the digital economy impact of online streaming. Lastly, the researchers plan to return to the Crucible in 2017 to present our findings, report on the value of the Crucible project to having made this connection, and showcase Twitch as an exemplary digital economy startup with substantial academic research potential. The total work plan will take over six months and the total project cost will be £4750.00.