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Watching other people play games has become an undeniable phenomenon. Twitch and game streaming have steadily been on the rise, with millions tuning in to watch every day. Even single player games, previously experiences you'd only toy around with by yourself, can now be played in front of a vast online audience, creating a connection between the player and strangers from all over the world, and letting everyone share in the defeats and triumphs.
This connection caught the attention of developer Robot Loves Kitty, creators of Legend of Dungeon: Masters (LODM) and their work-in-progress Upsilon Circuit. Both games are attempts to strengthen the connection between the streaming player and their audience, allowing the viewers to affect the game in different ways as it unfolds. They've seen an opportunity to play around with that bond, and in doing so have come up with ways that will make interacting with the audience more exciting, as well as encourage more people to try watching a stream due to increased interactivity.
"This is a new genre in our minds, and we want to spelunk it, dive in, and let our minds fill the void!" says Alix Stolzer, producer at Robot Loves Kitty. "What we are doing with Legend of Dungeon: Masters, as well as Upsilon Circuit, is really just scratching the surface. As people passionate about game development, we can't help but want to bravely go where no man (or dev) has gone before!"
"Legend of Dungeon: Masters lets an audience participate in the game by spending in-game currency to add monsters or treasures to the randomly generated environment."
Legend of Dungeon involves players exploring a randomly-generated dungeon, searching for equipment and trying to survive. LODM lets an audience participate in that game by either adding monsters or treasures using two types of in-game currency. If a streamer is doing well and a viewer craves more danger, they can throw more creatures into the mix. If the viewer wants to help a streamer in trouble, they can give them some useful items.
These two options can dramatically change how the game plays, adding in a degree of randomness that depends entirely on the mood of your audience. Do they want to help you or hinder you? It's entirely up to the people watching to decide what they want to do to the person playing, and for the player, there's no telling what will happen. Skilled players could easily find themselves in a great deal of trouble from an audience out for their blood, while a bad player might get help from a more compassionate set of viewers.
So far, Stolzer has seen that this often makes the game much harder. "There is a massive temptation to troll a streamer, especially if that streamer is doing well." she says. It's no surprise that there are many out there who like to agitate strangers online, and LODM now provides a simple in-game opportunity to do just that. The game add-on is free, after all, seemingly allowing anyone to download it and hop into a game to give a streamer some trouble."
"If the streaming audience really wants to get a chance to mess with the player, they'll have to help them out a bit first."
This isn't something Stolzer didn't expect, as the in-game currency is only part of what lets players add items and treasures to the game. "As the streamer plays, every so often a monster they kill will drop a treasure chest," Stolzer says. "This chest isn't for the streamer, but instead goes out to everyone in the Masters game. Inside the chests are a chance at weapons, armor, monsters, etc. that the viewer can then chose to send in or not. Opening chests is also how the viewer levels up, and earns the "star" currency."
Viewers are not given limitless access to whatever monsters and items they please. Even if they have the currency to afford a high-level monster, they can't just throw it into the game. They must wait for it to unlock through the player finding chests, which means that if they really want to mess with the player, they'll have to help out a bit first. "If the Master players don't help equip the streamer well, or send in monsters that are too deadly, the streamer won't live long enough to send many chests; However, if they help extremely well, the streamer can kill the harder monsters that drop better chests." says Stolzer.
This encourages the audience to help in small ways, keeping that player alive even if they want to get them killed later. In this way, it's an attempt to teach the viewers that helping can be fun.
Stolzer has already witnessed some of the positive effects of this system herself. "There is a definite leaning towards being less than helpful, but so far I've witnessed quite a few new streamers getting help; not just from helpful items, but with advice on how to play, and explanations," says Stolzer. "It's pretty clear to me that people want to play and have fun, and only some of that fun comes from ruining everything. Even those who only want to hinder might conceivably see that some fun can be had in helping after experiencing it a bit themselves.
Not that this is all about strangers jumping in to help or ruin another stranger's game. Streaming can foster a sense of community between the player and their audience, creating an experience like a bunch of people hanging out and bonding over a game. "It's amazingly fun! People come in and become friends as they watch me play and develop, and I make friends!" says Stolzer, speaking to her own experience with it. "There is a community around you, and it's also a bit like theater -- you have a captive audience! There are people there to share my triumphs and laugh with me during hilarious mistakes."
This same sense of friendship is what Stolzer also sees in many of the moments when the viewers send in waves of difficult monsters. "There is a level of interaction within the game that feels a lot like messing around with your friends as a kid -- lighthearted cruelty done with love. There is always the chance that someone completely awful will try to ruin things, but that's been the exception so far."
As of now, most streaming experiences are limited to only being able to speak to the streamer through a sidebar of text. Though a bond is formed over watching the streamer play, Stolzer felt they could do something more.
"You can affect the outcome a little, as well as potentially evoke reactions and thoughts from a streamer. With Legend of Dungeon in particular the 'Master Viewers' are literally changing the game you play, and as a streamer, how you talk to them and interact in response can drastically change your luck!" says Stolzer.
A streamer who wants to do well would be more inclined to interact with their audience, gaining the benefits of having friends controlling the loot and monsters. This system also allows the viewer to feel like a bigger part of the game, challenging skilled players or helping out someone who's entertained them in a moment of need. It encourages the streamer to be more involved with the people watching, and also encourages viewers to take a hand in making the game more exciting and fun. It strengthens the positive aspects Stolzer has seen in streaming games.
Legend of Dungeon: Masters takes the main game and adds so much more to playing it with an audience. Through being able to help or hinder the player, it encourages streamers to interact more with their audience and helps make the viewer a more active participant in the game itself. It makes everything a little more exciting, and tightens the bonds that can build between a streamer and their audience. With steps taken to keep strangers from becoming too troublesome (and providing an opportunity to see that being positive might be a nice experience), it is a clever new innovation in live streaming.