Twitch is a large live streaming platform with 15 million unique viewers daily. As the top ten percent of streamers receive 88% of the viewers, it is a highly competitive “superstar market”. Gaming is its dominant streaming category, and live viewers can chat with and donate money to the streamer. Yet, the research paper “Understanding the what and how of successful social live streaming” describes an inverse relationship between donations and watch time, depending on how the streamer communicates. A streamer cannot optimize for both community-building and income.
Live streams are often used to meet social and cognitive needs. Johann Giertz, Welf H. Weigher, Maria Törhönen, and Juho Hamari ground their findings in self-determination theory. Self-determination theory describes relatedness and competence as important factors for human motivation.
According to the authors, streamers can provide for these motivations through community- and content-focused communication. The former includes viewer interactions, such as referencing specific viewers or answering questions in the live chat. The latter is a focus on stream content, such as gameplay commentary or skillful playing. Separately from these strategies, the communication of a streamer may tilt towards being utilitarian; informative and useful, also satisfying cognitive needs, or hedonic; entertaining and pleasant.
The findings show that community-focused communication increases watch time but reduces donations. A focus on content decreases watch time and increases donations. Utilitarian style increases watch time and moderates the monetary effects of the communication focus. It improves them when focusing on content but reduces them when focusing on community interactions. The research argues that a focus on viewers may not be perceived as needing enough skill or effort to warrant donations. But, focusing on the content alone does not motivate viewers to watch as much. The authors suggest that streamers should choose between a hedonic style to gain a larger viewer base or a utilitarian style for income from donations, as both cannot simultaneously be improved.
The conclusions were drawn from a two-wave questionnaire, where the viewers of popular Twitch streamers were recruited from social media focusing on gaming and streaming. The participants were asked for their best-known streamer, the streamer’s perceived focus and communication style, and an opt-in for a later questionnaire. The follow-up survey included questions on the viewer’s donations and time spent watching, the streamer’s perceived skill, their main game’s focus on action or strategy, and control variables. Only participants of both questionnaires were included.
Giertz, J., Hamari, J., Törhönen, M., & Weiger, W.H. (2020). Understanding the what and how of successful social live streaming. GamiFIN Conference 2020, 167-176.
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