May 24, 2021
Megan and Stephen here with another dispatch about video games.
Today's newsletter is 1,365 words, a 5-minute read.
⚡️ Situational awareness: Today was the last day of the Epic v. Apple trial, but a ruling could take weeks. The judge really grilled Apple CEO Tim Cook last week.
1 big thing: Twitch streamers in hot tubs
Twitch, the top platform for gaming streamers, is launching a new category dedicated to pools, hot tubs, and beaches after an uproar over women broadcasting in swimwear.
The big picture: Twitch is primarily thought of as a place for streaming video games, but it’s branched into more general content in the last few years. When we talk about streamers in hot tubs, we’re actually talking about an ongoing discussion over what women are allowed to wear on the Amazon-owned platform.
- Hot tub streams are an offshoot of general content found in the catch-all Just Chatting category, where creators film themselves in pools or tubs talking with fans.
- “Just Chatting is Twitch’s biggest non-gaming section by a mile, so it makes sense that streamers — in hot tubs or otherwise — would want to broadcast into it,” Twitch reporter Nathan Grayson tells Axios. “Back when Twitch was solely a gaming platform that did not allow broadcasts where streamers literally just chatted, female streamers helped pioneer the now-popular form — and got harassed for it.”
Last week, cosplayer and top hot tub streamer, Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragus, announced that Twitch had indefinitely suspended advertising on her channel.
- On Twitter, she called the move an “alarming precedent” that even content that might not violate Twitch’s terms could be penalized by the company if it “is deemed ‘not advertiser friendly,’ something that there is no communicated guideline for.”
Twitch announced new hot tub rules in a blog post three days later.
- “[B]eing found to be sexy by others is not against our rules, and Twitch will not take enforcement action against women, or anyone on our service, for their perceived attractiveness,” the company said. Streamers are allowed to wear swimwear where it’s appropriate.
- Twitch admits in its post that “our rules are not as clear as they could be” and it plans to clarify its policies in the coming months.
Between the lines: There’s also the issue of advertisers. In its announcement, Twitch said that brands get to decide where and when their ads appear.
Flashback: Women who stream on Twitch have been the subject of targeted harassment for years. Women are slapped with labels like “Twitch thots,” “titty streamers,” and worse as a way to diminish their ability and work because of what they wear.
The “hot tub meta,” as it’s been called by streamers, is just the latest iteration.
- “Hot tub streamers sparked so much outrage because some streamers and viewers decided women had discovered a loophole in Twitch’s rules that allowed them to Trojan horse in sexual content under the auspices of Just Chatting,” Grayson tells Axios.
Bottom line: Companies are still learning to navigate the line between fair rules and advertisers, while the community is still engaged in policing women’s bodies.
- Earlier this month, Gita Jackson summed the issue up concisely for Waypoint: “The underlying logic there is that because people like to watch pretty ladies, the women who stream from hot tubs are taking views away from other streamers,” they wrote.
2. Netflix's gaming expansion
Netflix is planning to get into gaming, possibly with the launch of a suite of downloadable games, as first reported by The Information on Friday and reiterated by Axios sources.
Why it matters: Netflix has more than 200 million subscribers it can reach with games, but plenty of other entertainment juggernauts that have wanted a piece of the gaming market have struggled to grab more than scraps.
- To see how hard Netflix's task will be, look at Google's struggles with its Stadia streaming service and Amazon's paltry output from its internal game studios.
Between the lines: While Netflix's plans are not public and potentially in flux, The Information reports that the streaming giant is looking to hire an executive to oversee the gaming effort.
- A source familiar with Netflix's plans tells Axios to "think of it as a smaller Apple Arcade," a reference to Apple's offering of high-quality, ad-free mobile games offered to paying subscribers.
- The Netflix offering, two Axios sources say, would consist of a mix of licensed Netflix intellectual property and original work commissioned from independent studios, offered to existing Netflix subscribers.
- The service is far off, possibly launching in 2022, and plans are all subject to change.
- The Information reported that Netflix hadn't ruled out other approaches, including the more complex effort of making games in-house or getting the games to run on TVs.
What they're saying: When asked about this by Axios, a Netflix rep said that users have valued the company's variety of content and the service's interactive shows and games, "[s]o we're excited to do more with interactive entertainment."
Netflix has been dabbling with games for some time.
- In addition to its interactive shows, it has a growing roster of series based on video game properties, including "The Witcher," "Castlevania," "Assassin's Creed," and more.
3. A film festival adds games
The 20-year-old Tribeca Film Festival, traditionally held in downtown New York City, will include eight games as official selections this year.
Why it matters: The video game industry often exudes an inferiority complex as it compares itself to cinema, but this is a case of a film institution veering toward games as an art form.
- The games will be in a jury competition for a proper festival award: Potential For Excellence In Art and Storytelling.
"We're really wanting to make a statement that games are not separate," Tribeca Games vice president Casey Baltes told Axios.
Between the lines: Some 60 games were submitted for consideration before Baltes and her team whittled the list to eight.
- Selections include the desert exploration adventure "Sable" as well as "12 Minutes," a forthcoming "interactive thriller" in which players oversee what happens in an apartment during a repeatable 12-minute loop
- While Tribeca is looking for games that showcase storytelling, Baltes said she urged entrants to not worry if their game was cinematic or told its story through other more filmic or textual approaches.
- Games, after all, can tell a story through what you do in them.
COVID has already wreaked havoc with film festivals, and showcasing in-development games present altogether different challenges on top of that.
- While there are no communal showings of the eight games announced, anyone interested in playing the games can sign up to play a demo — 12 to 60 minutes' worth — through a streaming program called Parsec.
What's next: The Tribeca Festival (they dropped the word "film" this year), has featured games in one-off ways since 2011, but co-founder Jane Rosenthal hopes this bigger commitment will continue and expand.
- "I want to see it be a real robust competition for games, the same way you have robust competitions for films," she told Axios. "I think that the worlds are colliding in interesting ways, and I'm excited about giving it a platform."
4. Rockstar Games starts a record label
"Grand Theft Auto" developer Rockstar Games is co-founding its own record label, CircoLoco Records, with dance music promoter CircoLoco; the EP arrives June 4.
The big picture: The series' soundtracks have always been a highlight of "Grand Theft Auto," through its fake radio stations featuring real hits. The EP, Monday Dreamin' will include artists such as:
- Lost Souls Of Saturn & TOKiMONSTA
- Carl Craig
- Seth Troxler
- Tale Of Us
- Sama' Abdulhadi
- DJ Tennis
- Kerri Chandler
- Red Axes
A full album launches July 9.
5. Worthy of your attention
❄️ The inside story of Blizzard's departures and a company at a crossroads. (Kat Bailey, IGN)
🎬 Scrounging for hits, Hollywood goes back to the video game well (Brooks Barnes, New York Times)
🎮 FFXIV Director Naoki Yoshida Speaks About Fan Fest, Y'shtola's Skin Color Changes, and NPC Dating. (Natalie Flores, Fanbyte)
- A reporter asks a developer why one character's skin color has gotten lighter over time, resulting in a 20-minute answer about development, race, and being sensitive to audience concerns.
🔥 Q&A: Leslee Sullivant, TikTok's game development truth-teller. (Bryant Francis, Gamasutra)
- Sullivant is a game developer who uses TikTok to talk bluntly about the darker parts of game dev, from grooming to bad bosses.
6. A PS5 that will fit in your entertainment center
Megan says: I like my consoles like I like my newsletters: manageable.