Twitch would be nothing without its broadcasters and viewers, and the livestreaming service is fiercely protective of both. So much so that to prevent its first-ever TwitchCon conference from transforming into a promotional event for exhibitors, rather than a meet-up for its community, the company was willing to turn down exhibitor support. The goal, as Matt DiPietro, Twitch's VP of marketing, explained it, was to keep the show laser focused on community so it doesn't turn into something like Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) and the Game Developers Conference (GDC) have: huge but at the expense of their initial focus. "What TwitchCon has to be about is the broadcasters and their fans," he said in an interview from the show. "Everything we do, we think about the broadcasters first because that's what brings the fans and creates the content."
To see just how far that ethos goes, I chatted with DiPietro about how and why Twitch introduces new features, where he sees the convention going next year and how the company plans to keep the conference's relaxed vibe while expanding its footprint.
Every broadcaster I've talked to says that they work a ton because they feel they have to, otherwise they lose subscribers. They're working sometimes seven days and over a hundred hours per week. Have you guys thought about that?
Burnout? Sure. I think, for the most part, the successful broadcasters find a natural equilibrium with their life. They really are pioneers in creating a career that didn't exist before, and they're figuring out how to do it.
For the very Twitch-specific class of partner who does Twitch full time, and sometimes that's four, six, eight hours of broadcasting a day, the interesting thing is soon you're going to have features like playlists and VOD uploads. So hopefully, you'll have an arsenal and quiver of tools for making content that will allow you to have a weekend. Because it's absolutely true and we hear it from partners all the time; particularly when we started doing events like PAX and E3 where we would start bringing our partners out to the event. They were like, "I love you guys and I really want to do that stuff, but if I take two days off, I might lose X percentage of subscribers."
We heard that loud and clear and that's actually why we're building those kinds of tools: to give you more options for creating different kinds of content however you want to.
TwitchCon feels kind of self-serving -- much like "Here's how to become a better Twitch streamer." Which is fine. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's just that TwitchCon feels like an investment in Twitch.
It's an investment in the Twitch community, absolutely. We started talking about doing an event two years ago ... a year and a half ago and, at first, the parameters were very hazy. We didn't know quite what it would look like. What are we gonna do? When we started asking these questions very seriously, Emmett Shear, our CEO -- his very clear directive from the very beginning was: "As cool as they are, I don't want another E3, [or] another PAX." This isn't about PlayStation or Xbox, Blizzard or whatever.
I'm used to the madness of E3. This feels so totally different. It's relaxed, low pressure, casual.
That's what we wanted: a comfortable place that's native to the community experience. The content we're doing here is community content. We didn't do any of it ourselves because we don't do content. One of our larger variety broadcasts is Dropped Frames with some of our top partners. We just gave them the main stage. Do it here, do it live. Bring the fans in. And that was wildly successful. If there's a way to see a cross section, that's the spirit of what we try to do: Bring Twitch here.
You'd hope TwitchCon is going to grow. At what point do you push back? Let's say Microsoft and Sony come to you and say they want you to announce new products and turn it into a trade show. PAX started as a community thing; now it's becoming a promo event. GDC too, whereas before it was all about education. Are you going to take a heavy hand in curating the experience so that doesn't happen?
Yes. No doubt. There's essentially three pillars to the community: [The] broadcaster is number one. Everything we do, we think about the broadcasters first because that's what brings the fans and creates the content; the experts that have the most passion for the games. Fans, number two. And of course, there is [the] developers and publishers, hardware and platforms. That is a very good question: how we work with the industry going forward because of course they all understand keenly now in a way that they didn't before how influential Twitch broadcasters are.
Blizzard announced some new content on the main stage. We have a couple of games being released [here]. And that's all fine and good and wonderful. We want that kind of thing. But the spirit should always be: If you're coming to TwitchCon as a game developer -- indie, AAA or otherwise -- what are you doing for the community? How are you adding value to the community? If you don't understand that dynamic, not only do we really not want you here, but you're not going to get a lot of value out of being here either if you're not engaging with the community in a native/organic way. It's not for you.
What does TwitchCon look like next year then?
I think it's going to look a lot like this year. It's going to be bigger, better, more people. Probably a more defined track for developers and publishers. You can think of the attendees at this conference, 2015, as early adopters. We didn't know what the content was, really, until a month ago. Two months ago. Most of the folks that came here came on a prayer and a blind leap of faith that "I know that Twitch is going to do something cool and I want to be there year one." Year two, I'm expecting the 15,000 people [official counts are over 20,000] here this weekend are going to tell all their friends and say, "You gotta be there; it was awesome. Twitch did it right and did it right by the community. You've gotta be there next year."
This interview has been condensed and edited[Image credits: Twitch (Top image)]