The online streaming of video games online is hardly anything new. Though relatively recent in the grand scheme of things, it has since grown to be one of the most important ways that people engage with the sub-culture, partly due to the growth of eSports and more amateur video game commentary. Though capturing footage and internet streaming has since become more (forgive the pun) stream-lined, there still continues to be a barrier to entry for people less willing or less capable to learn how. That’s part of why the ways both Microsoft and Sony have embraced internet streaming on their next-generation consoles are so interesting.
Both the Xbox One and the PS4 have focused on the concept of ‘sharing’ (the PS4 even has a button dedicated to it) whether it be through recording footage or live-streaming it to your friends, with the Xbox One using Twitch (though this will be later available in 2014) and Microsoft’s own Upload Studio, and the PS4 featuring both Twitch and Ustream. Even from a layman’s perspective, it’s easy to see the merit in this. By bringing streaming to the masses, both Microsoft and Sony have made it easier for people to learn more about the games they care about or to follow the people they find entertaining. Even if that doesn’t sound appealing, at least online videos of games completely falling apart no longer have to be seen via someone’s smart-phone. Throw in the availability of cameras for the different consoles and you’re left with a rather compelling package.
But what of those who want to do more creative things? One impressive usage of the Xbox’s ‘Upload Studio’ was a complete video review of the new Zoo Tycoon (one of the Xbox One’s launch titles) done within the confines of the app, with relevant footage for each point made. Another was The Spartan Show, an impromptu call-in show done by a young couple in Washington. Using the PS4’s pack-in game Playroom, the couple began streaming out of their living room, beginning with showing how to modify the PS4’s gamepad before moving onto becoming a general chat show. The stream went viral and soon attracted the attentions of Shuhei Yoshida (president of Worldwide Studios for Sony Computer Entertainment), Adam Boyes (head of publisher relations at Sony Computer Entertainment America), and Patrick Klepek (news editor at Giant Bomb, a popular video games website), with the latter two even calling into the show to chime in.
That’s where the story becomes less heart-warming.
Later on, a different couple began live-streaming through the PS4’s Playroom app whilst drinking. The two fell unconscious, and the woman was later exposed (seemingly) without consent. It was this, and some other incidents, that later prompted Twitch to remove Playroom from their streaming directory. It’s not hard to imagine why such strong measures were taken. The PS4, though not strictly for children, is a mass-market device and one that is likely to be given to a lot of kids. With streaming being built into the architecture of the system, the chances of a child being unknowingly exposed to the nastiness of the internet are quite high. And even though Sony isn’t monitoring every potential stream, it isn’t hard to imagine the kinds of backlash that could occur if tabloids were to tell their readers that ‘Sony exposes children to inappropriate content without warning’.
Such draconian measures have also been taken by Microsoft regarding ‘Upload Studio’. Recent reports have indicated that Xbox One users are being banned as a result of vulgar language not only from using the app, but from also using Skype, a popular video, voice and chat client. In this case it is a little easier to understand why such a strong stance was taken. With the service itself being run by Microsoft there is a greater incentive for it to reflect their values.
Yet, it’s hard not to shake off the feeling that something is being done wrong. When one of the most interesting things on either console is being slowly constrained, it would seem that neither company is quite sure how to approach this problem. If nothing else, it would seem that simply banning games or individuals is a short-sighted solution, scaring off or otherwise discouraging the very people using these services in the way they should be used. In the case of Twitch removing Playroom from their directory, it would seem that either greater moderation (a tall order for a website already struggling to handle its popularity) or straight-forward age-gates are the way to go. In the case of Microsoft’s handling of vulgarity, it would seem that age-gates or restriction are also the way to go. Yes, children are and will continue to use these systems and the protection of children online is an ever-growing issue, but to simply disregard the many other people using these services seems disrespectful. Hopefully this is all the result of growing pains, and that as these consoles mature more sensible solutions will arise. But if nothing changes, and both Microsoft and Sony fail to understand how interesting streaming is, it’ll be a damn shame.
Editor’s note: I wasn’t able to come up with a decent enough reason to contextualise it within the article, but I still want to link to one of my favourite uses of online streaming: Salty Bet. Salty Bet is a 24/7 livestream of different custom-made fighting game characters (many of them simply being blatant abuses of copyright) duking it out in MUGEN, a freeware 2D fighting game. Plus, you get to bet fake money on which AI character wins! It’s great fun. Check it out if you can.