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Published on Mar 27, 2014
Streaming on Twitch: Fostering Participatory Communities of Play within Live Mixed Media
William A. Hamilton, Oliver Garretson, Andruid Kerne
Previously, video streaming sites were at the fringes of online social media. In the past two years, live streams of video games, on sites such as Twitch.tv, have become very popular. Live streams serve as meeting grounds for player communities. The Twitch streaming medium combines broadcast video with open IRC chat channels. In conjunction with gameplay, viewer participation and community building gain emphasis. Twitch streams range in size and nature, from intimate communities with fifty viewers, to massive broadcasts with tens of thousands. In this paper, we present an ethnographic investigation of the live streaming of video games on Twitch. We find that Twitch streams act as virtual third places, in which informal communities emerge, socialize, and participate. Over time, stream communities form around shared identities drawn from streams' contents and participants' shared experiences. We describe processes through which stream communities form, the motivations of members, and emergent issues in the medium. Finally, we draw from our findings to derive implications for design of live mixed-media environments to support participatory online communities.