Recently a gaming 'streamer' known as Ninja became the first to reach 10 million followers on Twitch.
If you've got gamers in your family, you've likely heard of Twitch. You might even recognise the look of the website. But what is Twitch, and what can you do to make sure it is appropriately used in your home?
At its most simple, Twitch is a video gaming website. Its most significant offering is the ability to watch other people 'stream' live video of themselves playing a video game, usually while providing some kind of commentary. As such, a 'streamer' is somebody who creates and delivers these live broadcasts.
Twitch also features the likes of product announcements, broadcasts of competitive gaming events, gaming news and official broadcasts from game companies. While Twitch is associated with personal gaming streams, the broadcast of major competitive events – or eSports – is an increasingly popular part of the website. Twitch can also be viewed on mobile devices, games consoles and some specific streaming hardware like Amazon Fire TV, as well as via a web browser.
Users who set up a Twitch account can not only watch their favourite streamers, but also set up their own streaming channel. It's relatively easy to do, and using simple software, a web-cam and computer, it is possible to stream your own broadcasts.
Another popular element of Twitch sees viewers chatting to each other – and the streamer – via live text as they watch.
Gaming videos are, of course, very popular on Youtube too. But while live streaming is both possible and popular on Youtube, it is more generally associated with pre-recorded, edited video footage.
While it is not as popular, there are also music performances, TV broadcasts and tutorials for the likes of drawing and painting on Twitch. However, games and gaming entirely dominate the platform.
Certainly, most Twitch streamers broadcast as a hobby. But some have become very rich and famous. Ninja – real name Richard Tyler Blevins – is a true internet personality. His individual streams – distinct live broadcasts – attract huge audiences. It was reported that he was earning $560,000 a month from his Fortnite streams on Twitch; and that was back when he had 'only' 3 million followers. The money largely comes from paying subscribers, who subscribe to specific channels like Ninja's, paying to get access to extra content. Ninja makes plenty of extra money from his other channels, like Youtube.
Officially, Twitch is for gamers aged 13 years and older. And a user between 13 and 18 years old should use the platform with an adult, according to the site's terms of service. But any parent will likely know youngsters are fairly savvy at getting around such restrictions.
Twitch offers fantastic potential; a chance to learn about new games, and a community of enthusiasts who want to share their passion. Streaming yourself can teach you to be tech savvy, give you experience in creating content and building a brand. Even if it doesn't make you a penny, it's a worthy creative endeavour, and might teach skills that help a great deal in education, and after that, finding work. And it could make your family rather well off (just to make it clear, this is extremely unlikely, and there's a lot of competition to make even a tiny amount of money on Twitch. It is not a quick way to make cash.)
Twitch being live, however, means it brings with it many challenges. It is very hard to police or censor live content that – at least with the personal streams – is often improvised. Many users say what comes to their mind as they think it, meaning hearing mature conversation and bad language is not impossible. It may even be common on some channels.
Equally, the live chat is uncensored, and can include course language, offensive discussion and adult content. In rare cases abuse and threats are directed at users on Twitch via the chat window.
Also, games with adult age ratings are broadcast on Twitch. Users can't play them, but they might see adult content. Even without an account, you can load up the website and see other people play games, including those carrying a PEGI-18 rating in the UK.
There are also a lot of adverts, which can only really be avoided by paying for a premium 'Turbo' account.
Parental controls on Twitch don't exist, but there is much you can do. For one, many more official streaming channels on Twitch use a system that filters the chat stream for bad language and other words, blocking those words before they are used. Many channels may also have live moderators checking and policing the conversation; meaning another real human reading and contributing to the chat to keep it safe and friendly. The very largest channels often use automated tools on top of human moderators to keep things extra safe.
As such, try and spend some time watching the streams or channels youngsters in your family do. It won't take long to get a sense of the games those streamers play, the tone and language of the broadcaster, and the content of the chat streams.
It's worth knowing that Twitch uses the term 'Whispers' to refer to direct, private, one-to-one messages. There are also group-chats that users can invite each other to. You should make sure you have access to any Twitch account a youngster in your family uses, so you can check any conversations in these Whispers. Also, encourage them to speak to you as a parent if they see anything upsetting, or experience anything that they don't feel confortable about or understand.
Twitch's chat does make it easy to see who moderators are, so you or your younger family members can speak to them direct about any concerns. Twitch also has numerous settings for blocking the ability to receive different messages. And as you can easily report any problems you have, the community is fairly well self-policed.
And if Twitch has a presence in your family, and you're unsure about that, the best way forward might be to set up a streaming channel with your younger family members. You might have to put your ego to one side and only be involved behind the scenes, because us adults are apparently embarrassing at all times... and you might start out with very few viewers indeed. But running a channel together is a fantastic creative process you can enjoy and learn from together. And more importantly, that will help you build up trust and a dialogue about how Twitch is used and enjoyed in the home. What's more, as US streaming outfit FatherSonGaming prove, families can be very successful together as gaming streamers, and maybe even bring in some income.