Image: Flappy Bird
Video games have always commanded a strong audience online in a number of different ways—on forums, enthusiast editorial publications, and, of course, World of Warcraft. But gaming has only recently begun to build out its own form of unique media on par with services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and even Facebook. Much of that is thanks to the explosive growth of Twitch, a company that supports an increasingly vibrant online platform that lets people broadcast their gameplay and watch other players do so.
Twitch grew up so quickly (doubling its viewership over the course of 2013 to more than 45 million monthly active visitors) thanks to the concurrent ascent of esports like League of Legends and StarCraft II. But while the company planted its roots there, it's begun to expand into territory that's drawing the interest of people who don't know what a Zerg rush is. Today, the company announced its next big move in this direction: having passed the 10-million download mark for its mobile app on iOS and Android, Twitch is now opening up its development tools for these platforms as well. This means that mobile gamers will soon be able to start live-streaming their time playing Flappy Bird or Temple Run the same way that StarCraft and League pros have been doing since 2011.
That might sound like an incremental adjustment. But it's noteworthy for a couple of reasons.
First of all, this means that Twitch is going to be giving mobile games an equal opportunity to carve a space out for themselves online. I personally find this exciting because, as a game critic, I've been increasingly drawn to iOS and Android titles lately. There's a deep-seated bias against "casual" games amongst gamers and critics alike which has begun to seem ever more unfounded thanks to the appearance of stellar work like Threes, Rymdkapsel, Year Walk, and yes, even Flappy Bird.
Second, mobile games also open Twitch up to an entirely difference audience than the one that currently dominates the platform. That's good for Twitch's business, sure. But it's also significant because it gives different kinds of gamers a seat at the table. As Motherboard has previously reported, the esports community can be notoriously exclusionary—particularly when it comes to accepting female players.
And finally, a new mobile-friendly Twitch means that there's going to be a lot more opportunities for weird and wonderful stuff to start coming from its community. Just last month, the platform birthed the bizarre internet phenomenon "Twitch Plays Pokémon," a crowd-sourced version of the classic Nintendo game that attracted well over a million players and nine million viewers by the company's count. Gamers have already made similar endeavors out of mobile titles, like the Flappy Bird MMO that came out after the game was pulled from the app store earlier this year. Bringing this kind of quirky energy to Twitch makes the process easier for everyone involved. And hopefully it will win over some of mobile gaming's detractors in the process as well.
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what the Twitch community does with Candy Crush.