VP of developer success is an intimidating job title, but Kathy Astromoff is taking it all in her stride. She joined the streaming platform in November last year after a varied career. She's worked at Sega, Eidos, UBM Webtech and co-founded Blink. GamesIndustry.biz caught up with her to find out more about the advice and aspirations she has for Twitch's relationship with game developers.
Q: You joined Twitch around six months ago. Was it daunting to join a company that has been evolving so fast?
Kathy Astromoff:It's not the speed that was daunting. One of the things that didn't happen was that I expected a lot of complacency, or perhaps parochialism. "We're wildly successful, we have all these currents and uniques, now we've been acquired by Amazon so we can just sit back and put our feet up and watch the line go up and to the right," and it's absolutely nothing of the sort. I think what's daunting is that everybody is very clear about having massive aspirations still, about the impact we can have on games and on the games industry. So moving quickly to meet those aspirations is what's daunting.
Q: Unlike most companies in the industry, Twitch really started with the gamers, rather than the game developers. How do you make developers a part of that community?
Kathy Astromoff:Developers are definitely the third leg of the stool. If you think about Twitch as being all about broadcasters, primarily that's the heart of Twitch and the driving force of the site and the community, and then, of course, there are the viewers who watch the broadcasters, and often those can change places - viewers will broadcast and broadcasters will view. Twitch was correctly focused on driving that flywheel of growth through that relationship and continues to be there. I think with the growth comes an obligation to help developers succeed as well. It's always been a known thing that developers have a place to play in the Twitch ecosystem and it's only recently that we've had the bandwidth to expand our focus on developers.
Q: I was really interested in the way developers are finding ways to use interaction with the community, for instance to allow them to play games...
Kathy Astromoff:I feel like the development community has really got out ahead of us on that. At GDC, we just declared a concept called Stream First, which is simply all about designing a game that takes advantage of the relationship between the broadcaster and the viewer. We've seen companies take advantage of that - at GDC we showed some prototypes on that - and we're finding some really interesting play dynamics and the designers, in particular, are being really creative about overcoming some of the inherent issues with Twitch as a gaming platform. You're never going to find hair trigger shooters on Twitch just by nature of, for instance, the latency on the site, but [you will find] some really interesting play experiences that really tap into the energy between the developers and the broadcasters.
Q: I'm sure there are developers that have seen Twitch and come to you and want help getting started. How do you direct those developers?
"I think with the growth comes an obligation to help developers succeed as well"
Kathy Astromoff:We can characterize the inquiry as there are developers who have seen Twitch but haven't yet made the connection that this could potentially be a built-in audience for them. So that is a first level conversation that we have when they realize "hey, lot's of people are playing games all in one place, accessible by you, therefore..." and from there comes the facepalm moment of "oh wow, I should be making games for this community." From there we get to people asking where do they start.
Interestingly enough, designers are actually very adept because they're essentially designing a game within constraints, which is what designers do all day long. The conversation we've had most commonly is really focusing on the social interaction between the broadcaster and the viewer. A lot of times developers will come to us and say "I want to make it easy to stream from within my game." We went down that road a couple of years ago, but that doesn't capture the power of the platform. The power of the platform is all about the interactivity and the social relationships. Once we redirect developers to think about that social relationship and think about what you might be able to do with that then folks go off to the races and we don't actually have to do very much.
Q: Are there any developers you think are doing a particularly good job of utilising Twitch for their community?
Kathy Astromoff:I would definitely call out Streamline from Proletariat Studios. They have been working now in the space for a long time and frankly have guided a lot of our own thinking on the kinds of things that we can provide developers so that they can be successful. Definitely watch those guys for the state of the art thinking.