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Interactive streaming and the future of media

Sponsored article: Genvid discusses how crowd-play and interactive games can impact the future of the business

The advent and proliferation of cloud-based gaming content is already changing the video games industry. Each day, millions of people engage with video game content via broadcast on Twitch and YouTube - often many more than actually play these specific titles. This popularity is changing the way games are marketed and distributed, and starting to affect how developers think of constructing (and changing) in-game maps, items, and so forth.

But as we adapt existing content to new technologies, a bigger opportunity begins to emerge - one that comes not from adaptation, but from rethinking fundamental questions. "If this had been possible 30 years ago, would we have made the same type of games?" At Genvid, we are working to usher in a new category of multi-media experiences. We call it Interactive Broadcast, and it merges the leanback, always-on nature of traditional video, with the excitement of live, win-or-lose interactive sports, events and games. More importantly, this format offers all viewers the opportunity to interact and engage. You don't need to buy or install software, you don't need any prior experience and you can join in - and contest with - other viewers at any time.

There is a lot that makes this different from existing experiences - and many things we feel is compelling. But at their core, interactive broadcasts are differentiated by their focus. Traditional video games have focused on the player. Even Twitch broadcast's are organized around this, even if what makes them compelling is the personality of the player. Interactive Broadcast is built for and around the audiences. You can still have hosts and lead players/characters, but every viewer is a participant. They can affect change. Fight for who they want to survive. Harm those they hate.

Imagine an interactive version of Lost where you, watching live with millions of others, can impact what you are seeing. A community of people, affecting the content in realtime, together. Deciding what the objective is, what disaster befalls the survivor, who betrays the others and how.

This is also different from "Choose Your Own Adventures," such as Netflix's Bandersnatch. While the delivery of this content is new, the format is not - and has been available for decades. And the emphasis in the category title is on your adventure. In other words, your episode of Bandersnatch is different than mine, and I can always reset and go back. The experience goes no further. Rather, interactive broadcast content is where many people are deciding what happens at once, collectively, through direct and indirect actions. And there are permanent consequences. Once the 'episode' airs, that's what is in the history books.

Developers worldwide are already starting to build these types of experiences, using Genvid's technology to quickly get their ideas up and streaming at levels of rich interactivity never before seen. At GDC this week the Genvid team will showcase multiple developers creating content where the viewers - through their cheers, their interventions and their influence - determine together the resulting narrative. And not by consensus, but through relative passion.

One of these titles is CHKN Arena, built by NYC-based Katapult Studio. In this interactive broadcast, viewers create their own CHKN bots (whimsical AI-based characters that draw upon myriad animal parts, such as a CHKN wing and whale body) and then send them into a Gladiator-style coliseum broadcast live on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. It's Pokémon meets Battlebots... except the viewers can power-up individual CHKNs by cheering, rally together to deliver a knock-out blow, or fight to revive their player. Between rounds these viewers can increase the stats by feeding or bandaging their wacky warriors, and can vote for who should appear next in combat.

Another developer who has really taken the concept of interactive broadcast to heart is Eugene, Oregon- based Pipeworks Studio, whose Project Eleusis was built from the ground up to appeal to interactive streaming. Eleusis asks what happens when you merge The Sims with The Hunger Games... and then allow the audience to play God. The answer? We don't yet know! As our God-like viewers watch AI survivors on a mysterious island, will they help them create a utopia or hell on earth? Will they protect their favorite survivors, or all of them? Or will they simply set fire to foodstores simply to see what happens. It is about letting the audience's imagination run wild, live. And it is all native to a Twitch stream.

You don't need to know how to 'play' CHKN Arena or Project Eleusis. The narrative is what's unfolding on screen. The decisions are available by prompt - and not only do viewers not need to weigh in, they don't need experience to understand their implications. And information is always available - who is a player, what is an item, what's about to happen? All a click away.

By detaching traditional gaming skill from the need to understand and enjoy what you're watching, these developers are enabling the audience to be able to feel meaningful interaction at any time, even if they only have a few seconds to join. And because it's live, you feel compelled to engage at this moment, because this moment may never come again.

We'll be showcasing experiences like CHKN Arena, Project Eleusis, and more at Genvid Technologies' GDC live session on Wednesday 3/20/2019 at 10:30am, West Hall 3009. The developers themselves will be on-stage to answer questions and talk about how they're leading the charge for this pioneering new media format.

They will also be available all week at Genvid's GDC booth, S266 in the South Hall.

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