Watching game streams is one of the things about modern gaming I can’t exactly understand. For better or worse (probably better) the universe pays no mind to my sensibilities, however, and does its own thing, which results in a blooming Twitch culture. At any given moment there are hundreds of thousands of watchers, across hundreds of concurrently streaming channels. Personally I think playing a game is more interesting than watching somebody play it, but maybe it’s an online competitive gamer thing. I wouldn’t know. Anyhow, a couple months back Twitch got a pretty interesting idea how to boost some numbers, so let’s take a look at that.

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What’s all the fuss about?

In February this year, clearly taking hints from SMITE’s developer Hi-Rez Studios, Twitch implemented a system allowing participating developers to reward players watching the streams of their games with in-game items. Just like that. The participating developer sets an interval, prepares rewards in the form of in-game items, and selects which channels are eligible. And all the eager audience has to do to get the chance is watch a stream of that developer’s game. Not even comment, as is the rule for many giveaways. Just being on the viewer list at the moment the drop happens is enough. Okay, it probably sounds more complicated than it is. Let’s use an actual, high-profile example: Bethesda’s online CCG game, The Elder Scrolls: Legends.

The Elder Streams

Setting aside a discussion about the actual game, TES: Legends is, in a way, a poster child for Twitch Drops, as the program is called. If Bethesda isn’t the only developer currently using the system (though other devs, like aforementioned Hi-Rez, may have their own versions), it’s certainly among the biggest.

Watching TES: Legends streams on Twitch, whether for entertainment or tutelage, makes every viewer eligible for the drop. You can get one of three things: 600 Gold (enough for six card packs), 1500 Soul Gems (enough to craft a legendary card), or a random Legendary card. You don’t even need to comment or otherwise engage with the stream, as long as you watch it and have linked your Bethesda account to Twitch you have a chance to get goods every once in a while as long as you have TES: Legends streams running in your browser.

Where does it bring us?

To make things clear: I think getting in-game stuff for watching somebody elseplay it is a tad strange. Well, these are the times we’re living in, so instead of grumbling some more, let’s take a look at how it could be used further.

For one, it could be pretty handy and non-invasive for mostly singleplayer games with loot of one sort or another. Tyranny, Obsidian’s November release, has a system in place which provides the player with free stuff for being logged to your Paradox account and launching the game every day. They aren’t some game-changing items, either, being mostly consumables giving a temporary stat boost or healing, nothing you can’t get in the game. Implementing a similar system to other singleplayer games wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Loot of the Chosen

Think about, say, XCOM 2. The War of the Chosen expansion is right around a corner and it’s going to test the strategic and tactical acumen of players everywhere. Let’s say watching the XCOM 2 streams would give a chance for extra credits, intel, maybe even some rare resources like Elerium Cores, of which there’s never enough.

Hell, the loot could even appear in the same way any event does: as a pin on the hologlobe, requiring you to spend a day or two retrieving them, to have them merge better with the ongoing theme.

Giveawayunknown’s Battledrops

If you’re of a competitive multiplayer persuasion this system could be easily used to distribute skins. If Counter Strike: Global Offensive or Dota 2 are any indication then gamers are always eager to grab cosmetic stuff and there’s plenty of games that. Not to look very far, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds has some. Recently it’s been announced that Plunkbat’s going to have some microtransaction-y stuff going on for a while, so putting some of the “premium” skins up for grabs (presumably at low drop rate) wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

The unavoidable question

A thing that must be addressed here is balance. Getting stuff for effectively nothing is always enticing, but I’m not sure whether giving away stuff like currencies (premium and regular alike) in competitive games, which typically need you to actually work them is a fair idea. Then again fairness died the moment microtransactions became commonplace. This issue doesn’t really apply to singleplayer games, because fair balance isn’t of as much importance there, and even then it’s typically subject to modding of some extent.

The future of freebies?

Twitch’s innovation certainly helped raise the activity stats for numerous streamers, both in terms of general viewership and overall engagement. It didn’t hurt the popularity of TES: Legends either, with the drops certainly making for a smoother start. Which developers choose to participate in the program in the future remains to be seen, but it could improve Twitch viewership exponentially as more mainstream games are supported. In which games do YOU think this system would work wonders?