Game development as performance: Making Nuclear Throne on Twitch

For Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail, making the game Nuclear Throne was as much about live performance in front of an audience as it was about development.

For Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail, making the game Nuclear Throne was as much about live performance in front of an audience as it was about development, he explained at GDC Europe in Cologne, Germany this morning.

The indie studio made it a point to stream development of the game on Twitch, allowing players to see how the figurative sausage is made.

“It turns out livestreaming is hard,” he admitted. But with practice, he and his team got better at it, and nurtured a community of fans.

“We saw that we were teaching people stuff, which was awesome,” Ismail said. For example, he said when the team explained that bullet collision had to actually be programmed --  that collision isn’t just something that simply exists -- that fact just blew players’ minds in the stream’s chat.

Not only did Vlambeer teach fans about game development, but the team also learned a lot about the fundamentals of success on Twitch.

He said frankly, “Your game does not matter. Twitch is not about games. Twitch looks like it’s about games, it says it’s about games, but it’s rally about the ‘casters, about the personalities.”

That means that games that are optimized to cater to these personalities and how they stream games have a better chance of finding support from streamers.

Games can be designed with streaming in mind. Ismail said you want to create moments of pause, moments of breathing where the streamers can talk. Otherwise, Ismail said, all they’ll be able to do is say “oh my God” or “holy shit!” which might be enough for some streamers’ audiences, but mostly it’s not.

He also said that streamers do not like having to explain what they’re doing to their audience. What is happening on the screen should make everything obvious. “Make your game in such a way that it communicates the important things that are happening,” he said. “Your game needs to be a constant tutorial for anyone is watching.” Give clear feedback, clear indicators.

“Don’t broadcast potato quality,” he added. “If you want to stream on Twitch, please invest in a webcam.” It might seem like simple, obvious advice, but a good webcam, and good lighting are important, and make a big difference in quality.

If you’re streaming yourself, you should also watch your archives and make sure you’re talking at a good speed, that you’re entertaining your audience, that your video quality is good, and make appropriate adjustments. Be yourself, he said – don’t put up a big act. But also…don’t be too much like yourself, and keep a healthy, natural distance from your audience. “Keep a bit of a buffer,” he said.

Ismail brought up another key tip: all successful Twitch streamers that he asked told him that one of the most important things is that you have to keep a schedule – consistency is key.

Game development in front of a community also means that there will be some bad apples that will need to be taken care of. “Moderate your fucking chat! Seriously!” he said, because “assholes” will wreck your community. You don’t need their sale, he insisted.

“Most importantly, you must understand Twitch culture.” Understand that streamers are about getting more subscribers. Understand how not just viewers operate, but know how Twitch streaming community works.

And last but not least, also make sure to ask people to follow or subscribe.

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