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What can video games and livestreaming platforms offer museums and cultural institutions? More than you might think. 

In 2020, the gap between gaming and museums has only grown close: multiplayer game Occupy White Walls emerged, allowing players to design their own virtual art spaces, while collaborations between game developers and cultural attractions, like that between miHoYo and Huanglong National Park, abounded. And then there was Nintendo’s social simulation video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, and the Cincinnati Art Museum open their collections to gamers. 

Another facet of the industry is live game streaming, where audiences sometimes numbering millions tune in to watch others game in real time. Twitch reigns supreme in the realm of livestreamed gaming. Backed by the heft of Amazon, the 10-year-old platform boasts 15 million daily active users — a viewership that MoMA PS1 was quick to tap in 2017, when it presented a unique online version of artist Ian Cheng’s Emissary exhibition on Twitch, amassing some 102,000 impressions. Since then, institutions including the German Historical Museum, San Jose Museum of Art, and Strong National Museum of Play have established a presence on the platform.

Why is game streaming of interest to museums? 

Primarily, audience size. With an estimated 2.7 billion gamers around the world — 1.5 billion in the Asia Pacific region — gaming is far from a niche activity and offers museums a means to engage a new audience. 

During the lockdowns of the past year, the livestreaming sector saw a 45 percent growth in viewership, while hours watched on Twitch itself ballooned between the months of March and April by 50 percent, a two-fold increase from 2019 usage. Twitch’s non-gaming content verticals, such as Art, Music, and Makers & Crafting, are expanding and diversifying alongside this rapid user growth. While gaming is overall the most popular category on the platform, October 2020 saw a non-gaming category, the free-wheeling Just Chatting, receive the most views for the first time.

While Twitch viewership has risen steadily month on month, hours watched on the platform rocketed over 2020's lockdowns. Image: Twitch Tracker

While Twitch viewership has risen steadily month on month, hours watched on the platform rocketed over 2020’s lockdowns. Image: Twitch Tracker

What does it mean for a museum to be on Twitch?

After creating their own channels on Twitch, museums can begin streaming to gain followers and even paid subscribers. These livestreams, which can be archived as videos or clips, enable institutions to share unique content — in a variety of creative formats from tours to gameplays to podcasts — and reach audiences who may not have the chance to visit the museum in person.  

The Art Gallery of Ontario, for example, created a four-part livestream series in July 2020 called AGO Let’s Play, which featured appearances from game designers, artists, and an AGO curatorial assistant. In December, the Army Museum in Paris was featured by Twitch streamer Rivenzi in a two-hour special, which included a guided tour by the institution’s curator and historical researcher.

In a 2020 AGO Let’s Play session, AGO curatorial assistant Nathan Huisman and game designer Paolo Pedercini played a round of SimCity and discussed the legacy of the simulation classic. Image: AGO

In a 2020 AGO Let’s Play session, AGO curatorial assistant Nathan Huisman and game designer Paolo Pedercini played a round of SimCity and discussed the legacy of the simulation classic. Image: AGO

How can a presence on Twitch benefit museums?

The newly diversified content on Twitch creates an opportunity for cultural organizations to build communities in a fast-growing sector. And among the many livestream services, Twitch users represent a major draw due to their high level of engagement. Melissa Simoni, Sales Director of Benelux at Twitch, explained that the platform’s interactive viewers have led its success in the livestream and gaming industry. “The universe of Twitch is immersive, live, with much stronger visual attention, with unmatched engagement,” she said.

When it comes to Twitch activity, the Monterey Bay Aquarium leads by example. Since joining the platform in 2020, the aquarium has garnered upwards of 10,000 followers on its channel thanks to its active livestreaming of sea cam feeds and Animal Crossing gameplays. Notably, it has also hosted special sessions on Animal Crossing with experts from other museums such as the Smithsonian and Field Museum, taking viewers on interactive tours and discussions. 

The Twitch community was one that Emily Simpson, Social Media Specialist at Monterey Bay, found “most unique” out of all other social media channels. She added, “The community is engaged, intelligent, and [people in it] love asking questions and showing their enthusiasm.”

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