When YouTube was created in 2007, nobody could predict the effect it would have on how people interacted with games. Further changes were implemented with the emergence of Twitch in June of 2011. Streaming platforms have become a hub for gamers to share recorded gameplay with a highly attentive audience, and the medium has only increased in popularity. Ninja, who surged to the forefront of streaming, is a case example of the concept’s popularity, sitting comfortably with a following of just over 14.6 million followers on Twitch (at the time of writing). While there are no glaring issues with the idea, there is one particular genre streaming has had a sizeable impact on; story driven horror.
For years, many horror games relied on the psychological to unnerve their audience, creating a lingering atmosphere of uncertainty. Games from franchises like Silent Hill provided the player with a grossly uneasy world to be immersed into, with unapparent fears never more than an arm’s reach away. As the genre evolved further, some of this subtlety was lost. Many developers discarded the nuanced approach, opting into building a similarly eerie atmosphere for the player, but rather than unnerve them over time, they chose the easier route of jump-scares and loud crashes, sending the player into a brief frenzy. Said frenzy tends to be over rather quickly, however, before the game calms back down and sets itself up for the formula to be repeated.
Streamers and Youtubers have arguably played a substantial role in this evolution. Youtubers would see their views spiking significantly when playing these types of games. For example, PewDiePie’s first video where he plays Slender: The Eight Pages has amassed over 13 million views. Reactions played a huge role in this; watching grown men shriek in abundant terror at the scares played in front of them became a staple for many Youtubers. In turn, many more streamers adopted the formula, played the same games with the same reactions. The demand for this type of content drove developers to create similar projects designed for such reactions. As this progressed, the idea of carefully implemented scares fell to the wayside. While the original approach was arguably more effective in providing a memorably terrifying experience, it didn’t sell as much as well as the response-oriented template.
With horror games finding a pseudo-home on streaming sites, there was a considerable effect on their sales figures. Take Resident Evil 7, for example; a game that returned to the franchise’s horror roots, to the joy of many, complete with a modern reimagining of a previously limited idea. Releasing on January 24th, 2017, it has sold 6.1 million copies universally. While that is by no means a figure to smear, Resident Evil 5, one of the franchise’s most divisive releases, has sold approximately 11 million copies. One of the reasons many cite for this is the fact that many don’t feel the need to buy the game themselves, instead choosing to get their fill by watching playthroughs that captures the terrifying essence of the game just as well.
One positive note to come of this is the emergence of independent developers. As the medium stepped away from big budget, open world games rife with impossible levels of interaction, there was an opening for development teams that don’t have access to the same budget to shine. Five Nights at Freddy’s started out like this; a simpler horror experience, taking the freedom of movement away from the player, forcing them to tightly manage their resources in order to survive. While the game divided fans of the horror genre at the time, the heights that Scott Cawthon achieved with such humble beginnings shouldn’t be diminished. Five Nights became a series boasting five instalments, four books, and a lore that became so far evolved, it became the subject for dissection and analysis by many a content creator. Such success would have been considerably more difficult had audiences not grown to love it through YouTube playthroughs.
With horror being the streamers genre of choice for some time, it was inevitable it would begin to affect its structure. While they often prefer the games that provide cheap scares, their influence hasn’t been all detrimental. The emergence of independent companies, and games like The Evil Within still providing a psychological experience, the horror genre will continue to evolve and thrive.