Interview

Updated: To be an eSport, you have to design a game for spectators as well as players, says Mobcrush

Updated: To be an eSport, you have to design a game for spectators as well as players, says Mobcrush

[Updated: Since this interview was conducted at Reboot Develop 2016, Koh Kim has left Mobcrush]

As the co-head of business at San Francisco-based mobile game streaming startup Mobcrush, Koh Kim has strong opinions about the power and potential of what we call mobile eSports.

What she's less keen on, however, is that 'eSports' label.

"I like to use the phrase 'competitive gaming', because that's a lot truer to what it is," she says.

"I don't believe a game starts out as an eSport... it doesn't get the competitive moniker unless the players deem it to be competitive."

“There are tons of games with online multiplayer and competitive elements,” she goes on, “but most of them have never truly become a competitive game.”

Setting out from early development to create an eSport, Kim suggests, is a fool's errand.

Games first, eSports later

But what developers can do, and increasingly are doing, is to build a game that explores more than the traditional relationship between player and game, recognising that a significant portion of its audience will be spectators and designing around this.

Amazon has previously discussed its plans for 'stream-first' games, which are built from start to finish with Twitch integration in mind and provide some in-game interaction to the viewers.

What happens when games are made for spectation? Do you have an underdog scenario?
Koh Kim

Kim, however, feels that the foremost priority should be to ensure a game is enjoyable to watch from the point of conception - an interesting dynamic regardless of whether viewers can interact.

“Interactivity has always been between the player and the game,” she considers.

“I think of it more as how does the [game react to] another participant… what happens when games are made for spectation? Do you have an underdog scenario?”

“A lot of mobile games so far haven't necessarily been designed to be watched, because they're always focused on one player interacting on very limited screen real estate, but a number of them now are being.”

Gather 'round

Indeed, the first official Clash Royale tournament in Helsinki peaked at around 72,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch and 60,000 on YouTube.

“I think that put it in top 20 watched of all time, so that shows the scale,” notes Kim.

She goes on to suggest, however, that this is still very much early days for mobile game streaming, with even modern market leaders such as Clash Royale a little slapdash in their approach to viewership.

“[Supercell] never built in the mode so that anyone can watch it, they did that after the fact… [TV Royale] wasn't added until right at the end, according to a developer I was talking to there,” she explains.

She also notes that it offers only replay footage, rather than live streaming.

Regardless, it's a sign of things to come. Does she worry that in-built features like TV Royale, and companies live-streaming their own tournaments, will threaten to cut out the middleman and squeeze companies like Mobcrush?

“I don't think so, it just encourages people to watch,” she counters.

“A lot of players would be interested in creating their own content, and a platform like ours is designed to curate and help people discover additional stuff.”

Crushing competition?

We're really honing in on what a mobile-first player is, and then designing the streaming experience for that.
Koh Kim

But of course, Mobcrush isn't the only place to stream mobile gaming content.

The primarily PC-based Twitch is making inroads, it's also integrated with Android-PC platform Bluestacks, and mobile app streaming service Kamcord has recently raised $10 million.

However, Kim believes that its ease of entry is what makes Mobcrush stand out.

“We're making it very easy versus setting up a Twitch stream - you still need capture cards and all that stuff - but if we make it easier, that lowers the barrier of entry and you're going to get a lot more content,” she says.

Mobcrush also has mobile gaming specialism on its side, with Twitch trying to juggle PC and mobile while Kamcord takes a more generalist approach to phone broadcasting - Tinder rather than Vainglory.

“We're really honing in on what a mobile-first player is, and then designing the streaming experience - from the viewer to the broadcaster - for that.”

“We're a startup, so you've got to focus on a specific type of consumer - and when 9/10 device owners say they play games, that seems like a very good place to start.”


Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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