Jun 19, 2017 - By Jon Bulava

Hi-Rez Studios: Using Drops on Twitch to Reward the Community

Community — an essential component not to be ignored when developing competitive online games. With a strong, cultivated following, a game can gain higher acquisition, retention, and engagement, both in client and on streaming platforms like Twitch. Enter Hi-Rez Studios; a company that not only embraces community, but defines its culture by that very concept.

The Hi-Rez Expo (HRX) is a perfect example of this mentality. It’s a multi-day event that brings together fans of the studio’s competitive free-to-play games like SMITE and Paladins. Attendees have the opportunity to watch championships, catch the latest content announcements, and connect with friends and their favorite personalities. There are even several leagues that host their own competitions in addition to HRX.

Hi-Rez Studios also regularly looks for innovative ways to engage the player community, and Twitch streaming has long been an important piece of their overall marketing strategy. And now, Twitch Drops has become a part of that strategy as a way to reward the player community for their participation.

Rewarding the Community

For developers, Drops is the only consistent, reliable, and direct way to reward players for engaging with a game on Twitch. It is a system that provides in-game rewards to Twitch viewers who have linked their game account and their Twitch account. This allows a developer to craft interesting and memorable experiences for their players while at the same time contributing to better engagement and retention.

For Hi-Rez Studios specifically, a player only needs to link their accounts to potentially receive a Drop. As they watch Twitch streams of SMITE and Paladins, they are randomly selected to receive in-game items! These can range from virtual currency to cosmetic objects.

Although Drops can potentially be received on any broadcast, Hi-Rez Studios really takes advantage of the reward opportunities during HRX with both the SMITE World Championship and the Paladins Invitational. There’s always the possibility of receiving items while watching these tournaments, and the type of items can be triggered by which teams are winning or advancing. Drops aren’t limited to tournament streams though — Hi-Rez Studios has enabled them for all SMITE and Paladins Twitch Channel Pages. The more a viewer watches, the more opportunities he or she has at receiving items.

For our games, SMITE and Paladins, we saw a dramatic increase in both the total number of viewers and time spent per viewer since we implemented Drops. The increase in overall viewers and viewer average time was so material that we really want to build on the program going into this year. — Todd Harris, COO, Hi-Rez Studios

Noticeable Growth

The growth that Hi-Rez Studios has experienced during these events since rolling out Drops is quite exciting. They have seen a significant increase in the total number of viewers as well as the watch time per viewer.

To demonstrate how a Drops implementation can affect engagement, let’s examine a few statistics from this year’s SMITE World Championship at HRX.

  • Comparing 2017 to 2016, the total number of minutes watched increased 61% and the peak concurrent viewers increased 34%

  • In an average hour broadcast during the event, 29% of all viewers had linked accounts with a peak at 44%

  • 57,509 accounts were linked during the event of around 90,000 total

  • On Sunday alone, viewership was up 109% from 2016 to 2017, with over 2.4 million unique viewers watching the HRX finals on Twitch this year

The Drops program was extended to all players streaming SMITE and Paladins, so viewers not only enjoy the potential for Drops, but streamers have an incentive to stream Hi-Rez Studios titles.

Getting Started With Drops

At this point, you may be curious how to try Drops for your own game. The first step is to request access to the Twitch Developer Portal. Once approved, you’re ready to use the Viewer Heartbeat Service (VHS). This service delivers an annotated report every minute letting you know who is watching your owned and affiliated channels of which the broadcasters have opted-in.

With knowledge of who is watching broadcasts relevant to your game and when, you can create logic for an entitlement system that decides who is eligible for in-game rewards and then delivers those items. For example, you may want to randomly reward a certain number of viewers at a specific time or reward viewers that have reached a specific number of hours watched in the current month. Viewers can even be notified of their new items within Twitch if the Twitch API is used to send Whispers. Hi-Rez Studios implemented this approach to communicate with their viewers.

For more information to get started, see our guide for Drops, working example on GitHub, and the GDC classroom session on engaging your players.

Benefits for All

Implementing Drops greatly benefits game developers and their communities.

It empowers developers to deliver memorable experiences that can be tailored to the needs of the players and the economy of the game. These experiences provide incentive for users to link their account and their engagement can easily lead to further acquisition, retention, and ultimately a passionate and vibrant community.

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