Why Are Some of the Games on Twitch Not Video Games?

On Twitch, some streamers prefer to play games that aren’t quite videogames and we discuss why.

When players think of Twitch, the thought of games such as Counter Strike, Dota 2 and World of Warcraft comes across their minds, but in the list of most watched games, it is possible to find one that does not quite follow the common notion on what a videogame is. We are talking about Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

The game deviates from the norm, as players interact with an experience that combines the technology of today with the games from the past. Users challenge each other with a deck of cards, instead of moving a character around a map.

This is not; however, the only game on Twitch that presents players with a dose of nostalgia, as the website contains several channels dedicated to analog board games.

Considering that we constantly demand novel experiences, using concepts from the past may seem counter to innovation. With this said, the big questions is...

Why do people watch card games such as Hearthstone, as well as games on Twitch?

In order to explain this, we give you three answers.

1 - Sense of novelty:

With this said, every time players watch someone else playing on Twitch, they will always see something different, thus incentivizing them to watch. Another important element is that through livestreams on Twitch, players can explore the universe of the game, because they will be able to see content they would otherwise miss, given that it is almost impossible to explore the entirety of the possibilities that Hearthstone has to offer.

With more than 500 cards available in Hearthstone, it is virtually impossible for a player to use every combination of cards that can be made in the game. This is a very important hook for players to go watch this game on Twitch, because no matter how many hours they dedicate to playing it, the odds of another player on Twitch having the same cards, let alone using them in the same manner, are extremely low.

In this manner, the player works in conjunction with the streamer, as he watches and sees how much the game can vary from player to player, thus adding depth to the game and to the experience.

The same holds true to board games. It is nearly impossible for a single player with a set of friends to explore every possible strategy that the game allows, so when they watch someone else play, they see a different experience, due to the different strategies employed by the streamers.

This is a reason why watching these types of games may be compelling to some individuals, but this same reasoning applies to nearly every game, apart from linear narrative-driven ones, as they always offer the same experience, with, at best, slight variations.

On the next topic; therefore, we will discuss a motive that is specific to Collectible Card Games and board games.

2 - Social interaction:

In order to discuss this topic, we will start with board games.

In the dawn of the video game industry, in the 70s, if players wanted to play together; their only option was to play locally, through arcade machines. The trend of local multiplayer continued in the 80s with the introduction of the consoles in the market, but it all changed when the internet became available to a mass market in the 90s, as players transitioned from local multiplayer to server-based online games.

With this shift, local multiplayer continues to exist, but its relevance decreased significantly. The consequence of this trend is that players opted to interact with a large number of people in an online environment, but these interactions lack the depth of having an actual person playing right next to you in the couch.

This is one of the selling points of streaming board games. As people play together in the same room, the viewers get to see a level of interaction between the players that you cannot see in virtual games and this differentiation is a factor that may drive people to watch this type of content. Of course, there are streamers of video games who play locally, but these are the minority.

Now, regarding the social interactions on Hearthstone, the same principle applies. Players are not together in the same room, but they are constrained in the virtual desk and this limited “space”, combined with a slow-paced game, forces the opponents to interact more with each other, in a manner that does not occur in more fast-paced games.

Even when the opponent is not participating in the stream, the slow pace of the game allows for a greater interaction between the streamer and the audience via the chat, thus making it a more compelling experience.

3 - An opportunity to learn:

A mistake aspiring video game designers tend to make is ignoring card and board games. They reckon that these types of games hold no value for somebody who wishes to design video games, but this reasoning is incorrect.

Analog games can be a great learning tool for those who aspire to design digital ones. Surprisingly enough, jumping right into the universe of video games, may be very dangerous for an aspiring video game designer.

The main reason for this is that one of the most fundamental lessons an aspiring video game designer must learn is how to craft the rules of the game he/she is designing. Unfortunately, video games are not the ideal tools to learn the rules of play.

 In digital games, the majority of the rules influence the experience, but the player cannot see them operating. Gravity, enemy AI or balance of powers are few examples of elements that constitute the rules of a video game, but that the players cannot see how they work, only how they impact the experience. With this said, it is difficult for a player to delineate every rule of a video game and study them, in order to learn from the game.

In a card or board game, you do not deal with technology and programming processing the rules of the game. Every rule of the game is clearly identifiable, as the players perform the actions, instead of a system. This factor makes this type of game become great assets for case studies, for aspiring game designers who wish to dive deeper on how the rules of the game influence how people play it.

This is one of the reasons why watching board games on Twitch can be compelling to a demographic that is interested in game design, because it is possible to learn a lot from these games. The same principle applies to Hearthstone, because despite it being an electronic game, its rules are also clearly identifiable.    


The best message we can get from the fact that people still pay attention to board and card games -- time will always move forward and the entertainment we consume must move along it with.

Games must adapt to the demands of a new market, and these card and board games watched on Twitch provide us with great examples of how it is possible to keep an aging type of game relevant.

Published Dec. 5th 2016

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