New ways to bring mass audiences into interactive participation with live-streamed games and TV shows are beginning to impact not only the socialization of viewing experiences but the modes of competitive engagement as well.

When anyone anywhere can bend the course of narratives in multiplayer games, whether or not they’re engaged in the competition, or appear as virtual video contestants with on-site panelists in game shows, old game-defining boundaries disappear. In fact, with connected TVs emerging as the dominant OTT viewing platform, it’s not hard to imagine the lines will soon be blurred between multiplayer video games and game shows in an era marked by broadcasters’ need to create programming with greater appeal to younger audiences.

According to the latest quarterly streaming report from video performance tracker Conviva, 77% of all streamed minutes globally were on a big screen device in Q1 2022, led by viewing on smart TVs, which was up 34% year over year. Meanwhile, big changes in the traditional online multiplayer game space are also contributing to the disruption of old norms.

For example, it’s long been the case that audiences watching esports on Twitch or similar platforms can participate in text-based chat rooms. Now, as noted in a recent Red5 Pro post, many esports producers are pushing beyond chat-based socialization to enable interactive video communications among their fans with the aid of real-time streaming infrastructure.

Moreover, multiplayer video game producers are beginning to add video-based socialization to games engaging the public at large in what amounts to the creation of ad hoc amateur esports environments. And in virtual reality (VR) social environments like The Playroom and Rec Room avatars can jump back and forth between playing virtual darts and other bar games and casual social interactions with other avatars.

MILEs Ahead

Now the leading edge of innovation across the online game-playing universe has moved to a search for new approaches to engaging people with the action in multiplayer games, whether or not VR is involved. And, in the case of TV game shows, the arrow of innovation points to video appearances of remote audience members in competitions and dialogs with onsite participants.

One line of significant development in the online multiplayer gaming arena centers on what its lead practitioner calls Massively Interactive Live Events (MILEs). In this scenario, choices made by either viewers or the players themselves influence game narratives and the competition in RPGs and other games built around malleable storylines.

Game technology supplier Genvid Technologies brought MILEs into play with a bang in December 2020 when Facebook began hosting Rival Peak for a 12-week run that drew millions of viewers worldwide. Voting on the obstacles to be faced by individual competing characters while exploring dangerous terrain, audiences were able to influence each character’s fate in an increasingly daunting quest for survival. After recording over 100 million minutes of viewer participation in Rival Peak, Genvid secured $113 million in funding to launch a new division devoted to creating more MILEs on its own as other entities tapped its SDK to build their own MILEs.

One of the latest in this growing cluster is Skybound Entertainment’s new addition to The Walking Dead game series entitled Last Mile. Utilizing AI mechanisms from the Genvid SDK, the new game allows viewers to have a real-time impact on the game’s storyline through aggregated communal decisions that shape the narrative at key branching points.

Another intriguing variation on the MILE theme, Demolition Robots K.K. developed by indie studio Throw the Warped Code Out, features four players in roles as robots charged with destroying a city one building at a time. Viewers are positioned as citizen defenders who can intervene with traps and other devices to thwart the robots.

In an interview describing Genvid’s decision to go full bore into MILE creation, CEO Jacob Navok told Fast Company, “The kind of data and interactions we saw from the audience (for Rival Peak) led us to believe there would be a very bright future for the production of this content….We found there was a gap in the market, from the creative direction to story writing to how you generate user engagement.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta is on the same page, having recently teamed with PAC-MAN publisher Bandai Namco to create a Genvid SDK-supported MILE called PAC-MAN COMMUNITY. As viewers in PAC-MAN COMMUNITY watch professional streamers competing in live PAC-MAN matches, they can take sides by controlling the movement of the game’s ghosts as they chase after PAC-MAN characters or even become part of the show by joining in a game with a streamer.

Turning the Page on the Old TV Game Show Paradigm

Meanwhile, from the more traditional end of the game-playing spectrum, similar evidence of untapped demand for remote audience participation is reshaping production strategies. An early case in point had to do with turning the old Trivial Pursuit game into the twice-daily live-streamed version known as HQ Trivia, which began making waves five years ago by drawing millions of people competing for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money.

HQ Trivia, named Time Magazine’s 2017 App of the Year, collapsed after a series of largely self-imposed problems. But the enthusiasm for such competitions, with or without prize money, has spawned a cottage industry in streamer-generated quiz shows playing on Twitch and elsewhere.

Where TV game shows are concerned, rudimentary attempts at audience interactivity with options related to things like voting or texting answers to questions have been around a long time, with limited success. Today the ability to bring TV viewers into the on-stage action via real-time interactive video is opening a new chapter in live TV show development with implications not only for game shows but much else as well, including late-night and other types of variety formats, reality TV vignettes, and even commentary on news panels.  

One early example of what’s in store is the BBC’s production of the UK Voice music reality show featuring a virtual room hosting over 500 participants whose video streams can be selected for on-screen appearances during the live show. The BBC also has tested these waters by augmenting its popular Antiques Road Show series with an interactive game-playing version offered through Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube.

Until very recently, ideas like these were slow to take hold, owing in part to how long it has taken for all the pieces to come together to make mass-scale real-time video interactivity a market reality. But now there’s a real foundation combining real-time interactive video streaming infrastructure with commercially available software platforms that allows the TV industry to take these opportunities seriously.

One sign that broadcasters are paying close attention emerged at the recent National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, where interactive video platform provider StageConnect won Product of the Year in the Digital Signage and Display Systems category. It’s also notable that the Eventuall platform, developed by Addison Interactive to support video-based interactivity in TV shows and other scenarios, was one of the 2022 nominees for this award.

StageConnect has been bringing video-rich real-time interactivity to live events on an unprecedented scale of engagement with audiences that can number in the hundreds of thousands. With walls of screens displaying feeds from remote or in-venue participants, show hosts can call on anyone and see the chosen person highlighted on a bigger display for the duration of the discussion.

Eventuall, too, has been deployed to enable a wide range of consumer-facing events involving video interactions between participants on stage or the playing field with people in the seats or remote viewing audiences. For example, The CW Network employed the platform to support producers’ interactions with distant reporters in the network’s 2021 press tour promoting its programming lineup.

StageConnect and Addison recently collaborated to enable online participants of the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco to network with each other and with in-person attendees. StageConnect’s platform powered a dynamic video wall where remote guests could mingle and ask questions to speakers in real-time.

The Essential Role of Real-Time Interactive Video Infrastructure

Both of these suppliers and many others are depending on cloud-mounted Experience Delivery Network (XDN) infrastructure developed by Red5 Pro to support interactive real-time video streaming serving mass audiences at global scales. With deployments of XDN architecture, they’re achieving scalability, quality of user experience, and other goals that are beyond the reach of conventional video conferencing platforms and many other real-time streaming platforms, not to mention one-way streaming over content delivery networks (CDNs).

As explained in this white paper, the XDN platform is built on a cross-cloud architecture that supports tightly synchronized real-time streaming to and from any number of endpoints over any distance. In long-haul scenarios, end-to-end latency in any direction doesn’t exceed 200-400 milliseconds, which means all live feeds remain in sync at all endpoints with no perceptible delays in video interactions.  

In addition, XDN facilities can be instantiated much closer to end users with the expanding reach of cloud platforms to support even lower latencies, as required by multiplayer games and connected VR applications. For example, AWS has partnered with Red5 Pro as the sole real-time streaming platform provider certified for use in AWS Wavelength Zones, which utilize the mobile facilities that aggregate local 5G traffic to provide direct, ultra-low latency on-ramps into the global AWS cloud infrastructure.

Wavelength Zones eliminate delays of anywhere from tens of milliseconds to multiple seconds that are incurred by traffic that usually has to traverse cell sites, metro and regional aggregation centers, and the internet to get to and from the AWS cloud. By deploying XDN infrastructure in Wavelength Zones, applications developers, service providers, and the carriers themselves can deliver interactive video streams to and from any number of 5G phones or other user equipment (UE) in range of these AWS cloud on/off ramps.

Typically, end-to-end latencies drop to 50ms or lower, no matter how far apart the sending and receiving UE might be. Adding to the foundation for such latencies over 5G, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud are moving to implement their own versions of the Wavelength strategy.

These efforts are just a piece of what cloud platform providers are doing to facilitate the multiplayer gaming and interactive video applications discussed here and everything else taking shape for the Metaverse era. For example, Google has introduced multiple enhancements to the Google Cloud Platform (GPS) offering more flexible and scalable gaming solutions.

GPS gaming advances include support for simpler platform-wide deployment and management of publishers’ game servers with database options designed to power back-ends, run leaderboards, and manage player authentication systems. Publishers also can implement rapid aggregation of player insights and analytics; AI-enhanced services that enable things like chat translation and toxicity detection, and much else

Such developments play beautifully with XDN architecture to provide a real-time interactive video streaming environment that transcends the piecemeal, video-deficient options developers have had to deal with up to now. Operating on an XDN infrastructure, service providers have unprecedented flexibility when it comes to meeting their goals, no matter how many devices are in play or what types of protocols are required to bring them into the real-time streaming vortex.

Built on automatically orchestrated hierarchies of Origin, Relay, and Edge Nodes operating in one or more cloud clusters with full redundancy, XDN infrastructure employs highly-scalable approaches to utilizing WebRTC, which, by virtue of its support in all the major browsers, is the primary means of reaching most devices. At the same time, to compensate for the lack of browser support in some devices, the platform employs protocols best suited to reach them, such as Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTSP), Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), Secure Reliable Transport (SRT), and MPEG-Transport Protocol (TS), which are encapsulated for delivery over the Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) that underlies WebRTC.

The XDN platform also provides full support for the multi-profile transcodes used with ABR streaming by utilizing intelligent Edge Node interactions with client devices to deliver content in the profiles appropriate to each user. And to ensure ubiquitous connectivity for every XDN use case, the platform supports content delivery in HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) mode as a fallback. In the rare instances where devices can’t be engaged via any of the other XDN-supported protocols, they will still be able to render the streamed content, albeit with the multi-second latencies that typify HTTP-based streaming.

Distributors have maximum flexibility when it comes to creating seamless XDN flows across multiple cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platforms. Along with leveraging pre-integrations with major suppliers like AWS, Oracle Cloud, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and DigitalOcean, they can capitalize on integrations with many other IaaS platforms enabled by Red5 Pro’s use of the Terraform multi-cloud toolset.

New approaches to multiplayer gaming and game shows and the blurring of the boundaries between them will inevitably take hold as ever more providers discover what can be done over infrastructure supported by the XDN platform. Game producers of every stripe who want to act sooner than later on these opportunities can contact info@red5pro.com or schedule a call.

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