Create an online community: The Twitch plays Pokemon example

Create an online community: The Twitch plays Pokemon example

It was 2014 when one of my course mates at university came to me uttering these words, as if he were talking of a religion into which I somehow had to integrate, and which apparently had a Pokémon as its false prophet. In a certain sense that was true, just not in the way one would have expected.

2019-01-30

“Flareon is the false prophet”

“Excuse me?”

“Flareon is the false prophet, didn’t you know?”


It was 2014 when one of my course mates at university came to me uttering these words, as if he were talking of a religion into which I somehow had to integrate, and which apparently had a Pokémon as its false prophet. In a certain sense that was true, just not in the way one would have expected.  

What was he talking about? 

“Twitch plays Pokemon”: a project created by an Australian programmer, who modified some functions of the well-known platform Twitch in order to allow users not only to watch videogames on streaming, but also to participate in the streamed games.

How so?

The programmer adapted the Game Boy videogame “Pokémon Red” in order to include the commands of the users: the program registered the moves indicated in the comments and applied them in the exact order in which they had been written. If you think this could have messy results, you’ve got it perfectly right. If you however think that the messiness pushed users away, you’d be wrong. To reduce the randomness the programmer decided to switch to a so-called “democratic” system, in which the program would apply every twenty seconds the command chosen by the highest number of users. The result was a rebellion of the community, who blocked the game by constantly voting for the pause command, until the designer backtracked.

There are many unexpected things to be learned about this game 

The first, and most surprising in my opinion, is that the community was able to finish the game, and what’s more in a relatively short time: 16 days, 9 hours, 55 minutes and 4 second.

The second is that allowing the community to vote made the system more messy instead of inclining people to choose the fastest way to reach their goal. It’s no coincidence: in the “anarchic” system each and every move was applied, whereas in the democratic system the choices of some people were regularly ruled out, essentially excluding them from the game.

The third is the “false prophet” and all the things revolving around him. In the course of the game randomness often produced real disasters: in just one day, later dubbed “Bloody Sunday”, 12 Pokémon were released by mistake. The worst happened, though, when the community failed in the attempt to transform the Pokémon Eevee into its water-type evolution, transforming it into Flareon instead: the False Prophet, offspring of Eevee, pure evil. Luckily in the mythology of the community also good had its heroes, in the form of Helix Fossile and Bird Jesus (sic).

I would understand the bedazzlement of readers who have not watched the experiment. The latter was actually not too much fun to watch per se, in that watching game characters make haphazard moves causes the same sense of irritation of hearing a fly that keeps banging on a window pane despite the window being open.

Where did the point of interest lie, then?

Obvious answer: the Community



The success of the experiment cannot be explained without considering its community, made up by over 600.000 active users and at least 36 millions visualizations

That was the real strength of the game, something able to bring people together and create seemingly absurd but incredibly hilarious myths.  

It is exactly on the concept of digital community that we need to dwell to understand how much the modalities of fruition of a show or of information have changed since the rise of the social media, on account of the birth of a new actor, never considered before, something that we could define as an “active audience”.

Communication on social media differs from that of traditional channels because it is based on a peer-to-peer system: it generally takes place not between a single person on one side and a mass on the other, but between many people on both sides, thus creating the concept of network many of us are nowadays familiar with.

However, at a closer glance not even the social networks are entirely peer-to-peer, since no matter how hard we try we are not all equally capable of creating content of the same quality on a given topic. I may be somehow skilled at writing, but if I tried to share pictures of my vacations – even resorting to all the possible filters – I would not make more visualizations than the National Geographic. 


It doesn’t depend only on my total incapacity to use a camera, but also on the fame of my competitor, and, at the end of the day, on the fact that no one cares about the pictures of my vacations.

One could even argue, therefore, that in certain respects social networks do not differ from traditional media, but there lies the mistake: the essential difference lies in the comments of the community. Our friends, but not only them. If you look at the webpage of a traditional medium, such as a newspaper, on a social network, you have to get used to the fact that the comments below the news are part of the news themselves. If you don’t read them you cannot enjoy them fully.

They answer the audience’s need to participate and to express their opinion, and they allow us to learn not only about the news, but also about their possible interpretations, as farfetched as they can be. As absurd as it may sound,  news are not news because of the data they impart, but because of the interpretations people give to them, in the same way as the chronology of any historical event doesn’t allow us to understand it: we need someone to explain what happened.

Audiences therefore tend not to be interested in an experience unless it its connected to some form of direct participation. This explains for instance the success of live streaming in the last few years.

Imagine watching a movie that you like, but that lets you unconvinced by certain choices in the framing. 


At the cinema you would only be able to comment with those sitting next to you, unless you want everyone else in the theater to hate you. Your comment would answer your need to communicate, but it would in no way make your voice heard by the director of the movie, let alone, obviously, obtain a modification. 

The same holds true for positive comments. 

Try shouting at the top of your lungs to encourage the protagonist in a pivotal scene, and expect the rest of the theater to throw popcorn at you. 

It’s a shame, since neither the director of the movie nor the actor will know about your appreciation.

Now imagine being at home and watching a video that is being filmed at the same time you are watching it, and which allows you to communicate directly with the filmmaker to express your feelings and reactions. If you are convincing enough and other people agree, you might even obtain a slight change in the final product. Moreover, somewhere else in the world, another connected user could answer some nagging doubt of yours about it, to which perhaps your armchair buddy could not give an explanation.

Does it work better?

Sure, because it includes the strength of the public as part of the message, securing a higher degree of loyalty and participation. 

The sense of participation creates in turn attachment and identification, granting to our message, no matter its nature, much higher effectiveness.

Back to our false prophet, I believe that the conditions for engagement were all there: the possibility of intervening, a group of people to comment with, a common goal to achieve.

It is not unlike the way a company works, where the presence of a mission shared by all its members leads to the achievement of undoubtedly better results than contexts in which there is just a set of people who happen to all work for the same organization by chance.

This is why Teyuto offers companies effective tools to turn their messages into visions shared by all the members of their staff, in order to help them be something more than just a list of names in an organization chart, but rather a cohesive force able to move towards the same aims as a community

Follow us on our channels to learn more about how we do it!



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