In another startlingly anti-consumer decision Twitch.tv has implemented staggering delays in all of its streams as it pushed out what it called a, "Major Video System Update." The update, which Twitch says improves the video system's stability and scalability, adds a delay that can stretch up to 60 seconds. That's a minute between what's broadcast and said by the streamer is received and shown to a viewer -- severely impacting stream interaction.
Let's start at the beginning. Twitch states that they are experiencing explosive growth which has been compounded by the service's release on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, as well as its impending release on PlayStation 4. In order to provide the "best quality video to as many users on as many platforms as possible" this new system has been implemented. Twitch says that the new system allows them to serve 15% more traffic than the old system with the same hardware.
This new system has been at work on mobile platforms and consoles since May earlier this year. They then stepped up and used the system for all viewers for the DreamHack Winter 2013 event to what they call "great success." Earlier this week the system went live full-time for all viewers.
Now for the effects. For large, commentary-based streams like eSports and large sponsored show there will be no immediate effect. Since there's no direct interaction between the broadcaster and the Twitch chat there's no need to worry about delay. However, for streams where gamers are directly interacting with their audience, the new system nigh on ruins communication. Imagine having a conversation where 10-60 seconds fell between each message, on top of dozens if not hundreds of other messages were also intermingled between. Consider streamer to viewer conversation absolutely destroyed.
That's not the only effect, however. Despite Twitch's insistence that the changes have had a positive effect on video quality, many gamers (myself included) believe the opposite is true. Not only does quality fluctuate often and for what seems to be no reason at all, but many viewers claim there are glitches that can make viewing streams a frustrating and low-quality experience.
The simple fact is that Twitch has implemented a system that allows them to buffer streams, catch brief quality fluctuations and alter the overall stream quality (ie lower the quality) to account for said fluctuations, and save bandwidth in the process. As such, Twitch itself is likely saving huge amounts of money on bandwidth at the expense of overall viewer experience. This is, of course, just an educated assumption based on the details provided by Twitch. However, it accounts for Twitch's inability to simply turn off the delay.
Perhaps Twitch couldn't sustain itself with the previous service, but as of right now it seems like Twitch has just exploited its audience's investment in the service for profit. Where else are streamers and viewers supposed to go?
My two cents? This is absolutely nonsense. I'm a frequent viewer on both console and and PC and can vouch for how much worse of an experience console streams have been comparatively. Guess what? Streams on PC are just as bad now. That's not even taking into consideration the stream buffer delay, which is by far the greater insult to viewers.
Twitch folded when it tried to get rid of 480p in one of its last brilliant viewer-exploiting decisions. I don't think they're going to fold this time. Like said above, the new system hinges on the buffer delay and considering how much money likely went into its development I doubt it's something they could, or would, disable. Again, it's nonsense, and if there was another viable service for streamers to go to I'd say saddle up.