Twitch has responded to growing concerns over their newly implemented video system, a system which creates a latency delay averaging between 12-40 seconds for all streams. While Twitch says that they are "aware and sympathetic" to how their new system impacts social interaction, they also confirm that they have no intent to revert or otherwise change the system as it stands. However, they'll continue to "engineer" solutions to lower the latency "over the coming months."
The system as it stands has been met with vocal disapproval from Twitch stream-watchers due to its affects on streamer/ viewer interaction. Due to the delay it's very difficult for streamers to carry conversations directly with their audience. The more viewers, the larger the latency delay, the more difficult it is. However, it's now apparent that in addition to the interaction issues many stream viewers are also experiencing several visual problems. These problems might also include an increase in buffering, which the new system is meant to provide relief from.
Twitch's exact statement regarding their awareness of the issue reads as following:
"We’re keenly aware and sympathetic to the notion that less latency will make social interaction better. We care very much about interactivity and continue work to deliver less overall latency. We assure you we have not directly imposed any latency on top of what the system currently delivers.
They then follow up that statement by detailing the main latency issue as they see it and how they plan to deal with it going forward:
"The new system does indeed have a higher inherent latency than the previous system. This is a result of how the new system delivers and buffers data. At present, we observe latency ranging from 12-40 seconds in most cases.
Can the latency be lowered? Yes, there is room to lower latency, and we’ll continue to engineer ways to do so over the coming months."
A majority of Twitch's response, posted in their latest blog, is spent going over the justification for the visual system upgrade. For instance the new video system is meant to provide relief from constant buffering. As an example Twitch provided a graph which shows the difference in average "Buffering Events" during Dreamhack Winter 2013, where Twitch tested the new video system on their PC network.
The above is an example of how the new system is meant to provide an overall better experience for Twitch viewers. The reward being less instances where a stream might stutter or pause to buffer. It's not necessarily an answer to, "Why do we need this system?" but rather an answer to, "Now that the this system is here, why is it acceptable?" The real reason for why the system was implemented is obviously much more complicated.
Considering that, perhaps the most significant statement of the entire post is made early, but left unexplained. Twitch says that over a year ago, prior to the new video system's development beginning, the previous system, "was not scaling to meet our projected growth." This statement implies that Twitch simply couldn't exist in its current form and that in order to be offered on so many platforms viewers will have to sacrifice no-delay streams. Could Twitch have been facing financial issues, a la Own3d.tv?
Whatever the reason for Twitch's sudden and surprising decision to implement site-wide latency delays with no opt-in, the real purpose of Twitch's blog post should be clear. I'll try to put Twitch's words into layman's terms: deal with it. Twitch makes no apologies for the new system, they make no promise to fix the issue and provide no timeframe for it to improve. The video system is here to stay and the faster everyone accepts that the better.
As unhappy as I am about the changes, just as a dedicated Twitch stream viewer, I do have a greater worry. I worry that the issue isn't actually about Twitch trying to save bandwidth, or securing their position financially. I worry that this is actually Twitch creating a system designed to cater to large-scale viewers, that temporarily "steals" bandwidth from smaller streamers in order to provide a constant, high quality experience on larger streams. Isn't that really the above graph implies? That the new system is according the big Dreamhack stream a priority so buffering is less likely to occur?
I want to think that's a crazy idea. I want to think that my experience watching small streams over the past week, experiencing the quality constantly down-graded, experiencing increased buffering compared to normal is just the system working out its kinks. I want to think that watching this Riot Games Battle of the Atlantic stream with over 200,000 viewers and absolutely none of the quality issues I've experienced constantly over the past week is a fluke. Weird, right?
Make sure to read Twitch's full blog post on the subject, detailing the video system upgrade one week after launch. I have a feeling it's not the last we hear on the subject.