Twitch: Fake Streamers and Viewbots
Over the past few years, the rise of Twitch, the live streaming video platform created primarily for i-gamers, has helped revolutionize the way in which video content is both created and consumed. By engaging like-minded viewers directly and in real-time, Twitch channels and their creators are now more in demand than ever from both fans and brands alike.
For anybody who has been living in a cave with a poor WiFi connection, live streaming is the broadcasting of real-time live video to an audience over the internet. Usually this will involve coverage of an event or an activity. Twitch host by far and away the biggest video game, eSports, and casino streaming channels which continue to grow daily.
Casino streaming, for example, be it online roulette, blackjack, or slots, has exploded in terms of popularity and viewership over the past 2-3 years. While this may be great for fans, brands, and streamers it has also lead to a systematic abuse of the system by fake streamers, viewbots, scammers, spammers, and trolls.
But why is the system being abused? Who is abusing it? And what is Twitch doing about it?
To answer those questions we must look into the reasons for and consequences of the exponential growth of the sector.
What Makes Streaming so Popular?
The primary reason for the success of live streaming is that it allows direct contact in real-time between the broadcaster and their viewers. A successful streamer will be able to build a relationship with their fans by entertaining them, interacting with them, and even building a community around them. Viewers may arrive at a channel purely because they are interested in watching the game, but it will be the interaction with the streamer which will determine how long they stay.
Take casino streamers for example, many of whom have tens of thousands of followers. The likes of LetsGiveItASpin, Nickslots, RocknRollaaaaaa, and shirox1980, can all attract thousands of viewers every time they stream.
They have streaming schedules and each live slots stream will be considered an ‘event’ by their army of dedicated followers. This may seem strange to some that so many people want to watch somebody gamble on a game of chance. The viewers, however, seem to thoroughly enjoy watching their favourite streamer’s genuine reactions to the exultant highs and crushing lows of online gambling.
The most watched streamers successfully communicate their emotions with viewers as well as chat, joke, and laugh with them. Indeed the viewers will also communicate with each other and build communities around their favourite streamers.
It is this social aspect of streaming which lead to the creation of our community and forum here at CasinoGrounds. With such an engaged, interactive, and dedicated audience is it any surprise that the iGaming industry has also taken notice?
A New Route to Market
To the iGaming industry a successful casino Twitch channel represents a multitude of opportunities to reach relevant audiences.
Firstly, to be able to target a self-selected audience already engaged with your product is any marketers dream. By associating themselves with popular streamers already using their services iGaming brands can become trusted partners within that community.
Casino streaming on Twitch is growing so quickly that iGaming brands are having to adapt to the change, and quickly. They have the option to either get involved at the ground floor, or risk being deemed industry dinosaurs.
The scope for crossover marketing by targeting Twitch channels is also vast. Twitch was built on live streaming gaming online, and the addition of a different vertical such as casino streaming is likely to appeal to plenty of viewers already consuming content from other Twitch sectors. Those who enjoy channels which stream eSports and lootboxes, for example, can also be targeted by iGaming brands.
Furthermore, the broader use of video content as a marketing tool is also increasing in relevance across the board. A survey on the subject conducted by Wyzowl, a prominent video content marketing company, delivered positive results across the board. Although using video content as a marketing tool is hardly a new concept, its importance would appear to be at an all-time high.
For example, the survey showed that 63% of businesses were using video as a marketing tool in 2017. This figure rose to 81% at the start of 2018 and had increased to 87% at the start of this year. Furthermore some 74% of those not currently using video marketing answered that they expect to start in 2019. The same question in 2017 and 2018 only brought in results of 34% and 65%.
The survey also revealed that 83% of marketers now believe that video gives them a good ROI, up from 78% twelve months ago. The likes of Twitch have certainly helped iGaming brands use video to greater marketing effect.
The recent launch of Apex Legends, EA’s answer to Epic Games Fortnite is a case in point. EA pinpointed their target audience with devastating effect by paying the top Twitch streamers in that category to play and promote their game on launch day. Apex Legends gained an astonishing 10 million players within just three days. While it would be foolish to attribute the gains all to the Twitch blitz, it’s difficult to overstate its importance.
The success of the launch also resulted in a 16% increase in EA’s stock price in just a few days.
Fortnite itself is no stranger to Twitch either, with many of the platform’s most popular streamers broadcasting their gameplay live to huge audiences on a daily basis. Earlier this month Fortnite held the first ever in-game concert featuring DJ Marshmello. Some 10 million viewers virtually ‘attended’ the concert which could not only be seen by players but also by those logging in to their favourite Twitch streamers.
This is a great example of the innovations and crossovers possible in video marketing in 2019. Within a day of the concert Marshmello had gained 62,000 new twitter followers, 5,200 new Twitch followers, and a staggering 260,000 new Instagram followers. The event also made Marshmello the most visited artist on the concert delivery website Songkick.
So, quite clearly, the likes of Twitch can offer marketers some fantastic opportunities. In turn this creates lucrative opportunities for in-demand streamers. Unfortunately, however, wherever there is a buck to be made, there are also chancers and scammers at the ready. Just one of myriad considerations Twitch now has to face up to.
The Scourge of Fake Streamers & Viewbots
The widespread use of bots across Twitch gaming channels is one area which has long been recognized as a serious issue.
Viewbots, Follower Bots, and Spambots for example have been used both to unfairly promote some channels - fake streamers or no fake streamers - and unfairly disrupt others.
For anyone unfamiliar with bots, they are automated software programs which can interact with systems or users, primarily online.
By mimicking (as closely as they can) human user actions, they fool systems into believing that they are genuine users.
The four major indicators of a Twitch channel’s success are the follow count, the view click counter, the chat frequency, and the live viewer count.
All of these can be falsely inflated by View, Follower, and Spambots which are easily purchased or subscribed to online.
Unscrupulous streamers and fake streamers alike use bots to make their channels attractive to viewers and advertisers, taking advantage of how channels are listed.
For instance, a fan of Fortnite searching for streams on Twitch will be shown live channels in ascending order. Therefore streams with the most viewers will be the first they see and will appear the most attractive to join.
As such a channel using a successful viewbot might not only fake views, they will then also unfairly attract real views.
This might then attract advertisers to spend money promoting their products and services to mainly fake viewers. Also, by pushing real viewers to a channel of questionable quality, viewers’ opinion of Twitch channels could be negatively impacted.
This is bad enough with regular gaming channels, but when you encounter such behaviour with gambling related channels things get a whole lot shadier. Ripping off advertisers is bad, but convincing consumers to part with cash to gamble unsafely is beyond the pale.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Streamers and operators in the slots space can be categorized, by and large, as either good, bad, or ugly, depending on their practices.
“The Good” include the likes of the original popular slots streamers, including those on CasinoGrounds.com
All of the aforementioned have good relationships with legitimate, licensed casinos, game providers, and most importantly with their fans.
Their success will have come as a result of working hard on their channels, engaging with their audiences, and delivering entertaining content.
As a result some successful slots streamers may find themselves in the position to sustain a living from their channel through affiliate deals with legitimate, licensed online casinos.
They are also likely to be in a strong position to negotiate favourable deposit bonuses from casinos which will increase their overall ROI.
All the “good” streamers play with real money, and they all practice and promote responsible gambling. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all channels in the sector.
When it comes to “The Bad” we’re talking about streamers and operators who bend the rules to boost their standing. They may not be flat-out cheating, but they are certainly not acting in the best interests of those watching. Examples of this would include streamers using play money to gamble and passing it off as real.
Even worse is when an unlicensed casino colludes with a streamer to fool the viewers into thinking they’re playing for real money. Such sites have been known to pay streamers to play on their site or provide fake money for them to do so. The streamer might then play for high stakes to lure in viewers when in fact they’re risking nothing.
They are also glamorising risky and irresponsible gambling as well as promoting potentially unsafe casinos. Streams carrying advertising and links to unlicensed casinos have also been a problem, one serious enough to have warranted further investigation by the UKGC (United Kingdom Gambling Commission).
The UKGC is renowned as one of the world’s most stringent and respected national gambling watchdogs who work tirelessly to protect their players from bad operators. As such the watchdog recently demanded talks with Twitch following the discovery by industry news website, Eurogamer, of two unlicensed casinos being both advertised and streamed by numerous Twitch channels.
Although the UKGC didn’t directly give any details of the incident in question, a spokesperson from the Commission said;
"We do not talk about individual cases but I can explain our approach to unlicensed sites. When illegal gambling websites are brought to our attention we take a number of proportionate steps to protect consumers in Britain. This will initially involve assessment of whether the site is actually used by consumers in Britain, and then may include engagement with the site owners, and ultimately working closely with advertising and payment providers to cut off sources of customers and access to funds. We are currently working with Twitch to prevent unlicensed sites being advertised on their platform."
It will be no simple feat for Twitch to keep every national regulator happy but considering their Terms of Service prohibit use of the platform, "for any illegal purpose, or in violation of any local, state, national, or international law or regulation" then they don’t really have a lot of choice other than to be considerably more vigilant than they have been up to now.
When it comes to “The Ugly”, what we’re talking about here is the systematic abuse of the platform for monetary gain to the detriment of others. Unfortunately the category has been rife with suspicious channels and unscrupulous operators for some time, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Examples of viewbots don’t exactly take a forensic investigation to uncover as rarely are they used subtly. A quote from a piece on suspicious Twitch slots channels by gaming website Kotaku on 17th October 2018 sums things up nicely;
“Take, for instance, Casinoblast, which seemingly did not exist until yesterday, but which peaked at just over 25,000 concurrent viewers during a seven-hour debut stream that showed a simple jackpot game basically playing itself. When it started, it had zero followers and was following zero other streamers. It now has just 20 followers despite having allegedly been viewed by thousands of people yesterday.”
Countless other examples of similar channels appearing and disappearing just as quickly can be found across casino and slots forums.
These channels will also use bots to fill their chat boxes with nonsense chatter which is equally easy to spot (again taken from the Kotaku article)
During instances of fake “chat” like this the bot will send out messages at regular intervals of a few seconds. The chat may have some simple slot or gambling terminology but the accounts will not be talking to each other. One suspicious genuine user showed just how simple it was to prove the chat was being botted.
After joining a stream with an apparent 10,000 live viewers and a nonsense chat box he asked those in chat to type the number 1 if they weren’t a bot. Unsurprisingly not a single ‘user’ complied!
Spambots are certainly not just the preserve of shady streamers, however. By far the most widespread use of them on Twitch is to inundate popular streams with links to products and services. The sheer volume of crypto or porn spam on Twitch is a constant issue, especially on those gaming channels which attract a lot of younger viewers.
Twitch is coming under continuous pressure to deal more effectively with these issues and to be fair they are moving in the right direction.
How is Twitch Responding?
Firstly it’s worth noting that Twitch have been combating bots for quite some time and have had some notable successes.
Most famously Twitch were awarded over $1.37m by a California judge last year after a 2 year legal battle against prominent bot makers Michael and Katherine Anjomi.
The Anjomis were ordered to shut down their sites selling bots which included twitchstreams.org, shoptwitch.com, and twitchshop. They were also ordered to pay Twitch $55,000 in damages and over $1.3m in illegal profits made from their businesses.
Twitch successfully argued that the use of bots made it unfairly easy for streamers to earn money from the platform whilst providing “shoddy” content. A year earlier, a court had already ruled in favour of Twitch against Justin Johnson, the developer behind bot sites twitchstarter.com and twitchstarter.tv. As a result, Johnson was ordered to terminate offering any such services and transfer the domains to Twitch.
Twitch have also flexed their legal muscle against the trolls, specifically against a Canadian individual charged with "mischief in relation to computer data". 20 year old Brandan Lukus Apple used a spambot to send over 150,000 messages, many of them grossly racist and homophobic, to more than 1,000 Twitch channels in 2017. As well as the “mischief” charges, Apple is also subject to a civil order stopping him from creating or selling any type of bot that could target Twitch.
Progress? Perhaps, but as viewbotting is not currently illegal, any action taken is a matter for the civil, not criminal courts. Furthermore, taking bot developers to court is a lengthy and expensive process with no guarantee of success. Indeed, many of the bot sites Twitch have been pursuing since 2016 are still in operation, and there seem to be no shortage of alternative sites to take their places if they do cease trading. So while winning the previously mentioned court cases are certainly significant and may well deter some bot developers, it seems unlikely that legal action on its own is the answer.
In reality the only effective way to combat the bots is to invest more time, money and resources into detecting bots and banning users who use viewbotting services. Given the huge growth Twitch is currently experiencing (the platform grew by 50% in the UK in 2018 alone) it stands to reason that bots will continue to evolve and become ever more sophisticated. As such Twitch must react in a similarly robust manner.
Also, as fans we’ve all got to play our part. The simple fact is that however much Twitch invests in security and bot detection; it will be the fans who will usually notice them first. The sheer volumes of human eyeballs that we, as viewers, have on the channels are potentially the biggest tool Twitch has at their disposal. Therefore we’re urging all our members to stay vigilant, report anything untoward, and be aware that not all Twitch streamers are as legitimate or ethical as we are at CasinoGrounds.com.