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Jun 27, 2018

What’s next for the future of gaming? To find out, Dona Sarkar chats with Joe Neate, Executive Producer of the hit pirate adventure, Sea of Thieves. Joe talks about major gaming trends that are influencing Sea of Thieves and the expansion of the game’s rich storylines. Next, we explore the growing popularity of game streaming by chatting with Microsoft’s Mixer team. Marketing director Jenn McCoy and engineer Chad Gibson discuss how the Mixer platform is sparking new experiences in gameplay and innovations in game design. Finally, we catch up with Windows Insiders at E3 and get their impressions on what’s most exciting about the future of gaming.

 

 

Episode Transcription

JASON HOWARD:  You're listening to the Windows Insider Podcast, Episode 16 -- Next-Level Gaming.  I'm your host, Jason Howard.

This episode, we'll be chatting about exciting trends hitting the gaming universe -- namely, gaming as a service, and interactive live streaming with Mixer. 

First up, Dona Sarkar, head of the Windows Insider Program, sits down with Joe Neate, executive producer at Rare.  Rare is the game developer behind Sea of Thieves, the multi-player pirate adventure that has taken Xbox and Windows 10 by storm.  Here's Dona and Joe.

(Music.)

(Sea of Thieves pirate audio clip.) The life of a pirate is fraught with danger. For you see, to journey out onto the waves is to take a step into the unknown. There are things that have lived there and rulled there far longer than us. Great terrors from the deep. Some I’ve seen with my own eye.

DONA SARKAR:  Hello, again, Insiders!  I'm Dona Sarkar, head of the Windows Insider Program.  And you just heard a snippet from one of the new content trailers for Sea of Thieves.  Here to talk about Sea of Thieves and new trends in the gaming universe is a very special guest -- Joe, welcome to the show.  Could you start by introducing yourself to our audience and sharing a few words about what you do?

JOE NEATE:  Yes.  So I'm Joe Neate, and I'm the executive producer on Sea of Thieves.  Ultimately, I've been involved in the project from the very start from when it was kind of just Post-Its on a whiteboard figuring out what was next for Rare, through to what it is now.  Yeah, ultimately, responsible for vision and maintaining the vision and delivery and now running and operating, growing it as a service.

DONA SARKAR:  That's amazing.  I want to ask you all about the latest Sea of Thieves news -- our Insiders definitely want to know.  But first, can you please share what it's like to be the executive producer at a gam dev company like Rare, being the chief wrangler and all?

JOE NEATE:  It's an amazing responsibility.  So to have that responsibility of coming up with what is next for a studio like Rare.  You know, Rare has been in the gaming industry for 32 years now, which is pretty much since the games industry began, and they've done so many different games.  And so to have that opportunity to sit down and look at the kind of emerging trends in the industry, to see where player tastes are going and figure out what you think is going to be the place you should take gaming and you should take players with you is an incredible feeling. 

Even just the different stages of game development from when you've just got the idea through to kind of pitching it to prototyping to getting into the real production of it, and then starting to build a community and bring fans in and then get people playing it and go through all of that, and then eventually get to launch and have an incredible launch. 

And now we're in this place where we've got this game out there, we've got this huge community, and now we just want to grow and build on top of it.  I'm very privileged to have the job that I have and to get to do what I do every day. 

DONA SARKAR:  That is amazing.  So for the very few, small number of people in our audience who are not yet familiar with Sea of Thieves, can you give us a quick rundown of what the game is all about? 

JOE NEATE:  Yeah.  Absolutely.  So when we set out at the start, we wanted to create what we called a "shared-world adventure game."  The acronym for that is SWAG, which we're particularly happy with for a pirate game, but we love our acronyms at Microsoft, right? 

It's really about putting people into this shared-world, multi-player game where you're off on your own kind of pirate adventures, doing what you want to do in a pirate world from, you know, maybe you've grown up reading Treasure Island or you watch The Goonies or you love Pirates of the Caribbean, or anything like that. 

And whenever you see a set of sails on the horizon, or you encounter another pirate on an island, that's going to be someone else.  And they're going to be on their own adventure doing their own things, too.  And the collision of those adventures, the encounters you have with other players out there are going to play out in different and unexpected ways every time, just like if you were, you know, a pirate out adventuring on the open sea.  And that's the world we wanted to create, where every time you play, the adventure is different, the encounters are different, and you're going to have these really memorable moments and stories that you want to tell your friends or you want to share and you want to stream it on Mixer or on Twitch, or you want to just go and post it on Twitter or on Reddit or wherever.

And that's what we've created.  We wanted to create a world where every adventure would be different, and we can put all these ingredients in.  And as we grow and evolve it, we'll just keep doing that.  We'll keep adding new ingredients for players to play with, leading to just richer and richer moments and stories. 

DONA SARKAR:  That is amazing.  One of the key ingredients, as you said, is multi-player.  Now, gamers are pretty familiar with multi-player format since the good old days of Counter-Strike, World of Warcraft, et cetera.  And multi-player continues to be a big favorite among the gaming community. 

In our view, what is game-changing -- ha -- about Sea of Thieves?

JOE NEATE:  I think a lot of multi-player can be very competitive and directly competitive.  You know, you listed Counter-Strike there, and if you were to go on Mixer or Twitch, you'd be looking at Fortnight and PUBG and all of those games out there now.

What we've tried to create is a game where we call it the "fun and welcoming" multi-player experience.  Where maybe you haven't really got into multi-player before because you're not an overly competitive player, you don't like that high kind of ceiling or barrier to entry, or maybe you've experienced toxicity or negativity in a multi-player environment before.

We tried to create a game that encourages different online interactions and encounters between players.  There's an emphasis on cooperation in crews, but also if you encounter other crews, you can have those moments, too.  And, yes, there's room for competition in a pirate game, but we've tried to do it in a way that's tonally right, that doesn't encourage real competitive multi-player.  And so we've just tried to create something that appeals to a wider group of people than perhaps are just playing multi-player now and scratches different kind of motivational itches, I guess. 

That's always been our goal.  And, again, as we grow and evolve it, we want to keep doing that.  We always want to encourage different player encounters, different stories, so that you can have really memorable multi-player moments in the right way from encountering other players. 

DONA SARKAR:  That fits me exactly because I'm inherently not competitive, so that idea of like a collaborative multi-player sounds super interesting. 

So, can you break down this gaming-as-a-service thing that you guys are adopting and working on -- or a service-based game, as some people say?  How is it different than a boxed game that releases an expansion pack every once in a while?

JOE NEATE:  We built our game form the ground up with the goal of basically updating and growing and adding content to it as far into the future as we can see, you know, as far as people will be playing and updating it. 

For us, that means there's always -- we launched just over two months ago, right?  And had a fantastic launch, loads of people come in, like overwhelmingly large amounts of players coming in that far exceeded all of our expectations and numbers.  Which led to the first couple of weeks, we were stabilizing and making sure everything was working as expected.  You know, the amount of concurrent players and users we had exceeded any scale tests we'd done up to launch. 

But we want to really swiftly kind of get through that phase and get into the position where we're updating the game on a weekly basis.  So we run quite a lot of automated testing internally when we're writing features and entering stuff into the game.  We try and test it as we go to try and not build up loads of technical debt. 

And it means we have a decent degree of understanding when we're releasing features that the game's going to stay live, it's going to stay working.  But we've always wanted to basically have an ability to react to our players, to update, to release new content, new cosmetics, new stuff, but also whenever you play the game, we always just want there to be new things to return to.

So we've just released our first content update called The Hungering Deep.  And this is where we've released this new AI threat, this megalodon into this world, so this giant shark that's now out there.  Players have to kind of hunt it down, work together to take down this threat and earn these rewards around it. 

But beyond that, we then want to move into weekly events.  So every week, we're going to be introducing something cool that's new to players, like there's a new goal with a new set of rewards, a new way the play, and really, it's about keeping players engaged with your game for as long as possible and as regularly as possible because players nowadays love to keep playing in that same world and in that same kind of social space with their friends, or friends they've made playing that game.  And they love to embrace this and play for years.  Right?  We see this with a lot of games now.

And so I think it's our responsibility to keep bringing new players to the Sea of Thieves, but also to give players that have played it as many reasons to return and to keep playing it because that's how player behavior has gone with whichever game it is that's out there now -- PUBG or Fortnight or League of Legends or World of Warcraft -- many different things. 

But we've set ourselves up to be able to keep delivering new things, to keep listening to what players are saying, and also change our plan.  We want to be very reactive based on what feedback is coming in, what telemetry is telling us, and what other things players are liking the most, what things that they want to see more of.

I think that kind of direct communication with your community in terms of listening to feedback, updating them to what you're doing is a super important part of the games as a service because if you just go dark or go quiet and don't talk to your players, don't let them know that you're listening, don't let them know what you're doing next, don't let them know that you're listening to their feedback and you're hearing it, they won't stay connected and they'll start mistrusting you and everything.

We're trying to deliver a game that players love and that players want to keep playing for years, ultimately, but that's a big "ask" from us to our players.  And so I think there's a big responsibility for us as a studio and as a development team to be very open and transparent, to let people know what we're doing, why we're doing it, what we're making decisions and that we're in this for the long haul and that we're very respectful of the feedback and opinions they have.  That's been a big part of our strategy prior to launch with our Insider program that we have for Sea of Thieves, and then post launch as well, we're behaving very much the same.

DONA SARKAR:  So you're very much co-creating with your Insiders, the game, what they're looking for, et cetera, et cetera?

JOE NEATE:  Yes. 

DONA SARKAR:  That's awesome.  As you know, Windows Insider Program is all about getting users involved in the evolution of Windows, and I love hearing that Rare has its own Insider program where you do something similar, and your fans have had a heavy hand in this gaming-as-a-service thing that you guys are doing, which is fabulous.

So, Sea of Thieves is gorgeous.  I am bad at playing it, but I like to watch people play.  So this is where Mixer is really useful for me, because I think it's beautiful and absorbing both in terms of visuals and the stories.  And for people like me, how is the trend of live streaming games, such as on Mixer and such, factored into the design of Sea of Thieves?  Because I recently learned that the number of people watching people play games has surpassed the number of people actually playing games.  I find that fascinating and wonder how it affects your design plans.

JOE NEATE:  Yeah.  So we conceived Sea of Thieves about four years ago now in terms of just coming up with the idea, coming up with what we want it to be.  And before it was even a pirate game, and way before it was called Sea of Thieves, the original pitch slides was called Players Creating Stories Together.  And we always envisioned a game that because you give players this shared world, because you kind of give them control over their own goals and you give them a bunch of emergent tools, and those encounters with other players, in a world where there's some cooperation, some competition, would lead to really interesting stories which are naturally going to be watchable and shareable. 

So it, inherently, was built into the game's design from the very start.  And, you know, we were watching games like DayZ back in the day, like even a big science fiction space opera.  There were really interesting stories emerging from them, whether it was on YouTube at the time because Twitch had only really started up and Mixer wasn't even a thing then.

But we saw this avenue of -- this was the way that we thought games were going, that the more emergence and control that you let go of, and as game creators, it's quite hard to relinquish control, right, and hand it to our players, because you naturally want to create this crafted experience where everyone has this perfect story or moment or thing that you've designed, whereas we now hand control of the game to our players, and we give them some goals and there are things to go and achieve.

But also the thing that we're most excited about and the thing that we love the most is whenever there's an unexpected story or a moment that we didn't predict from the different tools we've given players.  And so it's been inherent in the design from the get go from two perspectives, from a cold, hard, business and strategic perspective, we made a really good choice because of the way that the games industry has taken off in that way over the last four years. 

But from a richness of watching, and like I say, every adventure being different, it kind of depends who you're watching and what they're up to and what players they encounter or what things happen to them in the world, that's what makes it so watchable, because you never know what's going to happen, right?  Everyone's adventure is different.  It's not like everyone's playing to the same story.  You get to see their reactions to it, but once you've seen it once, you're done.  But you can watch Sea of Thieves with any players, anybody, and it's going to be different each time based on their reactions, based on their personality because they get to put their personality into the stream, into the session that they're broadcasting. 

DONA SARKAR:  I love watching gamers because they're all so different, and tremendously entertaining to watch, especially if they're streaming on Mixer. 

So I'm sure, like me, you're about to head into E3 and the pandemonium that comes with it, but this podcast won't air until after E3's done.  Are there any updates on Sea of Thieves that you'd like to give us a sneak peek of?

JOE NEATE:  At E3, itself, we're going to turn up with another little teaser trailer and what this is showing is kind of a glimpse into what's coming in Cursed Sails and The Forsaken Shores, which are our next two content updates beyond The Hungering Deep, which has just come out prior to E3.

So in Cursed Sails, we're introducing a new AI threat into the world that you're going to get a glimpse of, and it's quite fantastical in the trailer itself, and it's something that we've never really let our players know is coming, so that's going to be fun.

And then The Forsaken Shores is actually a new part of the world that's much more perilous, much more volcanic, so there's going to be a really interesting, more dangerous part of the world to adventure into and explore for players.  And both of those are coming during the summer.

DONA SARKAR:  The Forsaken Shores, I'm going to name my office that, that sounds amazing.  Yeah.  That sounds pretty cool.  Awesome.  Well, we're about out of time.  Thank you so much for being here, Joe.  I really, really appreciate your time.  And be more pirate.  Thank you. 

JOE NEATE:  Yes.  Thank you very much. Cheers.

(Music.)

JASON HOWARD:  As Dona mentioned, game streaming is becoming extremely popular with more people today watching games that be playing them.  Gaming broadcasts can command massive audiences.  As this trend continues to develop, it's becoming clear that game streaming isn't limited to being a spectator sport.

Platforms like Mixer are unleashing new interactive features that enable viewers to participate alongside streamers, including participation in live game play.  With Mixer recently celebrating its one-year anniversary, we have Microsoft engineers from the Mixer team here in the studio to chat about the future of game streaming. 

(Music.)

JASON HOWARD:  Hi, Jenn and Chad, welcome to the show.  Could you each introduce yourselves to our audience?

JENN MCCOY:  Sure.  I'm Jenn McCoy, I lead marketing for Mixer.

CHAD GIBSON:  And my name's Chad Gibson, and I'm the general manager of Mixer. 

JASON HOWARD:  Welcome aboard. 

JENN MCCOY:  Thanks. 

JASON HOWARD:  So I've go to ask you real quick.  Obviously, you know, gaming is a big thing here at Microsoft and, you know, of course across the world, right?  Who is your game character alter ego and why do you think they are?

JENN MCCOY:  Usually I play RPGs where I get to make my alter character me. 

JASON HOWARD:  Oh, okay. 

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.

JASON HOWARD:  So you make your own self yourself? 

JENN MCCOY:  A little bit.  Maybe a little taller.  (Laughter.) 

CHAD GIBSON:  I'm usually a support player.  Like in most games I play, I usually support or heal.  So maybe like Lucio from Overwatch, I like him a lot.  He's pretty cool because he makes people either faster or he helps them heal.  That resonates with me really well. 

JASON HOWARD:  Immediately having flashbacks to the Medic in Team Fortress 2.

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah, Medic as well. 

JASON HOWARD:  I was always a heavy because, well, you know?  It's just always fun that way. 

CHAD GIBSON:  Playing Tank is fun, playing Tank is a lot of fun, too.  (Laughter.)

JASON HOWARD:  So for those who are unfamiliar with Mixer, could you briefly summarize what Mixer is, what the platform represents?

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.  Mixer is Microsoft's next-generation live streaming service where we really seek to blur the lines between what it means to watch and to play.  Chad, do you want to talk a little bit about how we do that? 

CHAD GIBSON:  Sure.  Yeah.  We really want to help streamers interact with their audience more.  So we have our streaming technology called Faster Than Light, which allows us to stream with milliseconds of delay between the streamer and their audience.  So anything the audience is saying, the streamer can pick up on that really quick and it helps the two really interact more. 

Low latency also enables interactivity, where we have a bunch of experiences where viewers can do anything from trigger sound effects or actually manipulate the game they're watching someone play.  It really helps make the audience a member of the game and a part of the game and bring them closer with the broadcaster. 

And we have a bunch of other features we do as well that really help deliver new and unique streaming experiences, like co-streaming, where a bunch of users can kind of stream together, play the game together, tell the story of their campaign, of their team, or whatever fun story they want to tell. 

JASON HOWARD:  Awesome.  So real quick, because I don't want to forget this part, because this is actually kind of important, Mixer just celebrated its one-year anniversary. 

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah.

JASON HOWARD:  So, congratulations, right? 

JENN MCCOY:  Thank you. 

JASON HOWARD:  And you guys have definitely come a long way, some of the numbers that have been kind of passed around, it's like the user base has quadrupled, if I understand that correctly?

JENN MCCOY:  Yes.  So we announced back in December that we exceeded 10 million monthly active users for the first time.  And then Phil, on Sunday, announced that Mixer's grown to more than 20 million monthly active users. 

JASON HOWARD:  Oh, my goodness. 

JENN MCCOY:  So doubling in the past six months.  It's just been incredible to see how much the community and the streamers and our viewers have supported the growth of the service. 

JASON HOWARD:  So you're saying your marketing is working?  (Laughter.) 

JENN MCCOY:  I'm saying things are going really well, we're having a lot of fun. 

JASON HOWARD:  All right.  So how do you interpret this huge upswing, right?  Obviously, with the trend of game streaming in general, as well as the success of the Mixer platform itself?  Like, what's driving this? 

JENN MCCOY:  As you said, there's a lot of growth in the industry overall.  More and more people are spending time watching game play and connecting with streamers, and then we've been very fortunate to have a number of amazing streamers and content creators come to the platform, really focused on growing their audience and helping be ambassadors for Mixer, helping spread the word of our really positive and welcoming community, some of the unique features that we bring, and some of the fun content that our team's putting together. 

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah, one of the things that surprised us probably the most dramatically about maybe a little over a year ago, when we started bringing native broadcasting into Windows and Xbox One, we had high hopes for that feature, but it's far surpassed all of our expectations.  We made it really easy to share and stream to Mixer, and that resonated with way more people than we thought.  And when those people started streaming on Mixer, you know, they started engaging with the community and started feeling welcomed and engaging more with the community and enjoying the community.  And that number of users who are native broadcasting has been growing phenomenally.  Like, that's probably the one growth curve and chart that is just blowing our minds. 

And that enabled things like the Hype Zone, where we can allow all those people who are streaming PUBG or Fortnight or Rainbow 6 or Realm Royale to you know showcase one of those many people are about to win and deliver a nice audience to them.  And it's another great way to discover new streamers.

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.  Hyper Zone's been incredible for exactly what you say, that you can see streamers of all size, and they just have a couple of years and they have thousands of viewers, but they get in the Hype Zone and have everybody watching on the Hype Zone channel drop in and watch their moment victory or defeat, depending on how things go.  Sometimes there is the Hype Zone curse that rears its ugly head, but it's kind of fun. 

JASON HOWARD:  Uh-oh, hold on, you've got to tell me, what's this Hype Zone curse?

CHAD GIBSON:  It's the pressure.

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.

CHAD GIBSON:  So you're streaming with your friends, you're playing PUBG or Fortnight and you're doing well and all of a sudden, you're about to win and then you have, you know, 500 or 1,000 viewers all of a sudden watching you and hyping you up.

JENN MCCOY:  Pressure! 

CHAD GIBSON:  The pressure, like, "I'm in the Hype Zone."  And you want to win, you want to show a victory for all those people, but sometimes the pressure can be too much.

JASON HOWARD:  Uh-oh.  (Laughter.)

JENN MCCOY:  So we have a custom emote that's Hype Zone cursed, Hype Zone cursed.  (Laughter.)

JASON HOWARD:  I'm going to do a shameless self-pitch here.  We, on the Windows Insider Program, we actually use Mixer.  We have our webcast series where we bring on engineers and people from other teams.  It's amazing to see how quickly we say something and then just even watching on the stream, coming from a separate computer, right?  So we're watching the chat and everything.  To see how quickly it shows up and then people's reactions. 

And there's no other platform that I've tested, seen, watched, anything that does it that quickly and that seamlessly.  It's amazing.  It's been beautiful to use, and I can tell just over the past year how much work has been put into the platform to not only keep it stable from where it was when Microsoft acquired what used to be Beam, but to where it's grown to now, seeing all this hard work is just amazing. 

JENN MCCOY:  And that's really a big focus, exactly what you talk about -- the viewers being able to participate and be a natural part of the conversation.  We don't want live streaming to just be a one-way experience, we want the viewers to be able to come in and participate and have an impact on the stream, have an impact with each other and have a real connection with the streamer. 

JASON HOWARD:  So as part of this anniversary that you've hit and some of the other milestones, obviously, there's a lot of changes that are coming to the platform.  Like, what are some of the things you're excited about that you're introducing to the platform or that you have recently brought forward for users to use or streamers to take part in and actually engage with? 

CHAD GIBSON:  During the one-year celebration, we announced our UI refresh, which is in some private branches right now, and I was just playing with that this morning.  It's really exciting.  It's exciting for a couple reasons.  It allows us to showcase some unique Mixer channels, such as the Hype Zones, it also provides more ways to discover more content, more ways to get to browse filters.  There's a bunch of really fun ways to, you know, I want to watch a co-stream, I want to watch an interactive stream, I want to watch a stream in my language.  We made a bunch of those features super easy for people to find content, and it's a more polished version of Mixer.

And so that should be going out soon-ish.  The feature bench is looking great, and that's something that's going to be a great improvement for everyone on Mixer. 

JENN MCCOY:  And Mixer Pro subscribers can actually check it out early and give us feedback on it before we release it to the general public.

CHAD GIBSON:  Yes.  They have been giving us a lot of great feedback, and it's getting better quickly. 

JASON HOWARD:  I've got to admit, you know, obviously, doing what I do, preview programs hold a special place in my heart. 

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah.  (Laughter.)

JENN MCCOY:  We also announced a new Hype Zone.  So we announced the Hype Zone for Rainbow Six Siege, it was the first time that we went beyond the battle royale genre to be able to bring the Hype Zone experience to just a very different type of game play. And it's been really fun to see, you know, overtime matches and really close matches come to life in the Rainbow Six Hype Zone.

JASON HOWARD:  Yeah, and then, of course, with some of the more recent announcements at E3, I'm sure -- I'm not going to ask you to say what you have up your sleeve, but I'm sure you're probably working on something, because there's some really awesome content coming both from Microsoft being first party, as well as some of the third-party developers who, you know, produce games for our platforms, both for Xbox as well as PC and then of course beyond that.  There's some really cool stuff coming.

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah.  We've done a lot of, I would say, experimental experiences that really blur the line between is it a game, is it a show?  And there's a bunch of that stuff coming.  I'm really excited about that. 

We had some of those developers on our stage, I believe, like we have a new Death's Door coming, which is a game that's only played via the Mixer channel, and that I think is coming at the end of June.  But that whole area of really trying to create and deliver a new medium, we have a bunch of those types of experiences coming all this summer. 

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah, Death's Door will be coming out next week, Death's Door Aftermath.

JASON HOWARD:  So something interesting, for me, one of my good friends, he has a young son who is really, really into Minecraft.  But he wasn't about playing Minecraft himself, he was really into watching other people play Minecraft.  So he would sit there and endlessly watch hours upon hours of YouTube videos to get ideas and see what other people were doing, what they were creating, the worlds they were exploring and playing in. 

And for me, I was like, why?  Why wouldn't he want to be in there participating in the game, doing it himself, having that experience? 

But I have to say, after our team having done streaming on the platform, and then of course to learn more about the platform, you know you just get in and explore, right?  So there are groups of people that I follow, games that I enjoy watching, you know, just the interaction.  It set a very different perspective for me.  I still don't want to go watch hours of videos on YouTube, right?  For those that do, hey, great, right?  Gives them ideas and, you know, some jumping-off points. 

But watching somebody immersed in the game real time, and feeling like you're there with them and being able to talk to them as, you know, they're listening on their headphones and they've got the game pumping and music going, right?  They're watching the chat and having some of that interaction.  It's a very different experience than just sitting there watching some static video content on YouTube or any other platform that they may be viewing it on. 

So that kind of leads me to what I want to ask you next.  With Mixplay and some of those new interactive opportunities, developers can build different types of interactions into their games.  Can you talk a bit about this trend of interactive streaming concepts?  What does it mean to interact with a live game?  And can you give us some discussions about that type of experience? 

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.  I mean, we're at a really interesting point in the gaming industry where I think the traditional definition of a player is changing.  And we even hear it from a lot of our particularly younger audiences that their belief is they've played the game, even if what they've really done is watched somebody else play it.  But as you say, like you're viewing and actually feeling like an active part of it. 

And that's the core of what Mixer and Mixplay is all about is having the viewing audience feel like they are just as much a part of the gameplay experience as the person who's actually hands on controller or hands on the keyboard. 

A couple of the great examples that we've seen, actually, there's a really fun one that was created internally -- Mixer Mini Golf -- where you have hundreds and hundreds of people competing in this fun mini golf experience, trying to see who gets the lowest score.  If you get the lowest score, you then get to create the course for the next round.

And it's just really fun.  If you think about, mini golf doesn't sound like a multi-player or community experience, but when you've got lots of little mini golf balls running all over the place, like, it's just fun, it's entertaining, and it's a different take on what you would think of as live streaming. 

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah, I agree.  And one of my favorite examples is a game Hello Neighbor that launched -- I think it was earlier this year.  And Hello Neighbor is a game built by tinyBuild, and the goal is to basically go into your neighbor's house, steal things, take things without them seeing you.  And tinyBuild provided this mechanic where the viewers can actually alert the neighbor, which you do not want the neighbor to know you're there. 

So people who are playing this game, not only do they need to, like, figure out how to, like, sneak into the neighbor's house, but now they need to do so while knowing their viewing audience may, you know --

JASON HOWARD:  Is going to rat them out.

CHAD GIBSON:  -- tip them off, yeah, at any moment.  So it created this whole new game mechanic.  And some creators, it frustrated them; but some, it was such a fascinating next-level game play. 

One of the things I think that we really strive for is a world where every game is built where the viewing audience is part of the game.  That's a really deep and challenging concept, which is why we're doing a bunch of different things on that journey to show what is really meaningful, what can engage the viewers without adjusting the game play in an unfair way, and that's where I think there's a lot of excitement in the months to come.

JASON HOWARD:  And the gamers, themselves, obviously, they have different options they can choose on how they want to represent what they're doing to their watching audience, right?  You know, they can change some of like the floating boxes and I've seen, you know, animations drop across the stream, and of course there's the concept of subscribing to a channel.  And when that happens, you know, the balloons and the confetti drops across the screen, right?  It's a really good way to kind of co-celebrate both with the other people watching as well as the person who's actually doing the gaming. 

There are some of those personal connections that get built for people that live on one side of the world versus another, or people who don't necessarily tend to get out and interact, but this gives them a way to kind of be social within a level that fits their comfort, so they don't have to go out and try to force themselves to be somebody that they're not.

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.  They're part of a community.  They have a connection, streamer and audience, or even within the audience.  People are getting to know each other, regular names that they see showing up in chat or interacting with the different buttons. 

JASON HOWARD:  I will say, at E3 I saw a few of the streamers who I've, you know, interacted with and watched in the past, and walking up and you can see there's that little question or look on your face, you'll be, like, "Do I recognize you?"  Because for me, you know, the beard's pretty recognizable, and so that's just a photo of me as my avatar.  So I've got that little head-tilt look.  And I'm like, "Yes, I am @NorthFaceHiker." 

JENN MCCOY:  It is me. 

JASON HOWARD:  And they're, like, "Oh, hey!"  And then, you know, you just kind of kick off that conversation.  It's nice to meet people, you know, in person after that. 

JENN MCCOY:  And there's a lot of creative things that our streamers have done with Mixplay, all the way from the visual or audio effects that the audience can implement, but we've had people use Mixplay for physical environmental things, too. 

So, for example, having the audience change the lighting in the studio from red to blue to green, we have one gentleman, Sorry About Your Cats, who lets the audience actually control mini robots using the Mixplay technology.  So during his stream, the audience is actually controlling robots in the background on the stream. 

We've had people use it to control different camera angles.  The whole idea is it's a tool set that the content creators can use to create the experience that fits with them, whether that's digital, physical, or actually getting into the game play itself.

JASON HOWARD:  So the whole concept of sparks on the Mixer platform, right?  Where the longer you view, you start gaining Sparks.  And then that's kind of like the avenue to some of these interactions and clicking some of the buttons and things like that.  Have you all thought about monetizing that at all? 

CHAD GIBSON:  Absolutely.  (Laughter.)  I think the thing that we're really motivated by is allowing viewers to support the creators and streamers, really supporting patronage, supporting ways for communities to get built.  And for many of these streamers, it's their full-time job.  And we love lots of investments in the area that allow the viewers to better support the communities they join, and so Sparks is a great potential area for that to go further. 

JENN MCCOY:  One of the other programs that we implemented pretty recently is this idea of Mixer direct purchase, where a streamer can actually showcase a game or DLC that they're playing, and let the community purchase directly through their channel, and then the streamer gets a portion of that revenue.  So it's a way that the viewing audience, again, can support the streamer with their purchase, but then also they get to benefit from the streamer doing a great job of showcasing, hey, here's this new game or new DLC that you should check out.

JASON HOWARD:  Sounds like this whole platform has gone from, "Hey, I just want to see if other people want to watch me playing a video game," to an entire new world that people are stepping into now.

So I've got to ask you, and this is going to be a tough question, so get ready for it.  Obviously, there's a huge user base, and Mixer is one of several platforms out there.  It's one of the most recognizable, which is something I'm very happy for being, you know, a Microsoft employee and whatnot. 

JENN MCCOY:  Oh, you're saying the branding is really good? 

JASON HOWARD:  You know, you might be doing your job well.  (Laughter.)  So here's the tough question:  What, in your mind, sets Mixer apart from some of the other well-known platforms, such as Twitch?

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.  There's actually two big things to me that are really differentiators of Mixer versus any other platform.  The first is our community.  We are just super fortunate to have an amazing community that's very welcoming, very positive, very self-reinforcing.  If you have someone that shows up in a channel that's maybe being a little troll-like, it's amazing to see the community react to that and just be, like, "Hey, that's not what we're about.  That's not what we do." 

Similarly, if you have someone new that's saying, "Hey, I'm a Mixer for the first time," the community really rallies around and says, "Oh, hey, let me show you how you do this," or, "Welcome, you know, so and so, to Mixer," giving them tips, that type of thing.  And it's something Matt and James really invested in when they first founded the company, and it's continued and has pervaded the entire sense of Mixer since then.  So community is, by far, the biggest differentiator for us.

And then the second is this idea of really blurring the lines between watching and playing.  And so the investments that we've made with Mixplay, the investments that we've made with Hype Zone and some of the other technologies to bring viewers into the experience in a way that you just don't see on any other platform. 

CHAD GIBSON:  I agree with Jenn.  The community is probably the number-one difference between us and other platforms.  It's positive on so many dimensions, and it's really interesting and fun talking to creators who have streamed on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitch and hearing about their first-week experience and, like, they knew that community was a big part of Mixer, but then when they feel it and they experience it themselves, it's really fun to hear about those positive experiences.  So I totally agree that that is one of the biggest differences.

The other one, it's probably a combination of a lot of the things we're trying to do differently.  A lot of our features have been super unique, like co-streaming was a very unique feature.  The fact that we're trying to deliver video in such a very different way with FTL and our Mixplay experiences and Hype Zone, like, we really want to create new and unique and very interesting things.  And I think that desire to explore new territory also resonates really positively with a lot of people. 

JASON HOWARD:  So I'm going to level-up for just a moment.  Obviously, you know, with E3 being wrapped up at this point, there was a lot of announcements that came out of it between changes that are coming to consoles and platforms, a bunch of the games.  Looking specifically at the trends in game streaming, obviously both of you are very well connected into this, is there anything besides what you're working on that you see kind of coming forward in the next month, six months, a year, whether it came from E3 or if it's just a general trend that you're seeing developing in this particular space? 

JENN MCCOY:  The thing that stands out to me the most is the agility of game developers and how they're using live streaming to really get real-time reactions from their players, from their audience, and use that to adjust the game. 

The best example I can give you is Fortnight, right?  I think Epic has just done a tremendous job of really thinking about Fortnight as a service and being very on it just with feedback from the community, making new experiences, new content, and that I think is where we just are going to see more and more games going, of being super agile and super two-way experiences between the game developer and the community. 

CHAD GIBSON:  I agree with that.  One thing I would add is prior to the Beam acquisition, we gained our opinion of the game video industry, and how we thought it was going to grow and where we thought there were opportunities.  And this E3, to me, made me believe that our previous estimates were maybe a little conservative.

I think the game video industry, the way it's expanding in so many different ways, across the world in different countries, it's expanding in new capabilities, we're seeing games just leverage it more and more and more where I think there's so much more to come. 

And so I think the growth of the overall game video segment or industry is growing faster than we certainly thought two years ago.  That was made apparent to me this last E3. 

JASON HOWARD:  That's kind of a good problem to have.

CHAD GIBSON:  It is.  It is.  And it's a great problem to have.  I mean, it's a huge market, and it's growing, and we can achieve all of our goals by just doing our thing. 

JASON HOWARD:  Somebody can throw out something enticing to get an old dog like me back into playing video games.  Hey, somebody's doing something right. 

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah. 

JASON HOWARD:  All right, one more really fun question for you before we wrap up here:  Are there any hints about what's coming with Mixer itself that you can talk about?  This is always a fun question, I love asking it.

JENN MCCOY:  Yeah.  I'd say a couple things.  I mean, one, actually, that UI refresh that will be coming to the whole Mixer user base later this summer, that's a big investment for us.  We're super excited about that. 

I do think you will continue to see us adding and innovating to our Hype Zone experiences.  We added the Realm Royale experience this week as a partnership with Hi-Rez Studios, and that's been a lot of fun.  And we will continue to think about, like, how do we optimize and grow that Hype Zone experience?  What else? 

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah.  We've been doing some interesting things to really try to present e-sports in a new ways.  So with SMITE, we've been presenting that with some of our co-stream features, and we just deployed I think at the one-year anniversary, a new interactive dashboard that shows real-time stats from the SMITE e-sports league. 

And so the general area of e-sports, we also think is an area where we can change it a lot.  When I go to an e-sports event and I see the energy of the crowd and the people cheering, and then when I watch it online, there's a lot of energy we can bring to the Mixer experience.  We're doing a lot more of that in the years to come. 

And generally, with Mixplay, you're going to see in the coming months a much larger volume of unique Mixplay experiences.  And, frankly, knowing about the portfolio of what's coming, it's super diverse.  That's probably the most exciting part about it.  A bunch of developers doing some really, really interesting, creative things, which I think is going to surprise a lot of people. 

JASON HOWARD:  So a little bit of teasing without too much detail, but hey, you know?  I'll take what I can get here. 

So, obviously, Mixer being mixer.com, getting started seems pretty simple, right?  Webcam and a mic and game on whatever platform you decide to stream on.  It's pretty easy to connect those dots, there's lots of helps and how-to online.  The entire community is there to do some support.  Anything that I'm missing here? 

CHAD GIBSON:  Well, for people who want to stream, we made it really easy with Windows with the Game Bar.  So Windows Game Bar, you can stream to Mixer pretty easily.  And in Xbox, it's all integrated into the guide to stream to Mixer.  So for users who want to start sharing and streaming, those are phenomenal ways to get going.

And then on your phone, you can download Mixer Create and start streaming on your phone as well.  And we have viewing experiences on Xbox One, we have a great Web experience for the desktop, we have mobile viewing experiences on iOS Android, so we're going to continue to offer great viewing and streaming experiences across all of those devices. 

JASON HOWARD:  Beautiful.  Any parting wisdom for our listeners? 

JENN MCCOY:  I would just encourage everyone, you know, whether you want to just share your game play with friends or if you actually want to take that first step towards building an audience, try it out, have fun with it because so much about streaming on Mixer is bringing your personality to the table, and we're obviously very focused on gaming, but we have streamers that do all kinds of different creative things.  We have folks that are artists, we have musicians, we have people that do cooking shows.  So it really is just an amazing platform to show your creativity and to connect with people who care about what you care about. 

CHAD GIBSON:  One thing I would suggest is when you start viewing a Mixer stream for the first time, you know, find a game you play or browse around a stream that's interesting to you and just say hi.  I think that first moment where you say hi and you know the streamer will probably say something back and you start just joining a community and engaging, that's where you experience the really, really fun part of Mixer. 

JASON HOWARD:  Awesome.  Well, Jenn, Chad, it's been fantastic chatting with you.  Thank you both so much both for being here to speak with us today, but as well as, you know, the work you do day in and day out to help make this platform the success it's become.  And I say that both as a viewer of Mixer itself as well as a user of the platform.  So big thanks to you and the rest of the team that supports you guys day in and day out.

JENN MCCOY:  Thanks for having us.

CHAD GIBSON:  Thank you. 

JENN MCCOY:  It's been a lot of fun, and we're excited to just continue to grow the service. 

CHAD GIBSON:  Yeah, thank you. 

JASON HOWARD:  The Windows Insider team, including yours truly, was on the ground at E3 and hosted a special happy hour for our Insiders. 

We caught up with a few Insiders over drinks, and got their impression on what's exciting about the future of gaming.  Here's Tyler Ahn at E3. 

TYLER AHN:  The Insider team had a blast at E3 this year.  We caught up with some Insiders at our awesome E3 happy hour to get their take-aways from this epic event. 

Hi! how are you?  Please introduce yourself and a sentence on what you're working on.

HOLLY AMOS:  My name's Holly Amos, and I'm an assistant producer on the new online Star Trek CCG, Star Trek Adversaries

TYLER AHN:  Fantastic.  We're so happy to have you here.  What gets you most excited when you think about the future of gaming? 

HOLLY AMOS:  I've actually noticed that there's a lot of storytelling, and it's like 50 percent almost like you're in a movie, and then 50 percent actual game play.  And I think based on the fact that I grew up with stuff like, you know, Super Mario Bros, where you were just trying to beat a level, the story aspect is really interesting to me. 

TYLER AHN:  Hi, who are you?  Please introduce yourself and a sentence on what you're working on. 

MAX DINK:  Oh, hi.  My name is Max Dink.  Currently, I am working on a custom metal wallet for card holding.  I'm an engineer, so that's what I do. 

TYLER AHN:  So why did you want to join us at E3 this year?

MAX DINK:  Well, I wanted to be part of, you know, the convention, you know, Windows Insider Program is nice, they brought me out here.  And you know, get to see new games.  New games.  A lot of new games.  (Laughter.)

TYLER AHN:  There were a lot of new games today.  So when you think about the future of gaming, what gets you most excited? 

MAX DINK:  Definitely VR because almost everyone is having VR now.  And definitely AI for computers and just you know when you play a game, AI is better than just pre-programmed actions. 

TYLER AHN:  Hello, who are you?  Please introduce yourself and tell me what you're working on. 

JENNIFER KING:  Hi, my name is Jennifer King, and currently I'm working toward my software engineering degree, master's degree, at Cal State Fullerton. 

TYLER AHN:  Fantastic, congratulations. 

JENNIFER KING:  Thank you. 

TYLER AHN:  So what brings you to E3 this year? 

JENNIFER KING:  We were invited by Windows Insider and this is our third consecutive year now, thank you so much for bringing us out here. 

TYLER AHN:  What gets you most excited when you think about the future of gaming? 

JENNIFER KING:  I think the community is definitely something that gets me really excited about gaming because you can interact with other people and you can play games with other people, connect with them, and then even meet them in real life. 

TYLER AHN:  Hello, hello!  Who are you?  Please introduce yourself and tell me what you're working on. 

SONYA SATURDAY:  My name is Sonya Saturday, I'm a cartoonist.  I am currently working on a coloring book called Socially Conscious White Ladies.  And my website is sonyasaturday.com.

TYLER AHN:  Fantastic.  So what brings you to E3 this year?

SONYA SATURDAY:  The Windows Insider Program brought me to E3 this year, and I'm very appreciative of everything they're doing. 

TYLER AHN:  What gets you most excited when you think about the future of gaming? 

SONYA SATURDAY:  I'm really excited about the future of storytelling potential with games, about making something more realistic and interactive, something that's more like film and true life. 

TYLER AHN:  Hi!  Who are you?  Please introduce yourself and tell me what you're working on.

HARMONY VAN LUVEN:  Hey, Tyler.  My name's Harmony Van Luven.  I'm the creative director of Frolic Games.  And right now, I'm working on learning improving, and currently focusing on a website that sells video game accessories to women.

TYLER AHN:  Awesome, I like that niche.  So what brings you to E3 this year?

HARMONY VAN LUVEN:  I was invited by the Windows Insider Program.  I'm looking forward to just talking with everybody and learning all of the amazing things that are new and I guess released -- and Halo 6 or the next Halo

TYLER AHN:  What gets you most excited when you think about the future of gaming?

HARMONY VAN LUVEN:  We're finally at that crossroads where -- we're at that crossroads where graphics are becoming hyper-realistic, so much so that now, finally, the suspension of disbelief can be -- it feels like you're actually there and it's you. 

TYLER AHN:  Games becoming real.  Super real. 

HARMONY VAN LUVEN:  Super real. 

JASON HOWARD:  That's it for Episode 16.  Get next month's episode automatically by subscribing on your favorite podcast app.  You can also find all of our awesome past episodes on the Windows Insider website at insider.windows.com.

And if you're not an Insider yet, it's easy and free to sign up and join the global community shaping the future of Windows. 

Thanks for listening to the Windows Insider Podcast, I'm your host, Jason Howard.  Until next time. 

NARRATION:  The Windows Insider Podcast is produced by Microsoft Production Studios and the Windows Insider team, which includes Tyler Ahn -- that's me -- Michelle Paison, Ande Harwood, and Kristie Wang.

Visit us on the Web at insider.windows.com.  Follow @windowsinsider on Instagram and Twitter.

Support for the Windows Insider Podcast comes from Microsoft -- empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Moral support and inspiration come from Ninja Cat, reminding us to have fun and pursue our passions.

Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founders, Dona Sarkar and Jeremiah Marble.

Join us next month for another fascinating discussion from the perspectives of Windows Insiders.

END