Roger over at Contains Moderate Peril posted about varying quality of You Tube videos, with a focus on instructional videos about games-related content. It’s certainly an issue I’ve come across myself, searching for a video to show how to do a boss strategy or puzzle only to be have to wade through minutes of unrelated or unedited gameplay to find the actual relevant content. The post’s wider points about quality control and presentation (or the lack thereof) could be easily applied to other media in the modern gaming age.
I posted last year about podcasts that I’m listening to, all of which represent pretty focused and nicely produced easy-listening while I’m commuting or doing other things. They also happen to all be discussion shows however, quite a different beast from the gameplay footage videos that Roger was discussing. A more apt comparison might be recorded or streamed (virtual) tabletop roleplay sessions. I can think of several areas that might negatively influence my own choice opinions of a stream.
Several overlapping factors can make a stream easier or harder to enjoy. Sound quality is a big one of course: whether the players and referee have good mics is a biggie, but equally too many background sounds (pets going crazy, traffic noise from an open window) and the best mic in the world won’t help. Super high production values aren’t always that important to me but if I can’t hear a player that’s a pretty big issue. Frequent disconnects or other technical issues can also be a bit of a bugbear on a stream, but if it’s a video, why haven’t these been edited out already? I’ve a lot of experience managing webconferences in work so I can sympathise that computers and the Internet can be unpredictable, but if you’re publishing recordings of sessions do at least edit out some of the bad stuff…
Keeping the game going is a key role of any referee. If the game bogs down a lot due to poor rules knowledge that can be a problem. I get that not all GMs know the rules by heart, and that players likewise may be new to the game or the hobby. But if sessions drag while rules are checked or bad rulings need oft correcting it can be frustrating to listen to. Likewise I have cringed at some of the sessions I have listened to in terms of referees saying nothing as players argue over the simplest decisions, or where the group is obviously lost at what to do next and the referee fails to quickly reorient them – it’s not great for the wider audience in my opinion.
Audience and standards
Gaming in private with friends is one thing. Playing for an audience, presumably because you want something like Twitch syndication, advertising revenues or just “internet fame” is something else in my book. Personally, players swearing every few words does not encourage me to keep listening, I’m no prude but excessive swearing is a turn-off. Using insulting/demeaning language repeatedly, whether “in character” will lead to me abandoning that series: I don’t want to listen to it.
The players and referee really need to be mindful of the public nature of the podcast/stream. Again it’s a matter of personal tastes but players who shout really loudy or burp loudly for effect are going to turn me off the stream – it’s crass and annoying.
It’s a team game
These games are by their nature a cooperative team game. If the referee allows a single player to come to dominate the podcast/stream too often through force of personality that can really bring down my enjoyment of the podcast. All the player characters should be given a roughly equal share of the limelight. Players talking over other players or telling them what their character should do regularly comes across badly as well.
These are just some of the factors that will encourage or discourage me from continuing to listen irrespective of the actual gaming content itself. As a GM myself I enjoy listening to how other groups approach the same adventures that I run, and how other GMs run their games in general. It’s a pretty wonderful time to be a roleplay gamer given the wealth of videos, streams and podcasts covering the hobby. Sifting through the good and bad (from my perspective) can be a bit of a time investment, but it is well worth it.
My tabletop session playlists
Separate from my prior post as linked above, I sporadically listen to recordings of (virtual) tabletop gameplay. Two series that I’m currently enjoying are:
- Exqueerience Points (Starfinder, original campaign)
- Dark Galaxies Gaming (Starfinder, Dead Suns campaign)
Last year I also really enjoyed listening to:
- Bacon Batallion (5E D&D, The Adventures of the Windswift)
- Live From Beyond (Eclipse Phase, Million Year Echo)
These groups manage to produce well-paced, inclusive and entertaining games to watch. Production values are generally high for all of them, sure some episodes might have some glitches, but care is taken to make it easy to listen to. I feel the various GMs have a good grasp on the rule system used, the pacing is good, the groups gel well and play fair together. All in all they are just more fun to listen to than others that I’ve tried and quickly skipped over.