Twitch Online Casino Streams Have a Viewbotting Problem
Twitch has arguably been the best thing to happen to online poker since online poker. It has given poker players – amateur and pro – an outlet to connect to the poker public, to interact with fans and fellow players, to teach and receive criticism live, to entertain. Twitch won “Poker Innovation or Initiative of the Year” at the 2015 American Poker Awards. Poker streaming is not nearly as popular as video game streaming, but it has still been a revelation over the last few years and has greatly added to the game. One thing – even as someone who has watched video game streams on Twitch from time to time – that I hadn’t considered, was that people also like to watch casino game streaming on Twitch, things like slots and blackjack. Sure enough, “Casino” is a very popular category on the site. According to reports on Reddit, though, plus a follow-up article on Kotaku, it appears that many casino streaming channels artificially increase their viewer counts through the use of bots.
People Eat This Stuff Up
I’ll be honest: I don’t see the appeal in watching someone play slots or other casino games. At all. I couldn’t care less if some person I don’t know bombs out or hits a jackpot. With poker and video games, the games themselves can be quite interesting, regardless of who is playing, and if the player provides insightful or entertaining commentary, all the better. But hey, enough people like watching casino games to make it a popular category on Twitch, so that’s cool. You do you!
A normal Twitch streamer provides some sort of benefit to the viewer in order to increase their viewership, whether it is pure entertainment, exciting displays of skill, friendly chat, expert tips, or any combination of the above. The top streamers work hard to pull people in and are rewarded monetarily for it. Casino game streamers are also affiliates of the gaming sites, usually providing advertisements for people to click on and signup at a casino site.
Something Smells Fishy in These Casino Streams
As Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson points out, though, some casino channels on Twitch don’t feature a video or audio feed of the streamer, something that is unheard of on Twitch. Without any sort of interaction with viewers, a Twitch stream is fairly pointless. But these odd casino channels look like someone just running a demo mode of slots. Someone is playing, but we never see or hear from them.
What makes it stranger is the viewer chat. I, personally, can’t stand channel text chat, as on the most popular channels, it scrolls by too fast to read and what I can read is just garbage from people who I always assume are teenagers (Old Man Yells at Cloud). But plenty of viewers enjoy chatting with each other and the streamer, so that’s great!
The chat on these mystery casino channels, though, is really weird, quite obviously the result of “viewbotting,” the use of fake, automated accounts to drive up viewership numbers and chat activity. As Grayson describes it:
Notice how a new message enters chat almost exactly at the four-second mark every time. Notice also that none of these people seem to be talking to each other—or even really referencing the basic jackpot game that’s happening on screen beyond, occasionally, some vague allusions. Lastly, here’s the moment when somebody came in to a channel with over 10,000 concurrent viewers and asked everybody to type the number one into chat if they weren’t a bot, and nobody did it.
I tested it out myself and found the same thing happening. When I logged on this afternoon, the streamer with the second most viewers at the moment – 8,000 of them – was someone called “Thursday Gamling”. Chat messages were posted at even intervals, three seconds apart, in my case. All the chat seemed to be random, as nobody looked like they were actually talking to each other. Any casino-like chat was vague, as Grayson said, not related directly to what was going on in the stream. The times a viewer was addressed directly (when someone would start a message with @ followed by a user name), that person wasn’t actually present, or at the very least not actively chatting.
Some of the chat was so random that it couldn’t have been more obvious that these were bots. Some example sentences/phrases:
“I’m trying to build a soccer team…”
“I’m going to send him to Tai-chi and talk with a psychologist”
“The geezer who ran the fella over should be done for attempted murder as he purposely drove back to do more damage”
Now, it is entirely possible that in other streams, these would be portions of conversations unrelated to the gambling on the screen. But I watched for a while and at no point did those lines ever relate to anything anyone else said.
Another point of evidence to the sketchiness of the stream was that even though it had about 8,000 viewers, it only had eight followers.
It’s All About the Benjamins
So why would someone do this? The answer is simply money. By falsifying viewers, a channel gets promoted up the page, as the default Twitch lobby setting is to have the channels sorted by current viewers. If a streamer can get into the top four or eight spots, the channel will be one of the first ones someone sees when they enter the Casino channel lobby. That makes it more likely a real person would click on the stream and, in turn, more likely they might click on an affiliate advertisement. More clicks equals more signups equals more money for the streamer.
As Grayson points out, one of the bad things about this – other than taking away views from legitimate streamers – is that anyone of any age can watch these gambling streams and the bullshit streams who employ viewbotting don’t bother with any sorts of underage warnings or links to problem gambling awareness sites. They just want eyeballs and clicks.
The crap streams do get booted by Twitch, but it is simple enough for those operating the streams to start another one, so it becomes a matter of Twitch Whack-a-Mole.