I recently had the chance to talk with Eric Burkhart, COO of Day9tv, over lunch. We met at a small Turkish restaurant on a drizzly day in the SF bay area, a bit of a break amongst the otherwise crazy schedule of running one of the more visible internet brands today. I wanted to ask Eric about what they are focusing on at the moment and what plans they have for 2017. We talked about new content and formatting of shows, but ultimately talked the most about community development.
Community is incredibly important to both Day9tv the company, and Eric and Sean Plott (Day9tv frontman) personally. Building positive and productive communities that are inclusive and welcoming has been part of the modus operandi for much of their work. When you chat with these guys the conversation naturally covers big topics related to community, both in gaming and beyond.
Despite being an avid gamer, Eric actually gets very little time to play anything these days. Outside of managing the operations of the company, I get the impression his days can be full of meetings, negotiating deals or appearances. Many of these aren’t public when being developed, so some topics are off-limits until announcements are made, such as the recently announced Twitch Metabreakers collaboration with DisguisedToast. However, we could write about some other areas like cooking, music and the website.
Some sort of cooking content is interesting to the team, and they’d like to produce something in this area. This would be placed in the same production bracket as Mostly Walking, the long-running (walking?) collaborative project between Day9tv and Bill Graner and Sean Bouchard, both in terms of scope and potential viewership. The show would have a higher production cost and require more infrastructure (cameras, space, etc.). That infrastructure presents some challenges that would have to be addressed, and so for now, it sounds like it’s still on the drawing board.
Music is another area that is very important to Sean. Before Twitch introduced their Music channels, getting Monstercat and others involved in providing royalty-free music for streamers, Day9tv was putting in the effort to get broadcast rights for tracks from musicians, and actively promoting musicians. While they don’t have any direct content plans for streams, they are still interested in encouraging content in this area (what I summarized in my notes as “inspiration projects”) highlighting artists and driving creative endeavors (as an example, see the recent official Day9tv Spotify playlist).
The website hasn’t changed form in quite awhile, and this is another area of content (and content delivery) that they are looking to develop in 2017, with some changes potentially early next year. Eric didn’t provide any specifics about this, but with a great deal of community interaction now in transient systems like the official Day9tv Discord channels, and an increasing level of community interaction in general, it seems like an update to the more permanent and long-form nature of the forums could add to the community.
Outside of new types of content, the format of the streams have changed recently with their move to full-time streaming. I asked Eric whether any further changes to formatting could be in store, and he mentioned that they have been considering how Twitch and YouTube works for them. As they’ve moved from 16 hours of content per week to 25 or more, and have been producing long form streams, he says they are thinking about how to package the content (my words) on YouTube.
For most of the content produced by Day9tv on their channel, segments are edited and uploaded to YouTube after broadcast. When they were focusing on Starcraft content, they honed the three segment design of the show that would become their early staple. This one to two hours of live-stream and YouTube content was backed up by a day of production, and designed narratively around three acts.
Now, though, an eight hour day across multiple games seems like it challenges the YouTube design. “Welcome to part 14” doesn’t parse as well, and it can be difficult for the YouTube viewer to have a consistent experience. Live-streaming accommodates long-form content with ease, though. The YouTube side of the operation won’t be going away, though. Now, and moving into 2017, they’ll be considering whether there are things they can do to improve how the content is managed on YouTube.
The bulk of our conversation, though, related primarily to community. As mentioned earlier, building positive, supportive communities in gaming and beyond is a driving passion for Sean and Eric. They’ve focused a great deal of their business towards building communities and fostering positive environments, and they are often cited as experts in this. However, while the viewer population and fanbase form a core component of the business model for Day9tv, building the community surrounding the content they produce is more than just business for them. One doesn’t have to look beyond Sean’s esports manifesto or the guys’ credo to see that they feel games can be a positive driving force.
Games and gaming bring people together and give a voice to people who otherwise might not speak. They can teach life lessons, and for many people growing up these days, it gives a framework to navigate the challenges we all face. They provide narrative, and bring people like the DayKnight community together. More than just playing games, interaction in the community surrounding these games can be just as vital. A driving force now and running through the first two quarters of 2017 is going to be making a big push to grow the DayKnight community, but also improve the ways in which we interact.
Building the DayKnight community is an interesting thing though, as a big element of the guys’ philosophy, and that of the community at large is that everyone is welcome, and everyone is involved in building the community. The DayKnight Festival is just one example of this. The event is community run, and put on by volunteers. Its purpose is to increase interaction between the community, expanding friend lists and numbers of games played, and to establish foundations for further development.
Day9tv chat is another great example. The community works together to reinforce the tone of the channel. Chat is friendly and welcoming. A question asked generally receives a quick and helpful answer. This extends from the chat admins down to the viewer in chat for the first time.
One way Day9tv supports this, then, is developing or adopting tools and resources that the community can use to build itself. Formalizing the community Discord server is one of the first steps they’ve taken here. The server has seen rapid adoption by the greater DayKnight community since being added to the Day9tv stream page and being promoted on-stream. They’ve also been working with volunteers to add functionality to this server, giving tools to increase community interaction. Plus, beyond just extending the tone and interaction of stream chat, an always-on equivalent, like Discord, brings in the international community in other time zones, and increases the quality of interaction in the community by providing for many more parallel conversations than is possible in one stream chat. Finally, subscriber mode is often necessary on Day9tv streams, due to the volume of traffic. Discord, then, provides the mechanism to make sure that a Twitch subscription is as minimal a barrier to interaction as possible, since everyone can join the server.
Moreover, beyond providing tools and resources, the guys have also been looking at ways to involve the community more in the content being produced, in some ways similar to how they used to produce the Funday Monday Starcraft 2 shows with user submissions. Early tests like the Nexus Challenge games with viewers have been successful, resulting in increased game traffic after the stream was over and broadly positive response from the viewership. The previously mentioned collaboration with DisguisedToast should be another great example of the direct role the company plays in bringing the community together, bringing the extent of the Day9tv viewership to bear to try to win some Twitch Plays Hearthstone.
There is every indication people can expect these efforts to continue into 2017, both in technology and in community interaction.
Eric tends to meter out thoughts, considering the issue and then distilling out the key issues at hand. Whether talking about building community, or topics closer to his engineering background, there is purpose behind those words. When you see Sean on stage somewhere, you’ll often see Eric off to the side, laying the groundwork for the next big project.
Day9tv, their company, is recognized as an authority on building engaged communities, and they could easily be considered experts on streaming content creation. They have a large, loyal fanbase, drive innovation in the industry, and continue to produce some of the more popular content on Twitch. Given all of that, it’s easy to look at Day9tv, the company, and forget that it’s just two guys trying to bring people together through their love of games.