In my review of Rise of the Tomb Raider earlier this week I wrote about how the game's Expeditions replay mode, with its blind packs of game-altering cards, was "a blatant play for YouTube relevance and micro-transaction revenue". Crystal Dynamics has now both proved my point and challenged my cynicism by announcing some pretty novel and interesting Twitch integration for Expeditions.
Inspired by the Twitch Plays phenomenon in which a community of viewers attempts to play games like Pokémon and Dark Souls together, Rise of the Tomb Raider allows viewers watching an Expeditions stream to vote on conditions that will change the streamer's game. If the streamer has enabled the feature and is broadcasting via the Xbox One Twitch app, every six minutes viewers will be asked to vote on one of two cards to apply to the player's game. That card will then be active for the next five minutes, or until the player dies or restarts.
As well as determining Lara Croft's outfits and equipment, Expeditions cards can make the game harder (by restricting health regeneration or ammo, say), easier ("enemies that land a melee attack have a chance of bursting into flame"), or sillier (big head mode, your bow fires chickens instead of arrows). The cards Twitch players can vote on will be drawn from these three categories and from a selection of 64 cards curated by the developer; the player doesn't have to own the cards in question.
Rise of the Tomb Raider even allows Twitch viewers to make in-game progress, of sorts, just by watching other people play it. If you're watching via the Xbox One Twitch app (and the streamer is using it, too), you'll be rewarded with in-game credits just for witnessing the player make progress by completing a mission, challenge or achievement. You get 500 credits each time, which can then be spent on packs of Expeditions cards. (A basic card pack, for reference, costs 20,000 credits, or £1.59.)
Is it all just a gimmick? Well, yes - this implementation of "broadcast interaction", as the menu option calls it, is pretty simple, and smacks strongly of a marketing synergy brainstorm. "By incorporating interactive functionality into a storied franchise like Tomb Raider for Rise of the Tomb Raider, it illustrates the appeal of social video," says Twitch's senior vice-president of marketing, Matthew DiPietro, in the press release.
But it's fascinating to see a grassroots community movement like Twitch Plays get industry recognition in this way - and to see a player's interaction with a video audience not just influence game design, but actually get integrated with the technology. It brings the kind of interaction that well-known streamers enjoy with their audiences within reach of regular joes (and you don't even need to talk!). And it's a feather in the cap of the Xbox One Twitch app, showing the extra level of integration that's possible between game and broadcast when you move to its closed system, and giving both players and viewers a strong motivation to use it.
Will we be seeing more features like this? "We don't have anything to announce at this time. If you're a fan of the feature, let us know at Xbox Feedback," says the FAQ. But if you ask me, you can bet on it.