Cotter, K., 2019. Playing the visibility game: How digital influencers and algorithms negotiate influence on Instagram. New Media & Society, 21(4), pp.895-913. This assessment requires students to write a review of ONE research paper they will choose from a list of papers to be uploaded on the module blackboard site one month before the due date. The […]
Johnson, M. and Woodcock, J. (2017). ‘It’s like the gold rush: the lives and careers of professional video game streamers on Twitch. Tv. Information, Communication & Society, 22 (3), 336-351. Available from 10.1080/1369118x.2017.1386229
“‘It’s like the gold rush: the lives and careers of professional video game streamers on Twitch.tv” is a research paper published online in 2017 whose methodology and research design will be reviewed in this essay. Written by Mark R. Johnson & Jamie Woodcock, it explores the lives and careers of individuals whose primary source of income comes from playing and live broadcasting video games on the dominant platform in the market, Twitch. It employs a predominantly qualitative research strategy, semi-structured interviews conducted with 39 experienced streamers during the three-day 2016 ‘TwitchCon’ event in San Diego. Offering a first look into the careers and aspirations of professional and aspiring-professional game broadcasters enables this research paper to develop an understanding of their past, present, and anticipated future as freelance workers of the new media.
Two methods are used in social research, qualitative and quantitative, each possessing a quite different approach towards their strategy, subjects, findings, data, and the relationships between them. Qualitative research is often seen as having an exploratory and unstructured way of conducting social investigations and gets treated as useful at the preparatory stage of research (Bryman, 2006). Essentially something which can be tested more thoroughly by quantitative research, which tends to have a scientific and measurement-oriented approach towards its investigations and findings. Realistically both possess their own roles within social research, aiming to discover things differently, usually separately but sometimes together. However, since the research paper reviewed in this essay is a predominantly qualitative study, some key features to mention prove that. First, the goal of a qualitative study is discovery-oriented and holistic and aims to understand certain processes using open-ended research questions as well as open-ended data collection techniques, such as interviews or focus groups (Forman et al., 2008). The reviewed paper collects its data through semi-structured interviews with research participants free and encouraged to respond to questions in their own way. When they began the interview process, they essentially had no idea what they would find out, and what they discovered shaped the aims and purpose of their research. Secondly, sampling is purposeful; it investigates a small number of cases in which each participant is a rich and complex source of information, for the researcher does not get overwhelmed by the amount of text data collected (Forman et al., 2008). The authors of this study interviewed 39 professional and aspiring-professional game broadcasters who lasted up to half an hour each, allowing them to gain complex and diverse insight into streaming careers (Johnson and Woodcock, 2017). Thirdly, qualitative data analysis is inductive and interpretive, were making specific observations and considering the diversity of perspectives allows researchers to identify reoccurring themes and patterns in the data (Forman et al., 2008). In their research paper, Johnson and Woodcock noticed after coding the transcripts that three temporal themes came to the forefront of examined individuals’ thoughts regarding streaming, each later being examined in the paper.
Qualitative interviewing has become a key method in social sciences (Brinkmann, 2013), the most commonly used for gathering information about people’s feelings, emotions, and experiences (Bradford and Cullen, 2011). Most qualitative interviews are face-to-face in-depth conversations in which the interviewer concentrates on verbal and non-verbal responses, less concerned with data collection, instead trying to understand the meaning behind information gathered from each interviewee (Brennen, 2017). There are three basic types of interviews used by researchers worldwide: structured, semi-structured, and unstructured, open-ended conversations. Semi-structured interviews are usually used when the researcher has identified a relatively clear aim of the investigation and the basis on which they intend to draw comparisons upon their research subjects (Heath et al., 2009). These interviews tend to be quite flexible despite being based on an established set f questions because interviewers
can alter the order of those, ask follow-up ones, or clarify some answers given by each interviewee (Brennen, 2017). This becomes one of the major strengths of semi-structured interviews, allowing the research participants to explore and reflect on the topic in their own way, inevitably affecting the researcher’s approach and understanding of the investigation (Heath et al., 2009). Important to note is that repeating a semi-structured interview will most likely not bring out the same responses due to the content and phasing being different, which can be seen as a disadvantage of the method (Bradford and Cullen, 2011). It is also the most commonly used research methodology in youth research (Heath et al., 2009), explaining why it was chosen for a research paper exploring the lives and careers of young streamers, who tend to be adults under the age of 25 and predominantly but not exclusively male (Johnson and Woodcock, 2017).
Before one can begin a qualitative study, two conditions must be fulfilled to achieve a systematic approach to data. First, there must be a clear idea of what is being investigated, and second, the techniques used to take samples of individuals must be viable and documented (Merkens, 2004). A sampling strategy most frequently used in qualitative studies is theoretical sampling which requires a certain level of knowledge already present on the investigated topic allowing for researchers to undertake a provisional approach at the start. Unfortunately, exploratory studies, such as the one reviewed in this essay, are different because what is being undertaken in them is not yet known and has not been explored, meaning the framework usually emerges during the investigation (Merkens, 2004). In turn, choices must be made while the samples are gathered; there is a major significance of goal-directed selection, some even suggesting individuals should be included in relation only to specific events. The reviewed research paper explores a topic that has not been examined before, leaving the researchers without the necessary data to understand the people they are investigating truly. Hence, they relied strongly on the guidance of insiders, such as the Twitch staff, in their sampling strategy and focused on gathering data during one event, the three-day 2016 ‘TwitchCon’ in San Diego (Johnson and Woodcock, 2017).
Once the semi-structured interviews have been conducted, dependent on the goals, questions, methodological approach, time, and people available, the analytical strategy gets selected (Schmidt, 2004). It is usually presented in five stages, each playing a different role in the research process. First, in response to the collected material, analytical categories are formulated. At this stage, the researcher’s prior knowledge and the research questions guide their reading of the transcripts of the interviews, not allowing their theoretical assumptions to tailor the material. Second, the analytical categories formulated in the first one are assembled into a guide for coding. Coding means “relating particular passages in the text of an interview to one category, in the version that best fits these textual passages” (Schmidt, 2004, p255). Third, all of the interviews are coded to classify the material according to the analytic categories. In the examined research paper, the authors coded transcripts of over 50,000 words, allowing any themes to arise from the data, not letting their assumptions guide their analysis of it. At this stage, the amount of information used for the analysis has to be reduced for the researchers to be able to compare the cases according to dominant tendencies (Schmidt, 2004). Fourthly, based on the coding, case overviews are produced, which form the basis for the fifth stage, in which one might discover a new hypothesis or select individual cases for in-depth single-case analyses.
The researchers in this paper interviewed 39 experienced video game streamers but directly quoted only 24 of them, proving some form of reduction of the material took place, allowing for a clear view of the three temporal themes at the forefront of streamers’ thinking later
examined in the paper. At this point, the authors decide to note the limitations of their initial study, which turns out to be a part of an ongoing multi-year research project into live streaming. They highlight the obvious focus on only one event and on successful streamers, which does not consider other avenues of research, such as non-professional Twitch streamers or individuals who stream a range of non-video game content. They also overlooked how demographic differences shape Twitch experiences for its users but aim to address these questions in future publications of the research project. However, the authors justified their selection of cases in this research, as they wanted to primarily examine the process of ‘professionalization’ and the development of individuals’ careers who pursue streaming full-time on Twitch. Specifically, deciding to go with ‘partnered’ streamers, who are popular enough to earn ad revenue from streaming on the platform, can offer paid subscriptions and other micro-transactions, such as ‘tips’ or ‘donations,’ to viewers who choose to support them financially. Around half of those streamed full-time, the rest part-time, either aiming to quit their other jobs or using the platform for personal enjoyment and additional income, which seemed to give the researchers the broad view of streaming professionally they were looking for. They also decided to focus on one event, ‘TwitchCon,’ since it is the largest annual gathering of professional and aspiring-professional game broadcasters and seemed like an obvious research site to the authors.
The last process of any research project is analyzing and evaluating the findings to produce a definite conclusion of the paper’s aim. Particularly important in evaluating qualitative research are subjectivity, reflexivity, and transferability. The researcher must acknowledge and reflect on their relationship with the data in relation to personal life experiences, bibliography, and existing allegiances (Bradford and Cullen, 2011). All of these may have influenced their decisions and assumptions made during the research, affecting their viewpoint’s subjectivity. Especially considering that many organizations, Twitch included, have so-called ‘gatekeepers’ who take care of their relationships with outsiders and open many doors allowing researchers to gain the necessary access to the subjects of the investigation (Wolff, 2004). While evaluating the results of a study, it’s extremely important to share information about them to answer the necessary questions of transferability of the study concerning their self-interest and willingness to cooperate (Merkens, 2004). In the section of the reviewed paper called ‘Disclosure statement,’ Johnson and Woodcock acknowledged the presence of an ongoing professional relationship between them and Twitch which allowed them to gain unlimited research access and most likely affected the research itself. This begs the question of the study’s transferability since the authors probably didn’t have to deal with unwilling-to-cooperate gatekeepers and had access to any of the ‘partnered’ streamers they wanted to interview. Meaning someone without a research partnership with Twitch most likely would not be able to gain access to the same privileges or diverse points of view as Johnson and Woodcock but whether or not that would affect the research’s findings is hard to tell. Unfortunately, we do not know the differences in experiences between partnered streamers making a full-time income from Twitch and less successful ones with a smaller audience. Also, success in streaming can be measured in various ways, starting from earned income, the number of subscribers or followers, the type of partnerships one has acquired to even the number of viewers per stream, each requiring a different sample, in turn, producing a new outcome and set of data. Hence, why I believe future studies into live streaming should focus on extremely specific measures and different levels of success within the streaming community. Furthermore, an alternative research method I would suggest for this topic is focus groups, a qualitative research method, essentially a way of listening to people discuss topics that are of greater interest to the researchers and learning from them (Morgan, 1998). They would be able to group these individuals according to the level of their success, the type of approach they possess to streaming, and their and Twitch’s future in the broadcasting market. The endless options would better understand participants’ experiences, thoughts, and differences.
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Published On: 01-01-1970