Team Commit 2 the Bits is a group of five ETC students consisting of Shiva Kannan (programmer), Hyoeun Kim (UI/UX Designer), Guimin Ren (programmer), Namrakant Tamrakar (artist), and Karen Xu (producer). Our faculty advisors are Brenda Harger and Jessica Hammer. Commit 2 the Bits is a discovery project that extends the work of “Commit to the Bits” who continues to explore the intersection of improvisational theater and Twitch live streaming. We sought out to incorporate the rhythms of a full improv show, including studying roles and agencies at stake, streamlining an improv show online, creating a sense of community among viewers despite the distance between actors and the audience, and helping teams practice the new skills needed to succeed at improv online. Our deliverable at the end of the semester includes running a weekly improv show, developing a production toolkit to smoothen aspects of the show, as well as a stretch goal of developing an audience participant game.
We spent the first 4 weeks going through documentations from Commit to the Bits and getting their prototypes up and running, as well as conducting research on Twitch, improv, as well as audience participatory games. We then started to plan extensively for our first show with seasoned improvisers, including studying structures of existing improv shows and Twitch streams from week 5 to 8. We spent week 9 to 11 on planning out our pivot for the project now that our previous setup of conducting the show in person in the green screen room will not work anymore. Weekly playtest and improvements has been conducted since week 12 and will continue till the end of the semester.
What went well
Commit 2 the Bits was able to build upon the work done by Commit to the Bits at the beginning of the semester, but also able to separate what we do from their work since the fundamental focus of the two projects are very different, despite this being a continuation.
We were able to base on our goal, develop a smooth running improv show on Twitch, and we have delivered at least three smooth running twitch improv shows. And none of this would have happened without the team’s spontaneity, risk-taking spirit without sacrificing practicality when we encounter unprecedented design challenges on this fundamentally discovery project of building an improv show on Twitch.
We realized that through several steps. An important first step is that we established a fairly clear division of labor within the group from the beginning, with the roles and responsibilities belonging to each person established. We planned to run weekly playtests since quarters; we tried to run them weekly, especially towards right before halves and the end of the semester after we’ve finalized our pivot, and playtesting provided extremely useful information. We were able to collect feedback from faculty and carefully craft more features based on the feedback we’ve received.
In building each show, we thought out each show carefully, establishing an arc with carefully selected improv games first vetted through Improv II, then determined that will both engage audiences and set the actors up for success. We also successfully utilized the spontaneous nature of improv and the audience interaction levels to encourage Twitch audiences to make suggestions, making our Twitch channel’s chat a robust environment that engages the audience with our shows.
We were lucky to have gotten in touch with a group (Show & Tell Live Improv) that have been doing Twitch/Improv for a significant amount of time. They first located the paper written by Commit to the Bits and reached out to us. After the pivot of our project took place amid COVID-19, we reached out to them and scheduled meetings to have conversations about their experiences with Twitch/Improv. We were able to show them the tools that we have built and receive validation from them, which was a good feeling for us and kept us going amid our project pivot. We were able to make improvements on our shows based on their experiences, such as really trying to build a bridge with the audience and making them feel like they’re an important part of our show. We also established mutual support with each other by tuning into each other’s shows to provide support on a weekly basis.
We were also able to bounce back from pivoting our project due to the unique COVID-19 situation this year. We were able to adapt from our situation and quickly work out a viable setup for our improv show due to losing the space in the green screen room. Our product was validated by those who have been doing Twitch/Improv, as well as seasoned improvisers. We used the situation in our favor, since entertainment options are significantly reduced and people are turning into platforms like Twitch, and improvisers are forced to look into options of doing improv on Twitch.
What could have been better (or what went wrong)
Going remote was a double edged sword for us. While it benefitted us in making more people turn to Twitch as an entertainment option, it was also harder for our team to meet together and have brainstorming sessions as effective as the ones we had before we went remote. Having time zone differences was also difficult to have everyone working at their best energy state.
Additionally, due to the design oriented nature of this project, the members in our team who focus on art and asset creation had to take on the role of designers at the pre-production phase of our project, or otherwise they would not have much to do. Having gone through what is similar to two pre-production phases in the project due to the pivots, they had very little chances to showcase their talents and add to their portfolios. While their input was invaluable to the team, we wish that we could have better utilized their artistic talents.
Lessons learned & Conclusion
It is very hard to summarize all we have learned in a couple of paragraphs. We have learned a lot about improv and Twitch culture in general. Through watching improv shows and Twitch streams, we got a solid understanding of how both mediums are uniquely different, but also having a ton in common that we could utilize.
We have also learned that in solving a design challenge, the most important thing to do is not being afraid of making mistakes; instead, starting prototyping and building as early as possible and making mistakes is one of the best things that we could do. Only through building and constantly seeking for feedback could we validate our design and make changes and improvements upon those.
We have definitely managed to find ways to learn and grow in an environment that is foreign to us in the beginning; none of us were Twitch or improv experts coming into this project.. We have learned to communicate with each other effectively despite our different backgrounds.
We were grateful to receive validation from the faculty from ETC, groups like Show & Tell Live Improv, as well as the seasoned improvisers that we have been working with. We have managed to develop stable products, and our production toolkits have the potential to be deployed in theaters that are facing the same problems of improv online.
As the semester is coming to a close, Commit 2 the Bits will be doing at least 2 more improv shows on Twitch (as of 4/24/2020). After that, we might deploy our production toolkit in local theaters and beyond to help facilitate improv as a possibility.