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Microsoft jumps into the interactive streaming arena with purchase of Beam

Microsoft has purchased streaming startup Beam, which helps make it easier for viewers to interact with their favorite streamers. Whether through something akin to Twitch Plays Pokémon — or having fans control a drone in the real-world office of the streamer — Microsoft wants to build a new interactive streaming experience around its latest buy.

Streaming games today is huge business. That’s why both main current-gen consoles launched with that functionality built in and Amazon purchased Twitch for close to $1 billion. While it might seem like Microsoft is coming to this game a little late, its purchase of Beam signals that it’s hoping to get in on the ground floor of a new and burgeoning entertainment medium: interactive viewing.

There have been attempts at choose-your-own-adventure-style movies and shows in the past, but the dedicated plots have been hard to handle. When it comes to streaming games, however, it’s more about the immediate experience, which is why letting a viewer decide what gun the streamer will use, or perhaps even remotely control their next opponent, could make for an exciting viewing opportunity.

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Indeed, we know it is, because some of the most popular streams on sites such as Twitch in recent years have been those like Twitch Plays Pokémon or Twitch Plays Dark Souls, where thousands of people collaborated to play a game together. That was quite a jury-rigged system, but Beam is much more streamlined than that.

It does require developers be on board with it, but according to the official site, it’s incredibly simple to implement remote interaction within a stream. From there, it’s up to the host of the channel to decide how to use it. They’ll also be able to dole out rewards to the community. Viewers will earn experience and bonuses as they watch and contribute, adding an addictive leveling mechanic to the mix.

One of the big advantages, we’re told, is that Beam has incredibly low latency. Inputting a command as a viewer and seeing it play out on the stream can take less than a second. It’s also built entirely in HTML5, so it’s compliant with new standards. It also doesn’t use the antiquated Flash player, something Twitch has been ditching over the past year.

Microsoft can immediately bring Beam functionality to millions of gamers all over the world as part of Xbox Live. It doesn’t need to launch a new site or service and encourage people to use it — it will simply be able to put Beam in front of its user base and let them run with it.

“We at Xbox are excited about this convergence between playing and watching, and want to provide gamers with the freedom and choice to have great multiplayer experiences across all of Beam’s platforms,” said Microsoft in a statement. “This acquisition will help gamers enjoy the games they want, with the people they want, and on the devices they want.”

No word yet on how much Microsoft paid for Beam.