Stream sniping is when someone watches your stream to get an upper hand — to essentially cheat — against you in a game. It sucks.
Rust developer Facepunch is, to my knowledge, the first game developer to build a preventative measure against it into their game. They call it Streamer mode. Here's how it works, per a post by Garry Newman on Rust's official website:
"Streamers sometimes find it hard to play Rust because people will find out what server they're on and either DDOS it or hunt them down and kill them. Streamer mode hopes to make that a bit less likely. First of all it tries to hide all server names, so if you're streaming and you accidentally press escape, your audience won't see the server name. Secondly, it changes everyone's name to something random. The names are based on their steamid, so the same guys will always have the same names. You'll recognise your friends because they will always have the same random name."
I got in touch with Newman to find out why he decided to take a stand against stream sniping in the first place, and he told me that no single specific incident prompted his decision. He just watches a lot of people stream Rust — in order to learn.
"There's not really one incident," he told me via email. "I watch a lot of streams. It's really useful to see how normal people play. You can make estimations of how they play based on what you see them do in game, from another point of view, but you can't see what they're seeing. You can't see their cursor dance around looking for things in a menu that are obvious to us as a developer, but are completely hidden to an end user. Watching a stream is incredibly useful for stuff like that. Especially when you factor in that they don't know they're being watched by a developer, and most of the time they're narrating their own experience, what they want to do, what they're thinking about, how they feel."
Interestingly, he noted that he typically watches low view count streamers, because they're more indicative of what the game is like for regular folks than big Twitch fish taking a dip in the small pond. "These are usually the people with the most average PC, having the freshest experience," he explained.
"Every now and then I'll catch one of the bigger guys streaming and jump on to see what they're doing, why so many people are watching," Newman added. "A few times I've noticed that people seem to know where they are and everyone is calling cheater, so I've jumped on and spectated them. They haven't been cheating in any obvious flying around running through walls way, but they have had knowledge that they shouldn't have, so I can only assume that they're watching the stream too."
Thus, streamer mode was born. Newman acknowledged that this probably won't completely turn people's stream sniping past-time into a thing of the past. But it will make things tougher for aspiring stream snipers, and sometimes a little difficulty is enough to make the majority of people reconsider.
It will be interesting to see how well this works out, and if other game developers add similar modes to their games. Or perhaps someone will try to design a game where stream sniping is a key part of the design. That would certainly be... well, it'd be something, that's for sure.