CodeMiko Is The Future Of Streaming, Unless Twitch Bans Her First

CodeMiko Is The Future Of Streaming, Unless Twitch Bans Her First

CodeMiko is nervous. I can tell because she tells me. “This is, like, my first interview ever,” she says over a Discord call. “I’m sorry, I’m a little shy.” It’s December of 2020, and Miko’s entire life is about to change.

Miko does not know it yet. She is, after all, not a fortune teller, though based on her stream — a sophisticated all-digital setup she can modify using her own skills as a coder, brought to life by a full-body mocap suit — you could be forgiven for thinking she’s from the future. On stream, she is an unflappable presence, a literal video game character whose off-kilter, on-point observations pierce straight to the heart of famous streamers’ insecurities and extract lighthearted humour. But in this moment, she is just another streamer, doing her best to capitalise on a surge of career momentum that could make or break her. She has no way of knowing it will ultimately do both.

Soon, her Twitch follower count will skyrocket, from 20,000 up to more than 500,000. Soon, she will collaborate with an endless procession of Twitch and YouTube’s biggest names: Imane “Pokimane” Anys, Hasan Piker, Asmongold, Sykkuno, Moistcr1tikal, Videogamedunkey. Soon, she will get suspended from Twitch for the third time, for questionable reasons. Soon, she will have nightmares about the prospect of a fourth suspension — one that, per Twitch’s rules, she likely will not come back from. Soon, she will hire a management firm and a development team and overhaul her entire approach to being a public figure. But she does not know any of that right now.

All she knows now is that this is her first interview with a journalist, and she hopes it goes well.

The concept that drives Miko’s stream is simple: She’s a glitchy video game character who interviews real people — specifically, famous Twitch personalities. The great strength of her act is that Miko, the character, does not know who any of these people are, and even when she does, she doesn’t give a fuck.

“She’s kind of a dick, but a loveable dick,” Miko, the real person, not the character, told Kotaku of Miko the character, not the real person, in an interview. “She has no filter. I think that’s what makes her slightly dick-ish. Maybe ‘dick’ isn’t the right word… She’s kind of stupid, unfiltered, and not afraid to say whatever is on her mind or what she sees.”

This results in interviews where Miko regularly interrupts guests or bombards them with awkward, invasive questions. She’s yelled at Pokimane about catheters. She’s forced Piker to talk to the Dark Souls boss he could not defeat (spoiler: it was Miko, dressed up as the boss). She’s gotten Dunkey in trouble with his girlfriend. In the hands of a lesser comic, her shtick might be annoying. Miko, however, times her interjections perfectly, and she knows just how to fluster guests so that it’s entertaining, not off-putting. Her character is unpredictable, but also endearing. She’s very funny, and more importantly given the demands of Twitch audiences, she’s consistent about it.

When Miko first started blowing up on Twitch late last year, this dynamic drew comparisons to ‘90s Cartoon Network classic Space Ghost Coast to Coast, in which the titular hero-turned-talk-show-host interviewed (and irritated) celebrity guests like Conan O’Brien, Bjork, and William Shatner. Miko told Kotaku that she never watched the show. Some viewers have also classified Miko as part of the monolithic VTuber trend, in which real people stream as (typically anime-inspired) avatars, each with their own backstory and personality. Miko told Kotaku that she doesn’t really pay much attention to that scene. In truth, she doesn’t need to. She’s carved out a niche that’s uniquely hers.

It all started when Miko died.

Miko began streaming while working at an LA-based animation studio — specifically on live animation, which is how she came up with the idea for her stream. But even after she got laid off and began streaming full time last year, she found herself gaining traction at a pace familiar to most Twitch streamers: glacially. On top of that, she was $US20,000 ($25,642) in debt because her stream setup, especially the mocap suit, did not come cheap. Unemployed and making $US300 ($385) per month on Twitch, she could no longer afford her apartment. But just before Miko was forced to pack it in, she had a breakthrough: Viewers, she discovered after three months of slow progress, would happily pay to murder her.

“I always had interactivity in my stream, but my income tripled the day I put in this interaction where the audience could kill me,” Miko said with a laugh that suggested she still couldn’t fully believe it. “It’s a nuke. When I added the nuke and the mute — where the audience could mute me for 30 seconds — I was able to afford my rent and pay off my debt slowly.”

Viewers can kick in “bits,” Twitch’s proprietary currency, to directly interact with Miko, forcing her to dance, shut up, and yes, die — albeit only for a short period of time. Miko told Kotaku that it’s “good” her character is “kind of a dick” because it means that chat doesn’t feel bad about doing terrible things to her. “She kind of deserves it,” she said. During Miko’s streams, the audience activates these features with no warning, and her guests are forced to roll with the punches. Miko started out with no guests at all , but over time, she began to pick up bigger and bigger names. Now streamers who entertain millions of people every day come on Miko’s show, and suddenly, they’re fish out of water again. For viewers and streamers alike, it’s something new.

“[Miko dying] was random enough that it caught me a couple times,” Devin Nash, a streaming and esports industry insider who went on Miko’s show last month, told Kotaku via DM. “Also, immediate trigger of imposter syndrome that I can’t carry a significant viewer show.”

During the stream, Miko explained the miracle of birth to Nash, in her own way. It was entirely unprompted, as many of Miko’s tangents are, and involved phrases like “penile erectum” and “The Coom.” It took over ten minutes. Miko began to explain that people of any gender could have a baby several different times. Nash’s exasperation was written all over his face. “The Coom brings forth le life, and thus, a baby is made inside,” she finally concluded. “And you poop it out.”

Nash was equal parts impressed and flabbergasted by her commitment to the bit. “Every day I learn something new on this platform, man — for better or worse,” he told Kotaku.

Miko also came on Nash’s stream, where he helps streamers build their brands, back in December. At one point, she showed him underwear she’s collected, because she cannot resist trolling, even when she’s not in character. “It’s all jokes, ultimately, but she caught me off-guard on the first stream we did together when she started showing me her underwear collection,” Nash said. “It’s not on your list of [things to expect] coming in to build someone’s brand.”

Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo, a popular streamer with a tendency to push boundaries into edgier territory, embraced Miko’s chaotic energy when he went on her show in January. Over the course of the pair’s banter-filled 40-minute conversation, he took off his shirt, made loud noises, and shaved his eyebrows — all of which Miko went along with and, when she could, participated in.

“Pretty much, it just became a game of who could get dumber, and I had to win,” Rinaudo told Kotaku over a Discord call. “So I started to shave my eyebrows and be an idiot and walk around and scream and yell and roll around and act like a monkey.”

“I have the easiest time with streamers who are just natural trolls,” Miko said during our December interview. She went on to explain that she suffers from severe social anxiety, but when she streams in-character, at a breakneck pace with no dead air, she’s able to exist in the moment and react to what’s happening. She can just voice whatever pops into her head, and most of the time, it’s very funny. “I just go and do it,” she said. “It’s hard to feel any negative emotions when you’re streaming.”

Fans love that about her.

“Saying her streams are entertaining is an understatement,” a fan named Richie Aquino told Kotaku in an email. “She is unpredictable, has great comedic timing, and I love how she has no filter with her questions. She is the most entertaining person on Twitch by a long shot.”

“I looked her up and was so confused by what I was watching,” another fan who goes by the handle 100LL told Kotaku in a DM. “At first she was very annoying, but after the stream with [streamer] PaymoneyWubby, I was sold. She made me laugh so hard.”

Her stream’s presentation mirrors her manic energy, risk factor be damned. For example, Twitch chat messages appear on Miko’s shirt at a blistering pace. Given Twitch chat’s reputation, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but messages are delayed such that moderators can weed out offensive content. It’s all in service of the larger whole.

“Her whole stream is focused on not just broadcasting, but introducing new standards of interactivity with her audience,” one of Miko’s moderators, Camro, told Kotaku in an email. “That means spamming certain characters or emotes in order to draw a reaction, change her appearance, or help her decide what to do next. That kind of enthusiasm creates a ton of volume, so it’s not about suppressing a conversation, but finding the signals above the noise.”

Nash and Rinaudo’s responses to Miko’s antics could not have been more different, but the two were perfectly aligned on two points: First, while Miko said she tries not to slide into people’s DMs too abruptly, both described their own experiences with her somewhat differently. Nash, who considers Miko a friend, said he went on her show after “she incessantly spammed my chat in all caps until I begrudgingly accepted,” while Rinaudo said that “she reached out to me, but she reached out to literally everybody.”

Second, both see her not just as a flash in the pan gimmick, but as somebody who could be Twitch’s next truly massive star.

“Miko will be around through the next several iterations of Twitch and will iterate her content to fit with the evolving meta of the website,” said Nash. “She will grow consistently and continuously reinvent anything that gets stale in her show. It’s more about the person behind Miko, who is highly driven and success-oriented, [than it is the gimmick]. She has what it takes.”

Rinaudo put it more succinctly: “I think Miko has potential for long-term success because she’s actually funny, which is very rare, especially on Twitch.”

All Miko has to do is keep her stream going. But that’s the hard part.

The first time Miko and I spoke, she eventually found a comfortable rhythm. By the end of our conversation, she was in good spirits. The second time we talked over Discord, toward the end of January, she had a much easier time sinking into the rhythm of an interview where she wasn’t the one asking the questions, but her tone was less energetic, and her voice had a noticeable rasp to it. With nearly 350,000 Twitch followers and regular audiences of well over 10,000 concurrent viewers, she’d become a bonafide breakout star. But stardom takes a toll.

Streaming for hours and hours a day multiple times per week is not easy on anybody, but it’s doubly taxing for Miko, who has to remain in-character. Also, there’s the suit. The suit is a big issue. It requires recalibrations every few hours. If Miko crosses her real legs for too long, her digital legs will start to do weird things. Oh, and she can’t pee.

“I can’t drink water during my whole stream,” Miko said during our second interview. “If I drink water, then I have to go pee. And when you go pee, you have to take off everything. And then that whole process takes me, like, 10 minutes, right? And during that whole 10 minutes, you lose like, like, thousands of viewers. And those are your regulars, right?”

For a while, Miko ignored this problem in the name of maintaining viewership. This, she says, resulted in full-blown, medically-diagnosed health problems, so these days, she tries to stream in-character for only four or five hours at a time, instead of six or more. This would put her well below the full-time streamer standard of eight-plus hours per day if not for the fact that she also regularly streams as herself — or rather, as a second character called The Technician, who is basically the real Miko, but with her nerdy developer predilections cranked up to 11.

Technician streams offer a behind-the-scenes look at Miko the character and Miko the person. While many VTubers and other online performers who embrace fiction jealously guard their true identities for fear of breaking immersion, Miko’s whole thing is taking a screaming jackhammer to the fourth wall. It makes perfect sense, then, for her to regularly drop the façade. One of her earliest viral clips actually stars her real-life boyfriend, Brandon Winfrey, rather than Miko. In the clip, Miko, as The Technician, swears up and down to her Twitch chat that she has a boyfriend and proceeds to call Brandon, who answers in an over-the-top robotic tone: “Hello girlfriend. How was your day?” When Miko replies in an exasperated tone, he repeats the phrase, pretending to be a Siri-like AI, and then says, “Please respond, girlfriend.” She implores him to tell chat he’s real, but he continues the bit to the bitter end. “Haha yes, I am a [robotic pause] real boyfriend,” he says.

Now, Winfrey, formerly a game developer at Insomniac (who, weirdly, appears in Sunset Overdrive as a boss), is part of the Miko-verse. It’s an arrangement that’s worked out shockingly well for Miko, especially given Twitch’s pervasive problems with sexism.

“It’s crazy how sexist Twitch can get, because if a male streamer gets a girlfriend, no one gives a shit. It doesn’t affect their viewer count or subscription count,” Miko said, noting that back when she was a smaller streamer and she first started dating Winfrey, her concurrent viewer total dropped from 400 to 200 in just one week. “But I had Brandon when I grew really fast [at the end of 2020]. I got my audience used to him really fast…But it’s not their business, right? It shouldn’t affect my stream. That’s another reason I like having Brandon around: It just filters out those types of people and keeps the good people in.”

“I was nervous at first, because I want her to succeed as best as possible,” Winfrey told Kotaku over Discord. “I don’t want to mess up anything. But you know, her audience just isn’t that way. It’s been fun. When I get a call from her when she’s normally streaming, I know that [it’s like] ‘Alright, let’s put on a show. Let’s have some fun.’”

Fans appreciate the additional access to Miko’s life, as well as genuinely wholesome moments that come of it, like when Winfrey, a longtime Dunkey fan, got to tell the beloved YouTuber how much he appreciates him. But, somewhat ironically, all of this streaming takes away from time Miko could be spending on her real passion: developing new features for her stream.

“I’ve really been itching to go back and do all my devving things,” Miko said, noting that she was instead bogged down with everything else that goes into being a successful streamer: sending emails, making YouTube videos, finding a YouTube channel editor, signing with a management company and a talent agency, and so on.

“I don’t have a break,” Miko said. “The thing is, if I have a break, then I should be devving. But if I don’t have time to dev, then I don’t have time for anything.”

One thing full-time streamers and full-time developers have in common is that the specter of burnout constantly looms. Miko is both.

“The thing is, I burned out a long time ago,” she said with a dark chuckle. “The thing that burns me out the most is when I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over and over again. Like, I don’t find my interactions with streamers and chat funny anymore. And so when I feel like I can’t change it because of all this other stuff I have to do, it’s mentally frustrating, and then that mentally drains me. And then I get stressed out, because it’s like ‘When am I gonna find the time to actually do the things I want to do?’ When I do get to start devving, I think that’s going to rejuvenate my soul again.”

When Miko first began to blow up, she was the apotheosis of the solo creator ideal. Because of her broad skillset as both a top-notch developer and a whip-smart performer, she could do everything according to her exact vision. No streamer is ever truly a one-person show — everybody has chat moderators and Discord admins — but Miko was about as close as you get. A while back on Twitter, I saw somebody note that the childhood hobbies of millennials and zoomers (video making, fan fiction, fan art, etc.) eventually morphed into viable careers, and they asked what skills the next generation will incorporate into their creations. Almost immediately, someone replied, “coding.” At first I found this response predictable — an extension of the cult-like crowd that worships at the altar of “learn to code.” But then I thought of Miko, and I realised that that person might actually have been onto something.

Problem is, when you’re doing everything, you don’t actually have time for anything. When Miko finally found time to develop new features, it wasn’t because she’d cut down on her obligations or become a savvier planner. Instead, it was because Twitch suspended her account, slamming the brakes on her life as a performer.

During our December interview, Miko confided to me that she was worried. She hadn’t paid off all her debt yet, but she’d already been suspended by Twitch twice in September, for things she characterised as “slip-ups.” On Twitch, three strikes often means you’re out — though there’s wiggle room for bigger streamers. Miko was not a big streamer yet. She proceeded to explain that one of the times she’d been suspended, it was because she let viewers pay $US1 ($1) to send Miko, the character, a “D pic.” It was a literal letter D, as a joke, and it would pop up on Miko’s phone. Twitch apparently thought she was serious, that she was “soliciting money for pornography.” She tried to appeal the suspension, but to no avail. Twitch just closed her ticket and marked subsequent attempts as duplicates.

“I think I have, like, ban PTSD,” she told Kotaku in December. “I still don’t feel completely safe on Twitch. I’m terrified of getting an indefinite suspension for something I didn’t mean to do.”

In January, Miko got suspended a third time, for something she did not mean to do. Twitch suspended her because, during an interview with Amouranth — a streamer who’s dealt with no small amount of harassment over the years, and who has been suspended multiple times herself — Miko asked Amouranth to show her the worst harassment she’d received. Amouranth sent her a copy of an email. Miko made the mistake of displaying the email, in which a viewer repeatedly accused Amouranth of being a “slut,” live on stream. This violated Twitch’s rules around broadcasting other people’s personal information.

When Miko explained the reason for her ban at the end of January, she noted that “from my experience, threats are almost never sent from a user’s actual email address, but throwing up the screenshot got me banned.”

Initially, fans were in the dark as to why Miko got suspended again. As a matter of policy, Twitch does not address these things publicly. Many spent the week after her channel got taken down concerned that she’d been permanently banned. Even after Miko cleared the air, however, some fans remained upset.

“I am absolutely infuriated with the Twitch bans,” said 100LL. “Banning people for accidents is not the way to reprimand the same people who are bringing in the money for Twitch. Twitch needs to be more communicative with their streamers. Instead, they just ban them without warning, and it’s difficult to get a reason for the ban, let alone a way to explain the error with a solution to prevent the issue from happening in the future.”

In the end, Miko’s suspension lasted two weeks. On Twitch, that’s a lot of lost income, but it’s better than a month, or forever.

Miko used the downtime to finally get some devving done on an idea she first told me about in December: a digital game show, starring popular streamers and hosted by Miko.

“The game show concept had been in development for months!” Miko told Kotaku in an email last month. “The ban was unfortunate, but after streaming for nearly 12 hours a day, it did give me the time to [flesh] out concepts and put real development hours against it. I was determined to make the most out of the negative situation.”

When Miko returned from her suspension at the start of February, she went all out. Leading up to the game show’s debut, she did a full day of interviews with big names like Asmongold, Esfand, Sykkuno, and T-Pain (yes, the musician). Despite barely having slept the night before, she put on a heck of a show. She persuaded Asmongold to try being gay. She made it through a very harsh job interview from Esfand. She simped for Sykkuno. Then, in the middle of her chat with T-Pain, she stood up and walked to a new wing of her digital den: a game show studio. Surrounded by a bug-eyed NPC audience, T-Pain, Rinaudo, Ludwig, and Moistcr1tikal — whose video streams were broadcast onto podiums — had to guess the price of exotic items like some rocks, a lamp, and a chair Félix “xQc” Lengyel had farted on. Then Miko asked them a bunch of trivia questions that did not really have definitive answers. Points were awarded seemingly at random. It was a janky mess, but it definitely carried the manic spirit of Miko’s interviews.

A triumphant day gave way to a more somber evening. In the wake of the show, Miko did a Technician stream in which she reflected on her big return. After giving fans a tour of the virtual game show studio, she discussed her suspensions.

“It is a little scary that I’ve gotten so many bans in a short amount of time, when I don’t try to be controversial,” she said during the stream. “I care too much about my content. I work so hard for content that, why would I try to throw it away, you know? Why would I try to be toxic?”

Then she began to tear up. “It hurts because I feel like [Twitch] sees me as, like, a toxic person or something. Sorry,” she said while covering her face and wiping tears from her eyes. “Sometimes I think my jokes cross the line, and I’m trying not to do that much anymore…I know jokes are fine. You just get paranoid. That’s all.”

“Sorry,” she said while trying to compose herself, “this is embarrassing.”

After the moment passed, Miko explained to viewers that she intends on keeping things more “brand-safe” and “brand-friendly.” Speaking to Kotaku in an email, she later added that she “made significant investments in ensuring these minor mistakes are never repeated.”

“Significant” might be an understatement. Miko now employs a senior engineer, an environmental model artist, a character artist, an animator, and a rigger to help her with development. She’s also working with a management firm, Underscore Talent, and a publicist. Miko, once a scrappy mostly solo effort from somebody with no background in performance, is now a polished team effort, a production with the backing of seasoned entertainment industry pros.

Communicating with Miko in February was very different than it was in December and January. Where once she’d never done an interview before, now she is extremely busy with meetings. To answer my questions, her publicist sent over squeaky-clean copy that, alongside responses from Miko, included comments like “MANAGEMENT NOTE: REQUEST FULFILLED.” Twitch thrives on perceived accessibility and interaction, but the truth is that many big streamers are surrounded by red tape. It took just a few months for Miko to reach that point. The pipeline that turns streamers into brand-friendly productions is getting faster. That’s by design.

Perhaps there was never any other outcome for Miko. Beyond the bounds of the traditional entertainment machine, she built something that thrived on absurdity, spontaneity, and risk-taking. But she was burning the candle at both ends. It wasn’t sustainable — not within the Twitch ecosystem, anyway.

Nash still isn’t convinced Twitch is the place for Miko.

“Twitch hasn’t given a lot of confidence in the past couple years in building a career here,” he said. “This is especially true for people who have been banned multiple times. If I was banned 1-2 times, I would be looking to diversify my income streams in 3-6 months, and I’d be DEFCON 1 on that until it happened. Twitch has shown little concern in protecting broadcaster income streams who are ‘problem children’ in their view. The responsibility is on content creators to realise that over-indexing [more than] 90% of their income on a platform that will remove them for 2+ weeks at the drop of a hat is unwise. In this day and age, no creator should be oversubscribed to one platform.”

Miko also seems uncertain about the future. Last week, she appeared on the stream of professional psychiatrist Dr. Alok Kanojia. Speaking as herself, not her character, she said she’s been having nightmares about getting permanently banned from Twitch.

“I dream about it,” she said. “The last dream I had — it’s kind of funny — I wanted to get pizza, and I had a pizza flyer, and I showed my chat the pizza flyer, unbeknownst that the owner’s first and last name and number was on the pizza flyer. I showed it to chat, and I got banned for it. I was so upset in my dream.”

Some fans have noticed Miko’s newfound hesitance, saying it’s made her streams feel more restrained.

“The bans have definitely impacted how free she is on stream,” said Aquino. “She’s constantly worrying about [Twitch’s terms of service]. It’s giving her anxiety that you can clearly see, and she’s talked many times about how she’s afraid of being banned again.”

Despite it all, Miko, encouragingly, remains Miko. Her most recent YouTube video, a clip from an end-of-February Twitch interview with PC-building streamer Kristofer Yee, is entitled “CodeMiko boobs grow whenever she farts…” It is about what it says it’s about.

The theme that persisted across all three of my interviews with Miko was her desire to keep building. She spoke of grand ambitions, firing off ideas so quickly that it seemed like they were being generated on the fly by the part of her brain that handles Miko the character’s madcap ramblings. Her audience, she said, might come with her on an adventure through a 2D platformer, or an RPG, or a streamer-focused Celebrity Deathmatch game, or a Pokémon-style game. Her roadmap is always changing, but now she has the means to transform her ideas into (digital) reality. She just has to make sure that when the dust settles, there’s still solid ground beneath her feet.

“CodeMiko’s world is literally designed to grow,” Miko said in an email last month. “It’s not meant to stay the same. I’m a very curious person with a real thirst for learning and will always push to be a better streamer and person. My community, new and old, has a lot to look forward to — I promise!”

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