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An Amazon engineer is letting thousands of Twitch streamers play the stock market with $50,000 of his own money

(9 Views) May 31, 2017 12:11 am | Published by | No comment

Today saw the debut of “StockStream,” a new social experiment in playing the stock market airing on Twitch, Amazon’s live video game streaming service.

The idea is reminiscent of 2014’s “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” where more than a million Twitch viewers all shared control of the classic Nintendo Game Boy game.

But this ain’t no game: Mike Roberts, the Seattle-based Amazon engineer behind StockStream, is letting players vote on how to invest $ 50,000 of his actual savings on the real-life stock market. So far, about 60,000 people have come through to play along, or at least gawk at the spectacle.

twitch bets stocks stockstream

Screenshot/Twitch

Roberts says that the idea for something like this has been kicking around the web for years, with users of sites like Reddit letting anonymous commenters vote on the next stock they should buy. Now, after six months of work, Roberts has debuted StockStream as a more focused, and applied, version of that concept.

“After the first day, I’m a lot more bullish than I already was” about the game, says Roberts. 

The way StockStream works is simple: Every five minutes, a round of voting opens, allowing Twitch viewers to vote on the purchase or sale of any stock, like “!buy AAPL” or !sell TSLA.” After five minutes, the relevant stocks get added to or subtracted from Roberts’ portfolio, with the trade executing via the popular Robinhood app. 

iOS and Android robinhood

Robinhood

Robinhood, the stock trading app that’s helping facilitate StockStream.

Players are then scored on how their stocks performed. If you suggest buying Apple, and it pops right after the trade is made, you get points. But if it dives, your score is docked accordingly. Roberts says that the current scoring system is confusing for a lot of players, and will likely be revamped, but those are the basic rules.

There’s no prize or payouts for players with the most points. It’s more about the fun of participating a financial crowdsourcing experiment.

As for Roberts, so far the wisdom of the crow has him treading water. After day one, Roberts still has about $ 26,000 cash on hand, with a total account value — cash on hand, plus the value of his stocks — of about $ 50,055.92

Win or lose

Roberts says he was a little concerned, going in, about trolls stomping all over the fun social experiment he had envisioned by purposely trying to derail his portfolio and lose him money. A few odd choices like Cheesecake Factory and Papa John’s aside, though, he says that players have chosen for him “a reasonable, diversified portfolio” that includes hot tech stocks like AMD, Tesla, and Apple.

StockStream viewers can make donations to Roberts, but as of day one, that hasn’t happened very much, nor does he expect it to. He does say that a fair amount of StockStream viewers are signing up for Robinhood via his referral link, which nets him a “free” stock bonus for the portfolio when they make their first trade. Otherwise, it’s almost entirely his money that’s on the line.

twitch plays pokemon 1

Twitch Plays Pokemon

“Twitch Plays Pokemon,” the phenomenon that inspired StockStream.

Roberts says he hasn’t really considered a way for players to “win” at StockStream. He feels like it would be disingenuous and discouraging if he told players that their goal was something as straightforward as doubling his money; he’s really in it for the love of the game. 

There is, however, a losing condition. Because of FINRA regulations for the category of day trading that he falls into, Roberts has to make sure that his total account balance (again, cash plus the value of his stocks) stays above $ 25,000. If it dips below, he won’t legally be allowed to trade anymore, and so the game is over. So while his account is a little over twice that today, he acknowledges that there’s an element of financial danger to the game.

“If a lot of these [stocks] start crashing tomorrow, then things could get dicey,” says Roberts.

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