A year after Twitch slipped through Google's fingers, the empire has launched its own competitor to the billion-views-a-year live gaming market with Youtube Gaming.
Why do they care so much to have created a competitor from scratch less than a year after Amazon paid $970 million to acquire Twitch, allegedly right out of Google's hands? A billion views a year may not sound like a huge piece of the pie when you consider that YouTube generates billions of views a day.
They care because they already depend on gaming content for significant amounts of traffic, so it's no wonder YouTube is so interested in gaming. YouTube says that their gaming channel will bring together over 25 thousand games, with hundreds of millions of gamers. Already, gaming is a significant traffic-driving force for YouTube--the site claims that half of the top 100 channels by watch time are gaming channels.
In other words, YouTube already plays host to millions of dollars and billions of views of pre-recorded gaming content. YouTube celebrity PewDiePie, production company Rooster Teeth, and a dozen other major gaming organizations and individuals host videos on channels where people can see them anytime (many Twitch streamers also use YouTube to post recordings of their live broadcasts).
Twitch does a form of that too. The difference, however, is that Twitch is primarily a live broadcast system, which lets anybody with an XBox One and a camera peripheral host a live stream as they play through (almost) whatever they want. YouTube is about edited content--or at least it was until today.
Now live, the homepage for YouTube Gaming and the individual live pages look a lot like those of Twitch. In fact except for a few subtle design differences the interface is essentially the same.
Here is a screenshot of Twitch's homepage, below:
Compare that to YouTube Gaming's homepage, shown below:
So what are the major differences that will help determine which service will win out? It's hard to tell. YouTube has in its favor a massive number of existing users, as well as existing gaming content. That means everything you ever watched is available on YouTube Gaming now too. YouTube Gaming is less about a separate site and more about enhanced searchability, according to Alan Joyce, the Product Manager for YouTube Gaming: “All YouTube Gaming content is also available in the core YouTube experience. Gaming provides a discovery portal for the gaming content that exists on YouTube proper.”
The biggest questions for the moment are whether content producers on YouTube will want to do so live, and whether live streamers on Twitch will want to move to YouTube.
We asked a few Twitch streamers if they'd consider the move, and most of them were lukewarm on the opportunity. That lack of interest for the content producer could make sense: At the moment, they are likely getting a better deal on Twitch. YouTube has done a lot to promote the viewer experience and stream quality, however the revenue model, important for many streamers has yet to be discussed.
Twitch currently has several clear channels for making money with a stream: ads, subscribers (who pay a monthly fee for the privilege), and tips (sometimes in large amounts). YouTube's current model rewards views only. Subscribers are irrelevant to the YouTube world, and really just another social media tool to get people back to your content.
There's also the problem of gaining an audience: A Twitch streamer often leverages other streamers as part of a network to make gains in followers. If you move platforms, that community likely isn't going to follow you.
There's also concern over YouTube's copyright protections, which could take a streamer offline if they detect, say, music in the background. Twitch does this on the back end: If they recognize a song, they'll mute that segment of audio in the saved file. Many streamers have Spotify open in the background, treading a thin line where “live” audio playing in the room isn't technically a violation of copyright rules.
Worst yet is the fact that, for the moment, YouTube Gaming does not have support for consoles. That means there's a higher entry point if you want to join the community, as users will require a webcam, recording software, and a computer setup to do what both Microsoft and Sony built into their hardware already. “Regarding Xbox and PS4,” said Joyce, “we're interested in delivering YouTube Gaming for consoles, but we have nothing to announce right now.”
Still, YouTube will likely generate more views, and save Twitch streamers the hassle of moving recordings to YouTube if they want to build more revenue there. As with everything in the gaming world, there will be a lot of “wait and see” to determine who wins out. But some competition in the market can't hurt. Users and content producers (especially the ones generating the most revenue) both stand to benefit from having alternatives where there weren't any before.
We may be seeing the dawn of exclusivity contracts and gaming superstars within the next few months. Here's hoping they don't pass that cost on to viewers.