Seven years on from the rebranding of its original incarnation Justin.tv, video game live-streaming platform Twitch boasts more than a million people tuned in at any moment and interest is rising.
Today’s top “streamers” are celebrities who can earn fame and a healthy living from competitive video gaming — but co-founder Emmett Shear says his lightbulb moment came back in 2010, four years before Amazon swooped to net Twitch for a cool $970 million.
“In 2010, I realised the content I loved, that I was watching on Justin.tv, was all gaming content,” says Shear.
“(I) loved the streamers, so I decided we would start focusing on just gaming, and there was a huge opportunity there,” Shear told AFP.
So Twitch came into being — the name alluding to a player’s action response time.
Twitch brands itself as a global community showcasing “unique, live, unpredictable experiences created by the interactions of millions,” the entertainment ranging from “casual gaming to world-class esports to anime marathons, music, and art streams.”
China blocking the platform last September was a bump in the road but the company was already going strong on 2017 revenues of $1.7 billion — 54 per cent of a gaming content sector cake worth $3.2 billion, according to data from market intelligence agency SuperData.
SuperData says the platform of net giant Google held a mere 22 percent market share in 2017 as “despite having half the GVC (gaming video content) audience of YouTube, Twitch’s audience is more engaged and willing to spend on their favourite broadcasters”.
“Twitch has been conceived for video game spectators, unlike other platforms,” says Laurent Michaud, director of the study for France’s IDATE digital think tank.
Today, some 670 million people watched at least one video game in 2017 — watching as streamers shoot at zombies, cast spells or construct their own imaginary universe.
Shear draws a parallel with watching television.
“If you understand watching TV, maybe you like watching cooking, travel, talk show. It’s fun in all of those cases to watch people who are the best in the world at what they do…
“I don’t think watching video games is all that different from watching grown men kicking a ball around a field or someone cooks a pie.”
Spectators can take part on the sidelines by sending up comments and emoticons as ‘play’ unfolds as well as make donations to favourite players.
Shear, who says Twitch wants to help highlight budding gaming talents, says the platform’s main revenue streams — advertising and subscriptions for ‘privileges’ such as VIP ‘badges’ and access to special emojis — enable gamers to make cash from their content.
Even so, the vast majority will not come close to “Fortnite” legend Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who recently told sports multimedia group ESPN his gaming nets him a monthly revenue in seven figures and who boasts more than 12 million Twitch followers.
Whereas technical quality was the initial priority for Twitch, today it is offering visibility to ‘small streamers’ which is key in the hope they will eventually earn greater popularity and with it more revenue.
Regarding how to ‘make it’ in revenue terms “it’s very complicated to do it for the money — that only works for very few people,” says communications specialist and Twitch player Mylene Lourdel.
“Often it’s just a bit of extra cash to allow you to invest in the material.”
But for Shear, “we really think it’s the most important thing to do, to help small streamers make it and go full time and maybe find a way to make a living.”
He says an ideal game “enables audience interactivity, when you have enough downtime in between matches or during a slow part in the match that you get a chance to interact with the audience — or even better if the game itself engages people to interact with you.”
Although big-ticket events such as League of Legends or Fortnite dominate, those so inclined can follow fringe offerings such as cooking channels who may emulate South Korea’s Mokbang or broadcast “social eating” trend.
Beyond gaming, but chowing down online in front of virtual dining partners helps bring Twitch full circle in harking back to the early days of Justin.tv.