Player two has entered the game: YouTube stirs up streaming industry

By Steven Viera || Senior Editor

Much of my childhood is written in excited taps of A and B buttons and tangled controller wire thanks to the countless hours I spent in front of dim screens playing video games. While most of my favorite games were single-player, I almost always had a friend with me during my console-related binges so that they could share advice and game knowledge; after all, how else are you supposed to unlock Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee if not with Ricky sitting next to you, telling you exactly which buttons to press and constantly asking if it’s his turn to play yet?

This is not a problem that kids or gamers of the recent past or the future will ever experience thanks to the rise of the internet, which enables players to livestream or post videos of gameplay for the viewing pleasure of anyone, anywhere, anytime. For years, Twitch.tv has been the dominant and virtually unchallenged site for watching livestreams of gaming content, but the launch of YouTube Gaming two weeks ago—a new service through YouTube that allows users to stream, post, or watch an array of gaming videos—could give Twitch a run for its money.

YouTube already has plenty of gaming content available, claiming that more than half of its top 100 channels are gaming-focused, but these are mostly pre-recorded videos. Twitch, on the other hand, is built around livestreams, where users play games live for massive audiences, creating a shared experience for both the player and the viewers where the player addresses the digital crowd, the crowd responds via the chat feature, and everyone enjoys some good old fashioned virtual fun.

It’s at this point that most people normally make a joke (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Kimmel) or declare that they think it’s silly that anyone would spend time watching someone else play a video game, and while they’re entitled to their opinions, there are hundreds of millions of people who disagree. According to Fortune, Twitch—which, on August 23, had two million concurrent viewers—attracts over 100 million viewers per month and, according to The Wall Street Journal, accounts for 1.8 percent of all internet traffic in the U.S.

What’s more is that gaming videos on both Twitch and YouTube can be monetized by selling ad space, subscriptions to streams, and via corporate sponsorships for streamers, meaning that game videos or streams have the potential to be a new frontier for entertainment as well as big business.

That being said, now Google (YouTube’s parent company) is hoping to strike it rich—um, strike it richer—with the launch of YouTube Gaming. After all, Google unsuccessfully tried to acquire Twitch in 2014, paving the way for Amazon to buy Twitch later that year for a whopping $970 million. You might say that this makes things personal.

Regardless of the history, YouTube Gaming is both a contemporary and impressive platform. The site design is modern, attractive, and offers a plethora of videos to choose in an easy to read format. When you first log in, the site presents you with a banner of popular live streams to view. Beyond the banner, you can use sidebars on either edge of the screen or scroll down infinitely to choose videos organized and offered up in a number of categories: Featured. Recommended for you. Recently added. Popular streamers.

Moving past the landing page, the site has a number of features that make it easy to use. The option to either upload a video or “Go Live” are as simple as clicking a button. Even more impressive is how effectively YouTube Gaming archives and makes available old videos—something that Twitch has struggled with.

However, YouTube Gaming isn’t the new utopia of gaming videos. Users and critics have already pointed out issues with how the content ID service works, which could automatically end videos mid-stream and delete the host channel automatically; YouTube has not announced plans to address this issue as of yet. Another problem is comment and chat moderation, as YouTube comments are rife with toxic commenting and spam.

For the time being, YouTube Gaming will be working to get on its feet and Twitch will need to find a way to respond to—Gasp!—competition. In the long run, though, what can gamers expect from both of these sites? Well, if what I learned in Intro to Econ is correct, then competition could lead both sites to offer incentives or innovate to make their site more attractive. Additionally, both YouTube and Twitch may try to secure exclusive contracts with streamers and professional gaming tournaments so that they have sole rights to broadcast the big names that draw crowds.

While streamers and viewers may benefit from the arrival of this new entrant into the streaming scene and the burgeoning video game entertainment industry, for Twitch and YouTube Gaming, it’s game on.

Steven Viera is the Senior Editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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