Twitch: TV for gamers

Over the years, the world of eSports and LetsPlay videos has developed significantly, with viewer numbers now in the millions. Gamers from all around the world get a kick out of watching each other play. Now with Twitch, the community also has a live streaming platform; a kind of gaming conference for the community. So how does the platform work? What kinds of games do users play? And is it possible to make money using this platform?

The evolution of Twitch

The story of Twitch begins in 2007 with a developer called Justin Kan. Freshly graduated from Yale University, he decided to live-stream his life, 24 hours a day. With a webcam affixed to his cap and a laptop in his backpack, he allowed people to view his life day and night. With that, Justin.tv was launched. While this channel was the first of its kind, Kan’s unusual idea quickly drew in media attention, and numerous internet users followed suite by broadcasting their own lives online. Kan ultimately ended up adding more channels to the network.

Just one year later, the newly founded business boasted a community of 30,000 broadcasters. At this time, live streaming technology was developing at a similarly fast pace to span across new genres, including sports, music, news, and finally, gaming. In the latter, users would film themselves playing PC and console games. This genre gained so much popularity, it spawned its own streaming platforms, resulting in the launch of Twitch.tv in 2011. 

Since then, Justin.tv has closed its gates in order to focus on its much more successful daughter project. 2014 saw Amazon purchase Twitch Interactive Inc. for 970 million US dollars.

The streaming platform’s outreach is constantly expanding and as of 2016, has achieved record-breaking figures:

  • 292 billion minutes of video content have been watched in total
  • 2.2 million active broadcasters
  • 14.2 billion messages have been sent via Twitch’s chat function.

What is Twitch?

Twitch is primarily a platform that allows its users to participate in a shared gaming session. The video streaming site is enhanced by diverse features; these have helped to transform the streaming platform into an active community of users. But how can you use Twitch and what technology lies behind the broadcasts?

Functions

Twitch centers on broadcasting video games in real time via screencast. Among these games, some of the most popular sessions are eSports. Here, headsets play an important role in addition to the video stream. Particularly on Twitch, this factor is of central importance; the platform is not just about the match itself, but the personality of the gamers. Many users therefore use a camera aimed towards them. This is known as the face cam. As with YouTube’s LetsPlay videos, the streamer’s reactions are a significant area of fascination for the audience.

In Twitch live streams, a small video recording the player is displayed in the corner of the current video. In order to make this presentation particularly appealing, many players sit in front of a green screen with the visuals of their game playing in the background. Players can use the self-presentation aspect of live streaming to entertain their audience and build a fan base. A profile underneath the video informs viewers about the game. Channels often use this area to note the hardware used or give details of the player’s other social media channels. There is also a chat function next to the video, which viewers can use to comment on the video.

Games

Multiplayer games are by far the most popular on Twitch. Just like with sporting events, the competitive element of multiplayer games has the intoxicating quality of creating excitement and frustration among players and followers alike. First-person shooter games, including classics like Counter Strike were the first runners-up in 2016, and they are still a firm favorite within the gaming scene after more than 15 years and numerous new developments. Strategy and role-playing games such as League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Dota 2 also attract a large audience. Other popular famous games include the online collectible card game Hearthstone, the open world hit Grand Theft Auto V and, of course, the iconic Minecraft. Many lesser-known, whimsical games also pull in impressive viewing figures. These include games like onu! (a music game) and Farming Simulator. Arcade classics like Tetris also enjoy a large number of spectators.

Additional channels

Beyond gaming channels, Twitch now offers a range of other channels, split into the following categories:

  • IRL: on the IRL (in real life) channel, viewers accompany the broadcasters through their daily lives, as with the platform’s former incarnation as Justin.tv. The primary function of the IRL channel is to broadcast vlogs, which are a kind of video diary.

  • Talk shows: on this channel, broadcasters discuss specific topics. This category is a place for everything from political debates to hijinks and horseplay.

  • Creative: Twitch shows support for its users’ creative pursuits with its ‘Creative’ channel. This category is mostly made up of videos of broadcasters drawing, painting, and sculpting, but there are also cooking shows here too.

  • Music: the Music category is a platform for self-starting musicians to post recordings of their work. This section is mostly used by DJs to present their sets but it is also used by singer-songwriters in order to share their music with the community.

eSport events

Twitch retains the majority of its community through the eSports scene. Competition among players is therefore of great importance on this platform. The channel has many accounts that regularly broadcast live events, some even exclusively. Unlike with private streams, live events occasionally use multiple cameras, capturing the image from many different perspectives. Independent commentators and interviews transform the stream into an event, similar to sports shows on TV.

Fact

At eSport events, gamers sometimes play for millions of dollars in prize money.

What technology is used?

Many Twitch users transmit the contents of their screen with Xsplit or the open source software Open Broadcaster Software. The latter supports macOS and Linux in addition to Windows systems. Both programs are linked to Twitch and it’s therefore very easy to embed them. Most current games consoles (PS4 and Xbox One) already have the transfer function integrated in the system.

In addition to this software, Twitch streamers also need good hardware for successful broadcasts:

  • PC, Mac, or games console: for the audience to be able to enjoy the stream, the computer in use should have sufficient processing power and a good graphics card. For a successful stream, it’s crucial to have attractive graphics; if the image jerks too much, viewers will lose patience and exit the stream. It’s also important to keep in mind that CPU power is needed to stream from a PC. With a video game console, however, this is no longer necessary; its hardware and software are coordinated with each other.

  • Internet connection: a fast connection is required in order to present videos in a high quality and without time lags. For a full HD stream, an upload speed of 6 Mbit/s must be available. Practically speaking, the video can be compressed using many streaming programs, which saves resources when uploading. Online gamers should also remember that the game itself puts a great strain onto the internet connection.

  • Video camera: the face cam shows the player in action, capturing their facial expressions and gestures. This is a massive part of the attraction for Twitch users. The technology used for this is therefore of great importance: if the screen transfer is of a very high quality, it’s important to invest in a high quality camera in order to provide a coherent overall picture.

  • Green screen: some broadcasters opt to use a green screen. Using the broadcasting software’s chroma key function, users can calibrate the background to reflect the game, so that the gamer can embed themselves neatly into the video. This only takes up an extremely small area of the screen (as most gamers are seated during the broadcast), so in principle, users just need a small green sheet as a background in order to do this. It’s also possible to invest in a solution made particularly with gamers in mind; for a modest fee, gamers can purchase a special backdrop that can be folded up and stowed away after their broadcast. Nevertheless, some streamers prefer to film themselves against the backdrop of their own room. If you decide to do this, ensure that your living space is tidy and not too distracting.

  • Microphone: interaction between gamers and their viewers is enormously important. Gamers should therefore use an effective microphone for their transmissions, so that their commentary doesn’t go unheard by the viewers. Many gamers choose headsets, as they were made specifically for this purpose, but it’s also common to see streamers that use professional microphones. When recording your voice, make sure that the sound of the game does not override your voice, and ensure your settings are calibrated to a suitable level. While the correct setting will ensure that the levels of your audio are correct, gamers must take care not to shout too loudly with excitement while playing, as this can cause annoyance to the audience or lead to distortions.

  • Capturing hardware: to create professional-looking streams, users can invest in special capturing hardware. With these interfaces, the video signal from the PC and video camera is transmitted to another computer. The second PC or laptop then processes the video and transfers it to the network. This gives you the best CPU performance possible, with no delays in either the game or the stream. 

Expenditures

Twitch is essentially a free service. Viewers don’t even have to register, and broadcasters need only pay for their personal equipment. Since the acquisition by Amazon, users have been able to register with Twitch Prime, a special variant of Amazon Prime. In addition to Amazon’s regular services, such as Prime Video, Prime Music and Premium delivery, there are extras made especially for the streaming platform: subscribers can enjoy ad-free streams and extensions (skins, characters, in-game credits, etc.) as well as bonus functions for Twitch’s chat function.

What is Twitch’s demographic?

The streaming platform’s target audience is mostly made up of gamers. People between 16 and 24 years of age make up the lion’s share of this group; 37% of users are under 25 years old. In general, the interest in streaming and video games decreases as age increases. According to one Twitch report, the majority of consumers are male. However, if you take a look at the broadcasters, you‘ll soon notice that, despite being under-represented among gamers, female broadcasters attract huge followings.

The gradual move away from traditional TV to streaming services such as Twitch, YouTube, and Netflix is often described as cord-cutting. Young people are leading the trend in using streaming services as opposed to TV. Twitch is becoming increasingly attractive to marketers who want to reach out to this target audience. In addition to banners and ads, popular streamers can aid marketers by becoming influencers and promoting products. The interactive element of Twitch also provides interesting marketing opportunities. For example, cosmetics brand Old Spice used this aspect of the platform to create an interactive live action game. Users guide a man with a webcam through a forest via the chat function and determine the route he takes and the tasks he has to complete. This concept highlighted the notes in their fragrances.

How can I earn money with Twitch?

With Twitch, it’s possible for active streamers to monetise their live streams. Most earning opportunities involve some kind of partnership. Broadcasters have to comply with certain guidelines in order to ensure the providers check each advert individually, rather than tick off a catalog of features after an ad:

  • Content: For its partner program, Twitch selects users who make a valuable contribution to the community. Twitch decides judges each application individually in order to decide which content is valuable. Of course, the user may not violate the terms of use of the platform or the copyright.

  • Community: Potential partners should have a large fan base, but Twitch does not publicly disclose any specific numbers. However, the number of followers is not the only factor considered in the selection of broadcasters. Prolific influencers on YouTube and other social media platforms also have a good chance of being approached by Twitch for partnerships.

  • Regular activity: Only streamers who are regularly active on the platform are eligible for the partner program. According to the official Twitch guidelines, users must sign on at least three times a week to be considered regularly active. Only those who are willing to spend a significant chunk of their daily life with the streaming service can hope for income - just like with other jobs.

Premium subscriptions

Twitch users can buy subscriptions in order to follow partners. The revenue generated is then shared by the streamer and Twitch. Premium viewers then receive a special status, distinguished by a badge and special images that can be used in the chat. Broadcasters can also remove ads on their channel for their subscribers. Subscriptions are generally seen as donations for broadcasters, so in order to thank their subscribers, some channels offer closer interactions with followers, such as personal conversations.

Twitch ads

Like YouTube, Twitch generates a large proportion of its revenue from advertising, which involves the use of partners. The partner then profits from the adverts displayed on their channels. The partner can then decide themselves how many adverts they want to show. While the very first advertisement is obligatory, the streamer can then choose to insert a commercial break up to every 8 minutes. The revenues are not always consistent, but on average, a partner earns 2 US dollars for every 1000 viewers.

Affiliate marketing

Streamers can generate additional revenue with Twitch’s affiliate program or third party offers. If a user buys an item after clicking on an affiliate link, the streamer receives a commission. These adverts primarily focus on video games and hardware used for gaming.

Donations

All semi-professional streamers have donation buttons integrated in their profiles, connected to their personal accounts. Using this, fans of the streamer can make a one-off payment without having to set up a monthly subscription. Streamers then often thank their donors personally on-air. The donation itself is usually made via PayPal, which means that it’s possible to get a reaction in real time (partly automated by bots).

Further sources of income

If streamers regularly interact with their audience and maintain their channel well, they will naturally grow strong connections with their viewers. The most successful channels have fan bases that behaves in many ways similar to fans of musicians or athletes. Selling merchandise can therefore be a profitable venture; if the streamer becomes real star, it’s also possible to be sponsored by manufacturers from the gaming sector. For example, some popular gamers receive the latest hardware and are sponsored to mention it in their profiles or streams.

It’s also possible to make money as an eSports gamer, rather than simply playing for pleasure. ESport events draw in major crowds for Twitch, and competitors can win enormous sums of prize money. Participating in a gigantic tournament like this can serve as an advertisement for the participants’ own channels. Furthermore, if you have established yourself as an expert in the field of eSports, you can also turn your knowledge into money outside of Twitch. For example, many people create exclusive online tutorials that reveal how to build skills in a particular game. Viewers can access these videos for a fee.

As with other content providers, like bloggers and podcasters, many streamers publish an Amazon wishlist, which includes products that the broadcaster would like to buy. Users can then choose to buy their favourite broadcasters one of these items as a gift, rather than simply donate money. This helps to strengthen the relationship between the broadcaster and their fans even more. In general, gamers can secure a livelihood from any one of these abovementioned sources of income. However, combining these methods can of course lead to more donations. However, earning money in this way isn’t always as easy as it seems; without regular broadcasts and consistent interactions with fans, Twitch users can quickly lose interest.

Conclusion: Twitch proves an interesting opportunity for gamers and marketers

Without any doubt, Twitch corners a very specific market; video games are a niche area of interest. But despite this, the streaming platform is interesting from a money-making perspective for two main reasons. Firstly, due to the link to the gaming industry; with international revenues of more than 90 billion US dollars, the world of gaming has been beating the film industry in terms of turnover for many years now. ESports events and industry events like the E3 in Los Angeles and the Gamescom in Cologne, Germany draw in crowds consisting of thousands of people. And while these games are predominantly loved by younger people, many gamers carry their passion for playing into adulthood. This indicates that the gaming industry will continue to be a crucial market in the future.

The second reason is relating to the evolution of consumer media. It is not necessary for advertisers to distribute content solely on the internet if they focus on offering a variety of ads and diverse, experimental content. This increases the level of interaction between the content creator and consumer. Most internet adverts are comparatively cheap and have fewer print runs than radio, TV, or newspapers, so it’s possible to be more experimental. Because viewers can communicate their reactions to the producer in real time, there’s an extremely close connection between the content and its recipients. This means that, theoretically, any internet user can become a blogger, podcaster, YouTuber or streamer. In this way, Twitch is therefore also contributing to the democratisation of the media and will most likely have an impact on the future of the media landscape.