‘Join’: The YouTube Vs Twitch Arms Race

Published by Stephen Caswell on

I think at this point, it’s fair to assume that everyone and their grandma has heard of PewDiePie. Over the past decade, the rise of the YouTube celebrity has perhaps been the most prominent display of internet fame. But in the midst of its second decade, it seems that the arbiter of celebrity on the internet may soon be knocked down from that lofty position – at least as far as video games are concerned.

There was a time when YouTube was saturated with videos of everyone playing Minecraft, with many of the current titans of the Let’s Play community having started off in the creative sandbox. Now, the screaming masses cry out for Fortnite on Twitch, and it may just be changing the fabric of the Let’s Play, Let’s Play being the collaborative experience of playing, recording and then uploading the played video game footage.

Last year, YouTube Gaming saw a 343% growth in active streamers. While Twitch only went up by 197%, they remained the favourite site with over 814,000 active streamers, as opposed to YouTube Gaming’s 293,000. When those services were combined with Microsoft Mixer, Facebook Live and Periscope, the yearly donations from viewers to streamers was $101M.

Despite coming into being two months after the 2011 launch of YouTube Live, Twitch was already the go-to platform for live streaming video game content. A month later, Twitch had its own Partner Program – similar to YouTube – allowing users to earn money from advertising. One particularly notable aspect of this, is that in 2016, Twitch developed a way to embed its adverts into the videos, meaning that Ol’ Faithful Google extension (AdBlock) can’t touch them.

In 2015, YouTube tried to take back the Let’s Play crown from Twitch by launching YouTube Gaming – a second streaming service from the company, this time focusing on video game content. Despite taking a more focused approach than Twitch (which has categories for almost everything), it failed to topple the giant.

Twitch revenue (in addition to adverts) comes from subscribers. Not simply keeping you up to date, a la YouTube, Twitch subs pay a variable monthly fee in exchange for additional content and new features during streams; these range from chat features to personalised emojis. Furthermore, there is the simple donation system, in which a one-off payment can result in message being sent to the streamer and/or displayed for other viewers to see. And so, as the back and forth continued, YouTube introduced Super Chat features to their live channels in January of 2017. Essentially the Twitch donation system, a Super Chat allows a viewer to pay to ensure their comment will be seen or read by the streamer. Later that year, YouTube added a sponsorship system which functions in the same fashion as Twitch’s subscriptions.

With the gaming industry flocking to Twitch – Xbox and Playstation can both stream directly to the service, unlike YouTube – they offered yet another monetisation option for streamers. Running through Amazon (which bought the service back in 2014), Twitch allows viewers to buy the game they are watching directly from the stream, earning the streamer 5% of the sale.

YouTube and Twitch have already contributed to the sales of games in the past. The aforementioned era-defining Minecraft saw success in part because of its explosion on YouTube, and indie titles like Hello Neighbor have found funding after sending their demos to be played online by the movers and shakers of the Let’s Play community.

While merchandising, sponsorships and Patreon have been a great option for the Let’s Play community in the past, they are now evolving into the advertising system they were once supported by. Adblock may have caused a decline in the usual revenue for a content creator, however the user is now in the position of being able to buy almost directly from the person who inspired their purchase.

YouTube comments sections are famous for being a hive of scum and villainy, but Twitch has created and successfully deployed the AutoMod feature for its own comments and chat section. For those who don’t know, most chat rooms or forums have dedicated moderators, who often give up their time to ensure everyone is getting along relatively well and not throwing around too much hate speech. Twitch uses a combination of language processing and machine learning to search the chat for inappropriate or offensive comments, and either remove them or flag them for later consideration by the streamer. At this point, the comment can still be removed after the fact, or the commenter can have their chat privileges removed.

Additionally, Twitch offers 24-hour support to its streamers and has additional chat rooms for text and voice outside of the videos on display.

One of the biggest differences the two services have is outside of streaming. Twitch only allows past videos to remain on the website for a short amount of time, while YouTube Live retains all streams for as long as the user wants, as well as having YouTube itself to amass content on. The latter requires fancy editing, more often than not, but streamers have found ways to keep their Twitch channels up to date with some fancy edits – becoming almost as complex as a general television studio. Sometimes using multiple cameras and audio tracks, Twitch streamers have become more than just a combination face cam and game footage. The other difference is over payment. YouTube pays per view through advertising revenue, while the majority of Twitch streamers’ income comes from subscriptions.

Which brings us to now.

For those who haven’t seen it, YouTube added a ‘Join’ button to certain partner YouTube channels, allowing viewers to re-subscribe (in some cases) for a monthly donation. It’s not been much of a secret that YouTubers have been steadily making less money, be it due to algorithm changes reducing their viewers or a change in guidelines making their content un-monetised, fans can now send money directly to their favourite content creators through the platform. Y’know, like Patreon, only for a set $4.99 price-tag and YouTube gets to take a cut.

While there are certain features that may appeal (some creators are offering Members Only content) YouTube’s contribution seems a little lacking. Will people honestly want to pay for chat emojis? It seems the driving force is, like Patreon, to give a little back to the entertainers you like. But will viewers really want to start paying for content that has famously been free up to this point? Time will tell, but for now, the war continues.


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