We cover Twitch a lot here on TechnoBuffalo. Whether it's the platform's attempt to conquer retro games in hive-mind fashion, its recent announcement of becoming an E3 partner or the inclusion in the feature lists for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Twitch is in our headlines rather consistently.
This week, Twitch is in the news because of a potential acquisition. As of drafting this story, Twitch is currently in talks with YouTube owner Google. The huge company offered the owners of Twitch $1 billion, reportedly, to relinquish the rights of their service.
That interest and offer creates a story surrounding Twitch.
Exactly how big has this video game streaming service become that Google is willing to drop $1,000,000,000 in order to acquire it?
What Is Twitch?
Twitch was created in 2011 by Justin.tv co-founders Justin Kan and Emmett Shear. It's a platform committed to streaming nothing but games and, if they have a webcam, the people playing them.
There are two sides of the Twitch equation, much like almost every other video site on the planet. There are the broadcasters, those that actually produce and stream the content, and the viewers, those that consume and comment on the content.
Broadcasting was once a little too complicated for your average user to perform. It required a semi-decent computer, capturing software (or equipment, if console gaming was what was being streamed), a good Internet connection and the know-how to fill in all the right forms and check the right boxes. It wasn't rocket science, but Twitch was never stupid simple.
Now? Now we have the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. These new consoles have made Twitch streaming as simple as linking an account and pressing a button (or stating a command). That's it. Twitch has become so easy for new console owners that its use has exploded ever further.
Twitch has gone from a fad to a social gaming staple.
Google's Offering How Much!?
$1 billion. That's how much Google and YouTube think Twitch is worth.
Now, we know we're talking about two different eras separated by eight years and a lot of change, but Google spent $1.65 billion on YouTube in 2006. That's a whole lot of scratch, but the mere $650 million between the video game service and the largest video platform in the world is insane to consider.
I personally cite the recent PlayStation 4 and Xbox One inclusion of Twitch as a major component of its explosion in value. Those two platforms will be home to a massive chunk of gaming for the next seven or eight years (at least), and Twitch is how those gamers will broadcast their experiences.
Google must have seen the long term value in that notion. If the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 reach the numbers that the previous generation of consoles did, Google could potentially dominate the way roughly 150 million people consume and deliver video game streams. Think of the ad revenue they would generate; especially considering that viewing on these consoles means the exclusion of Adblock.
My only concern, of course, is that Google will seek to unify YouTube and Twitch.
Keep YouTube on YouTube and Twitch on Twitch
Part of the appeal of Twitch is its direct connection to gaming and gamers. It feels very much like a service made by gamers and for gamers, and that "homegrown" sensation is part of what so many respect about it.
If Google takes Twitch and integrates it with YouTube, they run the risk of being cited as the company that "ruined" the platform. I don't care if they only do good things to Twitch. If they change the foundation of the service being its own thing with its own logo and userbase, they'll be labelled the villains and they could see a big drop-off in usage.
I'm not suggesting that Google and YouTube are the "evil" part of this equation. I'm saying that the gaming world is wary of what happens to their platforms when they fall into mainstream hands. If Twitch becomes too public and forward facing, it loses some of its footing in the gaming world. It becomes less of a platform for gamers by gamers, and more of a platform for the Internet at large.
Plus, Google hasn't had much luck integrating its services with others. I point towards the integration of Google+ and YouTube for proof. Now, word has it that Google+ is on the way out, but what if it was required to broadcast on Twitch? Imagine the outrage.
If Google does actually pick up Twitch, the best thing it can do is keep its team in place and increase its funding. The folks behind the Twitch gamers see today are the ones capable of keeping it focused on gaming. If they stay in charge, Twitch could stay focused on gaming and gamers, and the only thing the Twitch community can look forward to is a better, more stable service.
What Does This Say About Video Game Streaming?
I won't lie. I used to think streaming video games and making Let's Play videos was bogus. I used to wonder why anyone would want to watch someone else play a game instead of playing it themselves.
Then I tried it.
Twitch is more about community than it is about gameplay. Watching someone stream or streaming and interacting with those around you brings a new layer to social gaming that I personally believe has been missing as of late. With the advent of party chat and private voice chat servers, talking publicly with the gaming community at large has been something most suffer through instead of enjoy. Twitch brings the community together over a single stream or idea and let's them enjoy it together.
With Google's interest in the platform, one that could spur a $1 billion expense, we now know that video game streaming will likely only get bigger. More gamers, more streams, more reliable video and, potentially, the mainstream switch of the medium could bring in a wealth of new users.
Whether that winds up being good or bad for the Twitch community remains to be seen. What the community should know, though, is that video game streaming isn't a niche form of entertainment anymore. It's enormous, and it stands to make some folks a whole lot of money in the near future.
I'm not convinced Google buying Twitch is entirely good. I am convinced that this means gaming is about to get a whole lot bigger, and soon.