The social media ecosystem is constantly evolving; producing new contenders with fresh methods of connecting people. One which has been exploding in popularity but remained virtually invisible outside the gaming community is the streaming service Twitch.tv.
WHAT IS IT?
Twitch is essentially a live streaming platform, primarily used by gamers. So far so YouTube, but why is it different?
Twitch allows gamers to stream content, live, to their own audience in an interactive chatroom. Viewers can chat, comment, advise and generally communicate with the streamer and other viewers in real time fostering a very real community atmosphere and allowing dedicated gamers access to their high-level heroes.
The format places the conversation on-screen alongside the gaming action, bringing the viewers into the personal (cyber) space of their heroes and creating a virtual hangout at which young and college-age gamers have a seemingly insatiable desire to be.
The platform got its independent legs in 2011 as the gaming spin off of the now defunct Justin.tv. Growth has been meteoric from the start. From 2011 to 2012 the site went from 3.5 to 20 million unique monthly users and is now at hundreds of millions. Amazon paid $970 million for the site in 2014, a testament to its status as a one-of-a-kind platform.
WHAT’S GOT YOUTH TWITCHIN’?
The enormous scale of the youth gaming market is a reflection of Twitch’s growth - its platform allows engagement in this passion in new ways. This gaming community’s ravenous hunger for Twitch stems from popular games like ‘League Of Legends’ and ‘Fortnite’. They garner millions of views - and millions of dollars for the streamers themselves. The platform’s current most successful streamer, Richard Tyler Blevins, AKA Ninja, admits to making ‘at least 6 figures’ a month from the platform (largely through Amazon Prime subscribers who donate to his channel). UFC fighters are even making more money on Twitch than they do competing in real life.
What’s interesting, though, is that although it’s a gaming platform, people aren’t only using it as one. Musicians, for example, are debuting songs on the platform.
Something with such great power to unite young people and hold their attention must have harnessable benefits, and Twitch most certainly does. Take for perfect example, the ‘Climate Fortnight’ stream. On the back of a tweet by a climate scientist bemoaning the paltry 1,000 views her seminar received versus the 10,000 of her 11-year-old daughter’s Twitch stream.
Henri Drake, a climate PhD, set up ‘Climate Fortnight’, whereby himself and other scientists explain the dangers of climate change while playing Fortnite with the young people whose generation need to know about it most. Its current following is small by Fortnite comparison, but the potential for connecting to young people using Twitch and gaming as a conduit has massive potential.
Sony also realised the platform’s value with its most recent version of the PlayStation. An avid ‘Street Fighter’ streamer explains its lure:
“They managed to get it built into PlayStations so basically everyone who streams games uses it. It took off because it had a lot of early adopters and it helps that it's free to use. Because of its user base you can just go on and watch any new game, or nowadays you can even watch people traveling, eating, anything really!” Johnny, 31.
Given its explosive success across the gaming world, the platform has branched out beyond these realms with lifestyle content. A Twitch streamer explains the benefits of the genuine connection it provides with her viewers:
“Twitch for me is me is such a unique platform. It is so interactive between you and your viewers that you truly build a little family. Due to Twitch being live, you basically sit and chat in your bedroom to your following and build a relationship with them by learning their name, hobbies etc. I struggle a lot with loneliness, living alone in London, and when I started streaming it would allow me to switch my mood. My viewers are so supportive and know my humour and can switch my mood instantly.” Gee, 23.
Non-gamer streaming has found favour with many Twitchers wanting to live-stream niche hobbies, daily lives or travels and adventures, á lá YouTubers, only with the crucial and apparently game-changing facility for live commenting and interaction.
From the point of view of engaging with young people, Twitch is uniquely untainted by inappropriate content as streamers are banned from streaming any ‘Adult Only’ games.
Not without its controversy, the platform has been making headlines of late as its popularity resulted in getting banned in China. Tragically, there have also been deaths streamed live on the platform.
In March of 2017, a streamer died in the middle of a live 24 hour twitch marathon while in December of the same year, an incident of “swatting’ - an aggressive type of real-life pranking among gamers whereby they call the police or emergency services on each other - ended in the death of a man in Wichita. Most recently, at an eSports event that was being live streamed in Jacksonville in Florida, two were killed and eleven were injured when a mass shooting took place - the first to take place during a video game tournament and the first to be live streamed.
If ever there was a sign we’ve reached ‘peak social’, look no further than Channel 4’s new social media-based reality show The Circle. Like something...