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Hitbox has some huge competition to challenge as a rival to Amazon’s Twitch gameplay livestreaming service and Google YouTube gaming videos. But Martin Klimscha, chief executive of Hitbox, isn’t concerned about that.
He is moving forward with a game livestreaming service that offers a resolution of 4K and a speed of 60 frames per second for later this year. That’s a lot more detail and a lot faster than the standard 1080p livestreams of rivals.
“They’re like Coke and Pepsi,” he said in an interview with GamesBeat at last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big gaming trade show in Los Angeles. “They’re both huge. We’re Red Bull. We’re pushing forward for what gamers need.”
Hitbox believes this is a new way for livestreamers to stand out from the pack of millions doing the same thing. But it’s just what Hitbox needs to make a difference. Right now, it has 6 million monthly active users, while Twitch has well over 100 million. So yes, it’s time for Klimscha to be scrappy.
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Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What are you up to?
Martin Klimscha: We’re creating a new experience in the livestreaming world. We want to bring viewers closer to the broadcasters and the content, giving them the option to participate in content creation. That’s why we’re focusing on new technology, on low-latency approaches. We’re bringing a realtime experience to both broadcasters and users, connecting them in real time. We have HTML5 chats, 1080p 60FPS streaming. Now we’re working on 4K streaming.
GamesBeat: The challenge is you want to push the envelope pretty far, but gamers don’t want to take away from the processing power running their game. Is it a heavy task to do both?
Klimscha: The bandwidth is there. A lot of people have bandwidth for watching 4K streams. That’s definitely possible. From a production perspective, though, you’re right. You need the processing power. You need a 4K camera if you’re recording yourself. But we already have tournament organizers doing that. We have some streamers with 4K equipment. Just yesterday I was talking to one of the biggest German YouTubers, and he’s just gotten his 4K setup. We’re the first to give streamers the option to use that.
Gamers are super demanding. They always want the best equipment. If they have the option to stream in higher quality, they’re probably going to go out and buy it.
GamesBeat: I’ve heard Nvidia talk about how the graphics cards are multitasking now. They’re at a point where if you’re playing a game and streaming, there’s zero impact on the game. I wonder how much of that is in place in the installed base, though.
Klimscha: We’ve tested a couple of graphics cards. We’ve seen the performance. As you say, you need processing power to handle the stream, but the components are out there. We’ve been pushing great streams for Counter-Strike and Heroes of the Storm. The quality is amazing and we’ve never had a problem with game slowdown.
GamesBeat: Why is Twitch not going as fast in this direction? Do they have too many users in their installed base who might be left behind?
Klimscha: The main reason is they’ve been out there a very long time. Once you’re running a 10-year-old company, you have a lot of legacy systems connected together. We have the option to start from scratch and take the best components on the market, optimize them, and combine them. That’s the basis for how fast we can be. Once we saw the 4K possibility, we jumped on it. We want to be the first with new technology.
It’s the same with HTML5 chat. We saw the need for that to achieve our vision, giving users the opportunity to take part in content creation. They need a chat system where they can do something in it. We could have easily taken an IRC-based chat like Twitch and others, but we went the extra mile.
GamesBeat: You have Twitch and YouTube out there. Each of them seems to be trying to become more like the other. That’s the main competitive dynamic.
Klimscha: They’re like Coke and Pepsi. They’re both huge. We’re Red Bull. We’re pushing forward for what gamers need. We don’t have any plans to go horizontal. We want to focus on our core audience of gamers and deliver one feature after another.
Just yesterday we announced the release of the League of Legends connection we created for our player. When you’re streaming League of Legends and I want to see what champion you’re playing, I can click through the player and go into your champions and see what you’re using. It’s cool. People have more to do. That’s the most asked question in chat – what character are you playing, what runes do you have? Now you can use our player to get that information from their system.
The chat system is a very important part of our communications strategy and interactivity approach. You can post YouTube videos, pictures, GIFs. People love the GIFs. It’s the next step in how to do things. Very soon you’ll be able to do more things in chat, but we’ll have to have more conversations about that. We’re trying to use the chat to bring in and engage users more and more. We’re looking forward to showing it off more.
GamesBeat: Where are you as far as numbers of users?
Klimscha: We started a year and a half ago. We wanted to create the product first before we talked to the media and brought people on to the platform. Without any marketing investment, we grew from zero to six million monthly active users.
GamesBeat: Do you notice whether you’re getting people directly from Twitch, or brand new users? Is Europe the center of your user base?
Klimscha: The good thing is, there are always new games. Young people are finding out that playing games is fun and finding out that they have the option to stream. The streaming market is growing incredibly. Gaming is growing, but live streaming of gaming is growing many times faster. Every week, every month, new users start to stream.
We’re working together with huge tournament organizers like DreamHack. We were the exclusive partner of the company hosting the Counter-Strike world championship. But we also have a lot of casual streamers. They were using other platforms before they found us, but they’ve tried the service, they saw the difference, and they stick with us. We didn’t have to convince them. The product convinced them.
GamesBeat: It’ll be interesting to see how much of the gap you can close, how fast you can catch up to Twitch.
Klimscha: We’re trying to move as fast as possible on a technology basis. This is what our core audience, our community we’ve built up, really appreciates. There’s not a week when they don’t find something new in our platform. Other platforms have started to copy us. A couple of things we released half a year ago, we’re starting to see them elsewhere. It’s a good sign. We’re doing something right, it seems like.
GamesBeat: What’s the show been like for you, talking to people about Hitbox?
Klimscha: We want people to know about us now. We were flying a little bit under the radar, staying focused on building the product. Now is the right time to show the world what we have. We’re at a level where we’re number two in the market now. A lot of people are using us. We want to close to the gap. For that we need to people to know we’re out there.
GamesBeat: Are you planning to raise funds for marketing?
Klimscha: We closed a seed round last year. It wasn’t disclosed. We’re also close to finishing a growth round right now. We’re going for strong numbers this year.
GamesBeat: A lot of gamers are becoming celebrities out here. Twitch has all their big stars here.
Klimscha: We flew into L.A. on Sunday from Germany. There were 30 streamers from Hitbox on the plane. I liked that. A lot of YouTubers, a lot of personalities. Most of them are Hitbox users too. It was a good flight. The United States is actually our largest market, though. Most of our viewers come from the U.S.
We had a strong regional focus when we opened the platform at the very beginning, but we have a global infrastructure. We’re focusing on local markets like France, Poland, and Germany. When we opened the platform in October, the funny thing is, Brazil was the largest market. When we asked streamers, “Why are you on Hitbox?” they said, “Finally we have a system that works for us.” That made us really happy.
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