As TwitchCon 2018 goes into full swing today, Amazon’s livestreaming division Twitch is out to assert its appreciation for its community by doubling down on interaction tools and monetization.
Emmett Shear, CEO of Twitch, and other developer leaders talked about the sheer momentum of the livestreaming service and the engagement of both streamers and fans. On average, more than a million people are tuning into Twitch at any given moment. Every day, nearly half a million streamers go live on Twitch.
In 2018, more than 235,000 streamers have taken their first steps by earning Affiliate status and more than 6,800 streamers achieve the level of Partner. More than 18 billion messages have been sent in 2018 over chat and Whispers features. Fans have shown support with more than 85 million “Cheers” and subscriptions this year. More than 150 million clips have been created to show the most memorable moments on Twitch this year.
Earlier this year, Twitch launched Community Gifting, which gives viewers the power to gift subscriptions to other viewers in a channel. In nine weeks, streamers have earned over $9 million through this feature. One individual even gave out 6,600 gifts to viewers to the tune of $33,000 in a single night. On stage on Friday, Shear said the company doubled the amount of money paid to affiliates and partners in the past year.
In a talk to developers on Thursday, Shear and his developer relations vice president Amir Shevat said the theme of the TwitchCon show in San Jose, California is “grow, connect, and thrive.” Twitch is releasing new tools to make it easier for streamers to get discovered. And it will enable new types of monetization, including merchandise stores and advertising on extensions, or overlays on the Twitch interface.
I spoke with Amir Shevat yesterday after his keynote talk at the TwitchCon Developer Day on Thursday. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What do you think were some of the bigger things that the devs here cared about?
Amir Shevat: I think it’s two things. One is that there’s a trend toward more developers coming on the platform and more brands coming on the platform. Today we launched the Design by Humans merch integration. We’re seeing more mainstream brands, and not just game integration, but more tools for streamers and viewers to engage together.
We talked a bit about that in the panel. We’re redefining the way we do interaction and the way communities interact with each other in channel. That’s one message. This is a big movement, and it’s not just for games. It’s for every type of entertainment. It’s becoming mainstream. Brands and developers are joining.
The second thing is that we’re seeing a lot of developers joining, and we want to help them with what they’ve given us feedback on. Building better tools to make it easier to build on Twitch, and helping with discovery. I don’t know if you were in the panel with the streamers, but discovery is very important. And then monetization. When we started talking about monetization, everyone in the audience got quiet. That’s awesome, because that’s important to us. We want to make this a thriving business for people.
GamesBeat: What’s been turned on so far for monetization, and what’s the message about things to come?
Shevat: This year we launched Bits in extensions. Bits are a virtual good you can put in and exchange for interactions. Say I have a game with a few lives and I want to get more lives. I can use Bits to get that. Or I want to play a sound, like a sound alert. There’s a split between the streamer and the developer on the value of that Bit. Viewers spend Bits and there’s a rev split.
GamesBeat: Is this really taking off?
Shevat: Yes. Things like sound alerts — I talked to a developer who left his job and started doing that full time. That’s a good sign. What’s coming up next are things like — we’re going to enable different levels of value that developers can give to different types of subs. Say I’m a streamer. I have people who are not subscribers, and then I have people who are subscribers in different tiers. Developers will be able to be aware of that tier arrangement, that status, and provide different experiences to different subs. They’re going to be able to provide value on behalf of the streamer to their subs.
GamesBeat: Do you have any examples of how you could tier that kind of service?
Shevat: Right now this is all in the future, so we’re only thinking about experiments. But I could have emoji in chats. I could say that a tier one gets the general channel emoji, and then tier three gets the streamer’s selected emoji. You can think about benefits like that in goods, or in game integrations, with things like free keys. As a streamer, my top tier might get free games every month. Game developers could participate in that value exchange. They could say to the streamer, “We’re launching a new game. Here’s 100 keys to give to your top subscribers.” Think of it as a way to really align the incentives of all the players, and hopefully to make everyone’s experience happy and productive.
We’re launching merch today. That’s in partnership with Amazon Pay. People can actually sell stuff. We’ve seen that as a big request from both streamers and developers. Last of all, we’re thinking about ads. Imagine I’m playing a game and I’m on my last life. I might see an ad that says, “Watch this to play another game with a life extension.” Again, I see the ad and the revenue splits between the streamer and the developer.
GamesBeat: And that advertiser is reaching the streamer’s audience?
Shevat: Exactly. There’s a lot of engagement. There’s also a lot of intent. You can see that this audience is well-tuned and well-motivated to spend money.
GamesBeat: I thought the Dead Cells thing was pretty funny.
Shevat: The interaction of moving viewers to be active participants could be mind-blowing. If you look at Fortnite, for example, in the last year it’s been watched for 17,000 years of watch time. You have so much engagement that you can turn from being passive engagement, or slightly passive plus chat, to being active engagement. That’s the big opportunity there.
GamesBeat: ShadowFox mentioned that you want that to be a positive interaction and not an obstructionist one. You don’t want the audience to make it impossible for you to play.
GamesBeat: Developers have to really think about what kind of interaction they’ll put in these things.
Shevat: I mentor a lot of startups. That’s always the case. You always need to think about the ways you can make your users do the right thing. I’ve done that in mobile apps and other places. Here it’s the case as well. How can you encourage people to do the right thing and create positive interactions?
GamesBeat: An extra life is a good example.
Shevat: An extra life, a chance to strengthen your shield, an ability to make the lights in a dungeon brighter. All these things could be part of an amazing experience. I talk to some developers who just want to put graffiti on the wall. They were willing to create this crazy game integration where the streamer is paying to spray-paint on the walls of the game.
GamesBeat: Is it possibile that you might pit one group against another on a stream? Someone who wants to make it harder for you to play versus someone who wants to make it easier.
Shevat: There’s a Japanese developer that’s already doing that. Depending on yea or nay in the chat, there’s a sound that plays, like “YEAH!”, and their choices play out. Another aspect that’s interesting is viewer to viewer interaction. What we’ve heard from the streamers is that sometimes they’re very engaged with the chat, but sometimes they want the chat to take care of itself. An extension that helps viewers engage with other viewers is critical to the health of a community.
GamesBeat: Right now, what’s the number one way streamers monetize?
Shevat: The two most popular ways are through subscriptions to their channels and through ads. But on top of that we have a full range of ways. They can monetize cheering with Bits, or through selling merchandise.
One of the most effective ways they’re generating money is through Twitch Prime. Twitch Prime is a free benefit of Amazon Prime, so as long as members hook up their accounts they get a free sub every 30 days. That’s been very beneficial for our partners. They saw a big increase in revenue based on all those subs coming through. When you use the free Twitch Prime sub, it’s the same as if you hit the subscribe button. Just by being a partner, they’re also bringing in a lot of incremental income from influencer programs and sponsorships.
GamesBeat: Looking at Streamlabs and tipping, I wonder how strongly that kind of thing has come on.
Shevat: Our direction moving forward is to provide developers with more capabilities on the platform. I think it ties into what Shadow said earlier. She said, “I want interactions to make money, but on the page, on my channel. I don’t want to send people off my channel.” One of the anti-patterns that we’re trying to work on with developers — a lot of things, you need a link to do something outside the channel. That’s misaligned with what streamers want.
We’re trying to move these types of interactions to be more on the channel. That’s one of the reasons we have extensions. A lot of things say, “Hey, if you want this interactivity, go to another site and vote there.” This is counterproductive to our streamers, so let’s give this canvas to developers to bring those interactions back on the channel.
Developers are making money out of selling goods, like PUBG, as well as Bits and extensions, and selling games in the Twitch experience. Moving forward, we’re going to have ads and subs and merch.
GamesBeat: For the streamers, does it seem like tipping could be a big part of their income, though? If I want to just pay someone directly, can you make that happen?
Shevat: We have the cheers, with Bits. That’s the interaction we’re seeing. People are dropping a lot of Bits. Streamers love it.
GamesBeat: And that gives them a chance to interact with that person in that moment.
Shevat: My kid has Twitch Prime because I’m a Prime member. The first time he gave some value to a streamer and the streamer said, “Thank you for doing that,” my kid is just, “Oh my God!” To your point, it’s exactly the type of interaction that blows people’s minds. Because this is a live and shared experience, when the streamer thanks you, or in sound alerts — one of the keys to the success of sound alerts, when a sound plays you see the name of the person who played it in the OBS. Getting that recognition — that’s why this is one of the key interactions we’re seeing being successful and requested by our viewers.
GamesBeat: How much of a challenge is it for you guys, on the back end, to make that instantaneous? In the past you would see people say something in the chat and then way further down you get a response.
Shevat: There’s two things. If this is a message that comes in the video, there’s a few seconds of latency there. But if I’m doing things like playing a sound, and the sound is five seconds, and two seconds later I see the name of who played it, that’s still very positive interaction. We also, last week, enabled a feature for extensions to post in chat. Let’s say I’m doing an interaction to choose a game. I click on that, and immediately a chat message goes in. We’re tying together more places where you can say, “This person has been awesome. This is what they’ve done.” We’re building more and quicker interactions.
GamesBeat: If you look at the bigger picture, how much are you moving toward the vision of a creator economy, where everyone makes money? Beyond just the celebrities, to the point where there’s a longer tail of people making money.
Shevat: The biggest thing we’ve done is our Twitch affiliate program. When you look at Twitch, in terms of our monetization features, we have more ways to monetize than anyone else, and we have a lower barrier to entry to start taking advantage of them. While other sites might be making it harder to make a living, we’re making it much easier. The barrier to entry to become an affiliate is very low. Right now we have several hundred thousand. We’ll be announcing some new data related to how much that’s grown in this year alone. We’re trying to help small and large streamers.
We’re also doing a lot with discovery. This year we launched our Creator Camp, which basically–a lot of sites might have help centers. We have a help center. But the Creator Camp was designed to focus on–these are the six things our community asks about the most. Let’s hit those things. The insights are provided from successful streamers as well as staff, so you get a mix of people internally and people who can say, “This is what I did and look where I got.”
We also do live Q&As with the Creator Camp. That’s unique to Twitch. If you’re watching a cooking show on TV, watching a VOD or something, someone might say, “You put this much garlic in.” And you might think, “Well, but can I use this ingredient instead?” You can’t ask a TV that. But when you go to the Creator Camp, you can ask someone, “Well, would it also work this way?” That kind of interaction is unique to Twitch.
Another way we’re helping with discovery, IRL and creative are two of our most popular categories, but they’re so broad in what they encompass. IRL was everything from somebody walking around in Korea to somebody talking about their life at home. Because it got so large, we said, “Let’s split these categories up.” I love to watch tourism videos. Now we have that category. We also have just chatting. People know what to find. Creative is also broken down into different categories of art.
We’re also going to be making some announcements tomorrow in our keynote about new things we’re doing on the discovery front with our homepage to make it easier to find smaller streamers.
GamesBeat: As far as stamping out trolls and toxicity, what kind of progress have you been able to make on that?
Chase: We’re constantly iterating on moderation. Another thing we’ll announce during our keynote is our most current tool that’s going to really benefit our moderators. When you look at the scope of things Twitch currently offers, we’re best in class when it comes to moderation — not just in gaming, but on the internet. There’s this refrain in social media: don’t read the comments. But if you use the tools and features that Twitch offers, you can make your chat readable. On the developer side, there are bots that can help you moderate: Nightbot, Moobot, Streamlabs. These are tools streamers can install and the bot moderates the conversation automatically.
A lot of times, if you see stories about toxicity in chat — I guarantee it’s usually because somebody didn’t read the instructions. We’re a product where you have to read the manual. It’s usually someone from another service saying, “Yeah, I’ll give Twitch a try. I’ll bring over 10,000 people and go live.” Suddenly their chat becomes unwieldy, and the media are watching because it’s a big name on Twitch for the first time. They say, “Look how bad this chat was.” But they usually weren’t using our auto-mod features.They didn’t have somebody moderating.
A lot of huge streamers have perfectly fine chat. The proof is there. CohhCarnage is a great example. He’s one of our biggest streamers, and he has the most welcoming chat you’ll find. Toxicity is something that can be controlled. You just have to take time to understand how to cultivate your community and how to leverage our tools. On top of all this it boils down to our community guidelines, which we’re constantly iterating on to make sure we’re a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse place.
GamesBeat: The bots you were talking about, is that what they meant when someone on the panel talked about extensions for those kinds of controls?
Shevat: Right. You can put in stuff that will moderate automatically for you. We do a review of all the extensions to make sure that they’re safe and adhere to our policies. Very similar to the iOS and Android review process, we have a team that reviews and provides feedback on both design and policy. We make sure that all the extensions installed are safe for both the audience and the streamer.
GamesBeat: Do you have rankings as what’s being used among extensions?
Shevat: Yes, we do. We’ll be sharing that. You can look through our discovery and see how it’s sorted right now, but we’ll be much more diligent in providing insights.
GamesBeat: Facebook’s been talking about making preparations for the election. Do you have anything like that? Making sure a lot of fake stuff doesn’t get into communications, in chat.
Chase: Before we released AutoMod, our machine learning-based moderation tool, we tried it out with the Democratic and Republican national conventions. That was our testbed. Not only was it positive, but afterward people said they were surprised at how civil chat was. At the same time, one of our rivals actually had to turn off comments because it was so toxic. That’s what led to the White House inviting us to do the first ever competitive gaming event from the White House, back at the end of the Obama administration. That was a very positive stream as well.
We’ve illustrated that we can do politics in a way that’s constructive and entertaining. The Washington Post does it every week. They’re actually out here at TwitchCon as partners, because they have their channel on Twitch. They’ve had a lot of success with politicians coming on to play games and talk about politics. It’s a really interesting case study.
I love that, because I’m seeing more and more interesting use cases around Twitch as a whole. My colleagues in other companies are using Twitch to teach developers how to build on their platform. We had a session with Stripe. They did a coding session on Twitch telling developers how to build on Stripe. We were working with the AWS team as well, and I think Slack did a session. We’re seeing more and more of these types of interactions becoming a must. If you want to engage with your audience, you have to be there live.