TechScape: Twitch and the Dark Side of the Streaming Dream | Tic

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Jthe witch is going through a difficult time. The live-streaming site, owned by Amazon since 2014, is for many synonymous with video games. TechScape’s audience is large, so forgive me: some of you may wonder why I have to explain that Twitch is where viewers watch micro-celebrities play video games, interact with these influencers, and experience parasocial relationships. close relationships of the type that other communities have with podcasters. , YouTubers or newsletter writers. (I love you too). Others will wonder why anyone would want to watch someone play video games.

Whether you get it or not, there’s no doubt that Twitch streamers are real celebrities. We’re a few years away now from 31-year-old Richard Blevins, better known as Ninja, who made headlines in 2018 for playing Fortnite against Drake and earning an easy million-dollar payday.

Since then, Ninja’s trajectory reveals how Twitch’s leadership in space has been called into question. In 2019, he received an exclusive contract from Mixer, Microsoft’s local competitor on Twitch, for an undisclosed amount. It wasn’t just about the money, Blevins said: The “toxic” community that had grown up on Twitch played its part. But in 2020 Mixer was shutting down and Ninja was released from his contract. Now he splits his time across multiple platforms, still streaming on Twitch but also streaming on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook.

Ninja isn’t alone in looking beyond the market leader for a platform. And Twitch is not helping matters. The company recognizes the importance of its stars and, in a move that’s quite common in the world of social media, has begun offering its biggest celebrities romance deals, splitting revenue from a Twitch subscription – a monthly fee paid by a viewer to support an individual host – 70/30 in favor of the streamer for biggest and best. For smaller streamers, the deal was split 50/50, but with a supportive following and a community culture that encourages parting with money, rather than relying solely on advertising, even though that may provide a significant sum of money.

In September, however, Twitch ended the 70/30 revenue split, reducing its payouts to its biggest stars. “We don’t think it’s fair for those with standard contracts to have varying revenue shares based on streamer size,” Twitch said in a blog post. “In an ideal world, all streamers would be on the same set of terms, regardless of size.” No freebie offer seems fair enough – but why not standardize at 70/30, elevating smaller creators?

“We need to talk about the cost of our service,” explained Twitch President Dan Clancy. “Providing high-definition, low-latency, always-on live video to almost any corner of the world is expensive. Using Amazon Web Services’ Interactive Video Service (IVS) published pricing – which is essentially Twitch video – live video costs 100 [viewer] streamer who streams 200 hours a month earns over $1,000 a month.

When it flows it flows

Telling streamers with reduced incomes that it was necessary because Amazon subsidiary Twitch couldn’t pay its Amazon Web Services bills without doing so went wrong. But the company had the opportunity to redeem itself in October during TwitchCon, its annual meeting.

Instead, things got worse. From the outset, attendees said, the convention felt clinical and corporate, an opportunity to celebrate the company rather than a time for the company to honor the streamers who made it what it is.

And then there was the foam pit. A booth set up by PC maker Lenovo featured gladiator-style battles between top streamers atop a pile of foam blocks. But unlike the TV show, the blocks would have been right a thin layer scattered on the concrete floor of the convention center. Injuries to some people who jumped from the platform were reported, the most serious being Adriana Chechik, who says she broke her back in two places. Throughout, Twitch has remained silent about the incidents. (A Lenovo representative told the Polygon website at the time, “Security remains our top priority and we are working with event organizers to review incidents.”)

The slights make it seem like Twitch doesn’t care about the people dedicated to creating content for its platform. And that’s increasingly problematic, because “dedication” is the right word. To join Twitch’s “affiliate” program and access monetization features, you must have streamed a minimum of eight hours over a 30-day period, spread over at least seven days (and an average of three viewers overall of this period). period). It’s a pretty grueling work schedule that is, by definition, unpaid, and doing it still doesn’t guarantee that Twitch will actually accept you.

The obstacles of streaming

Once Twitch pays you, the work doesn’t get any less intense. As the Guardian’s Keza MacDonald wrote last year:

Talking to the people around this table, I was rather amazed – and, honestly, worried – about their hard work. The woman sitting next to me told me she streams for eight to 10 hours a day, and when she’s not live, she organizes her social networks, responds to fans, seeks brand partnerships or collaborations with other streamers; throughout our conversation, she was visibly resisting the urge to check her phone, where new stats, fan comments, and potential opportunities were presumably piling up. I asked what she was doing for fun and she seemed really confused by the question.

It’s a tough life if you get the rewards. It’s even harder if someone else is using you. Last week, a prominent Twitch streamer alleged that her partner spent years manipulating her and forcing her to stream on the platform after he took control of her finances and bank account. She called the world she lived in a “fantasy prison”, saying her 12-3pm streams weren’t her choice and the rewards for doing them weren’t all hers. In a follow-up video, she said she was safe and happy to be out: “I don’t have to wear cleavage every day.”

In a recent interview, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear acknowledged that the company’s relationship with its streamers needed to change, but called on the US government to take the first step. “‘It’s not quite a W-2 job and it’s not quite a sub-contract job,'” he told Bloomberg (£). “I think we could really use legislation that creates a proper third option for the gig economy and the creator economy.

“One of the fundamental dynamics of the creator economy is that tech companies aren’t used to the level at which creators rely on them for their business,” he added. “A rapid change in how a product works isn’t just a matter of ‘This person hasn’t had as many views on their video’, but rather ‘This person can’t make rent this month- this’.”

As an acknowledgment that the relationship needs to change, it’s a start. But Twitch can do more for its creators than waiting for the government to make pseudo-employees of them. The question is whether it will be before they turn to someone else who can.

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