Twitch.tv was purchased by Amazon for $970,000,000 in 2014. That's nearly a billion dollars, if you aren't into interpreting zeroes. Odds are if you aren't a gamer, you don't really know why. If you find yourself in that camp, stick around. I'm going to give you several reasons why you should be interested in what Twitch is, even if you never play video games and you never intend to.
So What is Twitch?
Breaking things down to basics, Twitch is a streaming service primarily for gamers who stream themselves playing games. Rather than uploading videos like someone might on YouTube, a Twitch streamer has a 'channel' where they can stream themselves playing video games live.
Generally one of these streams looks like this:
It's going to be a video game front and center, a streamer up in the corner, and a chat room over on the right, with viewers chiming in and talking to the streamer. You're thinking what most people think when they hear what Twitch is:
"Why Would I Watch Someone Play Video Games?"
We understand. It sounds weird. When you were a kid playing games everyone wanted it to always be THEIR turn. For the most part, we want to play, we don't want to watch.
But then one day you want to see a game played before you take the dive on buying it. You decide to give Twitch one more try. You start to see the interactions between people in the chat and the streamers themselves. Maybe you even ask the streamer a question, or to show you a specific aspect of the game. Suddenly you're not just watching somebody play games, you're kind of playing along.
And that's where the fun comes in. It's about the community aspect. Unlike leaving a comment on a YouTube video, speaking in the chat connects you directly to the person playing the game.
So maybe you're still not sold. Video games don't really do it for you. But while Twitch may be best known for its gaming streams, it is also host to plenty of other activities.
It's Not Just About Video Games
In the menu of channels on Twitch, there is a group called "creative" (Found Here) that holds some of the most interesting streams on the whole site.
Maybe you like to cook, or maybe you like to paint. Maybe you like making music. Odds are if you have a hobby, someone has streamed themselves doing it on Twitch. People even stream themselves making jewelry.
To most of you, that sounds weird. But one of you is going "whoa... I can cook live on the internet?"
Yeah. You can. And people will watch you, and talk to you.
If you can understand the appeal of watching cooking on television, or poker on television, you could imagine the appeal of these seemingly odd choices of entertainment. You're watching a fellow human being cook, and you can ask them questions as they do it.
Sometimes it feels a little like a podcast where people can send in questions. Sometimes it feels like a chat room, other times like a talk show.
It may sound kind of strange that a gaming site would feature people cooking, knitting, and beading, but to understand where the "creative" channels come from on Twitch, you have to know the site's roots.
Before Twitch.tv, there was Justin.tv, that was centered around streaming yourself and building communities around that. The channels didn't have themes so much as they had hosts. People out on the internet who wanted to broadcast some aspect of their lives.
The website started as a single channel dedicated to streaming Justin Kan, who according to Wikipedia broadcasted the channel using "a webcam attached to a baseball cap and streamed online via a laptop-backpack system designed by co-founder Kyle Vogt, Kan decided he would wear the camera 24/7, and he began streaming continuous live video and audio at midnight March 19, 2007."
Justin.tv and Twitch.tv both share a lot of similarities with reality television, or at least what reality television intended to be. Watching real people do real things. But this time with crowd interaction.
You're imagining that Twitch is most likely a kind of small thing. That not too many people might really watch. Well let's get down to the numbers behind why Amazon made that huge purchase, courtesy of Twitch themselves:
- 100+ million unique viewers per month
- 1.7+ million unique broadcasters per month
- 15,000+ members of the Twitch Partner Program
- 106 minutes watched per person per day
- 2+ million peak concurrent sitewide viewers
Those aren't niche nerd community numbers, those are mainstream TV numbers. Twitch also boasts over 35,000 streamers broadcasting at once during 2015. No cable package can offer that kind of variety!
The Big Deal
Now you understand Amazon's purchase. As more and more advertising revenue gets redistributed from classic television to streaming content, sites like YouTube and Twitch become more and more valuable as one last entertainment source to force audiences past the advertising barrier to view their content.
While Twitch has managed to find its monetary value in a very traditional form through commercials, it embodies some of the most contemporary principles of new media. Less and less do we want to see fake people doing fake things, and more and more we want to see people like us, doing things like we do.
Multimedia has become more and more democratic, and more interpersonal as we come to terms with our presence in an ever connected world. Just as podcasts once sounded like a boring idea, so did the sound of watching someone else play games. Now we crave the sort of honest moments that come from personal, unfiltered programming.
So How Do I... Twitch? Is it called Twitching?
To watch Twitch you don't really need anything other than a smartphone, tablet or a computer of some kind. No subscription, you just have to watch an advertisement before you get to the action. Pick a game or a hobby you care about and jump in there. Start chatting with the host! Start chatting with your fellow viewers! Or just sit back and watch. All are welcome.
To start streaming your own activities, you need a computer with a webcam and microphone for the basics. You'll also need an account. Down the road you can get fancy and start adding a greenscreen and costume changes like some of the more animated streamers but nobody's going to complain if it's just you chilling in your room.
If you lack motivation, consider that Twitch allows you to accept tips and give paying subscribers special abilities on your channel. It really is a show that you can get paid for if you capture enough eyes.
There you have it folks, that's this "Twitch" you may have been hearing about, that wily mashup between reality TV and social media. For a video breakdown as my parting gift, why not hear it from one of Twitch's own broadcasters?