There was an interesting observation in The Guardian recently. An article covering the highs and lows of the community of gaming streamers on Twitch pointed out that successful streamers didn’t necessarily need to be talented players. Instead, they needed to be entertaining while playing the games. It might seem like a minor point, but it’s an important one that gets to the heart of success on the platform.
Of course, most people are aware that huge success on Twitch (and YouTube) is reserved for the very few. We talk about the one per cent in the real world, but there’s also a 1% on Twitch – almost literally. A data leak from the platform showed that 1% of the accounts took in half of the $889 million streaming revenue from 2020; 75% of accounts made less than $120.
That last statistic is startling, and it should act as a wake-up call to any who think that streaming is an easy gig. A lot of work must be put into the content creation, with many grinding away for eight to ten hours a day. And, even if you put the work in, the rewards aren’t always there.
A rug pull can hurt streamers financially
There are other pitfalls too. Consider the advent of casino streaming on Twitch, which has become hugely popular in the last few years. These streamers might choose anything from slots to real games of blackjack and roulette at a live dealer casino. As with traditional gaming, they must be entertaining while they play. But many have built up a loyal following on Twitch, and many will be scrambling for viewers at the bottom.
But in August, Twitch pulled the rug from under the feet of these casino accounts, making them remove any links of affiliated casinos. The affiliates effectively act as sponsors for the videos, allowing streamers to play for high stakes, for example. So effectively removing the adverts had a detrimental effect on the streamers’ content. There are other pitfalls for streamers, including copyright infringement bans for everything from music to movie clips.
Casino streaming remains fairly niche, of course, so you might think “big deal”. But it’s just an example of how the rule changes can impact accounts that spent so much time building up a following. As we keep saying, it’s not the games that are important from an audience’s point of view – it’s the streamer’s personality and ability to entertain.
Long days can take their toll on streamers
The Guardian’s report into the life and times of streamers went a little further, however. It looked at the impact on mental health and wellbeing. There’s an assumption that these accounts simply switch on the camera and start playing, but it takes much more than that. Look back at your favourite streamers, particularly those who put in a shift, and consider how many times they talk of being tired. Many in the Guardian’s report hinted at being burnt out. Don’t forget that many of these streamers have ‘real’ jobs too – how else would they survive financially?
None of this is meant to suggest that streaming on Twitch is inherently bad – it isn’t. But we have to keep in mind that these platforms are unequal. While it would be easy to say to anyone complaining about it that they are in the wrong industry, that’s much too simplistic. Content creators are important, both economically and socially, and they should be able to operate within a system that supports all its pillars. The account with five followers today might be the Ninja of tomorrow. But it won’t be if it remains too tough at the bottom.
Solutions have been mooted. Patreon, for example, has decided to support the creator economy by developing a native video platform. In effect, this allows content creators to cut out the middleman of Big Tech (Twitch is owned by Amazon, YouTube by Google). Others point to the decentralised internet, Web3, as the answer. But in truth, there is no magic wand. Like every industry, it’s going to remain tough at the bottom and unbelievably hard to reap the kind of rewards they get at the top.