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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Twitch, Amazon, eSports and the End of a Good Thing

"But at the last, as every thing hath end," - Troilus and Criseyde, Book III, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The line above has in modern times morphed into the proverb, "All good things must come to an end." In this case, the "good thing" is the premise anyone can download Open Source Broadcast, put on a headset, and make bank live streaming themselves playing a game. We've come to the beginning of the end of that era.

It isn't the end of Twitch to be certain. I believe Twitch just might become the 20th Century Fox of the 21st century. But it is the end of independent streaming as we know it today. Gone are the laissez-faire days of everyone getting equal treatment according to how many viewers they have. With Twitch restricting the amount of time archives remain available, the systematic scanning for copyright violations, and the foray into live music, it becomes more clear what the true aspirations of the company are. And if you are an independent streamer, you are not part of the equation.

Twitch may have a marketing plan claiming it wants "to connect gamers around the world by allowing them to broadcast, watch, and chat from everywhere they play," but that isn't what pays the bills. If you believe for one second Twitch is more concerned about your seldom watched stream than about Riot Games using Twitch to host their League of Legends tournaments, you have a severely disproportionate sense of self-importance. Twitch is far more concerned with meeting the needs of eSport companies than you.

This is a realization to which the eSport companies have already come. In an interview with Polygon, ESL managing director Ralf Reichert 1 said,

"As eSports continues to grow out of its niche, many of the 'underdog' advantages will begin to disappear too. Many fans recognize the archaic legal requirements which are a pain for many industries but the discussion of whether they should be changed, and whether they should be abided by are not really related. There is nothing Twitch can do about that right now, and the requirements do in fact protect users from potential legal ramifications."

If you are an independent streamer, do you feel insulted? You should. He just called you an underdog losing its advantage. And to my way of thinking, he implies it was an unfair advantage at that. "Unfair to what," you ask? That's easy. It was unfair to eSports and companies like his Turtle Entertainment that you could break laws with impunity he didn't dare flaunt. It gave you an advantage over him, whether you thought so or not. And whether you consider yourself such or not, Reichert considers you competition. He will do everything he can to balance the playing field according to his own vision of fairness. That vision involves making you comply with every law with which his company must contend. And guess what else? Once he has you towing the copyright line, he can use his deeper pockets to license material you once broadcast illegally. If you had a successful stream because of this "underdog advantage," he may even swipe your model. Then the tables are really turned. I am certain his ultimate goal is to marginalize your stream, and if possible drive you out of business. That's how capitalism works. Are you ready to play that game?

With Amazon entering the game, your chances of maintaining Twitch as a service you can count on is far less. Amazon is not an ISP. You are not their customer. In fact, no one who has ever bought anything from Amazon is Amazon's customer. Amazon's customers are all the other vendors and service providers who use Amazon's network to sell product. Amazon is an infrastructure provider. That's what Amazon really sells, and they take commission as recompense. Now that Twitch has become one with Amazon, regardless of their protestations to the contrary, that is what Twitch will become: an infrastructure provider taking commission from those with something to sell. What have you got to sell? What have you got to sell after Reichert strips you of all your "underdog advantages?" At that point, I guarantee Reichert will have something more valuable to sell than you. You're done.

Did you think it could be any other way? Did you actually believe Twitch was some sort of gamer revolution based on the motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité? Don't be naive. That motto originally ended in "ou la Mort." Guess which half of the motto you're going to get.

So now that you're good and mad, go back to the first paragraph and re-read who I've address this to. The end is only coming for those who think they'll make bank on live streaming. The end is not in sight for those who are streaming just for the fun of streaming. If you have no desire other than to have a hobby, you'll be just fine. Fair use applies to you. And don't fret the changes Reichert is championing. No one considers you competition if you're just in it for fun. You're not in anyone's economic crosshairs.

But to those who think they'll be able to quit their day jobs to stream for profit, I hope you've not given notice yet. You're going to need that job. Oh sure, there will no doubt be exceptions to the rule. There always are. Just look at YouTube. There are quite a few successful independents on YouTube. But they are a very small percentage of all the people with channels. You may as well play the lottery with odds like that. And YouTube viewers are such a fickle crowd. How long do you think you'll be on top if you do succeed? Only so long as you can come up with something more entertaining than the next gamer. Even PewDiePie gets tiresome after a while.

All this said, don't give up on your dream of gaming as an income opportunity if that's what you really want to do. Just don't waste your time with streaming as a money earner. If you want to make money, practice, practice, practice that game you love so much. Make certain it's a MOBA or a game like Hearthstone. If you're good enough, you can get onto a team. Gaming skill, not gimmicks, is the key to success. You might not become the best player in the world, but you might be able to earn a living doing what you love. And if you are really good, you can hold companies like Reichert's to task. After all, it's the gamer that matters most in gaming. Without gamers, companies like Reichert's have nothing to broadcast. Think about it.


  1. I am using Ralf Reichert's comment to make a point and do not want to imply he is personally anything other than a cool dude. But he did make this statement, and I believe there is more than enough room to interpret what he said as I have done. But please don't think Ralf has it in for you personally. He doesn't. He's an entrepreneur with a dream. If you stream, I think you understand that sort of passion. 


  1. "Even PewDiePie gets tiresome after a while."

    *ahem* PewDiePie was tiresome to begin with.

    Alas, the fall of the self-employed streamer. I knew it was too good of an idea to last. I toyed with the idea myself, but figured this day would come.

  2. Excellent analysis Mabrick, exactly correct.

    Malcolm Rennolds, SYJ


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