Rumor had it that YouTube, or rather Google is going to pay $1 billion to buy Twitch. That rumor has now been confirmed to the best of my knowledge. When this rumor was making the rounds, there were two types of responses. One was an immediate outpouring of trepidation; the other was, “Google’s buying what, now?”
If you happen to fall into the latter category, let me save you the trip to your preferred search engine: Twitch.tv is a livestreaming website that has become the go-to place on the internet for game viewing. Yes, gaming is becoming a spectator sport.
I do not really partake myself, not regularly anyway. It’s possible I’ll eventually try streaming. But the primary attraction there is competitive eSports, which I don’t play. If you’d asked me two years ago, I would not have said such a website would have been as popular as it is. It would never occur to me that someone would pay to watch others play games.
BUT . . . while I certainly couldn’t have predicted the popularity of Twitch, it does make sense when you think about it. The primary reason is the massive competitive gaming scene and the broadcasters who have built ESPN-style streams around it. I can completely understand why many find it entertaining; it’s the same reason I find it rather entertaining.
If you watch the right stream, you get to watch the moves of a player more skilled than you are, which is a great way to pick up tips, especially if you game competitively. Some players are funny; others have a lot to say on the game’s story, or the development of the game itself. The developers have been known to show footage of games before release on Twitch streams.
So there is a good reason why this deal was as expensive as it allegedly is. However, there is another portion of the audience worried about the implications of this purchase. There are some upsides, and Twitch no doubt gets the better monetary part of the bargain in the short term, as they will be able to upgrade their technology in ways that they cannot currently.
Twitch and YouTube have not established a rivalry, per se, but the livestreaming site is the first to truly challenge YT’s video dominance, and having a potentially motivating competition cut off by the application of a load of money rings hollow for some. Also, YouTube has notoriously angered its userbase over such things as last year’s copyright crisis and the Google+ integration. Many who use Twitch, either as streamers or as viewers, are afraid that the relative freedom they enjoy will be curtailed by the larger site’s oft-restrictive rules.
So there’s the long and the short of the Twitch purchase, and what it might mean for gamers. We’ll just have to wait and see if the fears or hopes are justified.