SEATTLE — Amazon.com’s Twitch, a popular streaming service where video-gaming fans watch their favorite gamers play, is taking a page from its corporate parent — by selling the games themselves.
The move will pitch Twitch, a YouTube-like social platform, against existing electronic game bazaars built by the likes of Valve, Activision and others. But unlike those marketplaces, Twitch’s effort is tightly linked to video-game streaming sessions, and is designed in part to funnel cash to the players who create the content that draws millions to the site.
“Our goal is not to become a game store,” Matt McCloskey, vice president of commerce for Twitch, says in an interview. “Our goal is to grow the social network that is Twitch.”
The initiative, which will be launched in the spring, works like this: Fans watching their favorite streaming player slay dragons or race cars on Twitch can click on a button to buy the same game, or virtual trinkets related to it. The streamers get a 5 percent cut of the game content sold on their pages — a payment that adds to other compensation, such as a share of advertising revenue, subscriptions and outright gifts from fans. (Games can also be purchased from their own dedicated game pages.)
This model helps game developers generate sales because it targets shoppers who are obviously interested in a specific game at the moment when they’re likely to be most excited about it. Game publishers will get 70 percent of the revenue, the standard rate for online marketplaces overseen by Valve, Google and Apple.
As for Twitch, which Amazon bought for $1 billion in 2014, the new strategy gives it an Amazon-like opportunity to make money, as it gets a 25 percent cut of the sale.
Amazon’s fingerprints are all over the initiative, including the flywheel factor, a key tenet of the online retailer. In this case, revenue from game sales prompts streamers to make more content, which draws more viewers, and therefore more sales. Amazon has also recently experimented with a direct combination of e-commerce and entertainment to help move purchases along. Last year it launched Style Code Live, a streaming fashion show that’s accompanied by a carousel where viewers can buy the same items worn by the stars.
McCloskey — a seasoned gaming-industry executive who in November joined Twitch from Microsoft’s 343 Industries, the maker of the latest “Halo” games — said that while not everyone on the team building the new Twitch commerce platform are Amazonians, “a lot of people are.”
“The team certainly has that Amazon customer-obsession background,” he said, “but so does Twitch.”
In fact, McCloskey said some of the infrastructure for the platform comes from the Twitch Prime initiative, which gives special Twitch benefits, including video-game content, to members of Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime subscription program.
Out of the gate, the e-commerce feature will be available only for PC games on a browser, McCloskey said. Not only do PC gamers dominate Twitch’s culture, but “there’s some complexity” in taking the idea to consoles. Purchasing games on phones is not being launched right away either.
Nevertheless, “ultimately the principle is, if you can watch it on Twitch, you can buy it on Twitch,” McCloskey said.