YouTube Gaming — A New Dawn?

Yesterday was the big day, as the new YouTube Gaming portal and app were officially released into the wild. It wasn’t long ago that a marriage between Twitch and Google’s ubiquitous video platform seemed inevitable, but when the former shocked the world and sold to Amazon, everyone knew it wouldn’t be long before YouTube found another way to grab a nice slice of the streaming market for themselves. The result is a reinvention of its own live-streaming service, complete with a new site which collects and organizes gaming based content and creators in new ways, and having spent some time with it, I must say, I’m impressed.

Twitch hasn’t ever really had to deal with serious competition, and, if you ask me, it shows. Yes, the site’s growth has been, well, insane, but there are certain things they simple don’t do very well, primarily in the area of “discovery.” Finding a featured channel has always been easy, and looking for a specific game will always yield a nice long list of streamers, but there’s no recommendations of new channels you might enjoy. Channels are features and promoted, but if you’re a smaller creator, the only thing pushing you to new viewers is you. YouTube doesn’t do the best job of pushing new creators either, but they do try. There are reccomendation engines, and now, they’re pushing streams. As times goes by, and more people stream on their platform, it’ll be interesting to see how that promotes growth.

YouTube has also thrown down the gauntlet when it comes to organization and layout. The new gaming portal is crisp, clean, and loaded with pathways to content. Twitch has streams organized by game, but YouTube takes it a step farther by giving each game its own YouTube channel-style page, with let’s plays and reviews divided into separate tabs, and other ways to explore. And there’s something about having livestreams and edited video side-by-side. Doing both seems like it just got a whole lot easier.

The biggest deal, though, has nothing to do with the portal, or the way the site is organized, or any of that sexy stuff. You know what really matters? Their streaming is better. Back during this year’s E3 event, I first noticed the difference in quality, as Twitch’s streams kept cutting out, forcing me over to their still gestating competitor, which was solid as oak. Today, watching creators take to their live-streaming platform for the first time, there’s no comparison: YouTube’s streams load faster, with less buffering, in higher quality. It doesn’t even take long to notice. You can also slow down a YouTube stream just as you would a video, giving you slow motion, and a live DVR function means viewers can back-track up to 4 hours, catching up on what they missed. All of this is profoundly impressive.

Now, does any of this matter? It’s hard to say. Twitch is a juggernaut with an enormous user base whose name is synonymous with streaming in general. It’s hard to see successful creators jumping ship to a better interface if they’re doing fine where they are, and, for the most part, that’s the case. But one wonders what might happen now that it’s so simple for big time YouTubers to start up a stream, without having to worry about using an entirely different platform, and having to link them together and feed off each other. Could an entirely new user-base of streamers emerge? It certainly seems possible.

Some questions remain. How will YouTube’s intrusive and often unfair ContentID and flag system effect streams? Will YouTube begin to offer a “subscription button” for monetization, like Twitch, or will they take a different route? It’s hard to say. But competition is a good thing. It’s refreshing to see new ideas at work, new approaches to such a rapidly growing marketplace. If YouTube manages to steal some of Twitch’s thunder, it’ll simply prod the latter to make adjustments and innovations of their own, and that is exciting. The best thing about these fights are that no matter what happens, we, the viewers, the creators, the players, always win.

Originally published at Aug 27, 2015.

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