Twitchonomics

Popular games will just get more popular

July 24, 2018

I’ve developed a Twitch habit. I’ve even started streaming a bit and hosting some friends. It’s fun and I’ve even made it to the Affiliate level so that I can accept digital currency (“bits”) from chat as well as monthly paid subscriptions (“Ya heard about Twitch Prime, chat?”). I’m having fun streaming myself yelling at teenagers in the midnight hours. I may branch into daytime dev streaming but chicken out every time I go to fire one up.

I’ve talked about it before, but sometimes I don’t understand the economy where you give real currency to online strangers for a “whatsup” back, but ultimately I like it. I like that you’re able to support content creators. And its an alternative to the ad impression model, which I support.

The path to being a Partner on Twitch, which I think is just a larger percentage cut from the Subscriptions, is laid out in front of me:

✅ Stream for 25hrs in 30 days
✅ Stream on 12 unique days in 30 days
❌ Have an average of 75 viewers per stream

I currently average 3 viewers per stream. So… not quite there yet. I don’t think I even have 75 followers. This goal is nearly insurmountable and the level of effort required to get here would be enormous.

Going by 1/100th of your follower base ever interact with you napkin-math, I’d need ~7500 followers. Let me plan out how to get there…

  1. Spam my stream into every in-game chat and abuseleverage my Twitter following.
  2. Hit critical mass. When browsing streams, you rarely want to watch some old dad with 3 viewers, but if there were 100 viewers, that would signal some social vetting and probably worth watching.
  3. Play popular games, go to where the viewers are. I look at the Most Popular page and see that everyone is playing Fortnite, so I play that. Then the money will flow.

That last point is what I find interesting. Twitch, via their Browse Directory screen, has created a pile-on popularity system. It’s essentially a “king-maker” system. A power-law distribution where there’s only one winner. But there are more than one type of game (verticals) so maybe this is inaccurate.

But you can see this system at-play with Overwatch’s sudden decline on the Popularity screen. Overwatch was a very popular game that very popular streamers played. But most days it’s below Grand Theft Auto V, a non-eSport game that came out 5 years ago. There are other potential contributing factors to Overwatch’s sudden Twitch stream fallout: Fortnite is free, Overwatch League maybe cannibalized viewership, Competitive Season 9 and 10 were terrible.

This leads me to believe that given enough marketing budget, it could theoretically be exploited by paying Ninja and other top streamers to all stream the same game on the same day. Twitch could be MTV for video games and bring specific games into the zeitgeist. Once the numbers tip to the new game, all the scrubs and wannabes like me jump games to climb the popularity ladder by emulating the big names. This compounds the game’s perceived popularity.

I don’t ever expect to be a Twitch Partner and that’s okay. But I will continue to be fascinated by the economics and incentives of this new entertainment medium.