Twitch is 10 years old and the creators’ economy is in debt
Justin Kan from Twitch co-founder, just wants his favorite chess streamers to notice. “I’m in the chat, like, I donate to them, hoping they say my name and shit,” he tells WIRED. He sucks at chess, but he can’t help but watch Andrea and Alexandra Botez play it on Twitch. They haven’t recognized him yet. He hopes they will be soon.
Twitch was the pioneer of this digital parasocial activity. More specifically, monetize it on a large scale. Exactly 10 years ago, on June 6, 2011, Twitch launched Justin.tv, a sort of general-purpose live video streaming site that Kan had founded four years earlier. Kan, who is no longer with the company, says he and his co-founders have spent years ruminating on how to get people to interact online and make money. Should they have a sidebar chat room? (Yes.) Emotes? (Definitely.) Career potential? (Yes.) The end goal was not live video; it was the creative economy. Subscribe to people who do things.
Twitch has many legacies, from the Kappa emote to rapper Drake’s Fortnite broadcast with Twitch celebrity Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Its greatest legacy, however, is to pave the way for this enveloping world of patronizing content and playful online entertainment, for both the viewer and the streamer.
At the end of 2010, Sean “Day9” Plott, a formidable and charismatic Starcraft II player, told his viewers Justin.tv that he was super stressed about the loans for his tuition. Fans flooded his PayPal account with thousands of dollars within days. Even after the donation campaign, viewers asked how they could offer more support. When Justin.tv created Twitch as his gaming arm months later, early employees asked users what kind of features they would use. Plott, who had migrated, suggested subscriptions. “It made a lot of sense to me,” he later told InvenGlobal. “Instead of the traditional ‘pay first, consume next’ media model, an opt-in support model allowed everyone to see for free and support if they wanted to. He would become the first Twitch partner, and a subscribe button would appear on their channel.
Supporting a Twitch streamer wasn’t like buying a Belle and Sebastian CD or even donating an indie board game to Kickstarter. The streamer was right there, and you would give them money, and then they would respond to you giving them money, all in real time. A pattern has emerged: give $ 5 and receive a shout. Certain recognition tickled something in our lizard brains. Early streamers adopted text-to-speech software that, in monotonous computing, read messages fans attached to donations. It didn’t take long before “Please say my name out loud!” Evolved into “drink bleach, asshole”. Viewers wanted recognition, but also reaction. A few streamers with strong stomachs monetized abuse, like dunk tank professionals.
“Text-to-speech was a watershed moment,” says Kacey “Kaceytron” Caviness, a leading streamer who has been on the platform since 2013. “It made the viewer feel like he was part of it, like his thoughts would be. heard aloud in streaming. Once, in 2015, Caviness received several donations by repeating the lyrics to “Woo Woo Swag” by Lil B. The troll lasted two hours and totaled $ 2,000. Caviness gave everything to charity.
When Twitch first launched, the digital sponsorship model had just entered the mainstream. He predated Patreon and OnlyFans by two and five years, respectively. Webcam sites like LiveJasmin were already attract 32 million visitors per month at the time. The main difference with Twitch was its patron / beneficiary ratio. In 2012, Twitch hosted an average of 2,200 concurrent live streams for an average 102,000 concurrent viewers, or put it another way, that’s 46 times more concurrent viewers than channels. Since then, this report shrunk to 25 times more viewers than live channels in 2021. (Recently, Twitch watchdog Zach Bussey highlighted that in the spring of 2021, if a streamer attracted more than six viewers, they were in the top 6.7% of Twitch streamers.)