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Twitch is in a crucial "trust building period": it must listen to streamers

"Words only go so far."

Outside TwitchCon Paris
Image credit: Twitch

It's been a difficult year for Twitch so far. The Amazon-owned streaming platform is continuously evolving and offering new products and tools for streamers, but it never seems to quite get things right.

Take revenue split for instance. At present, Twitch offers streamers a 50/50 revenue split in comparison to 70/30 on rival platforms. Yet the introduction of a new Partner Plus programme with a higher split has been met with criticism, with streamers claiming its high threshold for acceptance is "unattainable" and "anti-community".

Then there were changes made to branded content guidelines met with a backlash from streamers frustrated at Twitch's misunderstanding of the way they generate revenue. Twitch swiftly walked those back. More positively, new labels for mature content were included following last year's controversies around child abuse and gambling.

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The Hype Chat feature launched, but it's only relevant to top streamers - which are too often the focus of the platform, many users say. UK streamers were disappointed in Twitch's lack of support for Pride Month. A newly-launched charity tool included hate groups. And Twitch is yet to fully amend its advertising practices, with streams frequently interrupted by unskippable adverts. To top it all off, Twitch laid off 400 employees in March as part of job cuts at Amazon.

Speaking to Eurogamer at TwitchCon Paris, Twitch director of community marketing and production Mary Kish admitted the company is in a "trust building period right now".

"We owe a lot of trust back to our community," she said. "It's really easy for me to say to you 'we love the community' and 'community first', but that has to be earned through actions over time. Words only go so far. I think that we are at a vital and crucial time to ensure that, over the next period of time, we are showing our actions and we are really proving that we care deeply about this community, and that we will do what we can in our power to ensure that this place is healthy, it's safe, and it's the best place to build a community and achieve your personal goals."

VP of product Jeremy Forrester described the community as "generally healthy", despite user sentiment towards Twitch often varying wildly.

"We continue to invest in trying to make sure Twitch is the best place to be a streamer and the best place to be a viewer," he said. "Obviously, we're investing fairly heavily in making sure we can do that in a sustainable way for the longevity of the platform so people can continue making money and hosting communities.

"Sentiment from the community always goes up and down. Sometimes it's completely external factors, sometimes it's stuff we did, sometimes it's stuff streamers did. From the outside, whenever sentiment is pretty low, I think it always looks bad. But in general, the Twitch community - from a metrics perspective - I think is healthy."

Mary Kish at the TwitchCon opening ceremony
Twitch CEO Dan Clancy at TwitchCon Paris
Mary Kish and CEO Dan Clancy at the TwitchCon Paris opening ceremony. | Image credit: Twitch

It certainly looks like the platform's metrics are on the rise. At the TwitchCon Paris keynote, Kish stated that Twitch's European audience had quadrupled from 100 million visitors in 2019 to 400 million in 2022, who watched 5bn hours of content. Yet the comparison to 2019 is important: Twitch saw a surge of growth during the pandemic as the population was put in lockdown - and that growth has since been in decline.

According to analytics platform Twitch Tracker, global viewership spiked in 2020 and hit a peak in April 2021 of 3.1m average views. Now, in 2023, that average has dropped to 2.3m - still double 2019, but on a gradual downward trajectory. Anecdotally, too, streamers say they have seen a drop in viewership over the past year.

Despite all of this, there are positives on the horizon. At TwitchCon Paris, the platform announced a string of new products to support the streaming community. In particular, a new Discovery Feed - a scrollable feed of short clips - and a Stories feature will boost the profile of streamers while offline, improving engagement and discovery. These are vital for smaller streamers looking to grow their communities.

What's more, these features have a mobile-first focus - despite Forrester stating Twitch's intention is not to compete with other social media platforms.

"I think we still have a lot of opportunity [in mobile]," Forrester said. "Twitch is very much a desktop platform, it's very much a leanback experience.

"How can we use mobile as more of an augment to how we've watched Twitch traditionally?"

"When we thought about wanting to help viewers find new streamers to watch without them having to necessarily watch 10 minutes of a live stream, how can we do that in a really short session? Every idea we looked at is best for mobile. You're still gonna be able to watch livestreams, we have a lot of people who watch livestreams on mobile, but I believe there's a lot of opportunity in really trying to capture short sessions in order to help people find something to watch or in order to help people re-engage with a streamer they already watch in order to find something to watch later. So how can we use mobile as more of an augment to how we've watched Twitch traditionally?"

Another new feature announced at TwitchCon was an ad countdown in chat. As you might expect, this offers a useful warning for both streamers and viewers that an ad is incoming (and snoozable). It's also an interesting use case for the chat function itself - something Forrester is keen to explore further.

"There's so much opportunity there," he said, mentioning first time chat highlights as a recent addition.

"We ran some experiments around watch streaks and allowed viewers to share the fact they've been watching the channel for multiple days in a row, or multiple streams in a row and we'll continue to invest in that area. We think it's a really important set of tools for creators, and really helps them cut through chat and understand who the big lurkers are. Who are the big chatters? Who are the big people in the community who would love attention?"

AI is another potential area of growth, though Forrester recognises this can be a "blurry line". The company isn't using generative AI at present, but Forrester will consider "different use cases that could potentially bring value to the platform". He added: "It's an area we will continue to pay attention to but I think streamers will be the innovators here."

For the product team, the near future will involve iterating and developing newly-announced tools, with focus on Guest Star, new functionality for Stories, and tweaks to the Discovery Feed to ensure these become "really valuable tools for streamers". And of course, Forrester insists, any new products are always developed with safety in mind, in close collaboration with the safety team.

"We operate with the mindset of safety by design, which is as we're building the new product, we have to be thinking about safety first," said Forrester. "We're doing all of the things we should be doing as a responsible company to ensure that we keep the platform safe, both from a site-wide perspective and from the individual community perspective as well."

Cosplayers at TwitchCon Paris
Cosplayers at TwitchCon Paris. | Image credit: Twitch

Beyond products, it's the community that really drives Twitch as a platform. That's why TwitchCon is such an important event - for streamers, their viewers, and Twitch staff to meet face-to-face.

"It's pretty vital for me," said Kish of the event, citing the Meetup and Ambassador programmes as key examples of streamer networking. "These are the times when we get to shine and see our programmes in action, and see the value in them with people's faces and their reactions.

"There's a bond and a trust you can only get when you look at someone in their eyes, when you can see the way they approach you, their mannerisms, being able to hug someone: those things really matter. And as a kind-of-addicted online user, these moments really remind me why I do what I do and how it matters to the people and why."

Kish explained that TwitchCon is predominantly attended by Affiliates - streamers who are regularly on the platform and receive revenue from subscriptions, but don't yet have the higher viewership of Partners and beyond. As such, much of her work is aimed at this group, to support growing communities, like the panel discussions and Creator Camp sessions TwitchCon incorporates.

Said Kish: "I firmly believe education is the number one thing we can offer creators as a source to say 'you can do this but to do it, you have to work at it'. You have to learn and you have to be willing to try."

Another major area for Kish as head of community is improving diversity. Look at the top 50 streamers via TwitchTracker, and the vast majority are men. Kish is passionate about uplifting women on the platform and ensuring their safety.

"It's extremely important to me that we are able to uplift women and make them feel safe."

"It's been so difficult to see it alter, and I've never seen it alter," said Kish of the dominance of men on Twitch.

"It's extremely important to me that we are able to uplift women and make them feel safe. Women have a lot of ceilings that impact them that I don't think our male streamers currently have. There is a massive influx of women who receive harassment. It is a problem a subset of our communities are more likely to experience and it literally can prevent you from wanting to stream or pursue content creation full time."

Earlier this year, Twitch created three guilds to support minority communities: a women's guild, a Black community guild, and a Hispanic community guild.

"The women's guild has been really beneficial because it is about having spaces where you can network, learn and feel safe," said Kish. "One of the things most - if not all - of our popular creators in that top 50 have done is network with each other and utilise their own communities to build off of each other.

"Women have the opportunity to do that really well with themselves, and giving them spaces in guilds should ideally allow them to be able to network with each other comfortably, share their communities and grow authentically."

She added: "We need to get women to ensure they have a seat at that table. That is about opening doors, giving them exposure, giving them networking opportunities, but also keeping them safe so they feel really comfortable in that growth."

Kish is also seeking to expand the guild programme to include the LGBT+ community and the disability community in the future. Panels at TwitchCon Paris included topics like LGBT+ safety, self-care, and another Drag Showcase on the Saturday evening.

Drag queens on stage at the TwitchCon Drag Showcase
The TwitchCon Paris Drag Showcase was full of talent from across Europe. | Image credit: Twitch

Despite issues of falling viewership and wavering sentiment within the streaming community, both Forrester and Kish are positive about the future of Twitch.

"I'm excited about the things we're building, I think they have the potential to really make significant changes to how streamers utilise the platform," Forrester said. He also noted the unknowns that sometimes blow up online which Twitch can benefit from: such as the sudden growth of Fortnite and other battle royales, or the rise in gaming as a result of the pandemic.

"I'm personally very bullish," he said. "We'll continue to focus on really making Twitch the best place for streamers and the best place to grow communities and monetise communities. I'm optimistic that with that focus we will continue to grow over time and be even more successful than we are right now."

"I care very deeply about [streamers'] futures and how they will continue to do this," Kish said, adding that, despite some worries, "we are at the beginning of what content creation is".

"I think influencers and content creation in general will expand beyond games media and into the world of gaming," she continued. "You're going to actually see influencers making games, getting involved in game dev. And you're going to start seeing the industry evolve in a sense it hasn't done before. We're not just critics anymore, we're not just playing these games and talking about them, we're going to be fundamentally involved in the future of gaming."

This is something we're already seeing, with popular YouTuber dunkey launching his own indie publishing company. Further, Twitch has already influenced the way developers make games suitable for live streaming - Kish cited Behaviour's Dead by Daylight as an example that is frequently among the most viewed on the platform.

"The replayability, the interactivity, how dynamic it is, that game would have struggled 10 years ago," said Kish. "Even though it would have been a solid experience, it thrives because of Twitch."

She continued: "Now what you're seeing is, how are we making an experience that when a streamer streams to 10,000 people, each one of those people has an unbelievable experience, and [it's] very likely that it could be replayed, or have that genuine feeling for a longer period of time. Types of games will shift, because you will see the value added when streamers put their face on that piece of art."

It's clear Twitch still has some way to go to appease its vast community of streamers - something which may sometimes feel a seemingly endless, yet no less vital task. But it is at least acknowledging the need to lead from a community and safety-first approach when delivering new products for its platform, as well as developments into mobile. For many, Twitch remains the best place to deliver and watch live streamed content online.

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