If you hadn't heard of Twitch at the start of 2013, chances are that you had by the end of it. The game-centric live-streaming service enjoyed a year of explosive growth by nearly every measure: more people watching than ever before, more people broadcasting than ever before, more games with built-in broadcast options than ever before, and even two consoles you might have heard of with streaming built into (or at least planned for) their very cores.
Twitch has published a pamphlet full of impressive facts about the year: its minutes watched per month doubled to 12 billion from 2012, its monthly unique viewership more than doubled to 45 million, and 58 percent of those viewers spend more than 20 hours per week on Twitch.
But we wanted to hear from the horse's mouth - or perhaps the stream's tributary - about what this growth means, and how Twitch means to top it in 2014.
Read on for our interview with Twitch's vice president of marketing Matthew DiPietro.
CVG: What are your goals for 2014? How are you going to top 2013?
MD: The biggest thing on the horizon is the expansion of Twitch into the console space, generally. From both a broadcasting perspective and from a viewership perspective. And hopefully console games will continue their rise as a big piece of the ecosystem as well... When we launched, the genesis of Twitch was very PC-gamer centric. eSports was a big part of the genesis of Twitch, League of Legends, Starcraft 2, World of Warcraft, Dota 2, those kinds of games.
We've only just begun the next-generation console era. It's in its real infant stages. The PS4 launched, what, two months ago with some broadcasting functionality baked into it. We're seeing those numbers are astonishing, about 20 percent of our broadcaster base already, just in the last two months, is on PS4. The retention with those users is off the charts, people are really flocking to it. The console gamers are so far flocking to it in that early part of the availability of next-gen consoles.
And then when Xbox One comes out, that's gonna be really exciting too. The two consoles together with Twitch functionality could really be a true game changer for us in the future.
How does streaming being built into PS4 and Xbox One change your approach to integrating directly with games?
When we talk about game integrations we talk about our software development kit. And then you have the console integrations, which is a very different thing. The console integration makes you able to broadcast any game that is available on that platform, however there are things you can do with the SDK within game integrations that you can't do at the platform level. You can do much deeper integration at the game level.
For example there's an indie game called Smite which gives you the ability to... It's sort of an achievement based thing where if you broadcast certain numbers of hours your character then gets skinned in a purple Twitch design rendering. You get special characters, you can do lots of interesting things.
And then the other possibility is the idea of metadata, so that you would potentially be able to bring up all of your boss battles in a certain title, because it's all tagged inside the game with your user name for example. Those are things that you can't quite do at the platform level ... but you can do, potentially, at the game level, at the software level. So that's real next-generation stuff, we'll see what happens with that, but it's definitely an exciting possibility.
...Oh, and mobile is a very interesting thing. The ability to broadcast from mobile platforms is sort of a next-generation broadcasting technology that we're working on right now, which also has the potential to change, fundamentally, the business. Simply because mobile gaming is nearly ubiquitous, at least in the US. So that'll be an exciting thing, to see how that fits into the ecosystem.
"The ability to broadcast from mobile platforms ... has the potential to change, fundamentally, the business"
Has your rapid growth presented any challenges?
One of the challenges we've had since we launched - we launched two and a half years ago in June 2011, with something like 3 and a half, less than 5 million unique viewers per month. Lately we've been beating 45 million unique viewers per month. So just in those 24 months or so we have grown just staggering amounts. And the fact of the matter is that video online, whether that's VOD like YouTube, or streaming like Netflix, or live like Twitch, it's very, very data heavy, and it's a pretty expensive thing to do.
It's not an easy thing to do, to deliver that much video to an audience that size all around the globe. So one of our challenges that we've been working on since day one is to make sure that the infrastructure can deliver high quality video to that scale of an audience globally.
So, y'know, we have a team that is just globe trotting, building up data centers, building up server farms, making sure that all of this stuff is as efficient as it possibly can be, and that's gonna be a real big challenge in 2014, but one we're excited about having.
In the report you say 25 percent of active users polled do broadcasts themselves. That's a gobsmackingly high participation rate. What do you think about the platform or the content is making users engage so much?
Twitch is just a different thing than YouTube for example, or even other social media type platforms. We have a situation in which our users are really really really hyper engaged. And the viewers are often the same people as the broadcasters, right? And there is a very symbiotic relationship between the viewers and the broadcasters that doesn't exist in a place like YouTube. YouTube is massive, it's almost impossible to wrap your head around how huge YouTube is and the impact that YouTube has had on the way people experience video in their lives.
But with that kind of an audience, the vast majority, I don't know the exact numbers, but 99-plus-percent of the folks that come to YouTube on any given day are not video enthusiasts. They're not people who are creating content, they're not people that are making videos. They're people that are coming to YouTube to watch cat videos and Golden Globes clips and what have you. It's just a very different thing. It's mostly a video consumption platform. Whereas Twitch is much more social in its construction and in the way that most people experience it.
One of the best things we can do to turn people into broadcasters is to first turn them into viewers. And when you become a viewer, you are then retained, you are interested, and you want to become a broadcaster because you get to know what it feels like to broadcast to an audience and answer questions and banter back and forth with like-minded people in whatever community you happen to be a part of. That's a long-winded way of saying that Twitch is a much more socially connected group of people than is a broadly distributed platform like YouTube.
It may be intrinsically more social because it's founded on this idea of watching people play games, which is something that gamers have been doing together for decades.
That's right, absolutely. And the other piece of the Twitch experience that doesn't translate anywhere else is the chat experience. That's super important to the Twitch community. When you get into a channel, you're watching somebody broadcast, you're watching Man vs. Game or one of these guys that does this for a living and you jump into the chat room and you start talking to the community, people are responding to you and you say "hey" to the broadcaster.
And when they give you a shout-out on the stream it's amazing, and it's a really sticky experience that goes far beyond passive video consumption. It's a really active community.
"It's like you just got let in on something, like you just got let in on the cool group in high school, and you feel a part of it"
In most other contexts if you asked people if chatrooms were a growing thing they'd say, "Chatrooms? This isn't AOL." But they seem to be working for Twitch.
Right, it's old technology, there's no doubt about it. But when you couple that communication style and platform with the live video experience something sort of magic happens. And the interesting thing about that is depending on the community that you're part of, each community will develop its own vernacular and its own language and culture based around these broadcasters. It's sort of aspirational, you get involved in a game like Minecraft and you start watching people broadcast these games and it's like you just got let in on something, like you just got let in on the cool group in high school, and you feel a part of it, and you want to keep coming back for more and for more and for more.
It's a really interesting thing, and there's so many different communities. First-person shooters, eSports communities, Minecraft, speedrunners, all the above, it's a really interesting thing to watch.
What was the point that you realized Twitch had gone from a cool streaming service for games to a cultural touchstone, a key part of the gaming community?
I will tell you precisely the moment that happened for me. I live in San Francisco, I live in an upper and lower. I'm on the lower floor, my neighbor upstairs is a very nice woman, and I think her daughter is 14 or 15 years old. And when she told her daughter that her next-door neighbor worked for Twitch, I was an immediate celebrity - to my neighbor's daughter. She just couldn't believe it. Her eyes lit up, and that was the moment that I was like, "Wow. We've gone way past niche gamer status into a broader cultural phenomenon just in a year and a half." And that was really exciting.
And then I started hearing some friends and family that were independently tuning into Twitch to watch this or that. My little cousin, we sat there at Christmas with my cousin, and we couldn't get him out of the basement because he was just sitting there streaming on Twitch the whole time, streaming retro platform games. All of the sudden it just seems to be everywhere - totally organically - and that's really cool.
What's your favorite stream?
I think my favorite these days is a channel called Father & Son Gaming, it's like a 60 year old dad and his teenage son and they broadcast almost every day between like 10 o'clock PM and like 2 o'clock in the morning. And they get on and they play first-person shooters, mostly Call of Duty, and they just have a really good banter back and forth, they have a really sizable community, and it's a very sort of positive vibe that's just fun to drop into. I watch those guys a lot.
Mine's probably Video Game Championship Wrestling. It's just so bizarre, the first time I saw it I could only think, "What is this?"
MD: That whole phenomenon is so interesting, VGCW, Salty Bet, a lot of those weird phenomenons that popped up out of nowhere. And all of a sudden having games play versus other games is a thing on Twitch that nobody ever even imagined. It's interesting to see what people would do with a platform when you give it to them. Seeing all of these kinds of emergent behaviors is interesting to us because we never imagined any of it.