The battle for the streaming market has been raging for years now. According to recent data from Streamlabs, Twitch is still by far the most dominant platform in terms of monthly active streamers, but the competition has never been fiercer. YouTube Live, for instance, has shown more growth than its established rival over the last six months despite having only a fraction of its active users. Likewise, after the recent merger of Hitbox and Azubu, Smashcast has a ready-made monthly active user base of 20m at its disposal. Then there’s Microsoft’s Mixer, recently rebranded from Beam, whose near real-time interaction make it one of the fastest and most responsive platforms out there. While it’s safe to say that Twitch will likely remain No.1 for the foreseeable future, it may not stay that way much longer.
Indeed, despite Twitch’s dominance, streaming is more diverse than ever, with more platforms available to players every day, and, more importantly, to publishers and developers. This rapidly evolving landscape has led to new opportunities for the publishers in particular, as the industry at large now understands the value of streaming as a marketing tool. And the more platforms that emerge, the more powerful that tool becomes.
Recent developments at Twitch mirror this evolution, with publishers and developers now able to sell their games directly on the platform. Devolver Digital is one of them: “Devolver already sells games like Enter the Gungeon (pictured below) and Strafe via Twitch,” a spokesperson for Devolver Digital who goes by the name Rich Knuckles tells MCV. “It’s an incredible way for people that are enjoying a stream to pick up the game being played, and support that streamer directly.”
Partnered streamers receive five per cent of the sale if the game they’re playing is purchased from their streaming page, while developers receive 70 per cent. This shows just how powerful streaming can be in marketing a game, and Devolver knows it.
“Streaming is now the most important way people interact with games outside of actually playing themselves,” Knuckles continues. “As a marketing tool, it’s an incredible way to connect directly with your community, provide ongoing updates of games in development, and a real shared experience for everyone.”
Not everyone shares this open approach to streaming, however, with publisher-developer Atlus threatening to take legal action against Persona 5 streamers back in April. At the time, it argued it didn’t “want the experience to be spoiled for people who haven’t played the game,” but the company soon softened its approach after it “saw numerous reactive news articles go up, opinion videos post, and received many emails asking to change [its] Persona 5 streaming/video policy.”
With streaming now forming an integral part of a game’s life cycle post-launch, those looking to avoid Atlus’ mistakes should start thinking about making it an integral part of a game’s marketing campaign.
“Live streaming is growing in importance as part of the overall picture of video,” Twitch’s VP sales Europe Steve Ford says. “Brands realise that this is where their audience are the most engaged, where the value exchange between the streamer and viewer is at its most authentic – and if brands get it right, this is where they can really find traction.”
Publishers can use streaming in various ways: direct advertising, influencer-based campaigns or by hosting their own channel, like Devolver.
Streaming is now the most important way people interact with games outside of actually playing themselves.
According to Twitch, however, the most successful campaigns are those which use a number of different approaches: “The best use of Twitch by a publisher [is] when all of these [strategies] are coordinated with the help of various Twitch teams,” Ford says.
Knuckles concurs: “We take a few approaches, including streaming on our own channel, Devolver Public Access. Our group of wonderful misfits play interesting games we publish and those we find that we think are nifty. It’s important to us that cool, weird or just plain obscure games get out there, and this is a way to share it with our tight-knit community. We are also friends with quite a few content creators and make sure they get to play our games. If they want to play them for their audience, that’s awesome for everyone.”
But the unpredictable nature of streaming still worries some companies, says Ford: “Some brands are still hesitant. And we look at this as an opportunity to partner with them and help them with their approach to place messaging around live streaming.”
He continues: “It’s also important to note that Twitch offers best-in-class moderation tools and support, including AutoMod, a tool that employs machine learning and natural language processing to identify and block inappropriate content from appearing in chat. As a result, campaigns that leverage assistance from Twitch are known for delivering a positive experience for both the brand and the viewers.”
Brands’ hesitation to engage with live streaming because of its unpredictable nature is one of the reasons why DingIt.tv’s chose to focus on video on-demand (VOD).
“While there are a lot of benefits with live video, there are naturally more risks from technical problems and inappropriate content, but also the way live viewership can be a bit unpredictable – especially with sudden peaks,” says Adam Simmons, VP content and marketing at Level Up Media, DingIt’s parent company.
“Different approaches for live or VOD streaming advertising each have pros and cons. There have been some great content-based campaigns that have delivered for brands, such as the tournament series DingIt ran with Kinguin, whereas the targeting and flexibility of direct advertising can offer advantages for other publishers. The key is understanding the strengths of different formats, how they complement each other and then building a strategy.
“Live [video] has some great benefits for user engagement and audience interaction. On the flip side, it is difficult to control the quality of content, especially from a brand safety point of view. We chose to focus on premium VOD as we see a big growth area here, especially when trying to reach a broader audience who may not want to commit to watching hours of live streaming. VOD tends to have more stable viewership, whereas live video can have large spikes in traffic that can be difficult to predict.”
An advertising partner has to be authentic. If they’re not, then the audience will know immediately.
Steve Ford, Twitch
Devolver’s Knuckles agrees that the volatile nature of streaming is both a strength and a weakness from a marketing point of view:
“The live stream audience is certainly more engaged and want more than just to see video of a game in action. They actively ask questions, talk amongst themselves, and can be brutally – but importantly – honest about what you put out there,” he says. “It’s all unpredictable. People are going to react how they react and we can’t really control that. Our hope is we get the work of our developers out there to both people that follow us, and bring in new folks that might have never considered one of our games before.”
If the gaming community can be brutally honest about the content that’s being delivered to them, it’s equally important for the brands making use of streaming platforms to be honest as well, says Ford.
“The key message here is that an advertising partner has to be authentic,” he explains. “If the message isn’t authentic, then the audience will know immediately. Twitch offers a managed service to brands that want to explore the opportunities live streaming has to offer, but need help in their ideation and execution. When it’s done right, engagement, measurable brand uplift and a positive emotional connection are the rewards.”
Knuckles concurs: “It’s been our experience that you need a schedule to keep your community engaged but leave some room for impromptu fun, because games should always be something loose and spontaneous.”
THE KNIGHTS AND JESTERS
Streaming and VOD aren’t just tools for publishers to promote their games, however, as these platforms have also begun to attract non-endemic brands whose target audiences fall into the gaming community bracket.
“Every day more non-endemic brands are looking to position themselves around live gaming content,” Ford confirms. “In the UK, we reached a tipping point around halfway through 2016 when we started to generate more revenue from our non-endemic partners.”
This shift occurred as more live streaming platforms were made available to the public, which gave non-endemic brands a wealth of options. In the end, that largely benefitted the top dogs, such as Twitch, but also VOD platforms like DingIt.
“With many options available for brands within live video, it can often be overwhelming,” Simmons explains. “Non-endemic brands are already on a steep learning curve with the gaming audience and how to utilise it effectively. At DingIt, we look to complement the live content our creators make on other platforms with bite-sized VOD, which offers different opportunities for brands. As more non-endemic brands come into the space, these options and flexibility offer great opportunities to meet specific objectives.”
In the end, it’s the community that drive the marketing opportunities and not the other way around, Ford adds:
“At Twitch, we have continued to embrace various forms of emerging content, but these are surfaced by our community rather than advertisers. We believe that if we get this right, then we will automatically build the right audiences for a range of advertisers.”
Audiences are evolving as well, with the rise of eSports extending the gaming community beyond traditional mainstream players. This has the potential to attract more brands, both inside and outside the industry. However, it may be some time before non-endemic brands begin engaging with eSports, as Ford tells us that games publishers are still the primary drivers for marketing campaigns using this type of content.
“Most eSports league content carries with it the same natural competitive separation that traditional sports have,” Ford says. “That said, publishers are always looking to add large content streamers to the portfolio of influencers playing their game, and many times current and former eSports athletes fit that mould. It is not uncommon to see retired eSports athletes playing newer games in the same genre from what they played originally as a strategy to drive awareness and trial of those new titles.”
Competitive play offers opportunities for brands, but it only attracts some of the total gaming audience.
Adam Simmons, DingIt
Much like Twitch embraced both emerging and eSports content, DingIt aims to appeal to the gaming community at large as well, creating a wealth of opportunities for all sorts of marketing campaigns.
“Our aim is provide different destinations for different communities within gaming,” Simmons explains. “With DingIt.tv as our flagship site, we are focused on gaming enthusiasts and eSports. Our soon-to-launch site, TheGamer.tv, will be focused on mainstream gaming. While there are millions of eSports fans, they still only make up a small section of overall gamers, and we see a lot of opportunity by catering to the wider gaming community.
“Especially when we’re talking to non-endemic brands, there’s still some misunderstanding around eSports. Competitive play offers some great opportunities for brands, but it only attracts some of the total gaming audience. There’s a case to try and cater for all gamers on a single site, but we believe the route is to cater to different communities with their own destinations and that’s what we hope to do with DingIt, TheGamer and GoGamer. Each site will focus on different gaming communities and that opens the option for different brands and games to align with the site that fits them best.”
Ultimately, the fact that streaming and VOD platforms are finally embracing the wider gaming community is great news for brands wishing to utilise them as marketing tools. They don’t need to target superstar streamers, either, as focusing on everyday gamers can be an equally rewarding, says Ford:
“If you are engaging to your audience, you can make a living on Twitch. The appeal of Twitch is no different than medieval times, when you had the knights and the jesters. The knights are the skilled players and the jesters are the entertainers, with the avenues to success open to them equally on Twitch.”