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The need-to-know takeaways from VidCon 2019

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VidCon, the annual summit in Anaheim, CA for social media stars and their fans to meet each other drew over 75,000 attendees over last week and this past weekend. A small subset of those where entertainment and tech executives convening to share best practices and strike deals.

Of the wide range of topics discussed in the industry-only sessions and casual conversation, five trends stuck out to me as takeaways for Extra Crunch members: the prominence of TikTok, the strong presence of Chinese tech companies in general, the contemplation of deep fakes, curiosity around virtual influencers, and the widespread interest in developing consumer product startups around top content creators.

Newer platforms take center stage

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Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

TikTok, the Chinese social video app (owned by Bytedance) that exploded onto the US market this past year, was the biggest conversation topic. Executives and talent managers were curious to see where it will go over the next year more than they were convinced that it is changing the industry in any fundamental way.

TikTok influencers were a major presence on the stages and taking selfies with fans on the conference floor. I overheard tweens saying “there are so many TikTokers here” throughout the conference. Meanwhile, TikTok’s US GM Vanessa Pappas held a session where she argued the app’s focus on building community among people who don’t already know each other (rather than being centered on your existing friendships) is a fundamental differentiator.

Kathleen Grace, CEO of production company New Form, noted that Tik Tok’s emphasis on visuals and music instead of spoken or written word makes it distinctly democratic in convening users across countries on equal footing.

Esports was also a big presence across the conference floor with teens lined up to compete at numerous simultaneous competitions. Twitch’s Mike Aragon and Jana Werner outlined Twitch’s expansion in content verticals adjacent to gaming like anime, sports, news, and “creative content’ as the first chapter in expanding the format of interactive live-streams across all verticals. They also emphasized the diversity of revenue streams Twitch enables creators to leverage: ads, tipping, monthly patronage, Twitch Prime, and Bounty Board (which connects brands and live streamers).

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Twitch continues to dominate live streaming with its second-biggest quarter to date

Posted by | esports, Facebook, facebook gaming, game streaming, Gaming, live streaming, Media, microsoft mixer, streamelements, streaming video, Twitch, YouTube, YouTube Live | No Comments

Twitch continues to lead rivals including, YouTube Live, Facebook Gaming and Microsoft’s Mixer, when it comes to live-streaming video. Despite experiencing its first decline in hours watched in Q2 2019, the Amazon-owned game-streaming site still had its second-biggest quarter to date, with more than 70% of the hours watched during the quarter.

According to a new report from StreamElements, Twitch viewers live-streamed a total of 2.72+ billion hours in Q2 — or 72.2% of all live hours watched — compared with 735.54 million hours on YouTube Live (19.5%), 197.76 million on Facebook Gaming (5.3%) and just 112.29 million hours (3%) on Mixer.

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Combined, the total hours watched across all four platforms was 3.77 billion in Q2.

While none of Twitch’s rivals are nearly catching up, YouTube Live did have a good month in May, breaking its own record with 284 million hours watched. Overall, YouTube Live’s hours watched improved in Q2 as a result, while Twitch saw a slight decline.

Facebook Gaming is also gaining steam. It’s now the third-biggest live-streaming platform, having passed Microsoft Mixer.

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Despite its traction, Twitch doesn’t have much of a long tail when it comes to stream viewership. That’s a problem it has faced for some time, as newcomers complained they spent years broadcasting to no one in hopes of gaining a fan base, with little success. Twitch has tried to remedy this problem with various educational efforts as well as product features like Raids and Squad Streams, for example.

However, the new report finds that the majority (almost 75%) of Twitch’s viewership still comes from people tuning in to the top 5,000 channels. Out of the 2.7 billion hours watched in Q2, these top 5,000 channels drove 2 billion of those hours watched.

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In addition, the average concurrent viewership (viewers watching at the same time) of the top 5,000 channels increased by 12% in Q2 2019, compared with Q1. The top 200 channels have the highest concurrent viewership with 10,590 people watching together, on average.

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Also in the quarter, viewership of top titles like Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive declined, while vlogging — aka “Just Chatting” — grew, along with other titles.

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Esports, meanwhile, still draws big numbers, but represents only a small slice of the overall pie.

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The full report, which takes a look at other trends, including which streamers are gaining and losing popularity, is available here.

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Amazon’s Twitch acquired social networking platform Bebo for up to $25M to bolster its esports efforts

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, Bebo, esports, Gaming, M&A, Social, Sports, tournaments, Twitch | No Comments

While Facebook makes a bold move into cryptocurrency to capitalise on its multi-billion user base, a social network that was once a credible competitor to it has quietly been snapped up by a subsidiary of Amazon. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Bebo, one of the earlier platforms to let people share thoughts and media with their friends, has been acquired by Twitch, the streaming video platform owned by Amazon. Together the two will be working on building out Twitch’s esports business, and specifically Twitch Rivals.

A spokesperson for Twitch confirmed the acquisition, which includes both people (around 10 employees) and IP, but declined to provide further comment.

From what we understand from our sources, Twitch paid up to $25 million for the company earlier this month, after beating out at least two other bidders, Discord (which itself has been building out its own esports business), and… wait for it… Facebook. (Our source says the latter offered $20 million.) Indeed, LinkedIn profiles for ex-Bebo employees — see here, here, and here — now at Twitch note June as the changeover date. (Note: original sources say $25 million, others close to the deal say it was materially less than this. As you know, these things can be described differently depending on who is doing the describing.)

It has been a long and winding road for Bebo over the years. Starting out way back in 2005 by Michael and Xochi Birch as an early social networking site, Bebo quickly became the market leader in a couple of English-speaking countries, specifically UK and Ireland.

Bebo’s growth trajectory and the bigger opportunity in social were enough to get it acquired for about $850 million by AOL back in 2008, apparently beating out a number of other interested large tech and media companies interested in getting their own social media platform and the audience that would come with it (disclaimer: AOL eventually also acquired TechCrunch, too).

But the deal was a certifiable dud, with Bebo never managing to build on its early traction, and AOL not being in a position to know how to fix that. Less than two years later, it was sold on to Criterion Capital for $25 million.

Yet as the social wheels continued to turn, and even once-global market leader MySpace also fell back as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile-friendly platforms pulled out ahead, even that $25 million price turned out to be too high. After Bebo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the original founders, the Birches, bought it back in 2013 for $1 million with a pledge to reinvent it.

And so they did, putting in place a small team led by Shaan Puri, who worked on a number of ideas to see which of them could fly. (And I don’t know if this was a tongue in cheek joke about how challenging they knew the task would be, but it seems that the holding company set up to house some of the IP and legal aspects of the endeavor was called “Pigs in Flight.”)

The new app studio effort, which went by the name Monkey Inferno (another great one), came out of the gates with “Blab”, a “walkie-talkie” ephemeral video messaging service, which picked up millions of users quickly but found it hard to retain them. It shut down a year later, and it looks like Monkey Inferno dabbled in a few other things before coming to esports.

From social networking to socialising esports

In that last pivot, Bebo first tried out streaming services for esports players, but that proved to be tough competition against dominant platforms like OBS and Xsplit. Then, in an interesting nod to its earlier history in social networking and organising groups of friends, it shifted once more, into organising and running tournaments for streamers, with leagues and more: the streams ran on Twitch and Bebo organised viewers, leagues and other things around that.

That site, Bebo.com, is now offline, and all its tweets seem to have been deleted, but the idea was to build out leagues and tournaments for any and all kinds of groups and players, for example complete beginners, or high school students.

It was the last of these that turned out to line up with a growing market segment.

According to a report in eMarketer, esports attracted some 400 million users in 2018 and pulled in revenues of $869 million from sponsorships, player fees and advertising, and it is projected to be worth between $1.58 billion and $2.96 billion by 2022. And Bebo was helping organise and build those communities.

And that is now linking up neatly with Twitch, which had been developing its own casual esports operation in the form of Twitch Rivals. This launched in beta in 2018 and is now widely available wherever Twitch is.

The Bebo tech and its team are now both being put to use on Twitch Rivals, to help continue expanding it with more features and more users. To be clear, though, it seems there is no intention — from what I understand — to parlay Bebo’s past efforts in social networking into a wider social networking play at Twitch: the focus is on esports.

Still, the acquisition comes at a key moment. Since January, there have been reports that Amazon is working on a new game streaming service (just like Apple, Google and others), which likely won’t be out until next year. While there is no news on that today, you can see how expanding the variety and breadth of content on Twitch by way of esports leagues and tournaments fits in with a wider effort to bring more regular, engaged users into the Amazon fold, using this as one of the big draws.

(Updated with more detail on the price.)

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Delane Parnell’s plan to conquer amateur esports

Posted by | accelerator, Alexis Ohanian, Amazon, Apps, Brian Wong, Canada, coach, delane parnell, detroit, esports, Facebook, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, league of legends, Los Angeles, Ludlow Ventures, Matt Mazzeo, Media, national basketball association, north america, Personnel, Peter Pham, playvs, Riot Games, rocket fiber, Rocket League, science, serial entrepreneur, Sports, Spotify, Startups, Talent, TC, Twitch, United States, Venture Capital, video game | No Comments

Most of the buzz about esports focuses on high-profile professional teams and audiences watching live streams of those professionals.

What gets ignored is the entire base of amateurs wanting to compete in esports below the professional tier. This is like talking about the NBA and the value of its sponsorships and broadcast rights as if that is the entirety of the basketball market in the US.

Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) wants to become the dominant platform for amateur esports, starting at the high school level. The company raised $46 million last year—its first year operating—with the vision that owning the infrastructure for competitions and expanding it to encompass other social elements of gaming can make it the largest gaming company in the world.

I recently sat down with Founder & CEO Delane Parnell to talk about his company’s formation and growth strategy. Below is the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Founding PlayVS

Eric P: You have a fascinating background as a serial entrepreneur while you were a teenager.

Delane P.: I grew up on the west side of Detroit and started working at the cell phone store of a family friend when I was 13. When I turned 16 or so, I joined two guys in opening our own Metro PCS franchise. And then two additional franchises. And I was on the founding team of a car rental company called Executive Rental Car.

Eric P: And this segued into tech startups after meeting Jon Triest from Ludlow Ventures?

Delane P: He got me a ticket to the Launch conference in SF, and that experience inspired me to start a Fireside Chat series in Detroit that brought in people like Brian Wong from Kiip and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit to speak. Starting at 21, I worked at a venture capital firm called IncWell based in Birmingham, Michigan then joined a startup called Rocket Fiber.

We were focused on internet infrastructure – this is 2015-ish – and I was appointed to lead our strategy in esports. So I met with many of the publishers, ancillary startups, tournament organizers, and OG players and team owners. Through the process, I became passionate about esports and ended up leaving Rocket Fiber to start a Call of Duty team that I quickly sold to TSM.

Eric P: What then drove you to found PlayVS? Did it seem like an obvious opportunity or did it take you a while to figure it out?

Delane P.: What esports means is playing video games competitively bound to governance and a competitive ruleset. As a player, what that experience means is you play on a team, in a position, with a coach, in a season that culminates in some sort of championship.

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Pro gamer Tfue files lawsuit against esports org over ‘grossly oppressive’ contract

Posted by | esports, faze clan, Gaming, lawsuit, Sports, Startups, Talent, TC, tfue, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Turner “Tfue” Tenney, one of the world’s premier streamers and esports pros, has filed a lawsuit against esports organization Faze Clan over a “grossly oppressive, onerous and one-sided” contract, according to THR.

The complaint alleges that Faze Clan’s Gamer Agreement relegates up to 80% of the streamer’s earnings from branded content (sponsored videos) to Faze Clan, and that the contract hinders Tfue from pursuing and earning money from sponsorship deals that Faze Clan hasn’t approved.

Tfue’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman of Freedman + Taitelman, took the complaint to the California Labor Commissioner with issues that span far beyond financial contracts. Freedman wrote that Faze Clan takes advantage of young artists and actually jeopardizes their health and safety, noting an incident where Tfue was allegedly pressured to skateboard in a video and injured his arm. Freedman also wrote that Faze Clan pressured Tfue to live in one of its homes where he was given alcohol before being 21 years old, and encouraged to illegally gamble.

From the complaint:

In one instance, Tenney suffered an injury (a deep wound that likely required stitches) which resulted in permanent disfigurement. Faze Clan also encourages underage drinking and gambling in Faze Clan’s so-called Clout House and FaZe House, where Faze Clan talent live and frequently party. It is also widely publicized that Faze Clan has attempted to exploit at least one artist who is a minor.

Faze Clan issued the following statement on Twitter following the news:

A follow-up from FaZe Clan on today’s unfortunate situation. pic.twitter.com/qm6sK8v88B

— FaZe Clan (@FaZeClan) May 21, 2019

Faze Clan claims that it has taken no more than 20% of Tfue’s earnings from sponsored content, which amounts to a total of $60,000. The owner of Faze Clan, Ricky Banks, took to Twitter to make his case, showing the incredible growth of Tfue’s popularity across Twitch and YouTube since signing with Faze Clan.

I recruited Tfue to FaZe Clan in April of 2018. These are graphs from both his YouTube & Twitch channels following the mark of our relationship. pic.twitter.com/c7m3QwsoTZ

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

As it stands now, Tfue boasts more than 120 million views on Twitch, more than 10 million YouTube subscribers and 5.5 million followers on Instagram.

Banks also reiterated Faze Clan’s official statement saying that the company has taken 20% of Tfue’s earnings from branded deals, totaling $60,000.

OK LAST TWEET – To clarify Turners contract does outline splits in prizes, ad revenue, stuff like that. But again we’ve collected absolutely none of it with no plans to and that was very clear to him. We have collected a total of $60,000 from 300k in brand deals (20%). That’s it

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

The Tfue claim, however, seems to take issue with the content of the agreement, not necessarily its execution, and the general legality of these types of gamer agreements across the esports landscape. Moreover, the complaint alleges that Tfue lost potential earnings due to his agreement with Faze Clan and their own conflicts of interest with various brands interested in a sponsorship.

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Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

Posted by | Apple, BetaWorks, charles hudson, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, epic games, Eric Hippeau, esports, Facebook, fortnite, founders fund, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Google, GV, HQ Trivia, instagram, interactive media, lerer hippeau ventures, lightspeed venture partners, Luminary Media, matt hartman, Media, mg siegler, Netflix, new media, precursor ventures, Roblox, scooter braun, sequoia capital, Sports, Spotify, starbucks, Startups, sweet capital, TC, Twitch, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media and entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms.

These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved.

To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computing power.

In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money.

Here are the media investment theses of: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Alex Taussig (Lightspeed), Matt Hartman (betaworks), Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia), Jordan Fudge (Sinai), Christian Dorffer (Sweet Capital), Charles Hudson (Precursor), MG Siegler (GV), and Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau).

Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund

In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.

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Microsoft’s Mixer now lets streamers reward fans for participation, not just subscriptions

Posted by | game streaming, games, Gaming, Microsoft, mixer, Social, streaming, Twitch | No Comments

On game-streaming platforms today, there’s really only one way to earn status within a creator’s community: you have to become a subscriber. Microsoft’s game-streaming service Mixer is today aiming to offer a third path to status through loyalty and participation. In doing so, it hopes to better differentiate itself from larger rivals like Twitch and YouTube.

Channel Progression, as this new feature is called, is a system that rewards community members and a streamer’s fans for more than just their financial contributions. It also takes into account other activity within the channel and on Mixer as a whole.

Members can level up by participating in the stream’s chat, by their repeat visits, by using Skills (aka other forms of expression like stickers, effects and GIFs that are used in chats) and more. That means that viewers will be able to earn rewards and raise their rank by just participating — watching, chatting, following, subscribing and, later, through other actions, as well.

As streamers participate, they’ll rank up, gaining them bragging rights and other perks that will vary by their rank level. They also can check on their rank at any time by clicking on the “Your Rank” button at the bottom-left corner of the chat box.

The feature is rolling out on Wednesday May 1, 2019 to all streamers on Mixer — not just Mixer Partner, as it’s designed to not only be a way for streamers to grow their own communities, but for Mixer itself to grow.

In the future, however, Mixer Partners will be able to also reward monetization actions, like subscribing and gift subscriptions, and for spending Embers (virtual currency).

The changes come at a time when there’s been a rise in complaints over how hard it is to get noticed on the leading game-streaming site, Twitch. Some smaller streamers told The Verge last summer they spent years broadcasting to no one, and found it difficult to grow their community, despite the effort Twitch has made in this area. More recently, that’s included the launch of a four-person Squad Stream, to help creators get discovered.

Despite this, Twitch’s long tail continues to grow — according to a recent report from StreamElements, the top 1,000 Twitch channels were responsible for 57% of Twitch’s viewership hours in Q1 2019, and the long tail (those beyond the top 10,000 channels) was responsible for 20%. In total, Twitch hit 2.7 billion hours of content watched in Q1, the report claimed.

Mixer, by comparison, is much smaller. Its numbers may have quadrupled since Q1 2019, but that’s only going from 22 million hours watched to 89 million. It still has much, much further to go to catch up with YouTube Live, not to mention Twitch.

Mixer’s Channel Progression feature was originally announced in November as part of Mixer’s “Season 2” release. It launches tomorrow to all on Mixer.com on the desktop and will roll out to all other platforms in the weeks ahead.

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After account hacks, Twitch streamers take security into their own hands

Posted by | computer security, credential stuffing, cryptography, Gaming, johnny xmas, multi-factor authentication, Password, Prevention, salem, Security, SMS, Twitch, twitch tv, video hosting | No Comments

Twitch has an account hacking problem.

After the breach of popular browser game Town of Salem in January, some 7.8 million stolen passwords quickly became the weakest link not only for the game but gamers’ other accounts. The passwords were stored using a long-deprecated scrambling algorithm, making them easily cracked.

It didn’t take long for security researcher and gamer Matthew Jakubowski to see the aftermath.

In the weeks following, the main subreddit for Amazon-owned game streaming site Twitch — of which Jakubowski is a moderator — was flooded with complaints about account hijacks. One after the other, users said their accounts had been hacked. Many of the hijacked accounts had used their Town of Salem password for their Twitch account.

Jakubowski blamed the attacks on automated account takeovers — bots that cycle through password lists stolen from breached sites, including Town of Salem.

“Twitch knows it’s a problem — but this has been going on for months and there’s no end in sight,” Jakubowski told TechCrunch.

Credential stuffing is a security problem that requires participation from both tech companies and their users. Hackers take lists of usernames and passwords from other breached sites and brute-force their way into other accounts. Customers of DoorDash and Chipotle have in recent months complained of account breaches, but have denied their systems have been hacked, offered little help to their users or shown any effort to bolster their security, and instead washed their hands of any responsibility.

Jakubowski, working with fellow security researcher Johnny Xmas, said Twitch no longer accepting email addresses to log in and incentivizing users to set up two-factor authentication would all but eliminate the problem.

The Russia connection

In new research out Tuesday, Jakubowski and Xmas said Russian hackers are a likely culprit.

The researchers found attackers would run massive lists of stolen credentials against Twitch’s login systems using widely available automation tools. With no discernible system to prevent automated logins, the attackers can hack into Twitch accounts at speed. Once logged in, the attackers then change the password to gain persistent access to the account. Even if they’re caught, some users are claiming a turnaround time of four weeks for Twitch support to get their accounts back.

On the accounts with a stored payment card — or an associated Amazon Prime membership — the attackers follow streaming channels they run or pay a small fee to access, of which Twitch takes a cut. Twitch also has its own virtual currency — bits — to help streamers solicit donations, which can be abused by the attackers to funnel funds into their coffers.

When the attacker’s streaming account hits the payout limit, the attacker cashes out.

The researchers said the attackers stream prerecorded gameplay footage on their own Twitch channels, often using Russian words and names.

“You’ll see these Russian accounts that will stream what appears to be old video game footage — you’ll never see a face or hear anybody talking but you’ll get tons of people subscribing and following in the channel,” said Xmas. “You’ll get people donating bits when nothing is going on in there — even when the channel isn’t streaming,” he said.

This activity helps cloak the attackers’ account takeover and pay-to-follow activity, said Xmas, but the attackers would keep the subscriber counts low enough to garner payouts from Twitch but not draw attention.

“If it’s something easy enough for [Jakubowski] to stumble across, it should be easy for Twitch to handle,” said Xmas. “But Twitch is staying silent and users are constantly being defrauded.”

Two-factor all the things

Twitch, unlike other sites and services with a credential stuffing problem, already lets its 15 million daily users set up two-factor authentication on their accounts, putting much of the onus to stay secure on the users themselves.

Twitch partners, like Jakubowski, and affiliates are required to set up two-factor on their accounts.

But the researchers say Twitch should do more to incentivize ordinary users — the primary target for account hijackers and fraudsters — to secure their accounts.

“I think [Twitch] doesn’t want that extra step between a valid user trying to pay for something and adding friction to that process,” said Jakubowski.

“The hackers have no idea how valuable an account is until they log in. They’re just going to try everyone — and take a shotgun approach.”
Matthew Jakubowski, security researcher and Twitch partner

“Two-factor is important — everyone knows it’s important but users still aren’t using it because it’s inconvenient,” said Xmas. “That’s the bottom line: Twitch doesn’t want to inconvenience people because that loses Twitch money,” he said.

Recognizing there was still a lack of awareness around password security and with no help from Twitch, Jakubowski and Xmas took matters into their own hands. The pair teamed up to write a comprehensive Twitch user security guide to explain why seemingly unremarkable accounts are a target for hackers, and hosted a Reddit “ask me anything” to let users to ask questions and get instant feedback.

Even during Jakubowski’s streaming sessions, he doesn’t waste a chance to warn his viewers about the security problem — often fielding other security-related questions from his fans.

“Every 10 minutes or so, I’ll remind people watching to set-up two factor,” he said.

“The hackers have no idea how valuable an account is until they log in,” said Jakubowski. “They’re just going to try everyone — and take a shotgun approach,” he said.

Xmas said users “don’t realize” how vulnerable they are. “They don’t understand why their account — which they don’t even use to stream — is desirable to hackers,” he said. “If you have a payment card associated with your account, that’s what they want.”

Carrot and the stick

Jakubowski said that convincing the users is the big challenge.

Twitch could encourage users with free perks — like badges or emotes — costing the company nothing, the researchers said. Twitch lets users collect badges to flair their accounts. World of Warcraft maker Blizzard offers perks for setting up two-factor, and Epic Games offers similar incentives to their gamers.

“Rewarding users for implementing two-factor would go a huge way,” said Xmas. “It’s incredible to see how effective that is.”

The two said the company could also integrate third-party leaked credential monitoring services, like Have I Been Pwned, to warn users if their passwords have been leaked or exposed. And, among other fixes, the researchers say removing two-factor by text message would reduce SIM swapping attacks. Xmas, who serves as director of field engineering at anti-bot startup Kasada — which TechCrunch profiled earlier this year — said Twitch could invest in systems that detect bot activity to prevent automated logins.

Twitch, when reached prior to publication, did not comment.

Jakubowski said until Twitch acts, streamers can do their part by encouraging their viewers to switch on the security feature. “Streamers are influencers — more users are likely to switch on two-factor if they hear it from a streamer,” he said.

“Getting more streamers to get on board with security will hopefully go a much longer way,” he said.

Read more:

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Twitch’s first game, the karaoke-style ‘Twitch Sings,’ launches to public

Posted by | Gaming, TC, Twitch | No Comments

Amazon-owned game-streaming site Twitch is today publicly launching its first game. But it’s not a traditional video game — like those the site’s creators stream for their fans. Instead, the new game is called “Twitch Sings” and is a free karaoke-style experience designed for live streaming.

The game, which was launched into beta last year, includes thousands of karaoke classics that players can sing either alone or in a duet with another person. In addition, streamers can choose to sing as themselves in a live camera feed, or they can create a personalized avatar that will appear in their place. (The songs are licensed from karaoke content providers, not the major labels.)

But unlike other karaoke-style apps — like TikTok or its clones — Twitch Sings is designed to be both live-streamed and interactive. That is, viewers are also a part of the experience as they can request songs, cheer with emotes to activate light shows and virtual ovations and send in “singing challenges” to the streamer during the performance. For example, they could challenge them to sing without the lyrics or “sing like a cat,” and other goofy stuff.

“Twitch Sings unites the fun and energy of being at a live show with the boundless creativity of streamers to make an amazing shared interactive performance,” said Joel Wade, executive producer of Twitch Sings, in a statement. “Many games are made better on Twitch, but we believe there is a huge opportunity for those that are designed with streaming and audience participation at their core.”

The game is designed to not only capitalize on Twitch’s live-streaming capabilities, but to also engage Twitch viewers who tune in to watch, but don’t stream themselves.

More notably, it’s a means of expanding Twitch beyond gaming. This is something Twitch has attempted to do for years — starting with the launch of a section on its site for creative content back in 2015. It has also in the past tried to cater to vloggers, and has partnered with various media companies in order to stream marathons of fan favorites — like Bob Ross’s painting series or Julia Child’s cooking show, for example. Its own studio has produced non-gaming shows like the one about sneakers. Last year, Twitch partnered with Disney Digital Network to bring some of its larger personalities over to Twitch, as well.

Those efforts haven’t really helped Twitch break out with the non-gamer crowd.

Karaoke may not do the trick either. In reality, this “game” is more of a test to see if Twitch can turn some of its platform features — like its chat system and custom interactive video overlays — into tools to help increase engagement among existing users and attract new ones. It still remains to be seen if and how the game actually takes off.

The game was unveiled today at TwitchCon Berlin, where the company announced it had added more than 127,000 Affiliates and 3,600 new Partners in Europe since the beginning of 2018.

The company also detailed a few other updates for Twitch creators, including those across payments, streaming and discovery tools.

Starting Monday, April 15, Twitch will pay out in just 15 days after the close of the month, instead of 45, eligible creators that reached the $100 threshold. In May, it will make the Bounty Board (paid sponsorship opps) available to Partners and Affiliates in Germany, France and the U.K., and will partner Borderlands 3, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 and Unilever, in Europe.

In June, Twitch is also rolling out faster search, automated highlight reels (recaps) and the ability to sort through channels in a directory by a range of new options — including lowest to highest viewers, most recently started or suggested channels based on their viewing history.

TwitchCon Europe 2019 is streaming live this weekend at twitch.tv/twitch.

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Amazon Prime members get a free year of Nintendo Switch Online through Twitch Prime

Posted by | Amazon, Gaming, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, nintendo switch online, Twitch | No Comments

You may have forgotten about Twitch Prime, but the company is adding an interesting new perk for Nintendo Switch owners. The company is giving out up to one year of Nintendo Switch Online, the subscription service that lets you play online multiplayer games and access NES games.

If you’re an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscriber, you automatically become a Twitch Prime member once you link your accounts together — Amazon owns Twitch. Twitch Prime gives you access to free loot, such as in-game skins for Apex Legends or Call of Duty Black Ops 4, as well as free (mostly indie) games.

As part of Twitch Prime, you can also subscribe to a Twitch channel for free — the streamer still gets compensated. Twitch Prime also gives your more options to customize your chat experience.

Nintendo and Twitch are partnering to offer a complimentary Nintendo Switch Online subscription — it usually costs $20. But you won’t get 12 months at once. You can go to this website to redeem three months right now.

In two months, you’ll be able to redeem another nine months. Twitch and Nintendo probably hope that you’ll forget about the second part of the perk, so don’t forget to set up a reminder.

The offer expires on September 24, 2019 for the initial three months, and on January 22, 2020 for the additional nine months. The good news is that it also works if you’re already a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber. You’ll just get additional subscription time.

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