The teens were out in force today in San Jose for the annual TwitchCon game-streaming conference. There, Twitch announced that at any given time, 1 million people are watching it (up from 746,000 last year), and it seemed like many game lovers were at TwitchCon in person to meet some of the nearly half-million web celebs that broadcast each day on the service. Considering Twitch said just 2 million were broadcasting per month in December, the service’s growth is still explosive under Amazon’s ownership.
Amongst the major reveals at TwitchCon were a new Squad Streaming feature that lets up to four people broadcast at once in split-screen that will test with select streamers later this year.
There’s also a new Twitch Sings game built-in partnership with Rock Band-creator Harmonix. Broadcasters can play to perform karaoke (though only with fake versions of songs as Twitch lacks major label music licenses). Viewers can use the chat to request the next song and control the lights on the virtual karaoke stage; broadcasters can sign up here for the Twitch Sings closed beta that starts later in 2018.
And Twitch broadcasters can now use Snapchat’s augmented reality lenses thanks to the new Snap Camera desktop app and accompanying Twitch extension launching today. Streamers can use hotkeys to trigger different Snapchat Lenses, let viewers try those masks by scanning an onscreen Snapchat QR code and reward subscribers with a bonus thank you effect. Read our full story on Snap Camera here.
There were plenty of other minor announcements during the conference’s keynote:
- More than 235,00 streamers now have Affiliate status and are earning money on their channels, while 6,800 have joined its Partnership program so they can earn even more through channel subscriptions and ads.
- Twitch is revamping Gear on Amazon, where streamers can show off products and earn affiliate fees, renaming it Amazon Blacksmith.
- Twitch’s Highlight editor can now stitch together multiple clips from across a broadcasting session.
- New homepage sections will feature up-and-coming streamers, new Partners and Affiliates or streamers local to viewers.
- VIP Badges will let creators recognize their favorite subscribers and moderators.
- Moderators can now see how long someone has been on Twitch, view chat messages that person has sent in the channel and see how many time-outs or bans that account has received in that channel to better understand who to boot.
- 18 billion messages have been sent in Twitch chat and its Whispers feature in 2018, and fans have given creators 85 million Cheers and Subscriptions.
- 150 million Twitch Clips have been created in 2018 to bring the best game stream and other weird content to the rest of the web.
- Twitch users have gifted $9 million worth of subscriptions to fellow users in just 9 weeks.
- Twitch will open its Bounty Board of sponsorship opportunities to 30 more brands, and more Partners and Affiliates in the U.S. and Canada in November.
- The Twitch Rivals in-person gaming tournaments will double to 128 events in 2019. Some will have million-dollar prizes, and it already gave out $5 million in winners’ jackpots last year.
As CEO Emmett Shear made the announcements, audience members hooted and hollered with delight. They out-yelled even Apple’s keynote attendees. Shear shouted out early users who’ve been with it since Twitch was a Y Combinator live-vlogging startup called Justin.tv. “When people have your back and support you for a long time, we think they should be recognized for it,” he said, revealing the new VIP badges and a counter that shows how many months a fan has been a channel’s paying subscriber.
“You spoke and we listened,” Shear said. That truly seemed to be the message of this conference. Facebook’s F8 conferences held in the same San Jose Convention Center often seem to produce updates that are designed to help the company as much as the users. But Twitch has realized it can’t just be useful. It must remain beloved if people are going keep spending 760 million hours per month watching others game, joke and express themselves. Shear concluded, “I think we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to everyone playing together.”
Update: An Interview With Emmett Shear
I spoke with Shear after his keynote to get a sense of Twitch’s priorities and how it’s avoided much of the backlash hitting Facebook, Google, and Twitter. “I don’t think we’re exempt from the problem. We have to work every day on winning the community’s trust. I don’t think you ever get to let your guard down or stop working on that. It’s just through hard work and consistently pushing to build the things that [the streamers] need and that they want.”
Balancing free speech with safety has been a struggle for all the tech platforms, Twitch included. “I think this is the issue of our time. This is the thing that every tech, media, and communications company in the world has to grapple with. We’re not shy about asking people who don’t abide by our community standards to leave” Shear tells me.
I asked whether he’d kick Alex Jones off the platform if he joined, even before violating Twitch’s own rules due to his behavior elsewhere. “We don’t talk about individual cases, generally speaking. Trying to police anyone’s behavior across the internet is hard because of…the internet not being able to tell you’re a dog” he says, referring to the old adage about anonymity on the web. “But we believe for example that harassment on another platform, it’s still you. We have to be able to know it verifiably is you. You can’t jump to conclusions. But if it is verifiably you and you’ve gone off Twitch to harass people, we have no problem banning you for that behavior.”
As for the competitive landscape, Shear beamed “I think it’s awesome to see such vigorous invest in livestreaming globally. I’ve been working on livestreaming since 2006. It’s nice to get the validation that everyone realizes it’s a good idea too…a decade later.” Shear is believed to be under a five-year vesting schedule at Amazon that’s set to complete next year. “I’ve felt incredibly autonomous and supported by Amazon” he tells me. But is he going to leave? “You never know what the future holds. I’m loving my job. I’m loving to getting to work on Twitch, and the people that I work with. Being part of Amazon is pretty good. Compared to friends I’ve talked to raising money from VCs, I think I prefer the current setup.”