Amazon bought Twitch for $970 million on Monday, a surprise acquisition after the rumor that Google was pursuing Twitch for a similar sum. It’s tough to predict how the purchase will change how we broadcast and spectate PC games, or how Amazon will fold the world’s biggest livestreaming service into its existing media and referral services. But to expect Amazon’s acquisition to have no impact on Twitch is unrealistic.
“We’re keeping most everything the same,” Twitch’s CEO Emmett Shear writes in a post announcing the sale of his company. In a separate press release, Shear says that Amazon ownership will allow it to “create tools and services faster than we could have independently.” As users and casters ourselves on Twitch, here’s a wish list (an Amazon Wish List, perhaps) of the new features we’re interested in seeing and the aspects of Twitch we’d like to remain in tact.
Let viewers donate directly to charities
Charity livestreams like Desert Bus For Hope and Extra Life are some of our favorite uses of Twitch because they use games to bring awareness to different causes. Twitch already allows you to subscribe to streamers directly to support them, and extending that a charity selected by the streamer. Amazon already has a program through which charities can apply to receive referral money—Amazon Smile.
Enhance the tournament-watching experience
One of the things Twitch has to compete with are in-game clients that support native spectating of tournament matches like CS:GO and Dota 2. Why would I livestream a tournament match if I’m already at my gaming PC, where I can dial up the settings and use my GPU, control the camera myself, and still listen in to casters in-game? We’d expect more games to offer this feature over time, like one of the many arena shooters expected in the next few years.
With PC gamers as one of its primary audiences, Twitch needs to compete to offer us a better experience in the browser than we’d get in-game, as tough as that sounds. An extraordinarily aggressive move would be to integrate something like CSGOlounge or Dota2lounge directly into the Twitch webpage itself. Either way, Twitch will have to make the social experience of watching a tournament more attractive than the high-fidelity experience of watching it in-engine.
Don’t release a proprietary PC client for livestreaming
This seems unlikely, but one of our worst nightmares that could come out of Twitch being acquired by a $75 billion company would be the loss of our choice of broadcasting software. OBS, Nvidia’s Shadowplay, and XSplit are all viable options with strengths and weaknesses that don’t completely overlap, and we’d hate to see those differences pointlessly eliminated by some sort of confining, state-sponsored software.
Great customer service
Amazon has a legendary reputation for customer service that Twitch would be crazy to not adopt or take advantage of. Twitch’s current solutions are underwhelming: its “Support Center” is a series of sparse wiki-style guides, and its contact page is a barebones email field that doesn’t exactly reassure one that you’ll receive a reply. I haven’t had to work with Twitch support directly, but on the surface there’s lots of room for improvement here.
Two of Twitch’s self-stated challenges are bandwidth and server performance. In February, The Wall Street Journal mentioned that Twitch is responsible for 1.8 percent of peak US internet traffic, more than Facebook or Valve at the time. As it happens, Amazon runs a $1.5 billion business (estimated) all about cloud computing, Amazon Web Services. Hopefully Amazon can provide a fast-track for Twitch to expand its server network.
Continued YouTube exporting support
There’s no sign of it happening, but it’d be unfortunate for Twitch to lose this feature as it comes under the umbrella of one of Google’s biggest competitors. Providing broadcasters with a secondary way to get more life (and money) out of their videos is an important part of making livestreaming a viable income for the people who do it.
Make money from music, don’t mute it
Twitch triggered a huge backlash when it announced that it was going to work with Audible Magic to scan published videos (not live content) for copyrighted music and mute videos that violated its new policy. The move was likely a prerequisite to being acquired by a massive company that sells digital music, as Amazon does. Amazon would be foolish, though, to not integrate a referral system for livestreamed music—half the comments in some of our own YouTube videos are “What song is that?” Having a mechanism for viewers to buy the music they’re hearing would let everyone win: the viewer, the artist, and Amazon.
Access to a licensed music library
If that suggestion is unrealistic, give broadcasters a generous set of music that they can freely use while livestreaming. YouTube offers free use of a library of music for video editing; Twitch and Amazon should work together to give streamers music they can use without fear of repercussions. If the NFL is selling the right to perform at the Superbowl halftime show, I’m sure that more than enough musicians would be happy to get paid or be featured for free within Twitch, maybe on a rotating basis.
No internal favoritism
Amazon makes games. Up until now, they’ve been games designed for the Kindle Fire and Amazon Fire TV and its other devices, but the hire of designers Clint Hocking (Far Cry 2, Splinter Cell), Kim Swift (Portal), and Ian Vogel (System Shock 2) early this year indicates that Amazon is serious about producing games that will attract hardcore enthusiasts.
Controlling one of the biggest word-of-mouth platforms in gaming is a pretty useful tool for rallying attention for new projects, and I just hope that Amazon doesn’t exploit Twitch in a way that makes it a vehicle for its own games. One way that it could do this is by following in the muddy footsteps laid out by companies like EA—by offering high ad rates (CPM) to broadcasters who livestream Amazon’s games and avoid saying anything negative while doing so.