Google launched YouTube Gaming, the gaming-specific arm of YouTube, just over seven weeks ago, and the company is delivering the first major updates to it today. Users now have the ability to livestream Android games straight from their mobile devices. And Google is launching a subscription service for individual YouTube Gaming channels, allowing fans to financially support their favorite livestreamers.
With the former feature, Google is doing something unique and new; with the latter, it's catching up to its main competition, Twitch — albeit in a way that could be more attractive than Twitch's offering, to both livestreamers and viewers.
Viewership of gaming videos and livestreams on YouTube now exceeds 144 billion minutes per month, according to Google, although the company wouldn't provide specific numbers for YouTube Gaming when we asked. Twitch, which currently supports livestreaming but not video uploads — although that feature is on the way — counted 20 billion minutes of video watched per month, as of June.
Google is also adding a few other features to YouTube Gaming today, items that are smaller in scope but have been highly requested by the service's user base. A "Watch Later" queue will allow you to bookmark videos for future viewing, and the watch page on the YouTube Gaming website has been redesigned for improved performance. The service will do a better job of indicating when livestreams are available for games in your collection, and the iOS app will now keep track of your search history. Perhaps most notably, you'll finally be able to import existing channel subscriptions from YouTube into YouTube Gaming.
YouTube Gaming's mobile streaming support doesn't require any extra equipment. You just tap your avatar on your phone in the YouTube Gaming app to start streaming. The feature also supports video and audio commentary, which is handled through your phone's front-facing camera; you show up in a picture-in-picture window. You'll be able to see comments from viewers, just like on a Periscope stream.
"Basically, it's like screengrabbing your phone and going live," said Ryan Wyatt, global head of gaming partnerships at Google, in a phone interview with Polygon this week. Wyatt noted that mobile livestreaming via YouTube Gaming is limited to games — you can't stream non-gaming apps or, say, your phone's homescreen — and it works only on Android, not iOS.
"There's really no other platform that has a seamless way to livestream mobile gameplay like this," said Wyatt.
Twitch debuted mobile streaming last year, but it wasn't an across-the-board solution; instead, Asphalt 8: Airborne developer Gameloft integrated Twitch's mobile SDK into the game to add streaming support. And this past summer, Sony released an Android app that allows users to livestream anything on the screen to Twitch or YouTube. That app, though, only works with a select few of Sony's Xperia devices. Both Mobcrush and Kamcord already support livestreaming of mobile games in some capacity.
You can see an archive of a mobile livestream of Rovio's Bad Piggies from Barbara Macdonald, product manager for YouTube Gaming, below.
Support your streamers
Google is introducing a feature it calls Sponsorships, which will allow dedicated fans of particular livestreamers to pay a monthly subscription fee for exclusive content from those individuals. Sponsorships are launching today in beta to "a small group of creators," said Macdonald in a blog post, and Google will expand that list over time.
The feature is very similar to Twitch's subscription program. Viewers can pay for perks such as subscriber-only chat sessions, a shout-out from the creator and a live chat badge chosen by the streamer. Interested parties must sign up through the YouTube Gaming website or apps, where they'll see a Sponsorship button. Once they've subscribed, they can watch livestreams wherever they want, as usual.
Wyatt pointed out that until this point, YouTube has only offered advertising revenue to content creators, and he said the decision to add Sponsorships was driven by the desire to "create other monetization paths for our creators."
In catching up to Twitch with Sponsorships, Google is trying to make its offering stand out. Twitch subscriptions generally cost $4.99 a month for an individual channel. YouTube Gaming subscriptions are fixed at $3.99 a month in the U.S., with the price varying slightly depending on local currency; subscriptions are available in more than 40 countries around the world.
While that lower subscription price might turn off livestreamers, who would make less money from a subscriber than they would on Twitch, Google is trying to entice creators with more favorable terms. Twitch's standard contract for its partners program includes an exclusivity clause that prevents partners from livestreaming any gaming or gaming-related content on other platforms, such as YouTube.
Google's contracts for YouTube's partner program contain no such exclusivity clauses for video on demand or for livestreams, and a Google representative confirmed to Polygon that the same will hold true for Sponsorships.
"It's unfortunate people are locked in exclusive — like, if they're locked into exclusive contracts that don't allow them to seek out new opportunities," said Wyatt when asked to comment on Twitch's program.
"We're not going to put stipulations that they have to be exclusively livestreaming on the platform or anything like that," he continued, calling Google's system a "much more free-spirited approach."
Twitch is the unquestionable leader in the video game streaming space with more than 1.7 million active livestreamers, 12,000 of whom are in the site's partner program, a Twitch spokesperson told Polygon. With YouTube Gaming in its infancy, that raises the question of how Google is going to bring over streamers who are already on Twitch — people who are exclusive to Google's biggest competitor.
Wyatt said Google included a livestreaming component in YouTube Gaming because its creators had been requesting that functionality, and he said the company is focusing on "top gaming creators" who are already using YouTube and aren't locked into competitors.
"We've got PewDiePie, Markiplier, jacksepticeye, all these really big — like, these aren't just big YouTube Gaming creators; these are the biggest gaming creators in the world," said Wyatt. "They're on the cover of Variety, they're on Jimmy Kimmel, they're on Stephen Colbert. These aren't, like, just streamers; they're, like, Hollywood gaming celebrities, and they've used [our] livestreaming platform.
"So I think there's an incredible opportunity for us to empower and engage creators that are already on the platform."
As for the people who can't use YouTube Gaming because of exclusive arrangements with others, Wyatt said that he believes the gaming livestreaming field is big enough to support many different services.
"Maybe there are people that can't come over because they are in an exclusive agreement with another competitive platform, but to be honest with you, there's so much opportunity and so many top gaming creators in the world that are on YouTube that are not on Twitch, or not on MLG, or not on Azubu or not on Hitbox, that are utilizing the platform today and getting their hands around it," said Wyatt. "So I don't worry too much about [...] that."