Raptr wants to give gamers a home on the internet.
Dennis Fong co-founded Raptr in 2007 as a social network for gamers, and the company pivoted last year to focus on a service for optimizing PC games. Today, Raptr is bringing a new idea online: Plays.tv, a service that combines the company's history with social networks and its recent experience with video capture technology to form what Fong calls an "Instagram for gamers."
Plays.tv is Raptr's effort to capitalize on the biggest recent paradigm shift in gaming: online video. Whether it's hourslong Twitch streams from popular commentators or brief clips that go viral on YouTube and Vine, people are watching billions of hours of gaming video on the internet every year. Sharing gameplay videos had become such a big deal by 2013 that both Microsoft and Sony included functionality in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, respectively, to capture and upload game footage.
While the PC gaming market is huge — 1.17 billion players worldwide, according to market research firm DFC Intelligence — variations in hardware mean that there isn't a standardized solution for capturing and sharing game clips.
"The share button equivalent for the PS4 — the PC needs one," said Fong, CEO of Raptr, during a Plays.tv demo at Polygon's offices last week.
Raptr launched video capture functionality in its Windows PC client about nine months ago, and users have created more than 4 million videos with the software since then, Fong told Polygon. The feature included the ability to upload clips to YouTube and other services, but Raptr found that users shared "very few" of those millions of videos. In talking to its community, Raptr discovered that its customers wanted a gaming-centric place to post those clips. Fong said Raptr users explained that existing services aren't the right venues for that sort of thing.
"[Gaming is] not what each of their communities are about," said Fong, referring to Facebook and YouTube.
Plays.tv looks to provide a solution to both the capture and community issues. The website, which Raptr soft-launched a few months ago, offers an Instagram-like feed of clips from Plays.tv users that you follow. Editorial curation from Raptr puts a spotlight on top producers, popular games and interesting videos.
"We want this place to be just a community that's centered about sharing and reliving these moments with not just your friends, but also, other people that would appreciate that," Fong explained. Raptr, according to Fong, sees Plays.tv as an online home for the conversations that people have around games, a virtual water cooler where the subject of the discussion — the gameplay clip itself — is archived for everyone to see.
saving a gameplay clip is "as easy to do as taking a screenshot"
Raptr wanted to facilitate the creation of those videos from PC games. So the company built the other half of the equation: video capture technology that's designed to be fast and simple to use. Once you've installed the Plays.tv client, which Raptr is launching in beta today, saving a gameplay clip is "as easy to do as taking a screenshot," said Fong.
Nvidia launched a program called ShadowPlay in October 2013 to manage automatic gameplay capture. The software uses the H.264 video encoder that's present in recent Nvidia graphics cards to record a rolling buffer of footage as well as entire gaming sessions. Raptr's client functions the same way, except that it works with GPUs from Nvidia, AMD and Intel that feature that on-board encoder — that is, most PCs containing graphics hardware released in the past three or four years.
The Plays.tv client knows when you launch a game, and will start the recording process at that time. When you want to capture a highlight, you press Ctrl+F2, and the software generates a 480p clip of the past 30 seconds of gameplay. That's the default behavior; you can change the hotkey and the length, and tweak settings like resolution (up to 1080p), frame rate and bitrate. Along with game footage, Plays.tv can record your microphone audio and a picture-in-picture image of you on your webcam.
When you finish playing, Plays.tv pops up with a gallery of all the clips you've saved, with the games in question automatically tagged to each one. You can then upload the videos to the Plays.tv site with comments and hashtags, and just like on Instagram, you can simultaneously share the files to platforms such as Facebook. The client can even detect and import videos you've captured using other programs, like ShadowPlay and Open Broadcaster Software (OBS). Raptr's client also includes basic video editing tools, which those utilities do not offer. Right now, the editing functionality is limited to trimming clips, but Fong said Raptr plans to add other features.
Privacy settings are another missing feature. Fong told Polygon that Raptr will deliver them "pretty shortly after launch," even as he noted that game clips aren't as inherently personal as, say, baby photos that people might post on Instagram. One element of the service that Fong expects Raptr will add later is the ability for users to monetize their videos. A select few individuals make a living as gaming video personalities, and ad revenue for creators has become a cornerstone of YouTube and Twitch.
The Plays.tv service and website are completely free; Raptr isn't even running ads of any kind on the site right now. Fong said Raptr will eventually introduce video ads, but the company hasn't yet figured out how they'll work — after all, you can't serve a pre-roll ad on a 30-second video without annoying your users pretty quickly. It's "highly likely," said Fong, that creator monetization will come at some point after that.
But the core of Plays.tv is the clips themselves, and the community that Raptr hopes will form around them. Streaming takes dedication and effort, and a camera-ready quality that not everyone possesses.
"The way we think about it, it's like: You've now given me a glimpse into your life, but in a way that's very different than, say, Twitch," Fong explained. "Because Twitch is, like, television. And you're a personality; you have to entertain for, like, three hours as you're streaming, talking about stuff. Most people don't have the time or inclination to do that."