Well, in summary: it depends on what type of content you want. Seeing the “Hunger Games” around the gaming space between Amazon’s Twitch, Google’s YouTube, and (formerly Microsoft’s Mixer) now Facebook Gaming, and the different statistics that come out every quarter, one cannot help but be a bit confused. Which platform is best for my game, and in what format? Livestream or Video on Demand (VoD)?
Status Quo on Livestream and VoD
If we talk livestreams, the scene has gone through little change: yes, Twitch is still the master of livestreams even though its growth on average concurrent viewers has slowed down a bit, and competition is a little bit spicier now with YouTube Live. Careful — slowing growth doesn’t mean decreasing numbers, it’s just that the numbers don’t increase as crazily as before — which is normal as it comes to a saturation point.
And yes, we all saw how the Ninja-going-to-Mixer thing went down: Nothing changed and Mixer is sort of dead now. Twitch still owns 65% of streaming hours watched, and its closest competitor as of now, YouTube Live, could only reach one-third of that in Q1 2020.
Meanwhile, YouTube is on a steady road of rocking the charts as well. It only kept growing in its 15 years and enjoys over 3 billion logged-in monthly users (data from 2019). Each visitor spends over 11 minutes per day on average on the platform, and around 500 hours of video are being uploaded every minute.
Then it’s safe to assume that we can take Twitch as the “livestream” master and YouTube as the “VoD” champion for gaming content.
Hence I will be comparing the classical “Twitch” livestreams to YouTube videos (excluding YouTube live). And because game viewership can take many forms, we’ll look at the simple case of “Let’s Play”s on both platforms.
Livestreaming: A charisma-driven and committed backseat-gaming experience
The biggest kick of watching a livestream is, most definitely, getting a response or a reaction from the streamer. The whole business model on Twitch revolves around people’s willingness to talk to the streamer by shining through in the chat via customized emotes or subscriber badges. The chat will often be asked for opinions to help make decisions or participate in polls, and the whole gaming experience can therefore change. This sort of interactivity is nowhere to be found in a VoD.
Exactly for this reason, a cozy livestream feels much more like a “hang out” with a friend you adore. In the case of the livestream, the audience is more attracted to the broadcaster than the content itself, since “hanging out with the streamer” is the deal, even though they might play different games at one sitting. But even though the “game” is not necessarily central to the livestream, because of its live nature, the feedback from the streamer is much more genuine and trustworthy. The friend you hang out with genuinely likes the game, so you will have a positive affinity towards buying it as well.
VoD: A curated and edited game story you can watch anytime
A VoD, in contrast, is mostly in the form of edited Let’s Play videos, without the unnecessary parts, waits, and pauses, only showcasing the highlights of the gameplay. The monetization on YouTube is heavily based on (ad) views and external sponsorships. So naturally, YouTubers try to make longer videos that can keep the viewers on the site for as long as possible.
Since Let’s Plays are published (heavily) on YouTube as a series, just like watching Netflix, viewers can tune in anytime and watch whatever episode they wish, skip parts they don’t want, or nowadays, even watch it on 2x speed if they find that their favorite YouTuber is speaking a bit too slowly.
In addition, because of the nature of YouTube Let’s Plays, the audience can do very little to influence the gameplay. Most they can do is write comments and let the YouTuber know what they liked/didn’t like, or what they want/don’t want for the next video. This, coupled with the lowering trust to influencers when it comes to sponsored content, gives the audience the feeling that there’s more room to “pretend to like the game”. At least, it’s much harder to see through when they do.
The biggest pro of watching YouTube Let’s Plays is, that it doesn’t run on a strict schedule, can be watched anytime, and participation is not central to the experience, which, can very well be, what some prefer. I know a lot of gamers who don’t have the patience to follow a livestream of a newly released gameplay because they have other stuff to do and would rather watch the edited YouTube uploads of the same game, any time they wish.
Okay, so which is better for your game?
First of all, what IS your game? Considering all of the above, it would make sense to say livestreams are more suitable for games that are either fast-paced, have lots of fun elements or of a shocking nature (so the valuable live moments happen more often) or somewhat allows the audience and streamer to make decisions together and contribute to the gameplay. I wouldn’t name certain genres and put them in a “better streamed” basket because I believe it’s much more about the game’s nature than anything else.
If you want to give the creators more direction and have more control over the content they make, a VoD might be a better choice. You can ask the YouTuber to exclude certain unpolished elements of your game, or emphasize some aspects of the gameplay if these are harder to observe during a livestream. Also if your game is more slow-paced, harder to get into, aka more “deep”, a video series might make everything easier. Because then people can watch them at their own pace and comfort, without being overwhelmed.
What do you think? Let me know if you ever had thoughts on this for a specific game, and why you think one made more sense than the other.