Mega-popular streaming service Twitch.tv is cutting out the middleman and allowing viewers to directly purchase the game they’re watching.
There no question that Twitch has been a boon to the gaming industry. Regardless of a game’s budget, if it’s interesting enough to play, you can probably find someone whooping about it on a live stream. Indie titles — “Early Access” games in particular — have enjoyed the creation of entire communities from the overflow of huge Twitch streamers.
The only disconnect is found in the actual process of translating a viewer into a player. Without a marketplace, Twitch is forced to send its visitors away from the site to online stores like Steam, Origin, or uPlay.
That’s about to change. Twitch will be opening its own marketplace on-site, allowing consumers to purchase the games they’re viewing. It’s an ingenious way to draw impulse buys from the wide variety of wonky curiosity titles some streamers favor, but it’s also a potentially dramatic marketing tool. That’s where things get just a little bit sticky.
From the moment the new initiative was announced on Twitter, one concern stood out: What happens when major streamers get early or exclusive access to games? Will they have the exclusive right to sell to Twitch viewers during that time, as the mechanics of the system seem to suggest? If so, it could reinforce the growing tendency of some developers and publishers to use streamers as marketing tools, plying them with gifts for exposure on a highly-viewed channel.
That's a wise decision, but this feature is just wreaks of potential cronyism.
— JohnnyGreyHS (@JohnnyGreyHS) February 27, 2017
According to the plan, the developer receives 70% of the purchase price, the streamer gets a 5% cut, and Twitch takes 25% for itself. This may create a situation in which streamers are de facto front line salespeople, with Twitch serving as a GameStop-esque distributor. It’s a major paradigm shift for a platform that has based all of its growth on providing entertainment value, and makes its partnered broadcasters even more like employees.
Regardless, this is a strong move toward turning the newly-added Twitch Launcher into a major competitor for Steam and other digital gaming distribution platforms. Twitch already has a massive pre-installed customer base, prone to impulsive monetary donations. It’s hard to fault Twitch for trying to further monetize their resident “whales,” but both Twitch and their favorite streamers will need to step lightly to avoid a mass of ethical pitfalls.
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