YouTube's new live-streaming service for gamers, YouTube Gaming, officially launches today. The extension of YouTube into live streaming services is an attempt to compete with Twitch Interactive, the burgeoning industry's current leader, which gets about 65 million visitors a month.
YouTube Gaming is designed to appeal to gaming enthusiasts who don't want other parts of YouTube interfering with their experience. As Natt Garun on The Next Web notes, "searching for 'Call' [in YouTube Gaming] won't autocomplete with 'Call Me Maybe,' but 'Call of Duty' instead." There are currently about 25,000 pages for live streaming, promotional material, and archived game footage. Users can live chat with streamers (which, to me, isn't really a plus), and each stream's URL is customizable. Basically, a lot of the stuff Twitch is already doing, but on YouTube
YouTube Gaming, and the move into live-streaming in general, became a necessity for Google when Twitch was bought out by Amazon last year. Google was originally intent on purchasing Twitch for more than $1 billion, but the deal collapsed when Google's anti-trust concerns couldn't be addressed. (Google, owner of YouTube, would have been buying one of its major competitors.) Amazon then snatched up Twitch for a relatively thrifty $970 million.
This will be an interesting experiment in preferences; among those who live-stream their gaming, most are already very active on social and video channels, and are fairly agnostic about their preferences. Look at the screens of Twitch users, especially the more popular gamers, and their chyrons will be positively festooned with their Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media handles, along with their YouTube channels, where many gamers archive their footage.
Will people who already use YouTube start streaming there as well? Will the new service pull people off of Twitch? Despite the millions of monthly users, Twitch still feels a bit niche with its concentration almost entirely on video games, meanwhile everybody knows, users, or is on YouTube. Will this help YouTube Gaming get a leg up on the competition? Or is Twitch already too deeply embedded into the habits and culture of live gamers? Will there be innovative streamers who find a way to use both services simultaneously? A lot is still up in the air.
Another factor is that live-streaming is growing in popularity. Periscope and Meerkat are chugging along, and live-streaming games is getting more and more popular. Google's desire to get into streaming may be less about trying to knock Twitch (and Amazon) down a peg than it is an opportunity to get in on a new and growing game. Of course, it's probably both.