Even if you don’t play games, you may be familiar with Twitch. If you aren’t then basically its the place you go to watch people play games live. A huge over-simplification but you get the idea. What is more important is the fact Twitch has recently been hit with a massive leak/security breach recently which has resulted in a vast amount of data being shared publicly including the crazy amount of money being made by some streamers. I haven’t poured over the data but I am using the Tweet below as reference for now to cover my initial thoughts as I have a few, but also because I want to find a safe source of the data. Remember, always use protection…
Speaking to a few of my friends, there are those who believe that this leak won’t actually change the state of Twitch but I think that this breach will have huge ramifications on the future of streaming, not just on Twitch but in general. Before I go further, I also wanted to say that this leak comes at a time when Twitch is already being criticised for various issues; from the content that is being shared to the invasive bots that plague the chats. That doesn’t necessarily mean that this leak is all bad for Twitch… but it vastly depends on their response too. As always, the below represents my views only so I am happy to be challenged or discuss these things – they are basically insights I have come to from my own point of view.
Streaming Jobs & New Streamers
Wind the clock backs ten years and the concept of making a liveable wage playing video games was a pipe dream for many, but these leaks show that there are now streamers that not only making a living from it, they are making a fortune. Just remember that these figures represent Twitch incomes only, driven by subs & bits and it doesn’t include any external sponsorships they receive (looking at you G-Fuel & Sneak) that also feed into their overall profits. That is some serious money and it’s safe to assume that with all this combined, some of these streamers are making more than many small businesses. Something that people aren’t grasping though is that these figures don’t indicate ‘pure profit‘ and, despite what many people think, these guys aren’t diving into money pools like Scrooge McDuck but this is their top-line income and doesn’t account for any overheads that come out of this. A lot of people forget that these streamers have overheads (additional costs etc) to account for which needs to be considered alongside these numbers. To get to this level of content there are teams that support them; from planning and administration (lawyers, accountants, strategists etc) to the community managers and creatives that assist in the day to day (chat moderators, asset designers etc) meaning there is a lot to pay for to keep these channels at the size they are. A lot of what people see is the streamer streaming but they don’t consider that there is an army of mods monitoring their chat and editors who take the streams and snip and cut to make them shareable, all of which comes with a cost. And the bigger the audience and the bigger the channel, the bigger the support network needs to be. In this respect, I think its important to consider these names on the list as businesses and not individuals and these figures you see here represents their core profit before the deductions are taken into account.
What these numbers do demonstrate is that there is a very real and a growing possibility of streaming on Twitch as a career and I think it will actually encourage more people, young and old, to adopt streaming as a side hustle or even into a full time career. The very concept of a streamer still has a stigma attached to it but I think that the way content and media is evolving shows that this is a very real option for someone looking at a media based career. Streaming is becoming an alternative to traditional TV and audiences have adapted their preferences over the past few years due to the various restrictions placed on their lives. The likes of Netflix are booming with streaming on demand because people want to have everything immediately while the Twitch streaming offers a different sort of streaming. It offers connection and interaction – you can watch a game you want to watch and interact with like minded people and influence the game from the comfort of your own sofa/toilet/bed. With people spending the last two years restricted in who they could see and what they could do, this sort of connection was often the alternative and it has now played a huge part in peoples lives. It has given some people purpose and others its increased their confidence. It allows for an instant connection with people across the globe and the ability to join or grow communities that may have been previously unbeknownst to you. Be it streamer or watcher, the platform is now an established part of the industry which also means it becomes a very viable career path. When you consider the impact that a platform like Twitch has, especially with its connection to Amazon and many major releases, it almost becomes a similar beast to what Facebook was 5/10 years ago.
I do think that the expectation of ‘what it is and how easy it’ll be to a streamer‘ needs to be tempered though because often these individuals don’t get to this level without dedication, consistency and hard work, despite what people believe. There are many factors at play here, and one of these is the fact that these streamers have been on the channel for years. They joined when it was a smaller audience with less competition and have established themselves over a long period of time. You consider the likes of Zoella who dominated YouTube because she was one of the first to really capitalise of what the platform could do and unfortunately this ‘staking your claim on a new world’ has now passed as the platform has grown. These leaks don’t show the work and hours they put in, only the pay-out meaning, that several things will happen. People will believe they can get to this level quickly and therefore run the risk of making short sighted decisions such as leaving careers and education without the proper due diligence and could possibly put themselves in compromising professional or financial positions. The influx of new aspirants will also saturate an already saturated market with new content and channels arriving quicker than ever in order to try and get the channels big quick. Subsequently, streamers will have to fight harder for their views and their share of the pie, meaning that the smaller channels could actually stand to suffer as the new wave of streamers join. Ironically, this then makes the process of getting into the top 100 that bit harder. This boom will ultimately bring in new talent but it will also create a very wide base which could serve to increase the gap between the bottom and the top.
There is a warning to be had here too… I think that without the education around how this channel is evolving there is a real danger that some of the younger generation could be blinded by the money and fame and jeopardise their school years chasing this dream. There needs to be checks and education in place in order to support these dreams; create lessons and courses that teach community management, brand building and how to run a business for example to support these aspiring streamers in a much safer manner. If you can foster the experience and skills early it means that they will no longer be jeopardising their future as they will have the proper investment needed to start off. As I mentioned before, this is effectively a small business that is being set up meaning there is a lot more behind the scenes that needs to be done besides playing games and this should be educated early. Unfortunately, I think that the people who have the influence to create this change don’t yet see or understand the viability of Twitch or streaming as a career path meaning there will likely be objection and friction when it comes to this.
Diversity in Streaming & the Gender Gap
Aside from the crazy amounts of money, something else that jumped out at me when I looked down the list was how the top of the list was still dominated by male streamers. This highlights the inequality that is still seen across a lot of industries when it comes to Women in Work and it is a shame to see. Kotaku picked up on this as they have pointed out that only three percent of the top earners are women, of which one of them is a woman of colour. The highest earning woman on the list is Pokimane sitting at 38th which is low if you consider the amount of female content creators that are out there.
The reason I wanted to talk about female streamers in particular is because there has been some critics of Twitch recently who have been very vocal about female streamers in particular. Often you will see comments such as ‘she is only getting the views because she has her boobs out‘ or ‘you only get the views because you are a girl‘ which is an incredibly unfair take on an individuals attempt to grow their channel. Often the women are harassed in the chat and made to feel very uncomfortable which, I imagine, would make the idea of further streaming a daunting prospect. This idea got worse with the rise of the ‘hot tub stream‘ where streamers would go live from a hot tub in the ‘Just Chatting‘ category where they would discuss various topics which would obviously annoy those purist individuals who believed that Twitch was for gaming only. This ‘meta‘ sparked off lots of debates including Twitch’s policies on clothing & nudity, but it also served to arm many against female streamers in particular. Many people rose up and said that female streamers were ruining Twitch and stealing views as they were exploiting their sexuality to make money on Twitch however looking at these numbers now I would now beg to differ. Firstly, if they were stealing views then why is the top of the list not dominated by female streamers who sit in hot tubs all day? Probably because they weren’t having as big as impact as people expected and the popularity of this ‘Just Chatting’ category was defined more so by the controversy around it than the audience it drew itself. Secondly, people have their own choice as to where they spend their money. If people want to subscribe to a streamer in a hot tub that is entirely their choice. If they want to subscribe to their favourite Poke-Tuber that’s fine too. Each channel is meant to create content to draw in its community and justify why it deserves your £4.99 sub – if you aren’t doing enough to retain your community it’s best to first revisit what you can do better rather than attack someone else. There is a lot to be said still about this use of Twitch but ultimately it is the viewers choice as to what they watch. That isn’t to say that some streamers haven’t pushed the limits of what is acceptable on Twitch but that is where the guidelines and policies needs to be revisited and stated clearly so that every streamer is treated fairly within the terms of usage. I also don’t think I can do justice for the streamers who have suffered because of this abuse however I hope that these numbers go to show that Twitch hasn’t been ruined by this new meta and I hope it raises further awareness of the inequality.
In terms of what it will change, I hope that it encourages more women and streamers of colour to push for the higher positions and I hope it puts the pressure on Twitch to support these streamers in growing their communities. For a global platform that gives everyone a voice and a platform to grow a community, you would hope that it reflects the global diversity of it’s audience. Even if there is diversity across the streamers in general, it doesn’t appear that is reflected at the top. Hopefully, having this data exposed will encourage Twitch to take positive action to help foster this talent to grow so that these streamers don’t feel marginalised or disadvantaged and instead feel empowered to grow.
Twitch Security & Faith in the Platform
Despite a lot of the positives that can come out of this we have to also remember that this was a massive security breach for Twitch. I hope that we will start to see some serious reviews of how this data is handled because to have this level of data exposure is incredibly scary. This is the financials of thousands of people, amounting to millions of dollars which exposes them in a myriad of ways, from the social backlash they will get from their standing versus other streamers to the financial security they will feel after having their earnings exposed incredibly publicly. Although, I don’t believe, any personal data was shared, it still puts them in the lime light for the wrong reason and potentially means they will be the target of hacks and scams for years to come. I feel for the people who have been exposed because, if I were in their shoes, I would feel incredibly uncomfortable.
Twitch have reset all the stream keys as an immediate response to mitigate any issues when it comes to people accessing these streamers, but it doesn’t do much in terms of preventing this happening again as this seemed to be a very human intervention, potentially from internally given the size of the data. That said, I would be very surprised if they haven’t been taking this incredibly seriously internally, looking to plug the leak and put additional measures in to avoid breaches like this in the future but what that is we aren’t currently unsure. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the faith in the platform and if these streamers are going to remain with Twitch after this breach or if they will consider competitors (like YouTube).
As a bit of a summary I think we need to look at this in a few different ways. Firstly, this leak has shown just how much the platform has grown and the opportunities that are available in this space. This will go on to shape an entirely new generation of streamers who will, hopefully, continue to challenge, grow and diversify Twitch which will in turn serve to create even more opportunities. But this needs to be tempered with common sense, education and awareness as it could go on to severely impact people, young and old, if the approach to streaming and the tools needed aren’t monitored and secure.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this! Are you pulling together your streaming gear in order to get paid for playing games or are you less likely to use Twitch following this breach? Also, more generally, what are your thoughts on Streaming as a career and do you think its a phase or do you think this platform and attitude is here to stay?