There are casualties in every kind of technology war. We’ll probably see one of the major television streaming platforms disappear over the course of the next five years as the competition for subscribers grows ever more intense.
In the world of gaming, we’ve been seeing high profile casualties for years. Sega used to make consoles and compete with Nintendo for brand supremacy. Now Sega makes the occasional game, and Nintendo makes handheld consoles for children while Sony and Microsoft battle it out at the top of the tree.
No company is ever safe forever, and Microsoft has just found that out. It’s not its much-prized Xbox that’s failed, though. It’s their ill-advised game streaming platform Mixer instead.
If you’d told us ten years ago that people would be making six-figure incomes from recording themselves playing video games on the internet, we’d have laughed at you.
Nobody could have foreseen how the trend would take off, and yet now here we are in an era where the best-paid video gamers and e-sports stars are millionaires.
The competition between streaming platforms is as fraught as the competition between the people who play games on them, and Microsoft has recently decided to back out of the contest.
It was unable to gain a foothold in a market dominated by YouTube and Twitch, and so it’s shutting down Mixer and migrating all Mixer users to Facebook Gaming instead. Or, at least, that’s what it thought it was doing.
If there’s one thing we can say consistently about Facebook, it’s that as a company, it doesn’t allow a chance to make money pass it by. We saw that when it launched ‘Hobbi’ to take on Pinterest in February this year.
We saw that when it decided to get involved with online slots by partnering with a casino company and launching a Facebook-based slots page. Online slots even work as a metaphor for the whole business of streaming; it was the success of online slots websites, where Crime casino games and hundreds of other themed games can be contained on a single website and played without the need for specialist hardware, that made the conventional gaming industry rethink its strategy on streaming games.
The flipside of all this, however, is that Facebook is yet to make any money from copying Pinterest, it’s probably not making money from online slots yet, and it might not make any money from picking up Mixer users from Microsoft either.
Where Facebook appears to have dropped the ball with this merger (or near-merger) is in assuming that existing Mixer users will quietly sick back and accept that their accounts are being shifted to Facebook Gaming, and they’ll all now become Facebook Gaming users.
If they wanted that to happen, they should probably have had a conversation with Microsoft about how the news of the move would be handled. Mixer users didn’t get any warning.
Thousands of them were online and streaming games to their followers when the closure was announced. Every type of emotion was on display as individual streamers reacted, from sadness and disappointment to fury and defiance, but there was a common theme among them.
They didn’t want to move to Facebook, and they have no intention of moving to Facebook. The overwhelming majority of them appear to be intent on closing their new Facebook Gaming accounts and moving to Twitch instead.
If Facebook didn’t see this coming, someone in its strategy and planning department needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror. With a few notable exceptions, the majority of gaming streamers are young, either in their late teens or their early twenties.
Young people don’t like Facebook. One of the consequences of the platform being around for so long is that to youngsters, it’s considered old hat. It’s the social media website that their parents used, no more cool than our parents’ old CDs and records were when we were growing up.
Being old is just one of its issues, though. Facebook is also seen as untrustworthy. The up-and-coming generation is socially aware and switched on to social justice issues. They saw the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and they didn’t like it.
They also don’t like its data protection policies. “Old and untrustworthy” isn’t a description any company would care to see of its products or services, and yet it’s one that Facebook finds itself faced with every day. The company wants young streamers using Facebook Gaming to improve its image among young people. Streamers don’t want to go there because of that same image. Facebook can’t win.
What all of this means for some of Mixer’s higher-profile streamers is unclear. Before making the sudden and unexpected move to withdraw from the industry completely, Microsoft had spent enormous sums of money trying to persuade streamers with big audiences to become exclusive with its brand.
Tyler Blevins, best known to his followers as “Ninja,” is thought to have been paid more than twenty million dollars to make the move. Prior to joining Mixer, “Ninja” was with Twitch. Facebook has already confirmed that it won’t be honoring the terms of any big-money contracts signed by Microsoft, and won’t be offering exclusive contracts to any big-name performers at any point in the foreseeable future.
That means Blevins and his fellow stars are free to go back to the platform they started with, and also get to keep the money Microsoft had paid them thus far. The question of why Facebook hasn’t insisted on retaining those exclusive contracts if it has genuine aspirations of growing its Facebook Gaming platform is a difficult one to answer.
Although the details of the changeover haven’t all been made public, it’s to be assumed that Microsoft hasn’t agreed to automatically switch its users across to Facebook as an act of kindness.
A considerable sum of money is likely to have changed hands as part of this agreement, but if the bulk of users quit before Facebook even has the chance to charm them, it’s hard to see what the social media company is going to get for its money.
We don’t want to write the move off just yet – and nor are we questioning Facebook’s commitment to its gaming platform – but we can’t help but wonder if this is going to be yet another entry on Facebook’s long list of strange acquisition choices.