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Move over, Twitch: Facebook Gaming is steadily on the rise

The world of video games and game streaming exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stuck inside and far away from friends, many gamers made new acquaintances in streamers and their communities, joining together virtually as the outside world remained dangerous. Others began their streaming career from their bedrooms, hoping to find a way to pass the time, make a little money, and play the games they love for an audience.

This boom resulted in an explosion in the growth for streaming platforms. The biggest streaming platform, Twitch, raked in money as viewers subscribed to their favorite personalities and an increasing number of streamers started their own channels.

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At the same time, Twitch was dogged with a variety of accusations and problems ranging from insufficient moderation to the proliferation of hate raids and other targeted attacks on minority streamers to a lack of backend tools for all streamers. These issues prompted third-party companies to come up with solutions to issues it seemed Twitch was not committed to solving. During the resulting boycott, titled “A Day Away From Twitch,” streamers and viewers alike began looking for alternate platforms to build their communities and interact with fans.

Enter Facebook Gaming. Though Facebook’s homemade streaming platform has been around since 2018, it’s received a recent boost in both viewership and hours streamed due to the pandemic and the widespread fallout at Twitch. While Facebook Gaming is undoubtedly growing in size and scope, can it hold a candle to established streaming titans like Twitch and YouTube Gaming and carve out its own niche in a crowded industry? The answer is yes — with an asterisk.

A crowd gathers at a Facebook Gaming event.

By the numbers

Last month, third-party software maker Streamlabs and data analytics company Stream Hatchet released a report detailing viewership and streaming data from Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming for the third quarter of 2021. One of the biggest takeaways is that the total amount of hours watched on Facebook Gaming was higher than the total amount of hours watched on YouTube Gamin, Viewers watched 1.29 billion hours of live content on Facebook Gaming versus 1.13 billion hours of live content on YouTube Gaming. Note that this only accounts for livestreams and does not include other video viewership on either platform.

Twitch still holds the crown with a total of 5.79 billion hours watched in the third quarter, though it’s interesting to note that this number fell from 6.51 billion hours watched in the second quarter. Facebook Gaming was the only platform of the three that increased in total hours watched during the third quarter. It represents a staggering amount of live content across all platforms.

On the streaming end, more hours were streamed on Facebook Gaming during  the third quarter of 2021 than on YouTube Gaming. Creators streamed 17.1 million hours of content on Facebook Gaming, while only 8.4 million hours were streamed on YouTube Gaming (Twitch sits at 222.9 million hours streamed). Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet also reported that the number of hours streamed on Twitch during the third quarter fell by the largest percentage in the platform’s history. While Facebook Gaming’s amount of hours streamed in the third quarter was less than in the second quarter, the company still saw a year-over-year increase in hours streamed compared to the third quarter of 2020.

It’s worth noting that Facebook Gaming had a sharp drop in unique channels streaming in 2021, from 1.538 million in the first quarter to 440,000 in the third quarter, likely due in part to the easing of pandemic restrictions.

As these numbers stand, Facebook Gaming has 13.8% of the streaming market share between the three companies in terms of hours watched and 6.9% of the market share for hours streamed. While that seems like a pittance next to Twitch’s lion’s share of the market, it’s important to note the trends in data. The fact that Facebook Gaming overtook YouTube Gaming in both hours watched and hours streamed, combined with Twitch’s losses in some areas, could mark the beginning of a new era for the platform.

In an email interview, Amanda Jefson, director of product at Facebook Gaming, told Digital Trends that the platform is “looking at sustained growth in the number of channels” despite the decrease noted above. Though it’s hard to go toe-to-toe with Twitch right now, it seems that Facebook Gaming is playing the long game, which could help both streamers and viewers over time.

Features for the discerning

Since its launch, Facebook Gaming has released a variety of quality of life and monetization features to develop the platform further. Last month, Facebook Gaming announced co-streaming, which allows streamers to stream with one another and lets viewers choose which stream they want to view. Twitch has a similar feature, but only Partners, defined as content creators with large followings and individual contracts with the company, can use it. Facebook Gaming has also introduced other features and programs, like the ability to use certain background music in streams without having to worry about copyright issues, a frequent complaint on Twitch.

Facebook is also expanding its commitment to diversity with the Black Gaming Creator Program, an effort to “help fund the next generation of Black gaming creators and provide mentorship, training, and early access to new products and features,” according to Jefson. The spirit of Facebook Gaming is “a welcoming space where anyone can play, watch, or connect around their favorite games,” she added.

Most notably, Facebook Gaming has created a variety of mental health workshops that give its content creators access to counselors and therapists, as well as resources and additional assistance when needed. “They’ve … put together wellness events to talk about the pressures of the industry and how to take care your mental health while navigating this career,” said Facebook Gaming streamer Michael “The Fierce Diva” Reynolds in an email interview.

A content creator co-streaming on Facebook Gaming.

Facebook has been in the news for a while after the release of a bombshell report concerning internal company knowledge that its platforms promote unhealthy atmospheres for teenagers and young people. While the company grapples with the ramifications of the report, Facebook Gaming at least appears to be trying to help its creators on the mental health front.

The company also has immunity in one area that has plagued Twitch for several months now: Hate raids. Part of the issue with hate raids on Twitch was that spammers and malicious users could make as many accounts as they wanted to under different usernames, allowing them to jump back onto the platform after one account was banned. These users frequently remained anonymous because of Twitch’s username system. On Facebook Gaming, viewers chat and interact with their real names because the platform’s logins are synonymous with those of Facebook, which requires the use of a first and last name. This makes it more difficult for spammers and hate raiders to harass content creators. If they can’t hide behind anonymous accounts and usernames, they’re less likely to rain hate on an unsuspecting streamer.

While these changes and high points are ostensibly meant to help both streamers and viewers, increasing viewership and streaming on the platform will ultimately make Facebook significantly more money. Though Facebook Gaming has pledged to give streamers 100% of the revenue from subscriptions — Twitch only gives a percentage — and announced a $1 billion “commitment” to creators, the ultimate goal is undoubtedly to make the platform more attractive to streamers and viewers and therefore increase ad revenue for the company. It’s also notable that many of these Facebook announcements are coming on the heels of widespread negative press and boycotts around Twitch, as well as the departure of several of the streaming giant’s biggest personalities.

Laser focus

The sense I got from speaking with Jefson and Reynolds was that Facebook Gaming is aiming to be a one-stop shop for everything that content creators want to do: Play games, engage with their community, and build a social media following. Rather than having to direct viewers to a Discord server for chatting or a social media page for curated content, Facebook Gaming streamers can interact directly with their followers and post recorded content on Fan Groups.

“My favorite part of Facebook Gaming is that social media is embedded into the foundation of everyone’s page,” said Reynolds. “I think this ultimately allows those that use the platform to connect with their audience more meaningfully.”

“Streamer Fan Groups allow for a community to connect and talk with each other and stay engaged before and after streams …,” adds Jefson.

Content creators laugh together at Facebook Gaming's PLAYLOUD event.

Facebook Gaming is also popular in countries outside of the U.S., including Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico. It’s noted in the Streamlabs report that only one of the top 10 Facebook Gaming content creators by follower count speaks primarily English. According to Indian finance website Moneycontrol, over 207 million Indian users, or about 15% of the country’s population, watched “live gaming videos on Facebook” during the third quarter of 2021. While Facebook is simply one of many social networks used in the U.S., to many other countries, it’s an essential method of communication and information sharing. Tying Facebook Gaming to an already successful social network is one of the ways that Facebook Gaming has been able to grow its platform.

As a result, Facebook Gaming’s most popular titles are a little different than Twitch’s and YouTube Gaming’s. Facebook Gaming allows content creators to easily stream mobile games from their phones or tablets, which leads to generally higher popularity for mobile-only titles on Facebook’s platform than on competitors’. Games that have found success outside of the U.S. are also more popular on Facebook Gaming than they are elsewhere, which speaks to a truly international audience with a broad range of interests, rather than the usual North American- and European-centric streaming focus.

Is Facebook Gaming a viable alternative to Twitch and YouTube Gaming? Yes, if you have specific aims and goals for your stream. If you’re sick of the restrictions and lack of moderation that Twitch has thrown onto the shoulders of its content creators, you’ll no doubt be attracted to Facebook Gaming’s more deliberate commitment to its streamers. The company also offers more transparent pay schemes and a variety of other features that Twitch and YouTube Gaming could do well to implement. If you primarily stream mobile titles and are bilingual or are aiming for an international audience, Facebook Gaming seems like great place to start.

At the same time, it’s not clear whether streaming as a whole will be able to regain the soaring heights of popularity that the industry reached during the worst of the pandemic. Content creation has become a busy, crowded field — it’s no longer possible to simply stream yourself playing Call of Duty and instantly make money. Knowing this, it will be interesting to see what streaming companies and platforms do in the future if unique accounts continue to wane and the hype dies down just a little bit.

Will companies like Facebook Gaming be able to retain their commitment, both financial and otherwise, to streamers if the field doesn’t maintain its glamour in the future? It’s unclear. For now, though, the streaming waters are warm, so you may as well swim.

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