Amazon Purchases Twitch: Our Thoughts

In case you’re one of the few that haven’t already heard, the surprising announcement came out this week that retail giant Amazon has reached an agreement to purchase video games streaming site Twitch in a deal worth almost $1 billion.

The news that Twitch was acquired by a large corporate entity was not surprising in itself, as rumours had been circulating for months that those in the site’s upper echelon of management had been seeking to make the platform more saleable; made ever-so-obvious by the recent news that copyrighted songs in archived broadcasts were to be actively detected and subsequently muted. However, the identity of Twitch’s buyer was certainly unexpected, with a number of reports coming out over the past few months that Internet kingpin Google was close to securing a deal to acquire the company.

Instead, Amazon were selected as the most appropriate suitor, and the e-commerce leader announced on Monday that it will acquire all outstanding shares in Twitch for around $970 million in cash.

In an official press release, Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, is quoted as saying: "Broadcasting and watching gameplay is a global phenomenon and Twitch has built a platform that brings together tens of millions of people who watch billions of minutes of games each month – from The International, to breaking the world record for Mario, to gaming conferences like E3. And, amazingly, Twitch is only three years old."

The broadcasting service, which started life as a justin.tv offshoot, has certainly come a long way in a short period of time; attracting 55 million unique visitors in July and ranking as the fourth largest website in the US in terms of peak traffic.

What does Amazon’s purchase mean for the future of Twitch and, more broadly, what implications will it have for the livestreaming of gameplay? The Power Up Gaming team weigh in with their thoughts.

Jake Richards: Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch is (optimistically) a good thing for us gamers as it will likely foster some competition in the market (see: Google’s purchase of YouTube). It’s a simple, natural law that states monopolisation leads to stagnation. Way back when at the turn of the 20th century in the US they established antitrust laws to protect us from corporate takeovers. Of course they likely didn’t take the Internet into consideration in 1914 what with jazz, Henry Ford’s Model T, and the war to end all wars hogging all of the attention.

As the Internet becomes more homogenised you can expect a few things: more (intrusive) ads, lower quality, and fewer options. It’s time the international community comes together and objectively reviews the Internet, which is an admittedly tall order. The Internet is more than just a digital storefront; it is a world community, vibrant and ever changing. And it needs protection. Until then this gamer hopes that Amazon provides streamers and content creators more options. As we benefit from the competition between Steam, Origin, Amazon, and Uplay, we will hopefully find ourselves reaping the rewards from Google and Amazon’s rivalry.

Adam Lloyd: I hate to be negative over deals like this, as it means vast swathes of money are being poured into gaming media, but I’m not too thrilled about this takeover. It’s not the buyout itself that has me worried, it’s the steps that Twitch has taken just recently to make itself more palatable to potential buyers.

Over the last couple of weeks, Twitch has been censoring any archive streams that are detected to have licensed music. Fair enough, but their detection methods are draconian and inaccurate. Anything that is detected as having licensed music automatically has its sound muted for 30 minutes, rendering a lot of people’s archive streams useless. Live streams are still unaffected, but this move has fostered such badwill amongst the community that many Twitch users are already talking about jumping ship. Amazon may have just bought a service that is about see its userbase drop considerably.

While Twitch is sure to continue as it is too ingrained in many streaming services, it seems that a lot of the current users have been alienated. On the plus side, this may give a chance for rival streaming services to build up some momentum.

Adam Shepherd: There has so far been a fair amount of backlash from the Twitch community about Amazon’s recent purchase of the platform, fearing that it will be detrimental to the service and will result in the ‘corporatising’ of the previously user-friendly brand. However, from the perspective of Twitch CEO Emmet Shear, this move is nothing but positive. For a start, Amazon’s funding power means that the platform can expand their features without worrying about prohibitive costs. Moreover, Amazon already has an established distribution network thanks to its Amazon Instant Video service, which would eliminate the current lag issues resulting from Twitch’s insufficient servers.

The complaints are the result of a fear of change that is endemic within the Internet community, and was seen in the similar takeovers of YouTube and Tumblr by Google and Yahoo respectively. The fanbases of both sites were up in arms over the presumed cheapening that would befall their chosen platform at the hands of the big business overlords. Yet both sites, in the years following their absorption into a larger conglomerate, have experienced tremendous growth. There is no reason to assume that being owned by Amazon, which already has an avowed interest in expanding into the games industry, will have any more of a negative effect on Twitch’s users than it has for the other community-driven sites that have come under corporate ownership. As with all of the aforementioned platforms, Twitch will receive more money, more expertise and more opportunities, and will in return have to suffer a marginal increase in advertisements. I’d argue that’s not too bad a trade.

Chris Mawson: I’d be inclined to agree with Adam Shepherd that a lot of the backlash and hysteria over the takeover are disproportionate, and my position is one of a cautious optimist. Michael Frazzini, vice president of Amazon Games, and Emmet Shear soon came out after the initial announcement to present a picture of unity and speak of their “shared vision”, hoping to reassure gamers that it would be largely business as normal for Twitch. Indeed, with over 50 million monthly unique visitors as of July, why would they want to shake things up too much?

That said, Twitch’s recent policy changes that preceded the Amazon deal – such as the music censorship Adam Lloyd brought up, as well as the removal of the option to archive broadcasts indefinitely – are a little worrying and hopefully not a sign of more drastic steps to follow.

What’s done is done, and, as with all things, time will ultimately tell whether the platform improves or regresses with Amazon’s involvement in the eyes of consumers.

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