It’s been only a day since YouTube Gaming, Google’s advance into the lucrative land of online video game streaming, launched and already it’s a worthy rival to industry leaders. Well, leader anyway: Twitch. And it’s not that the functionality is there or the community or anything of that nature. YouTube Gaming has a clean interface and, when it comes to new things, being clean and open and welcoming isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.
YouTube Gaming takes advantage of its ancestry: Visit the home page and you’ll be greeted with a familiar carousel showing a mix of livestreams and popular, trending videos. Scrolldown and you’ll see trending content, and a section that tailors itself to stuff you like. If you click a video, you basically see YouTube. A live chat runs on the side with some intuitive tabs, but there’s nothing radical here.
And that’s what’s so radical.
YouTube Gaming is groundbreaking because Twitch is hectic, presenting an overwhelming catalogue of channels. Twitch is made — it’s clear from the front page — for people who know what they want and know how to use Twitch. As a discovery tool, it is garbage.
General video streaming and game streaming speak a different language. When you surf YouTube, you know what video you’re looking for: a music video, a rap battle, a hilarious kick to the nuts. In video game streaming, you want a game or a channel, but not a specific video. Underneath Twitch’s carousel are the usual suspects that attract the most viewers at any time — Dota 2, Call of Duty, Destiny, Minecraft and more, and they’re arranged like a GameStop catalog. Clicking leads to what looks like hundreds of different streamers playing at the moment.
On YouTube Gaming, these games are clustered into a pop-up on the bottom left side that frees up real estate on the main page. This subtle change is welcome, but the real “Wow” moments happen when you land on the dedicated page for the specific game.
For example, clicking Call of Duty: Black Ops III on YouTube Gaming brings you to a page singularly for Black Ops III. Looking like a social network page, tabs underneath the “profile pic” bring up information on the game, live streams, past “Let’s Plays,” video reviews, and more. This is incredibly handy.
It’s not all roses for YouTube Gaming, nor is Twitch’s downfall inevitable. Some of the pop-ups on YTG can be frustrating to operate, I find myself clicking something I didn’t intend to. Meanwhile on Twitch, the streamer keeps center stage on their own channel. Though their information space can be poorly designed, it’s their doing. They may be inmates at an asylum, but they are — to destroy the metaphor — in control. YouTube is a straightjacket.
Twitch also has audience domination. The service’s most popular stream has some 25,000+ viewers right now, trumping YouTube Gaming’s 5,000-plus, and their look, however aesthetically questionable, is comfortable for their devotees.
The question is when and how the audience will split. If YouTube can attract new viewers, it may well be able to take over the game streaming space steadily over time. If Twitch maintains its base and popularity with the streamers themselves, it may be able to hold ground.
Or maybe we’ll get uncomfortable watching first person shooters. Hell of a launch day YouTube!