So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks you’ll be aware a lot has been going on in the streaming verse.
First it started with rumours that both Microsoft and Google were fighting over who was going to buy Twitch, reportedly for a staggering 1billion dollars. These ‘rumours’ were quickly dismissed and made out to be lies, only to be followed days later with the announcement that Google was buying Twitch for 1billion.
Initial reactions to this, including mine, were mixed. On the one hand Google has proven they can’t handle anything like this properly without ruining it (looking at you YouTube) all in the so called aim of improving the service. However, the simple truth is that the Twitch services is garbage if you live outside the USA, the quality of streams, the constant buffering and times it just simply dies, all make for one inconsistent service. Google buying them meant they could invest in the infrastructure, especially on the european side of things.
While no solid confirmation has come around yet of the buy out we did however get some rather significant changes to the way Twitch works, and none of them to the benefit of streamers.
First we have the VOD removal system. Part of me does sort of agree with this, to a certain extent. In Twitch’s view they have Petabytes worth of data that is never being accessed. By getting rid of them they can free up vast amounts of resources. And if I’m honest if Twitch had handled this differently they wouldn’t have had so much backlash over it.
Previously streamers had the option to choose how long a stream was kept as a VOD, that option is now gone. Small streamers now only have VOD’s for 14 days, though if they pay, or are a Twitch partner they get 60 days. So why is this bad?
It steams from the mentality on Twitch’s part, they’ve moved from being a friendly open streaming site to a give us your money or we’ll ignore you site.
Over the past year I’ve noticed some severe problems on Twitches part which has led to small scale streamers leaving the service. Whenever there’s a large scale event, such as a LoL or DOTA championship going on they get preference over bandwidth and resources, which means that small streamers get shafted and can’t stream due to the buffering problems.
One of the streamers i frequented was a small scale streamer, he worked during the day and streamed for 4-6 hours after that. He played games and was very good at interacting with the viewers. However due to the tech problems of Twitch I’d find i was quite frequently unable to watch the stream due constant buffering.
Twitch argues that VOD isn’t what they’re about, and quite bluntly are telling people now if they want VOD to go to YouTube. However they’re either doing it because they don’t understand what it takes to make a YouTube VOD (a proper one), or as I’m inclined to believe it’s part of the Google buy out.
So lets take a quick look at streaming and VOD and the difference.
Streaming is live (duh) and as such there’s a lot of interaction, usually, between the streamer and his audience. On the streams i tend to watch you have a guy playing a game from start to end, and basically chatting away with his viewers. Sort of like what TB and Jesse Cox did with their Terraria VODS, only here we have viewer interaction due to it being live.
Streaming is fairly easy to do and is for the most part not very resource heavy. So this opens the doors for people who don’t have the beefiest systems in the world. Streaming quality varies based on the streamers connection, and the distance you are from the server it’s hosted on. Because the system requirements for streaming, and the load WHILEST streaming is so low you can stream games at a higher resolution, with more flash and razzle.
Doing a VOD for YouTube however is a LOT more work and stress for a small streamer. First and foremost they need a meatier PC to handle both the streaming and recording of the gameplay. Because the resources needed for this are so heavy it directly effects gameplay and most streamers find they end up having to turn of the flash and razzle and drop from HD to 720p.
Of course the other problem with making a VOD is you need huge amounts of hard drive space, first to store the raw video file, and then even more for the editing and formatting process. Of course you also need the software to do all this, which isn’t cheap. Then you have the time needed for doing all the processing, depending on how high a quality you’re looking to put out the processing along can take upwards of 10-12hours for a 40minute video, and that’s before it’s been uploaded to YouTube. Making VOD’s for YouTube is not as easy as people think, especially if you’re not doing YouTube fulltime.
Do i think VOD’s should be permanently available? Hell no. Why should they (Twitch) have to store petabytes of data that will never be viewed? I actually agree with that argument of theirs. However my solution is simple. Give everyone 12months storage for VODS from the date it’s made, if you’re a Turbo (paying user) or Partner then you get 2 years of VOD storage.
I honestly don’t think anyone wants VODS stored for all eternity, we just want longer than a few days to watch them.
Part of the problem however is the way in which Twitch handles their files. Firstly we have the format, flash of all things. Why they haven’t moved over to HTML5 is beyond me. For content like this which is DRM free it’s the perfect format. Hell even Silverlight would be a better system, Flash just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore and hasn’t for a long time. It’s why sites such as YouTube moved over to it a while ago, and streaming sites like Netflix used Silverlight and are now moving to HTML5.
Then they split the files, streams are split into 30minute segments and stored on different fileservers all over the US and Canada. The problem here though if a single segment stored on a fileserver somewhere dies then you end up with a screwed up VOD, this happens frequently.
Twitch needs to stop splitting the files and have them on a single server. and adopt the pre-buffering system that pretty much every other site out there uses. Those two changes along would solve a lot of the problems Twitch VOD has, adopting the HTML5 system would just make the whole process easier.
Sadly this is just the minor issue, the bigger issue is the new copyright system they introduced. They partnered with one of the worst music scanning sites around, Audible Magic. What they do is actively scan the VODS and mute the sound on any found to be playing unlicensed music. The problem is these muting’s cover 30minutes, which conveniently is the amount of time the files are currently stored in, as noted above. I’m betting if it was a single files then audio would be removed from the entire stream.
Now, on the one hand i have no sympathy for streamers who blast music from their stereo systems. If you need to take a break and want to play music then play unlicensed and royalty free music, there’s a HELL of a lot of it out there!!
However what about games such as Saints Row, or Grand Theft which have licensed music. Arguably the music is part of the game so if the developer says go ahead and stream away, then that will include the music as well, as it’s integral to the game. One of the Volition dev.’s gave unfettered approval for streaming on the Steam Forums, and even noted than another of the Dev.’s was actually one of the musicians on the OST.
Twitch have said there is an appeal process, but lets face it, losing sound on a VOD will cripple that VOD and it will never recover.
You’d have thought that given Twitch is now ruled by Google that Google would have pointed this out to them. Especially since Google tried this very system out back in 2013 to a huge fail, to the point that many game developers and publishers came out in support of the streamers and ended up with the service being withdrawn for a while.
This new service however did have some rather comical results, Twitch had one of their own streams muted for copyright infringement, as did Valve who had a copyright claim despite the music being their own. Several indie games have been hit as well, such as Crypt of the NecroDancer, again despite the music being their own.
So where are Twitch going with all these changes? TBH I’m very cynical when Google get involved in anything. Given that Twitch are now telling everyone to move to YouTube i see this as being a strategic move to get ALL VOD’s off of Twitch and onto YouTube.
I see twitch moving away from being a gamers streaming site and becoming a more ESport streaming site with no more little streamers. Even several of Twitch’s larger streamers have stated they’re looking for alternatives now. As things stand i don’t see small scale streamers lasting for much longer, and in the long term i don’t see Twitch being Twitch anymore. Such a shame!