Why I’m Worried About the Future of Twitch
With the launch of Twitch’s new interactive features it’s timely to talk about many of the changes that’s been happening for months now that affect all Twitch users.
“Interactive Features” has unsurprisingly launched in a very broken state. At this moment the only feature that seems to be available right now is the cleverly named Overlay from Muxy. It’s seems to only provide a heatmap, that shows where viewers are clicking on top of the stream. It’s a neat idea in theory but in practice it suffers from an unfixable issue.
It’s a literal canvas for viewers.
A viewer can easily draw anything on top of your stream. That goes from drawings of genitals to words globally banned from Twitch. That includes doxing information would a viewer be interested enough in drawing that on your stream. Viewers aren’t even allowed to turn this off.
How the heatmap made it all the way through Twitch without getting VETO’d is beyond me. Every stream I’ve seen so far running the heatmap has already turned it off because of the abuse.
To top it all off, the actual indicator that an overlay is running is completely broken. The icon is scaled beyond belief and the link goes to a 404 Not Found page.
[Update] What I assumed was an error in the name setting from Twitch, turns out to be the actual name given the “Extension”. Muxy’s heatmap is simply called “Overlay” and the names of other extension seems to work fine. I was confused since the Twitch blog post mixes up the features provided by “Smart Click Maps” by ExMachina and “Overlay” by Muxy. “Smart Click Maps” seems to provide limited clicking areas which also avoids the canvas issues mentioned above.
Twitch is Using React More and More
Recently the player interface was rewritten completely in React and these new “interactive features”, being part of the player are also written in React. The choice of user-facing framework doesn’t affect most viewers, but it does affect all power users. React is notoriously difficult for third party developers to interact with. To debug React at all requires developers to install browser specific debugging tools and extension such as BetterTTV and FrankerFaceZ suffer immensely from React’s iron grip on the websites it runs on.
FrankerFaceZ specifically flourishes in Twitch’s usage of the Ember framework and is capable in just a few lines of code to extend the interface of Twitch with new emotes, uptime indicators and fixes to the bugs that occasionally makes it out of Twitch. If Twitch opts to move more of the site over to React, these third party extensions may cease to exist, or at least cease to co-exist.
A Change in Tone Towards Developers
I don’t want to post an example because I don’t want to ruin my friendship with the Twitch employees that I know but there is seemingly been a quite distinct change in company culture in the last couple of months. New features are announced later and later to developers and many are completely under NDA until launch.
The “interactive features” are a great example as they have been created in complete secrecy and even at launch don’t have any support for third party developers. Twitch does refer to “partnered developers”, which existence was essentially secret until the announcement post. The developer of KappaGen, a site that allows you to render Twitch emotes on top of your stream, was never contacted about this program. This despite his application at this point having a rather large userbase.
Users of ad blockers are also being dismissed by Twitch even if they already pay for an ad-free Twitch experience. It’s somewhat understandable, since supposedly a sizable chunk of Twitch’s income comes from ad views, but at the same time they have to acknowledge that 10% of all users will now be visiting your site with an ad blocker enabled. That is more than there’s people using Microsoft Edge. The developers of ad blockers also always make sure that ad blocking never interferes with actual site features. If something is broken with ad blocking enabled it is just as broken as if ad blocking was disabled.
Twitch’s Take on Tipping
Twitch does not support tips. Bits are only for “cheers” and are essentially premium chat messages. Twitch’s cut on bits, when they’re not on sale, is anywhere from 23.20% to 40% and all European users pay VAT on top of that cut. For any tip above 5 USD using bits over a proper service is basically throwing your money down a well. To top it off bits cannot be cashed out directly, though using tips directly is risky because of chargebacks.
Twitch’s refusal to support tips goes a bit deeper however. Since there’s clearly a need many services have popped up to serve that function. These function by offering a safe ground between payment providers, such as PayPal, and the actual streamers. They also add value by providing alerts right on stream among other features.
Despite these tip services existing for years Twitch’s integration with them are mostly nonexistent. Some of them are what Twitch call partnered developers, but they are not allowed to integrate too deeply with Twitch. “Interactive Features” serves as a great example again, as these developers are not allowed to provide any form of tip integration in the overlays, unless it uses bits.
What I Think Twitch Needs To Do
- Twitch keeps releasing features that are broken on launch. I don’t know how they manage to let that happen but it really needs to change.
- Twitch is seemingly closing their doors on many venues for third party developers but they refuse to make a clear statement. Twitch needs to properly inform these developers what their plans are moving forward, because right now a lot of developers are risking hundreds of developer hours that could get thrown away in an instant.
- Twitch really needs to figure out its standing on tips. Bits are not tips. Bits are incredibly expensive and meant for small amounts of money but are given premium placement for viewers. Twitch needs to establish a proper developer relationship with the tip service providers and hopefully open up for new features for them to provide.
I’m ultimately still excited for the future of Twitch but with the way things are going it’s looking like website just simply won’t be for me anymore.