Video games are no longer being enjoyed only by the people who play them. With about 100 million monthly users watching other gamers on Twitch, and gaming-related content occupying about 15 percent of all YouTube videos, video games are now nearly as big a form of passive entertainment as television and film.
Naturally, a growing market means more competition. Twitch and YouTube have traditionally dominated the live and on-demand spaces, respectively, but the two platforms are now direct rivals with the launch of YouTube Gaming: a curated version of Google's massive video site that wants to be your single destination for all types of video game content.
As someone who's watched an ungodly amount of video on both services, I've put YouTube Gaming and Twitch head-to-head to determine which platform is more deserving of your time, whether you're a broadcaster or someone who just loves to watch people play.
Twitch's user interface makes it pretty easy to find something fun to watch. The homepage automatically plays one of six featured broadcasts that you can flip through, featuring a mix of popular and up-and-coming streamers playing a variety of genres. Below the player is a list of the most popular games and channels; if you want to check out the broadcasters or titles you're following, you'll have to click a separate tab.
It's clear that YouTube Gaming took some pointers from Twitch's tried-and-true design, but this reskinned version of Google's flagship video site actually one-ups its competitor in some neat ways.
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Just like Twitch, YouTube Gaming treats you to a row of featured videos, except that on YouTube they're a mix of live and non-live clips, and are sometimes personalized based on the games and channels you follow. Speaking of that, the YouTube Gaming homepage sports large icons for your followed games and channels on the left and right sides of the screen, making it a breeze to get right to what you want to watch.
Both services offer dedicated game pages, but YouTube Gaming's are more comprehensive. While Twitch simply shows you the top live streams and recent videos of any given game, YouTube Gaming allows you to use filters for specific content types, such as reviews or Let's Plays.
Winner: YouTube Gaming (10 points). Twitch makes it easy to discover new streamers, but YouTube Gaming's cleaner and more personalized interface offers a better overall experience.
Twitch and YouTube both support silky 1080p, 60 frame-per-second broadcasts, though each service's quality options are presented a bit differently. Twitch lets you choose among mobile, low, medium, high and source (whatever quality the streamer you're watching is using), while YouTube lets you choose anything from 144p to 1080p/60fps video, depending on the broadcaster's maximum quality.
In my experience, high-quality streams generally run smoothly on both platforms, but I've encountered more instances of lagging broadcasts on Twitch than I have on YouTube.
YouTube does have one major feature that Twitch lacks: live DVR. When watching a live stream, you can jump back as far as four hours, and then get right back up to speed with a click of the Live button. On Twitch, you'll have to wait for the stream to be finished before you can watch the archive.
Winner: YouTube Gaming (20 points). YouTube's video quality is a bit more dependable, and live DVR is a killer feature that ensures you won't miss out on a big tournament.
Going live on both YouTube and Twitch is largely the same experience: you fire up your streaming app of choice, send your broadcast to either platform, and take advantage of either site's handy dashboard that lets you track viewership and keep up with folks in your chat room.
Despite those similarities, though, Twitch currently offers a more robust feature set when it comes to controlling your stream and making money off it. Twitch streamers have the option of assigning other folks as moderators and editors; the former help keep the stream chat from getting out of hand, while the latter can run commercials and create highlight clips from you while you're running your stream.
Twitch streamers can make money via the company's Partner Program. Once you're a partner, you'll receive a cut of ad revenue from your stream, and receive the option to offer viewers a monthly subscription in exchange for perks (most streamers charge around $5 a month). Some of the benefits you can offer subscribers include custom emoticons and unrestricted access to video quality and past broadcasts. Twitch also benefits from host mode, in which users can host friends' streams on their own channels to help boost views.
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YouTube also offers its own Partner Program, and while its requirements are a bit less strict (Twitch partners generally need a decent audience before getting a partnership), the only clear benefit is ad revenue. While YouTube streamers can't offer direct subscriptions, they can use "cards" that link to their chosen fundraising or merchandise website, such as Kickstarter, Patreon or Etsy. YouTubers should be wary, though -- the site is infamous for slamming creators with automatic, often unwarranted copyright claims that disable monetization on videos.
Twitch also has the slight edge in terms of just how many devices you can stream from. Xbox One and PS4 owners can stream to Twitch directly from their consoles (YouTube streaming is limited to PS4), and both Nvidia's Shield Tablet and select iOS games feature built-in Twitch broadcasting. However, Google recently rolled out the ability to stream just about any game from an Android phone using the YouTube Gaming app.
Winner: Twitch (20 points). Twitch offers better features for broadcasters, and can be broadcast to from more devices.
A gaming video site is only as useful as what you can watch on it, and picking between the platforms will largely come down to your taste. Some of Twitch's biggest stars include Minecraft streamer Syndicate and survival-game expert Lirik, while comedic horror gamer Markiplier and the world-famous PewDiePie are some of the most well-known dedicated YouTubers.
It's worth noting that the two platforms have a symbiotic relationship -- many Twitch stars upload their previous broadcasts to YouTube, and YouTube will notify you if a creator you're watching is currently live on Twitch.
YouTube is a gamer's dream when it comes to on-demand video; whether you're looking for reviews, walkthroughs or discussion videos, you'll have no problem finding them from both independent creators and major outlets such as IGN and GameSpot.
When it comes to live content, though, the competition isn't even close. While live streams of gaming conventions and major eSports tournaments can often be found on both platforms, Twitch's combination of popular personalities and major gaming brands make it the dominant service when it comes to catching the action as it unfolds. To put things in perspective, the most-viewed YouTube Gaming stream on the Friday afternoon I wrote this had around 4,600 viewers. The biggest Twitch stream had more than 148,000.
Twitch is also branching out beyond video games, with a new "Creative" landing page that showcases live broadcasts of artists and musicians working on their creations.
Winner: Draw (30 points). Twitch is the best place to watch gaming live streams, but YouTube's massive catalog of on-demand content is hard to top.
YouTube Gaming is currently available on the Web, iOS and Android. Its mobile app is particularly slick, treating you to the same personalized interface you'll find on desktop while allowing you to beam any video you're watching to a synced-up TV.
Twitch is far more ubiquitous, with apps available on the Web, mobile, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Fire TV, Ouya, Chromecast and Nvidia Shield. The mobile app isn't quite as smooth as YouTube Gaming's, but it has some unique features, such as Audio Only mode for listening to live streams on-the-go. Both the Xbox and mobile apps now feature archived broadcasts, bringing them more in line with YouTube Gaming.
Now, the caveat here is that vanilla YouTube is available just about everywhere, and all of YouTube Gaming's videos can be found there. Still, it wouldn't hurt for Google to release the gaming-centric version of its streaming platform to more places, particularly for folks who watch video content on their game consoles.
Winner: Twitch (10 points). While plain old YouTube is everywhere, its gaming spin-off is far less ubiquitous than Twitch.
Pricing and Social
You can enjoy both YouTube Gaming and Twitch to your heart's content without paying a dime, but both services offer premium tier for those who want the best experience.
Dubbed Twitch Turbo, the company's $9-per-month subscription plan gets you ad-free video, exclusive chat emoticons, a special badge next to your username and the ability to save your past broadcasts for up to two months (non-subscribers get only two weeks).
Viewers can also opt to support their favorite streamers on a per-channel basis. Broadcasters that offer individual subscriptions typically charge $5 per month, and reward users with custom badges and emoticons, as well as any other perks of their choosing (for example, many streamers will play games with their subscribers).
Those who want a premium YouTube Gaming experience can check out YouTube Red, a $10 monthly service that not only removes ads across all of YouTube, but also lets you download videos for offline viewing and play them in the background when your mobile device is blocked. A YouTube Red subscription also grants you access to unlimited song streaming via both YouTube Music and Google Play Music, and will soon grant access to member-only YouTube originals featuring stars such as PewDiePie.
YouTube Gaming is also slowly rolling out its own version of Twitch's individual channel subscriptions, and they're a dollar cheaper at $4 per month. Like Twitch subscriptions, these memberships will grant you special chat badges, as well as whatever rewards the broadcaster chooses to dole out.
Regardless of whether or not you pay for it, Twitch also offers a superior social experience. While YouTube Gaming chat rooms are essentially large Google Hangouts, Twitch chat allows fans to use an array of unique emojis that are largely based on game-culture in-jokes. Subscribing to channels adds to your collection of emojis, and while it sounds silly, some people value being able to plaster a Twitch chat with their favorite streamer's face. And while Twitch chats can become quite flooded, the service offers the ability to create sub-rooms with your friends, as well as a Whisper tool for one-on-one messaging.
Winner: YouTube Gaming (10 points). Twitch has the better social experience, but YouTube Gaming's premium options give you far more bang for your buck
YouTube Gaming isn't quite the Twitch killer it was positioned as, but it one-ups gaming's biggest streaming site in some significant ways. However, while Twitch can learn a thing or two from YouTube Gaming's super-slick interface and live DVR functionality, it's still the best place to both watch and broadcast live-gaming video, thanks to its massive community of popular streamers and excellent broadcasting tools.
Still, YouTube Gaming's selection of on-demand gaming content is unrivaled, and YouTube Red offers far more value than Twitch Turbo for those willing to pay for ad-free video. Given the wealth of excellent video on both platforms (and the fact that many popular creators use both sites), the real winner of this competition is anyone who loves to watch people play video games.
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