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Microsoft's Answer to Twitch Puts Viewers in Control

Microsoft is getting into the video game livestreaming arena, though it's doing things a bit differently from Twitch and YouTube. The Redmond tech giant just acquired Beam Interactive, a livestreaming website focused on letting viewers help control the action while they watch their favorite games.

Interactive livestreaming has been done before -- remember the Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon? -- but Beam aims to make viewers truly feel like they're helping play a game rather than triggering a bunch of commands in a chatroom. The site allows streamers to feature interactive control buttons right on their stream page -- for example, when watching a stream of Pokemon Emerald on Beam, I had virtual arrow keys and start, select, A and B buttons that allowed me to influence what was happening on-screen.

Streamers are free to use this functionality however they wish, whether they want their viewers to pick their weapons or control their cannons while driving a tank. Beam prides itself on its virtually zero-delay streams, which are possible via the company's special "FTL" technology.

MORE: How Pokémon Go is Evolving Twitch Streaming

Based on Microsoft's blog post, it seems like the company wants to use Beam's technology to improve Xbox games rather than pose the streaming site as a genuine Twitch competitor. Microsoft's Chad Gibson says Beam will make Xbox Live "more social and fun" by, for example, letting viewers create challenges or make in-game choices for Minecraft streamers.

Fortunately for fans of Beam, which just launched in January, it doesn't look like the service is going anywhere under Microsoft's ownership. You'll still be able to watch Beam streams on the web, iOS, Android, Chromecast and Apple TV, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see an official Xbox One app arrive sometime soon.

You can already both watch and broadcast to Twitch from your Xbox One, and it's hard to imagine Beam stealing away the service's 100 million monthly viewers. There are a variety of Twitch-centric games that let viewers interact with what's happening on-screen, whether it be via the chat room or using external apps.

Still, Beam offers something genuinely different by making this hybrid of playing and watching a platform-wide feature, not a game-specific one. Gamers clearly want more interaction with the games and streamers that they watch, and Twitch would be smart to take notice.

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored and was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.