As the cinematic streaming wars begin to heat up, so too is the competition between game streaming services and right now, things aren't looking good for Microsoft.
Six years ago, Amazon purchased game streaming behemoth Twitch for roughly $1 billion. Despite being the default aggregator of reposted game streaming content, Google decided to put its big boy pants on and rolled out its own dedicated YouTube Gaming experience in 2016. Bringing up the rear in terms of game streaming options comes Microsoft with its purchase of Beam Interactive in 2016 which ultimately became Mixer in 2017.
Since the acquisition and rollout dust has settled, it's now crunch time for the services to churn viewership into revenue and similar to its situation with Windows Phone/Mobile, Microsoft finds itself in an untenable position in both the market and community zeitgeist.
After recently controlling the headline cycle with its acquihire of famed game streamer Ninja in 2019, Microsoft's Mixer platform saw itself enamored with a handful of other former Twitch streamers coming to the platform and lending credence to the service by way of their varying degrees of industry celebrity.
Unfortunately, Mixer's current market and mindshare trajectory are becoming eerily reminiscent of Microsoft's Windows Phone/Mobile days, where systemic engineering problems and muddled community communications erode would-be platform intriguing moves.
Over the past year, news continues to trickle out about gamers who stream on the platform, becoming ultimately frustrated and disenfranchised with their decision to either move to or create channels on Mixer.
In most cases, the disillusionment isn't from blind fanboyism to Twitch, Google or any other service, but by the lack of competitive features which leads to a handicapped streaming experience that ultimately hurts the gamers' viewership numbers and their bottom line payout.
Also mirroring some of the same narratives of Windows Phone are the inflated numbers (aka spark farms) being used to prop up the service while Microsoft scrambles to promote more flashy endorsement deals.
“Mixer has more active channels than Twitch” is a bad take and a bad headline regardless if the cold fact is true.
Look at the rest of the stats.
— Richard 🇬🇧 (@Ricker666) January 17, 2020
Senior Editor of Windows Central and gaming journalist Jez Corden took to Twitter the other day to consolidate a list of grievances some streamers are having with Mixer and the thread is a treasure trove of feedback, Microsoft may want to look at.
Are you a Mixer streamer who left the platform this week? I'd like to hear from you. Plz DM me xoxoxo
— Jez Corden (@JezCorden) January 16, 2020
Or if you're a current mixer steamer and have comments positive or negative, anonymously or not in the current state of the site.
— Jez Corden (@JezCorden) January 16, 2020
In particular, a tweet response from Keith "Shadowhaxor" Mitchell who points to a post on Geekbravdo.com where author Parallax Abstraction offers a rather descriptive and informative breakdown of what's wrong, missing and plain not working, from someone who's been native to the Mixer platform since 2017.
Rather than exhaustively detail all of the concerns I and many others have, let’s just rapidly bullet-point a bunch of the common ones, in no particular order:
- Why do the mobile apps still lack out-of-app picture-in-picture?
- Why are you still using the awful Player.me service for your game database when better maintained options like Giant Bomb exist?
- Why are there no apps on PS4, Switch, Android TV, Fire Stick and Roku? And please, stop deflecting blame to Sony without actually saying it. They don’t run a streaming service, it’s not a hard case to make. Xbox Live is on Switch, you can get Mixer on PS4.
- How did you launch a new, revamped Xbox app without support for FTL, one of the core features of Mixer?
- Why is there no easy way for mods of larger channels to communicate amongst themselves without third-party tools?
- Why is there still no ability to drop playback quality on VoDs for low speed connections? For that matter, why are VoDs still incredibly laggy, regardless of speed?
- Why is there no platform-level closed captioning and streamers are required to use third-party tools for this that require them to be shown to every viewer?
- Why is there no Mixer value add tied into other Microsoft services, like a free sub for Game Pass Ultimate subscribers? Amazon has Twitch Prime, why can’t we get something like that? For that matter, why does $10 a month for Pro still give nothing but a purple name, more sparks and no ads, which no one outside the US see anyway?
- Why have non-partners all but entirely lost the ability to have their channels featured, even when they’re long-standing streamers with good reputations? What if viewers could spend sparks to get them featured? For that matter, why does it seem that only a handful of even partners receive front page promotion any more?
- Ember pricing really needs a rethink. They’re still way too expensive for many (especially younger people) to be able to afford and many still balk at the price in general.
- Why are 24/7 farming streams not only still often featured highly in directories but just plain not a Terms of Service violation?
- Why is MixPlay still so unintuitive to use for streamers and why has it received no notable improvements in well over a year? It’s a core feature of the platform and Twitch extensions are quickly leaving it in the dust. Developers of games like Darwin Project who started with Mixer integration have abandoned it in frustration.
- Why is Clips still in beta for partners only after all this time? It is no longer a nice to have feature, it is a key and critical part of any streamer’s content plans and strategy.
- Why has there been virtually no advertising of the platform in gaming and mainstream media? Why does it appear that promotion is reliant on the big streamers you secured having their communities do it for you?
- While support is lightning fast in their responses, why are the frontline reps nearly powerless to do anything to the majority of tickets and why do so many tickets end up being “forwarded to the developers”, where they seem to disappear into the void?
- Why is the API still so unreliable? Sites like KeyMailer that I rely on for developer relationships still often aren’t notified of my streams. For that matter, third-party tools like CouchBot and SmartHost often have functions break because the API doesn’t respond properly.
- From SmartHost’s management page. This shouldn’t be a thing.
- Despite repeated assurances, why is Mixer still not making more effort to promote true variety streams or just anything beyond the latest releases and the same few Battle Royale titles?
- Top Games. Top Games never changes.
- Why are analytics still broken and unreliable after almost two years? They have improved a little bit lately but I still can’t count on them to be reliable when sections are still demonstrably broken. This makes approaching game developers and potential sponsors very difficult.
Parallax notes that the above list is only a "rough list of the most common issues." Perhaps, the largest underlying frustration is that streamers on Mixer have been trying to use as many feedback channels as possible to address the growing list of issues, but most complaints go unnoticed.
Like all Microsoft products and services, Mixer has a UserVoice site, a place where the community can request features, comment and vote up the ones most important to them. In theory, this is supposed to help drive Mixer’s development priorities but Mixer hasn’t responded to anything posted there in at least a year if not more. Most of the top voted ideas haven’t even been acknowledged, must less actioned. This gives the appearance of at best apathy and at worst, disdain towards the needs of the community.
The sentiment has rings similar to what happened with Windows Phone development, where engineers and PR people were seeming stuck in a tug-of-war between trying to advocate for the product but keep certain release features a secret until formally announced.
During the interim, fans, users and journalists came up with their own homespun theories that littered the internet faster than Microsoft was willing to address, ultimately becoming the narrative the company had to chase rather than explain.
That's what I'm investigating, but seems like a perfect storm of small problems, platform instability, and inconsistent monetization experiments.
— Jez Corden (@JezCorden) January 16, 2020
Often times, a company may go dark before a big release, but it's been over a year since the community has heard any meaningful feedback or announcements from the Mixer team.
Further compounding frustrations are the NDA deals that continue to surface with no insight into the platform development, making it seem as though Microsoft is more intrigued by spending cash on a handful of names rather than investing in the smaller channels trying to flush out the service.
In the end, the strategy of spending millions to get Flipboard, Facebook and Instagram on the Windows Phone platform while ignoring API's, codecs, and developer tools, didn't help save Windows Phone and it looks like it's not doing much to help Mixer.
There may be things in the works that a select few brand ambassadors are privy to, but now is seemingly not the time to play favorites with information vital to the very people who want to help the platform stay competitive.
Unlike the Windows Phone era, Microsoft isn't trying to wedge itself into a third-place option. Mixer has a chance to become a strong and thriving alternative to Twitch in the market, but as of right now, the company appears to be squandering opportunities.
Hopefully, there will be plenty of news and information coming to streamers in 2020 as the company lines up Xbox Series X, xCloud, and gaming content for the year, but if the situation continues to hold as present, it's not that hard to envision Mixer's future following that of Windows Phone, to nowhere.