Facebook Steps Up Battle With Twitch, Adding New Features for Video-Game Streamers

Facebook wants to entice more video-game broadcasters — and their fans — to use its platform, rolling out several features that will ratchet up competition with category pioneer Twitch.

In January, Facebook launched a gaming-creator program, paying some top players to stream exclusively on Facebook.

It has now started to actively promote a new gaming-video destination that it quietly debuted in the past few weeks — Facebook Gaming, at facebook.com/gaming — that aggregates live and prerecorded video in one place. The social giant also has started letting a few game-streaming partners let fans subscribe as supporters to their channels, for $5 per month, a la Twitch, in addition to selling “Facebook Stars” to let users cheer for their favorite players (akin to the Twitch emotes available to paying members).

And Facebook is launching a new program, Level Up, for video-game streamers who are just starting out, to help them build a fanbase and earn money from their gameplay.

Facebook isn’t saying exactly how many game broadcasters are regularly live-streaming, but it claims there are now thousands on the platform. Of course, it has a long way to go to match the audience of Amazon-owned Twitch, which boasts an average of more than 15 million active daily viewers and over 2 million unique monthly broadcasters. Meanwhile, YouTube also has a creator program and hub — YouTube Gaming — catering to game broadcasters.

One of the most popular game broadcasters on Facebook so far is Darkness429, the internet handle of Tim Havlock. In late January, he switched from Twitch, where he had been live-streaming for about four years, to Facebook earlier this year and now has 180,000 followers on his page. When he left Twitch, he had 168,000 followers.

Facebook is compensating Havlock, who lives in Port St. Lucie, Fla., but he declined to provide specifics on the arrangement. “We do have a working relationship with each other, yes, but I wasn’t thinking short-term,” he told Variety. “It was more about getting in on the ground floor on this platform, which is the world’s largest social-media platform.”

Darkness429 also is one of the first creators to participate in the Patreon-like supporter program, which Facebook announced last month. Supporters receive a special badge when they back a creator. For now, the fee is $5 monthly applies to all creators.

“It’s another level of connecting with your fans,” Havlock said. “I can thank that person, almost one-on-one on the platform.”

During the test period for subscriptions, Facebook isn’t taking a cut. The company does keep a share of Facebook Stars revenue but it isn’t disclosing the split except to say most of it goes to its partners.

[UPDATE, June 9: Facebook provided more detail about the Stars revenue split. A creator gets 1 cent per star. On desktop, 100 Stars are sold for $1.40; of that $1 (71%) goes to creators, while Facebook keeps the remaining 40 cents. The rev-share varies based on the cost of Star packs. On desktop, the maximum share to Facebook is 30% for the smallest packs and 5% for the largest.]

On his Darkness429 accounts, Havlock has specialized in shooters like Bluehole’s “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (“PUBG”) and Ubisoft’s “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.” More recently, he’s been playing a lot of Epic Games’ “Fortnite” -– “everyone and their mom has been playing and streaming that,” he said.

To raise the profile of Facebook game broadcasters and make their content easier to find, the company has launched the Facebook Gaming hub. At the landing page, users can find content based on creators and games they follow, pages they like and groups they belong to. The destination also will feature creators, esports competitions and content from gaming-industry events. Facebook is promoting the hub using the short URL “fb.gg.”

Here’s what Facebook Gaming looks like on mobile:

Facebook’s new Level Up program promises to let newbies join in on the action, initially through an invitation-only process. Level Up members will be able to earn money through the Facebook Stars fan-support feature.

Level Up creators also will get early access to new Facebook features for live-streaming, as well as guidance on best practices from established gaming creators and enhanced access to Facebook’s support team for troubleshooting and bug reporting.

Facebook says it will begin sending invitations for Level Up and bringing members on-board in several waves. The plan is to open up the program to gaming creators worldwide within the next few months.

“We want to give emerging gaming creators the information and support they need so they can live-stream more easily, grow their communities more quickly and focus on making great content,” Facebook’s John Imah, gaming creator program lead, and product manager Nick Miller wrote in a blog post.

As part of its bigger gaming push, Facebook will have a presence at this year’s E3 conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center next week. At its booth in the South Hall, it will showcase the Facebook Gaming destination. It’s also hosting partner streamers — including Darkness429, as well as MelonieMac, MissesMae and StoneMountain64 — who are scheduled to play live on a main stage and will be running demos of new Oculus VR games, among other activities.

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