Some thoughts on the recent “Mixer exodus” (Spoiler: Don’t panic)

 

Their motto is “Streaming is better this way.” So, why are seemingly so many people leaving?

Mixer is where I’ve been doing my live streaming for well over a year now. After finding no success on Twitch and also having no luck restreaming to multiple services, I was convinced to move exclusively to the burgeoning and at the time, newly Microsoft owned platform. I liked it’s FTL technology that allowed near real-time chat interaction and I really loved it’s sense of community, which led me to groups like theSHED team, where I’ve met some of the most supportive streamers anywhere, many of whom are now good friends. I’m newly over 1,000 followers as I write this and while I certainly haven’t grown as fast as some, I have grown much faster than others and had been feeling good about things over there.

Lately, things haven’t been as rosy for me and quite a few other streamers on the platform. Despite making my content in the same way that had been relatively successful for me, my average viewer and new follower count has gone down a lot. Many other channels (including several big partnered ones) have seen similar drops and all while Mixer is reporting record user growth overall. To make matters worse for worryers like me, a number of streamers have announced–often very publicly–that they’re leaving Mixer and either going back to Twitch, starting up there fresh, or at the very least, restreaming to both services now. This has caused a lot of drama in the Mixer community and it’s also caused many people to think that an exodus is taking place because of things these people know that we don’t.

I was concerned about this because not only is Mixer my home but if something were to happen to make it no longer viable as such, I would sooner quit streaming than go back to Twitch. I have no desire to start building a new audience from scratch again and frankly, I can’t stand Twitch’s tech, web site design or what is frequently considered “community” over there. So, seeing where I’ve chosen to plant roots having a lot of its once vocal supporters jumping ship–when the exact opposite was happening only a few months ago–made me more than a little worried. However, being someone who likes to gather as much information as possible before drawing and acting on a conclusion, I asked many of those who were leaving if they could expand on why. The only reasoning most of them offered in their public statements was that they “didn’t like the direction Mixer was going.” The vast majority either ignored my requests or outright refused to elaborate, which immediately made me suspicious. However, like all content platforms, Mixer is terrible at communicating with their creators and has said exactly nothing to allay anyone’s fears, causing the common effect of people reaching their own conclusions and using social media to spread them as gospel in a modern version of the game of Telephone. A couple of people did respond with their reasons and I also managed to talk to a few partners who are far more informed than I am about what goes on behind the scenes. While none of them broke their non-disclosure agreements, I am still not going to name them or any of the people leaving that I spoke to, out of respect and a desire to avoid further drama.

Some of the reasons I got made sense, a few of which I actually share. Some of them bordered on Alex Jones levels of conspiracy theory, supposedly coming from people in the know but which were just impossibly ludicrous. I’ve compiled what seem to be the most common and grounded ones:

  • Mixer’s front page has become full of either brand/tournament streams or the same handful of “golden partners” playing either Fortnite and the latest release published by Microsoft Studios. Variety streamers (who already have a hard time growing) are no longer getting promoted and having your channel randomly featured basically no longer happens.
  • The Mixer platform is not evolving fast enough. Tech issues are still too common, new features are very slow to appear and key things like a partner sub button on Xbox are still nowhere in sight.
  • The vast majority of the Mixer audience is kids on Xbox, who pollute chat, just want to play Fortnite with streamers and who often follow and never come back because the Xbox app is bad at showing when streamers you follow go live.
  • Unless you want to play what’s hyper-popular, you’ll grow better on Twitch just because of the sheer size of the audience there compared to Mixer.
  • Viewership appears to be down for many channels, no one knows why and Mixer won’t tell anyone.
  • Partners are being told what games to play by Mixer and if you get partnership (which is the goal of many, myself included), you no longer have freedom over your content and have to do what you’re told or risk your partnership.
  • Streamers aren’t being given enough ways to monetise their content and can’t make reasonable money on Mixer. It takes too long to attain full partnership when they can start making money as a Twitch affiliate much more quickly.

I’m a variety streamer in the truest sense of the word. I play games from all over the spectrum of size, scope and features and rarely am I playing the same title for long stretches of time. I know as well as anyone how hard it is to grow as this type of streamer. I accept that because I’m not going to do this if I can’t play what I want to play and well, I play a lot of stuff. I have no desire to make a career of this so I don’t mind growing more slowly. That said, I do have goals and put a lot of time, money and effort into this so when I see my numbers going down and not up, I want to know why because if it’s due to me or my content, that knowledge will help me change for the better. If it’s the system that’s at issue, I want to know that too so I can either work within its constraints or lobby to have them addressed.

After talking to my sources, my conclusion is that I think jumping ship right now is a panic-driven overreaction and that those of us who play the long game will ultimately benefit from doing so. Mixer has problems–many of them in fact–and I think they could be doing a much better job of keeping us informed but also, I think many people don’t have a good understanding about just how long it can take to make changes on the level they ask for, especially from inside a monolithic company like Microsoft. Since I’ve stated the most common points, let me know respond to each in kind with what I’ve learned:

  • Having looked at the front page a lot lately, one can’t deny there is truth to smaller and variety streamers showing up there a lot less. It’s almost always either e-sports tournaments or a bigger channel playing Fortnite. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my channel featured 3 times but haven’t in months now. Here’s the thing though: Being featured doesn’t actually help you much. I would guess that probably about 200-300 of my current 1,000+ followers came from those times I was featured. You know how many of them are now regular viewers? Maybe 1 or 2 and they probably would have found me anyway. The vast majority hit the follow button, never to return again. Those people might as well not be following me at all. I’m not saying Mixer shouldn’t be featuring more smaller and variety channels but if you’re reliant on being featured to drive your growth, your content is probably not as good as you think it is.
  • Tech issues were a near constant problem for several months but they have improved substantially. We still get them on occasion but comparing where the platform’s tech is now to when I started streaming is night and day (remember when Mixer basically didn’t work on Chrome?) A large-scale live streaming service is monumentally complex technology that those not in the know can’t fully appreciate the scope of. I agree that new features could be coming faster and the lack of things like an Xbox sub button seem baffling on the surface. However, there are very complex backend challenges that make these things complicated to solve. Mixer is still a small team and in the scope of Microsoft or even Xbox (which they report under), they are miniscule. They don’t have the massive staff that Twitch or YouTube have and problems and features have to be prioritised to where they think the most benefit will be achieved. I totally understand why partners consider an Xbox sub button to be critical but Mixer might not feel the same and at the end of the day, it’s their platform, not ours.
  • While huge, the Twitch audience is primarily PC based. One of Mixer’s greatest advantages is that the service is on the home screen of every single Xbox One. That people somehow see this as a bad thing is confounding to me. Yes, a lot of Xbox users are kids and yes, a lot of them are using chat with a controller and can’t contribute much. But a viewer is a viewer and if you can’t follow the rules of my channel, you get banned regardless of what platform you’re on. I can assure you, I’ve given the boot to many a PC user as well. If many people are coming in from Xbox and asking to play Fortnite and then bouncing out when you say no, the couple that stick around are still new viewers and followers you didn’t have before. Getting exposed to a greater audience is not a bad thing and while we all want less chat toxicity, you can’t claim on one hand that you aren’t getting enough viewers but on the other hand, complain that you’re getting too many new viewers that just aren’t the kind you want. Aside from making it easier to get notified when streamers you follow go live, you know the best thing that could happen to Mixer? If it finally got a PS4 app as well.
  • The argument that Mixer is focusing more and more on what’s already hyper popular is one I can actually agree with. That was a big reason why I left Twitch and it does frustrate me to see them endlessly promoting Fortnite, a game that most certainly doesn’t need the help. I can see how if you want to play more obscure stuff (which we as variety streamers often do), that you might do better on Twitch, where there’s just such a massive army watching, some more people are bound to trip over your channel. Personally, that was never my experience but maybe it’s different now. From what my sources told me, this is a problem Mixer is aware of and is one they’re working on. A lot of it has to do with how their algoritm analyses trends, tries to promote based on those and how it was never originally designed to handle games like Fortnite, which rose from nothing to one of the biggest games in the world almost overnight and which has stayed there longer than anyone ever expected. This is another thing that requires changes on the backend that won’t happen overnight but are apparently in the pipeline.
  • My sources have told me that the drop in viewership to many channels when Mixer’s overall audience growth seems to be exploding can largely be attributed to my last point. The platform is driving people towards a select handful of games at the expense of many others and as many new viewers just click on stuff from the front page rather than go digging, people who don’t play Fortnite are not getting seen as much. Again, I agree this is frustrating but it’s apparently being worked on.
  • I can say that the point about partners being told what to play is just straight up false. I know multiple partners who never play the games Mixer is actively promoting and their partnerships are perfectly healthy. You will sometimes be told that if you want certain dash slots as a partner, that you’ll need to play a certain thing in those slots but that’s opt-in and never forced on you. Dash slots are often promotional in nature and like it or not, Mixer is a business that needs to generate revenue. If you don’t want to take part in that, you don’t have to and many partners happily abstain and do just fine. Plus hey, a lot of the games Mixer will ask you to play are ones a lot of these partners actually want to play.
  • If you’re successful enough to obtain partnership with any streaming platform, you should immediately be looking at ways to diversify your income. Relying solely on your cut of subscriptions or ad revenue is a quick path to disappointment. While Mixer gives you a couple of ways to make money if you become a partner, it’s not their job to come up with new ones, that’s on you. You can try to maximise what they give you but if you expect that to provide you a living, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you have any desire to make a business of streaming, you should be better informed of that well before you apply for partnership. The only reason Twitch affiliates exist is because they were getting so overrun with partnership applications, that they had to come up with a lower tier to stem the tide. While becoming an affiliate looks enticing, it’s a terrible deal and is designed to give you enough of a carrot that you stick around, continuing to slog away at a full partnership that 90%+ of channels have no hope of achieving. I applaud Mixer for not going this route and for encouraging people to work hard to attain a full partnership.

Every problem I’ve mentioned above exists on Twitch and is magnified many fold. Sure, they have a larger overall audience but they also have all the same issues and unlike Mixer, have shown no interest in doing anything about them. Everyone is free to make their own choices of where to stream and while I’ve made it clear what I think of Twitch, I don’t fault you for going to where you think you have the biggest chance to grow. Indeed, a couple of those leaving that I’ve spoken to have given a lot of thought to their choice and in a couple of cases, I actually think they might fare better on Twitch and I wish them all the best. Could Mixer be quicker at reacting to these issues and could they be a lot better at if not telling their creators what’s coming, at least reassuring us that they’re aware of the problems and working on them? Absolutely they could and I’m not letting them off the hook for that. It drives me mad but at least for now, the industry has collectively decided that being as tight-lipped as possible with their creators is the smartest strategy. I don’t agree but it’s the way it is.

That said, a lot of the recent exodus seems to be people who saw a couple of well known partners jump ship and bandwagoned on that, figuring that if a partner did it, they must have a good reason based in hidden knowledge we aren’t privy to and it makes sense to follow them. One thing that I’ve learned in the last year is that many partners are no less lacking in self-confidence, impulsive, reckless or dare I say, even entitled than many new streamers who get upset that they don’t have a massive audience within a month of starting out. What did our mothers say about jumping off a cliff just because someone else did? Partners often do know things we don’t and they often can’t talk about it but that very reason is why you should not just blindly follow when one or two say they’re bailing with some vague statement about “direction” as their justification.

One of my sources actually told me that they think the term “partner” is a bad one to use to describe that role because it makes a lot of people feel like they have some sort of ownership over the platform and an entitlement to a voice in the decision making process. That’s not at all what partnership means and while a lot of that is on creators who let their egos run away with their better sense, I do wonder if the weight of that term has something to do with it. Ironically, while “affiliate” is a term used to describe a lower tier of that concept, I think it’s probably what should have been used all along.

Live streaming is an incredibly crowded, brutal space where only a tiny fraction of people will ever find large scale financial success. It should be hard and it should always be something you do as a hobby first. In the very early days of streaming and YouTube, it was a lot easier to get big if you got in quick enough and just worked hard. Those times are long gone. I won’t say I haven’t had plenty of days where I’m demotivated. Recently I played Star Control: Origins for a week, a game that was the #1 seller on Steam at the time and where I had the developer tweeting out every stream I did. Virtually no one showed up and I was super bummed about that, especially when I saw people on Twitch playing it for an audience of hundreds. However, my instinct was not to abandon Mixer and go where I saw a higher number, it was to find out why no one was watching me here and try to figure out how I could fix that.

Every time you jump ship to another platform, you not only are effectively starting over, you’re showing the platform you left that you’ll bail the first time things get hard. How do you think that’s going to look if you decide to come back again and eventually apply for partnership, especially if you left in a huff? Mixer isn’t a perfect place and there’s a lot they could be doing better but there is no utopian service and there are always going to be things you don’t like. In the real world, we have to either work within those constraints or try to change them for the better. Running away because the going gets tough shows weakness, not strength and while a brand or platform is certainly not owed your loyalty, you’re also not owed the same level of consideration as someone who toughed it out through the difficult times and worked to improve things.

There’s a lot of real talk in here but I think it’s something a lot of people need to hear. The bottom line of this long post is that after talking to a lot of people who are more informed and often, much smarter than me, I am still confident that I made the right decision to make Mixer my streaming home and plan to for the foreseeable future. I believe those of us who choose to play the long game and grind through the challenges we currently face will come out the other side benefitting from that and that many of those who ran back to Twitch will come to wish they hadn’t. Indeed, Twitch had many of these same challenges not all that long ago and many who hung on benefitting from that commitment. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe Mixer isn’t going to get any better and if it doesn’t, I’ll have to evaluate how much more I want to put into streaming at that time. Right now though, I’m still fully dedicated to this platform and am going to put in all the effort I was and more and I think if you do too, we’ll all end up the better for it. Every platform has its challenges and as many of us are self-doubters. It’s understandable to be wary, believe me I understand and you should absolutely voice concerns in a productive way when you have them. However, jumping around when the going gets tougher rarely works out for the best in the end and sometimes, a little extra dedication goes a long way.

Keep calm and stream on Mixer friends.

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