Things are changing, fast.
Layoffs, declines in growth, constant drama. Streaming is in a tough spot right now, and I hate to see it that way – but I'm not sure we're going to bounce back anytime soon.
Welp, got laid off today along with most of my team, and a whole bunch of other very talented folks from @StreamElements.— Pete B (@petebasgen) June 23, 2022
I guess the recession is truly here.
Stings hard as I was so proud of the folks I’d assembled, and at six months in we were just reaching full speed.
The Boom was Unsustainable
In 2019, I finally agreed to go along with the branding that my viewers had been assigning to me since 2013: The Stream Professor (often alternated with the “OBS Prof” etc.).
This seems mostly inconsequential, but on the personal side: It was really tough. I've always been paranoid of getting “stuck in a box” and niching down. From refusing to post more Call of Duty for months after collaborating with one of the most-subscribed CoD channels at the time in 2011, to taking 2 years to stop posting gameplay videos despite having 10x the views on my tech content in 2013, to trying to stay focused on broader tech when OBS/streaming was clearly my most-viewed/subscribed-for, until after LTX 2019. My entire career can be summed up as “getting in my own way.”
So when we went into the pandemic in 2020 and streaming started BOOMING in popularity, it was easy to feel like I made the right choice.
This video, released in June 2020, focused on the first of a big wave of budget/cloned capture cards flooding the market and is my second most-viewed video that isn't a tutorial.
While I've remained hard on myself for it, I was honestly unable to really capitalize on the initial boom wave in 2020. Streaming was seeing explosive growth as people were forced into lockdown and wanted something to pass the time, or to pursue a means of making money online while stuck at home.
Me? I had a kid. While originally planned quite well, we couldn't have expected to have a “pandemic baby.” It was ROUGH. From isolation during the final month and process of childbirth, to complications during it and a few months of colic – nothing went according to plan... and I was barely functional most days, much less able to scale up my content output to meet demand. I could have “blown up”, but I didn't. But I was starting my family and I wouldn't trade my son for the world. Just unfortunate timing with it all.
But that didn't stop me from seeing growth from all this, of course. My backlog – which my channel primarily lived on at the time – got a lovely boost and I was able to see nice growth with new content each week.
But then January 2021 hit and all of that backlog traffic went away. Not just back to where it was before the boom, but to far worse. I spent most of 2021 trying to shift strategies and adapt to back-end YouTube changes that de-prioritized backlog content. Along the way, even sitting here in June 2022, I can easily conclude looking at the viewership data for myself and other streaming-focused channels: Growth in “new streamers” has almost entirely ceased.
I think Mixer shutting down – arguably right at the height of the streaming boom – was a more realistic sign of how things were going to go. The number of streamers skyrocketed, but the number of viewers didn't scale with it. Growth, yes, a lot of it even, but not to match it.
Regardless, it was inevitable that so much of this rapid growth wouldn't be able to stick around. Eventually people lost interest, saw that actually growing your stream in a sea of people doing exactly the same thing as you with the same RGB flair as you was impossible, and eventually were sent back to work and out of the house.
What did Twitch do this whole time?
Twitch on the other hand... What the hell have they been doing? We've seen them be incredibly slow to adjust to drama or bad actors, incapable of making decisions to remove problems from the platform, and they've delivered very few worthwhile updates or changes to the platform since 2019.
It really seems like they just sat on their laurels and took in the free growth without trying to improve, and I think streaming on the whole has suffered for it.
Streamers now see how ridiculous the “working conditions” for Twitch Partners are. YouTube contracts may not be quite as lucrative, but still set people up handsomely and allows them to live a healthy, sustainable life. Plus it allows them way more freedom for content development.
Twitch has pretty far-reaching name recognition/genericism of “Streaming” being “Twitch” in so many minds, even in the mainstream. And yet, they're almost actively throwing all of this away.
While there have been road bumps along the way and not everyone has matched their viewership or revenue from Twitch to YouTube – frankly, every single one of them were making so goddamn much money for people with mostly solo operations that it's impossible to feel any sympathy for that – they all seem to be simply THRIVING regardless due to a tighter-knit community and less exhaustion/burnout. It's been great to see.
The Layoffs Begin
StreamElements just announced that it's “restructuring” and has laid off a significant number of employees who were developing important features for streamers. Given the big push for so many to move from StreamLabs to StreamElements following SL's pattern of awful behavior coming further to the light... this sucks. I'd start learning StreamerBot or Aitum and building your own solutions ASAP. Tutorials soon.
This is even weirder considering SE had just raised $100 MILLION DOLLARS in funding less than a year ago. There's really no reason they should have to lay people off by now – which suggests to me that things are in SHARP decline, and that they're trying to pivot a bit.
Because really, when you think about it, how are companies like StreamElements or StreamLabs making money? For StreamLabs they first spent years ripping off the viewers by tricking them into subscription tiers and refusing to cancel or refund them, and then pivoted to a streamer-subscription model, but the features haven't been that compelling. Especially when most of their actual “software features” worth paying for are freely available in the free/open-source program they used to build theirs ontop of.
With StreamElements, it seems most of it comes via Merch Sales and trying to negotiate brand deals – which both have the unfortunate consequence of being a bad deal for both the streamer and the viewer and only really appealing to very small streamers.
Perhaps SE has turned into a complete money sink in an awkward situation of being a massive user-acquisition basis, but having nothing to monetize.
This will be the first of many layoff rounds within the streamer space you will hear about. Money in this scene is drying up in many ways. It's not “the end”, but it's definitely a rut.
It's hard to predict the future in any market or environment, and I don't really have a business mind, BUT there's some writing on the walls. + The newbie/beginner streamer was once a gold mine for these companies – from peripherals, to services, to courses, memberships, etc. – but that audience is dwindling or almost completely gone. + Any real money to be made in this space was already coming from the middle-to-higher-tier streamers in the first place – but with the newbie money pool drying up, more companies and products will be targeting those higher-tier streamers and their wallets. + Paid service models where you actually have to pay for worthwhile/crucial features to your stream, instead of having it for free and hoping “the community” will fully back it, or that VC funding will keep it going indefinitely... things cost money. These will be the focus. + Free services that nickel and dime the low-hanging-fruit masses will slow development and/or shut down. + Streaming – especially casual game streaming with minimal deliverable “value” to the viewer, and instead purely relying on parasocial manipulation – will become less relevant and less viable as primary focus, and instead 100% will have to be rolled up into a more developed content strategy.
It sucks that things are rolling downhill so fast. The current estimations for this recession are ~18 months? Maybe we'll see some tide shifts next summer. But in the meantime, we all have to adapt.