Service aims to help Google-owned video streaming company compete for live gaming audience after it failed to buy market leader.
YouTube has launched a dedicated service for gamers, YouTube Gaming, in an attempt to compete with Twitch, the live streaming company it tried to buy last year.
The move sees Google, which owns YouTube, going head to head with rival tech giant Amazon, which bought Twitch for almost $1bn, as the companies fight for dominance of the fast-growing games streaming market.
YouTube Gaming will be available as a website globally and will also have iOS and Android apps in the US and UK. Announced in June, the new portal includes a directory of more than 25,000 games each with their own profile page collecting related YouTube videos.
YouTube Gaming makes games the third entertainment category to get special attention from Google’s online video service, following music and children’s videos. Music-streaming service YouTube Music Key remains in beta testing, while the YouTube Kids app launched in the US in February 2015.
Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s head of gaming, said: “Gaming is so big now. We’re doing billions of hours of watch-time a month, with hundreds of millions of users. It’s astonishing.”
Games are certainly popular on YouTube: the 10 most popular games channels on the service generate more than 2.2bn monthly video views between them, according to online-video analytics firm OpenSlate.
Gamers including Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg and Dan “The Diamond Minecart” Middleton are among YouTube’s biggest stars, with Kjellberg earning $7.4m in 2014 from his channel and related sponsorship deals.
Wyatt said he hopes the addition of live broadcasting will spawn new games-focused show formats to sit alongside the “Let’s Play” walkthroughs with commentary that are already hugely popular on YouTube.
Professional gaming tournaments – eSports – and gaming talk-shows are two areas in which he expects growth. “Maybe some YouTube creators who aren’t currently streaming anywhere else will start,” he said. “You’ll start to see some of your favourite creators start to do live shows.”
The “anywhere else” is mainly Twitch, which launched in 2011 as a spin-off from video-streaming service Justin.tv, and quickly became a popular way to watch live gaming streams online.
It was bought by Amazon for $970m in August 2014, and more than doubled its monthly viewers from 45 million at the end of 2013 to 100 million by the end of 2014 – by which point it had 1.5 million broadcasters, with 10,000 of them earning money from advertising on their channels.
YouTube may be an online-video giant with a billion monthly viewers, including hundreds of millions watching gaming videos, but for live gaming streams it’s playing catchup to Twitch, which already has a number of prominent YouTube gamers on its service.
Two key challenges for YouTube Gaming will be hardware partnerships and moderation. Twitch is integrated into the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games consoles to make it easier for players to broadcast, for example, as well as Sony’s Live Screen Streaming app for Android devices.
YouTube is making its own moves in mobile: it also works with the Sony app, and has a partnership with Samsung for broadcasting video from its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones – albeit with a feed from their cameras rather than from games running on the devices.
“We want to make live simple. We’ll definitely explore other opportunities to see how we can make live easier for people on consoles and phones, both for streaming and capturing content,” said Wyatt, pointing to improvements in May to YouTube’s technology for live streams.
Moderation is already a controversial subject for YouTube, with PewDiePie famously switching off the comments on his channel in September 2014, complaining that “it’s mainly spam, it’s people self-advertising, it’s people trying to provoke”.
Toxic commenting culture is a problem that goes beyond games on YouTube, and the company’s head of content and business operations Robert Kyncl told the Guardian in June that YouTube’s product group was “working on a whole bunch of solutions that would make it more pleasurable” engaging with comments.
Wyatt said that YouTube Gaming is grappling with the same challenge. “We are focused on the comment system at YouTube as a whole. In the gaming portion, we rebuilt the live-streaming platform and and built out chat moderation, the ability to ban users, time-out users, ban filtered words and so forth,” he said.
“It’s important to maintain the integrity of chat while having a live stream, and indicate who the broadcaster is, who the moderators are and so on. It’s a good first step, but there’s a lot more we can do with chat in the future.”
Better moderation tools will be welcomed by PewDiePie and his fellow creators, even if they sometimes ruffle the feathers of their more-opinionated viewers. Wyatt said that YouTube Gaming should send out a different, more positive message to gamers, however.
“It acknowledges the focus on gaming as an important part of YouTube, and that sends a message out to a lot of different people. You can’t ignore how big the hardcore gaming segment is: you’ve got to build an experience for them,” he said.
“Gaming is unique, and some of the products we want to create are unique to gaming.”