I'm starting to get up there in my years and as impossible as it may have seemed in my youth I am inevitably starting to fall out of step with technology and culture in many ways. One of those blind spots for me has been Twitch. When I was in college in the mid 2000's YouTube was really blowing up and I regularly followed a lot of what today would be called content creators. Back then that meant typically a college aged guy with some sort of microphone recording Call of Duty matches in his dorm room and then posting them with an audio commentary. This is back when guys like Hutch, SeaNanners, Wings of Redemption etc were fairly popular. By todays standards this was pretty barebones content. A lot of these guys didn't even have picture-in-picture cam feeds. It was just really good Call of Duty players getting ridiculous scores like 150/4 by exploiting kill streaks and generally being good at twitch aiming. To this day I remember a really young kid who at that time went by the name ProsDontTalkShit which was inarguably a terrible handle was starting to come up in the game and was being persuaded by his older and wiser YouTube mentors to change his name in order to avoid issues with sponsor deals in the future. Those were simple times and earning money from YouTube was pretty basic. You ran ads and the more people watched your video the more money you made from the ad. It was a very easy to grasp 1:1 sort of scenario.
I knew Twitch back in the day as Justin.tv and understood it was basically a place to livestream games. I never really took much interest in it and years later when I did attempt to watch anything I would for whatever reason always have buffering issues and generally just gave up on the platform. Fast forward to today and Twitch is a completely different beast - one that I really still fully don't grasp. Specifically I mean the business side of Twitch. Subscriptions, donations, Bits.. it's ..ahem.. a bit much. When you tune in to big name Twitch streamers their setups are typically overlayed with a ton of info regarding, basically, how much money they are raking in. Latest donations, leaderboards on who is the biggest fan in terms of bits spent, subscription goals, etc. While YouTubers stick to a basic intro and outro segment where they beckon you to Like, Favorite, Hit the Bell, Twitch streamers typically keep up a nearly constant effort of thanking whoever donated or subscribed in any fashion to the point of it sounding like a Pavlovian response more so than a genuine show of gratitude. I always found it distracting how Twitch streamers all exhibit that nervous back and forth movement of the eyes as they peel away from the game they're playing every 15 seconds to keep up with the chat scrolling by. Unlike the passive YouTube model where the monetary aspect is largely kept in the background, Twitch is a very active and reactive system encouraging viewers to donate and requiring the creator to keep engaged with the live audience.
Recently I found a streamer that I started to follow quite regularly that gave me a bit more insight to how a lot of this stuff works. Jinnytty is a Korean female streamer that does a mixed bag of chatting, streaming outdoors and some game playing on the side. What is interesting about her is the humorously antagonistic relationship she has with her chat. Instead of the typical male audience that tends to worship their female host of choice in often gross ways, her chat is often mocking her and poking fun of the way she does things, but it never feels hostile or genuinely hurtful. While she cooks lunch in the middle of her show chat will comment on how inedible the food looks or what a bad cook she is to which she will reply "fuck off" with a grin on her face. It's like best friends making fun of each other where it never goes too far, and when it does the mods step in. Content aside, following her streams has allowed me to better understand and see how all the financial stuff happens first hand and it is both fascinating and terrifying.
The craziest part of supporting your favorite Twitch streamer is how seemingly little the viewer gets out of it. Bits seem like a complete scam. "When you use Bits in a channel, Twitch rewards the streamer and you create an exciting moment," reads the description in the drop down purchase menu. Your reward for spending real money, sometimes up to hundreds of dollars, is an "exciting moment" when your purchase is overlayed on the stream and a little animation plays out. On the most recent Jinny stream a user bought 45,000 bits in celebration of something funny that had happened. As I'm currently in the EU the price for 5,000 bits is about 72 Euros - as far as I know a rough equivalent in US dollars. This person spent over 550 Euros and got, basically, nothing for it apart from recognition on Jinnys part. Subscriptions similarly seem to offer very little in return. I generally haven't seen Jinny do Subscriber only streams or lock anything away behind the subscriber paywall, and yet people will regularly buy dozens of subs and gift them randomly to the viewers in show of support. When she was doing a marathon of streaming 24/7 for several days in a row there were folks who would regularly gift 100 subs to random viewers, a value of 499 Euros or a new PS5. One of the primary ways people directly interact with her is to donate and leave a message which is then read out loud by a robotic text to speech program. This is mostly used for jokes as someone sends in a donation with a message that will highlight a funny situation, and while often these turn out really fun, it is basically paying for attention. The entire system is built on paying for various degress of interactability. Unlike say Giant Bomb, where you support the site by purchasing a yearly subscription of Premium for one-time fee of $50 and get access to a fair amount of premium content each week, Twitch viewers spend hundreds of dollars supporting their streamers with little to show for it, and that seems crazy.
Granted I haven't really watched many other streams so I'm not sure if this is a unique situation to this streamer alone. While Jinny doesn't really play up the fact that she is an obviously attractive female to rope in susceptible folks that feel maybe a stronger connection to her than they should, male hormones will often sing their own siren song. Heck, I'm not too proud to admit that I was probably initially drawn to click her stream thumbnail for the very same reason even though I stuck around because she seems like a funny goofball. That said this is the Twitch model. Male or female these streamers are relying on their fanbase to engage with a system that seems to be so heavily stacked against the viewer. So maybe I am getting old, and far be it for me to tell someone how to spend their hard earned money, but putting down $500 so a floating diamond pops up and the streamer acknowledges your username for the 2 seconds it takes them to blurt out a thanks for the donation seems like a raw deal any way you look at it.