Gaming Matters 2018 – Interview with Kevin Lin, Co-founder of Twitch

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At Gaming Matters 2018, we sat down with Kevin Lin, Twitch’s co-founder for a candid discussion on eSports and how the streaming platform is also helping indie developers to create more awareness for their games.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


GameAxis: How is it like being back again for All That Matters?

Kevin: Yeah, it’s great! It feels like gaming is a little bit more integrated into the tracks (Gaming Matters) this year which is cool. But I loved it, I mean it was really a lot of fun last year, met a lot of cool people. Particularly with the brands trying to get into our space (Twitch), gaming, eSports and it’s great to hear the feedback and thoughts.

I wish I could have gone for more of the music track (Music Matters) stuff. Really wanted to go for Danny’s K-pop talk. I’m just very fascinated by K-pop right now and how it has invaded North America. But All That Matters is a great event and it’s a great time to be in Singapore. There are so many things going on this week like Slush, the Milken conference and of course F1, which I would love to learn to appreciate. I went to watch it a little bit last year and I didn’t really know what I was watching. There was a crash, people were excited about that, I don’t know.

I wish I could spend more time here cause I think it’s an interesting hub of gaming and media. I know a lot of game companies have moved their headquarters out here, so it’s cool to see that. It’s great to be back.

GameAxis: What is it like being a head honcho at Twitch? What’s an average day like for you?

Kevin: Let’s see, zooming way back to the beginning. We were really small when we started. It was just a team of four that built everything. I spent a lot of time in the early days talking to creators. Understanding everything from technically what did they need and what were their issues with our platform or other platforms but really a lot about what their hopes and dreams were as creators. We took that, translated it into product, translated it into monetization systems that became very much the core of our business.

It is not all glorious though, a lot of it is accounting, bookkeeping, and making sure you are paying your bills on time, making sure you are staying out of trouble. As well as hiring and building a team. We worked on everything together, me and Emmet and Justin, in the early days. We built our sales team, our partnerships team. MCNs (Multi-channel Network) were a new discipline back then, and the team’s job was to find partners.

So we built a similar team whose job was to help hunt for the up and coming streamers. We learned early on that if you are a big YouTube creator, that doesn’t mean that you could become a big streamer. They are two very different muscles, and a lot of people don’t appreciate that. It is easier to go from live to VOD (Video On Demand); you are naturally creating all these content, you can slice and dice it, edit it and push it onto YouTube. Doing a live content though, it is very hard.

Related reading: ATM 2018 – What’s up at this year’s GAMING MATTERS

So we spent a lot of time developing partners, helping them figure out everything from how to set up their streaming gear, how to network with other streamers and how to grow their audience.

My job also means keeping the company disciplined and making sure that operationally we are sound; making the right decisions, watching our finances. That’s where a lot of companies fail at; understanding what causes cash to go in and go out. And then, fundraising was something we started doing around 2012 or 2013 before we sat down with Amazon for the acquisition deal.

But the day to day stuff…the best part of the day is when I get to talk to streamers and test products that theteam is building. The slightly more boring parts are the paperwork.

GameAxis: Do you think Live-streaming services will replace traditional news media and entertainment media?

Kevin: I think TV is already shifting. It is just the software behind the device. The experience is somewhat similar; it’s just adapting to new platforms. That platform shift happens all the time. I don’t think media organizations will be replaced; they are just shifting from one medium to another.

I think the social aspect of live-video really translates well to other content categories. Whether that’s just showing old TV shows or people streaming themselves creating art or just walking around the city. It just becomes this live social thing where you have an expectation of whether you’re the one doing the input or someone else is doing the input that the show can alter based on the audience interaction. I think that’s cool, I like that, and I think that is a new paradigm.

But traditional TV news will still be around. Sitcoms, sci-fi shows, thrillers…that kind of entertainment will probably stick around as well. They are really interesting storytelling formats that have been tried and tested throughout decades, but the delivery mechanism might be slightly different.

GameAxis: What do you think made Twitch the success it is right now?

Kevin: I think about this a lot. I don’t know if there is one answer. The biggest thing is, we just found a habit that a lot of people didn’t realize was a habit. I grew up watching people play ATARI and Nintendo and Genesis. It’s a Super Nintendo, you sit around, you wait for your turn or you go to the arcade. You sit around there and put your quarter on the glass and wait for your turn. But you are watching, you are not just doing nothing.

You are engaging with your friends, engaging with your neighbors, your classmates. Sometimes you’re talking crap or you’re encouraging your friend on. Probably more often the former because that’s what you do when you’re kids. But you are waiting for your turn and waiting to play, it was just something that we just did.

So the idea of watching video games is not actually that weird when you think about it. Now, when we were raising money the older generation that didn’t grow up with that, they were like “You guys are crazy. Why would people watch other people play video games?” We just hit this latent habit that hadn’t been optimized from a technology standpoint.

Gaming content was already getting quite big on YouTube by the time we had started. By our estimates, it was the second biggest categories on YouTube, after music videos. So that was cool, we kind of saw that there were tens of millions of people tuning in for an on-demand format and it just clicked.

People were doing it on our original platform Justin.TV. There was a core set of a few hundred content creators like 4Player Podcast and Kaiba12 that were doing this for a while back then. As we reached out to them; we learned our platforms actually sucks for what they want to do, and we need to build all these tools and with different monetization options for them.

It was really a combination of the habit of talking to customers and learning what they want and what they need to be successful. That kind of helped us along the way. But in terms of how big it got, I think a lot of it was just the fact that this whole generation of people that are watching on Twitch, the millennials as we like to call them, did it when they were kids. Also, games like Fortnite and new game genres like battle royale modes that are so captivating for spectators  helped accelerate our growth as well.

GameAxis: Would you say that Twitch had helped to made eSports more accessible to a wider audience?

Kevin: Did Twitch help eSports? I think so; I think it was the perfect collision, positive collision of things. Esports as an industry has been around for over two decades now. There is this huge but disconnected group of people around the world that they were just trying their best to set up tournaments locally, to broadcast. The early broadcast was all on traditional TV channels, and then eventually through really crappy formats because broadband Internet hadn’t really penetrated in most countries yet.

Then League of Legends was becoming popular and Starcraft 2 had come out, these games that were great online multiplayer competitive experiences and broadband just kept advancing faster and faster. So we just married the fact that we were passionate about the platform that we had built, and this great industry that really cared about making eSports a thing. And we just worked together; it wasn’t us, it wasn’t them, it was everyone doing it together. And the game companies as well, making great games and engaging with us and saying “Yes, we want this to exist.”

GameAxis: Twitch is all about the community. Can you please share how is Twitch helping indie game developers build communities?

Kevin: We think about this a lot too. There are many tools for indie developers to make communities. Discord is a good tool, and Twitch is a decent tool too. But to build an audience, to build a core community, that is really up to the indies to decide how best they should do it. They now have communication platforms of choice, content creation platforms of choice…but they have talk to people and take the feedback and use it to improve their games.

I love to figure a general support mechanism for indie games but really it’s their own community development. Obviously, they have to be making great games that people want to play. But we are trying to build more tools for them to access influencers more easily. Recently we build a product called the bounty board and that is about creating revenue opportunities. This also gives promotional opportunities for the game companies to access middle-tier and smaller-tier streamers at scale. So if you are an indie developer, you can say “Hey, for everyone that plays our game for an hour on their live-streams, no matter how big you are, you will get paid fifty bucks”. Ideally, there is a mechanism that tracks how many people are downloading your games as a result. There is stuff like that that we can do, but technically it’s hard.

The biggest problems for indie games are finding good talents and raising money, that is a really big problem for indie games. And then finding distribution. Marketing is different now and you don’t necessarily need to do paid marketing, you don’t have to rely on publishers to market your titles. You can do your own outreach and it’s about finding the right influencers for yourself. Influencers that will stick around and do it for the love of the game are obviously the most ideal.

GameAxis: Lastly, what else can we look forward to on Twitch?

Kevin: Let’s see… what can I talk about? I mean we are building a lot of Subscription-based products. Subscription gifting was something that was very successful and has helped a lot of smaller streamers. Fans that can’t quite afford to do a subscription can get a subscription from a friend or even just a friendly stranger on Twitch.

TwitchCon is so close, there is a lot of stuff that I can’t necessarily mention yet.

I guess we have to wait for TwitchCon to find out more then. Thank you for your time!

Wei Song

A bullet fired is better than two in the chamber