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Adapt to survive: Why Twitch needs mobile if it hopes to stay relevant

Crossing the streams

Adapt to survive: Why Twitch needs mobile if it hopes to stay relevant

The rumours of Twitch being sold to Google serve as a key turning point for the company.

What has quickly become the go-to platform for livestreaming video games has just sent a signal to to anyone who is looking to partner with it: if you get in bed with Twitch, you may be directly supporting a firm that's a threat to your business.

It means that Twitch may lose partnerships from the likes of Microsoft and Sony, and it also means that, regardless of whether Twitch is bought by Google, it now has no choice but to get serious about mobile.

Volatile partnerships

PC is safe for Twitch, at least to an extent. The open nature of the platform means that no one can take control of streaming at all. Twitch was built on PC gaming, and it can live on PC gaming for a while, especially since it's growing.

Twitch's position isn't necessarily safe forever though, and let's remember that the company isn't the dominant service because it's the best or most reliable. No, it's the dominant service because of its massive community, and given the regular issues that arise with streaming, and the well-known issues with chat and the "Twitch delay", which make commincation and collaboration a difficult experience, that community might not be around forever.

If users and partners do abandon Twitch, it would be similar to ripping off a bandaid: painful, but only for a moment.

Of course, serving up a more reliable version of the kind of platform Twitch provides is quite possible - Hitbox.tv has already shown us that. It's just a case of building out the community and convinving them that the service will become more consistent.

If users and partners do abandon Twitch, it would be similar to ripping off a bandaid: painful, but only for a moment. You see, Twitch is far from fully-formed, particularly in the field of interactive gaming, and while Twitch Plays Pokémon showed us streaming can draw audiences and create unique experiences, Microsoft and Sony could still build out their own services.

Twitch doesnt hold the keys to livestreaming, so there's plenty of room for a shake-up. 

The mobile mover

If Twitch is to continue growing then, it needs to look towards mobile for support.

Only on mobile can Twitch blend the simplicity of native streaming that consoles can provide with the availability of PC streaming - not to mention that the number of games and people who care about them has to be alluring. It would simply be a question of availability: Google, as owner of Android, presents a compelling future for Twitch if utilised fully.

Sure, mobile isn't big for streaming right now beyond a few isolated channels, but a large part of that is because it's so hard to do right now. It requires a capture card to do, and there are a variety of technical challenges and issues like not being able to pay attention to chat easily because streamers have to look away from the screen.

That being said, I firmly believe this is an egg problem, not a chicken one. There are plenty of games that, when played at a high level, could be popular. There are games like Wayward Souls that are very streaming-friendly, but they just aren't used becuase of the lack of availability.

Twich plays Pokémon: No Gods or Kings, only 'mon

Videos on Youtube for Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans have plenty of 6 and 7 figure viewer counts on YouTube. Top-ranked Clash of Clans players attacking each other could make for some compelling viewing. There's a desire for video of mobile games, but streaming has gone unfulfilled.

Twitch already have some of the cogs turning, and the firm is, slowly, getting to grips with livestreaming on mobile. Unfortunately for users with an impatient disposition, the fact that Twitch is currently only available for the newsest devices definitely makes this a service for the future. 

The Google equation

Google in particular makes for an interesting partner for Twitch because of Android. The purchase is likely fueled by the desire for YouTube to continue as the end-all source for internet video viewing that it currently is, as YouTube's forays into live video have failed to build any meaningful momentum.

Imagine then, an Android where Twitch streaming was a built-in part of the OS, or a feature that could be implemented just like Google Play Games Services. Certainly there are technical hurdles, but Miracast video streaming is a built-in part of later versions of Android, so there are hooks for wireless video streaming in some facet.

In the coming years, as microconsoles perhaps get their day in the sun as hardware gets more powerful and the hype around Xbox One and PS4 die down, having built-in streaming could help mobile platforms expand their reach.

Twitch has taken mobile babysteps with Asphalt 8

Apple will obviously play a role as the leading platform in mobile gaming, and Twitch on mobile must take flight on iOS devices first. However, Twitch will most likely always be a third-party API - and also always limited - so a Google first-party approach would be the way for it to reach its full potential.

Even if a Google future is not on the cards for Twitch, they still need to be wary of just who it has partnered with right now, because some partners may be ready to pull the rug out from under them if they become a threat.

Twitch needs to sink its teeth into mobile sooner rather than later, not only because it's an untapped market for its growth, but because it's going to need mobile if it hopes to stay relevant.

Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at 148Apps.com, which was acquired by PocketGamer.biz publisher Steel Media in 2012.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!

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