“The problem is, the seven-year upgrade lifecycle doesn’t work in the face of the two-year upgrade cycles for every other hardware platform,” he said. “It’s so intrinsically built into how consoles get manufactured and made and the full business model, that I’d be surprised to see another generation.”
Shear, who co-founded the live video game broadcasting platform that now has more than 100m monthly users, suggests that future consoles will be more like set-top boxes: designed for a multitude of uses, and with a much shorter life cycle.
“They’re going to have to change form,” he said. “You can already see this on both Xbox and PlayStation where there’s a tighter upgrade loop for both the operating systems and the games. This is the first step toward being able to iterate the hardware platform. I could imagine a version 1.1 product from both Microsoft and Sony which adds in slightly more speed and slightly more memory very similar to how phones and tablets work today. I think it’s going to look more like the mobile phone market over time.”
However, Shear does claim that the Twitch implementations on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have been a success. Users are able to broadcast their gameplay via their consoles, using a downloadable Twitch app.
“The consoles have been huge for us – they drive a tonne of broadcasting,” he said. “We’ve seen the rise of a few games that have done very well because of consoles, notably Fifa and Call of Duty. The top end of broadcasting still tends to come from PC – if you want to produce high-end content you want more than is going to be prepared for you in any off the shelf set-up, but it’s gotten a lot of people started in broadcasting and that’s really important. It’s been a smashing success as far as integrations go.
“We approached monetisation completely differently. We established the partners program to enable anyone who was really successful to make money on our site, and that was huge for fuelling our growth.
“We’re probably the only video website on the internet where people actually remind broadcasters to run ads. They say: ‘Hey, you’re not going to make money, what are you doing?!’ It’s that sense of community that drives Twitch, and it’s the same sentiment thats behind the rise of Kickstarter - it’s the democratisation of media in a way that enables everyone to be a patreon now. It’s not just about a few rich people choosing to support the media they want, it can be done in a democratised, distributed way. That’s really exciting.”
Shear concedes, however, that the user experience on console still needs some work. He says the company is working on a system that will allow console owners to take part in onscreen chat sessions without a keyboard (but concedes that ‘speech to text’ technology is not ready yet), and wants to improve the browsing experience.
“I think we can do a better job on discovery,” he says. “We’ve done some work on that front: the most recent version of the Xbox app for example lets you drill down on livestreams not just by game but what map you’re playing on, which is cool, and it’s unique to that platform right now. But there’s a lot more work to be done. The flipside of being OS integrated is, you can’t iterate every two to three weeks, but we’re happy with how its going.”
As for the PC version, Shear says that 80% of the R&D thought at Twitch goes on making the service more reliable, rather than working on new features. “So much of what makes Twitch important is just having the best quality,” he said. “I think it’s easy to take your eye off the ball and get excited by a fancy new feature, but for us the really exciting thing is opening up yet more capacity, decreasing the number of times anyone ever gets a buffer empty, increasing the bitrate we can stream at. When we measure it, that seems to have more impact on people’s happiness on the site than almost anything else we can do.”
Shear also mentioned plans to expand Twitch’s presence in Europe, with more servers and more partnerships with popular European gamers and broadcasters. On stage at the Changing Media summit, he also spoke about why the company accepted the $970m takeover bid from Amazon.
“Amazon is a big games company; it sells a vast quantity of games,” he said. “Over half the world’s developers are using the Amazon Ec2 cloud platform - actually it’s probably even higher now. So over half the industry are active consumers of Amazon services.
“So what does Amazon bring to the table? They sell video games effectively, they have a platform for producing video games, what Twitch brings to that is the missing piece of the puzzle: a community. We provide that reach, and it made a lot of sense. We also gained access to a lot of things through the purchase that it would have taken us a long time to build ourselves, if we ever actually could.”
When asked about Google, which is rumoured to have been interested in Twitch, Shear says only: “Amazon was committed to twitch remaining independent ... I don’t think I would have gone with any deal that didn’t give us that level of independence.”
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Monday 23rd March 2015 11.41 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010