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May 26, 2014 | by  | in Articulated Splines Opinion |
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Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

This column has an accompanying SalientTV video feature. Find it at SalientTV.

Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

As this issue goes to print, rumours are swirling about the next big business move adjacent to the games industry. YouTube (so, Google), so the story goes, is poised to purchase video streaming service Twitch for a cool US$1 billion. Twitch (twitch.tv) operates as a platform for streaming live video, focussed on video games (your screen shows the streamer’s screen in real-time as they play). Perhaps more important is the powerful community that has sprung up around those streamers, with integrated chat functions and strong personalities lending themselves to huge popularity.

And that popularity is growing. Tied, no doubt, to the rise of eSports and the power of titans like League of Legends and Starcraft, Twitch is pulling in big, big numbers. There are three times as many streamers as there were a year ago, and they are getting more average primetime viewers than MTV. There’s an undisputable growth in online live-streaming, and Twitch is at the forefront.

The acquisition makes perfect sense. YouTube’s streaming service is fine, but it lacks that same level of chat and community integration – Twitch has the technology. It will be particularly interesting alongside Twitch integration for PS4 and Xbox One – that’s a fairly valuable userbase for YouTube to tap into. Twitch itself will benefit from more than just the payoff. It gets access to the staggeringly large YouTube userbase, giving it a broader appeal beyond gaming. Imagine physical sport, or TED talks. It’s a new paradigm of ‘broadcasting’, where the ‘caster’ can be anyone.

But, of course, the internet is not exactly on board with the decision, and who could blame them? YouTube has a dubious track record when it comes to correctly enforcing intellectual-property law, and there’s a strong possibility that interference with Twitch could seriously harm the service. The legality of the service Twitch provides hasn’t been proven at this stage, and now that it’s entering the big leagues, you can expect things to change one way or another. I wouldn’t expect compulsory Google+ accounts for all, though.

Half a decade ago, Google bought YouTube itself for US$1.65 billion, and look how well that went. The Great Powers are assembling – Google, Facebook, Apple – and so far, the results have been fairly positive for gaming. You may be concerned that they’ll turn evil at some stage (though xkcd 792 points out the futility of this), but I’m more frustrated by the sharks. Bigger owners with deeper pockets means that everyone with a possible legal claim against Twitch just got big dollar signs in their eyes, just like ZeniMax with the Oculus Rift. With legitimacy comes recognition, and don’t be too shocked if you see some lawsuits in the future – and then we’ll see how the ‘fair use’ defence stands up.

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