Twitch and Diversity: How to Close the Gap

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Here’s a challenge: name any prominent Twitch streamers of color off the top of your head. (No peeking at the list I wrote last week.)

So, was that way more difficult than you expected? Could you only come up with one name, maybe two if you took a while? Sadly, the fact that many folks can’t come up with any, and have to search for a single name, let alone five, ten or fifteen well known streamers of color, isn’t a surprise. Why do you think that is, hmm? Let’s look at the numbers, and ponder why the business of streaming remains pretty homogenous.

Game streaming is a huge business. Some people make a living off of it, while many others bring in a lot of side-revenue from showing the latest releases, chatting with subscribers, etc. Figures from a 2014 Forbes article show that some high profile streamers can pull in as much as $300,00 annually. However people who can get that many viewers, especially those willing to pay, are few and far between.

By the end of 2013, Twitch reported 900,000 unique broadcasters per month, a 200% increase from the previous year. There were over 5,100 partnered channels, and minutes watched per person, per day went up to 106.

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Data taken from Twitch 2013 year in review, Page 8

Twitch continued to grow in 2014, with 1.5 million unique monthly broadcasters, doubling their partnered channels to 10,000, along with garnering 100 million unique viewers per month.

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Data taken from Twitch 2014 Retrospective, page 8

So that’s a huge audience, and a whole lot of people watching streams, right? But who’s getting the lion’s share of attention and recognition? Hint, it’s not people like me. For instance, look at the line up of TwitchCon’s Guest list. Do you see a pattern?

Most of these folks look alike, no matter their gender presentation. All but three are non-white appearing, with non-white guests listed at or near the bottom, since they are presented in order of Twitch handle. The women are all the same, thin, conventionally attractive white/white appearing, with no apparent diversity.

This lack of guest diversity raises a lot of questions which I brought to fellow Twitch streamers of color, to see how they felt about this disparity, and what if anything could be done about closing the gaps—as well as touching on the stringent requirements in becoming a Twitch Partner and how that might contribute to fewer people of color being well known in the streaming community.

When I asked them how many other non-white dude streamers they could name, very few respondents could think of more than a handful. Shana (@sharkyshood on Twitter and Twitch) follows twenty-four streamers, of those only ten are POC. Shareef Jackson of GamingLooksGood could only come up with five when asked. Napoleon of Savepoint Sirens had only four non-white streamers they could think of (Napoleon’s views are their own, and they are not speaking on behalf of SavePointSirens). Rounding out the list, Nelson of Videogames and the Bible could only name me, himself and a handful of e-sports streamers. Seeing a pattern yet, dear reader?

As a follow up, I asked what they thought might keep a lot of POC streamers from being well known either as partners or at Twitch sponsored events? Shana noted finding others is one hurdle that’s come up for her in following streamers of color. She noted the fact that maybe a lot of us don’t identify ourselves as POC in our tags, or use a cam when on-stream. She even gets asked if she is black, despite having an avatar of a black Sim in her Twitch profile.

Shareef reminded me of the very real issue of safety and assumptions on who is both watching and streaming. This is a “likely result from people feeling safe promoting those that look like them. This is a networking problem that exists in all of tech. There is a false assumption that white male stars attract the best audiences (which are assumed to be white and male as well).”

Napoleon brought up beauty ideals that are expected of us, and that factors into few prominent streamers of color as non-white people are still not considered beautiful or appealing by societal standard. As for me, I think it’s a combination of the factors everyone else has brought up, especially when people assume who is interested in streaming and who can actually make the leap to prominence.

I pointed out to my respondents that the guest roster for the upcoming TwitchCon2015 features mostly white men and women and asked if this is something that can be changed. Overall they were positive that we could achieve better diversity within the streaming community. They all had ideas about how that could be accomplished.

Shana noted that better diversity in the TwitchCon guest list is on the organizers since they have access to the raw data of who’s streaming. If they need to start collecting demographic data, then they should to widen the pool of those that get high profile exposure. Again Shareef got to the core of the issue, stating that diversity can’t be put in as an afterthought but should be part of the core mission and values of the organization. Again, reaching out to streamers of color would help to level the playing field. Napoleon rounded out these great responses with a reminder to share Twitch links with others, tell folks when you find a streamer of color and help promote them so they are more visible.

While you’d hope that more visibility would help get more POC streamers partner status, Twitch has stringent requirements in place for anyone seeking that. If you are on Twitch already then you need to have 500 followers minimum and stream at least 3x weekly. However if you come over from, say, YouTube, then you need 100K subscribers minimum, with 15K average views per video. You can see the rest of the requirements and FAQ at Twitch’s partner signup page.

I finished out my queries to the streamers who took time out of their busy schedules to respond to me by wondering if anyone felt that such requirements locked out many streamers who won’t ever get to those numbers but might want to create a group account, which you can’t do unless you have partner status. The answers were a bit varied, from Shareef not minding the requirements but wishing that anyone could make a group account; to both Shana and Napoleon agreeing that the high requirements keeps a lot of streamers from being well known among the greater Twitch community.

In fact, when looking up information for this piece, I couldn’t find racial demographic data on who exactly is streaming, who’s a partner and who’s not. However we can see from the guest list at Twitchcon, looking at who uses a camera while streaming and who gets high numbers of viewers to realize we need more diversity in who is getting known and recognized. There is a diversity problem in many facets of gaming, from who we see in games to who is getting known for streaming our favorites to the masses. There’s a lot to be done to change this issue, and hopefully the next time I ask how many prominent Twitch streamers of color you can name, it will be more than two, four or five.

Tanya Depass is a lifelong Chicagoan who loves everything about gaming and wants to make it better and more inclusive for everyone. She cut her gaming teeth in arcades with many, many quarters dropped into Galaga, Pac Man, Street Fighter II and other games. She’s also the #INeedDiverseGames spawn point, in the #feministdeck, occasional co-host at #hjcast, and @OutofTokensCast co-host with @RedConversation.

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