Mixer / WIRED
Dave McCausland has been on Mixer since before Mixer existed. The 42-year-old from Springfield, Massachusetts, joined the video game live-streaming platform before it was acquired by Microsoft, when it was still called Beam.
But he’s been building his profile on the service, Dave’s Sweeps, since 2017. The streams provide viewers with the best deals, sweepstakes and giveaway contests McCausland can find. It was an idea he came up with when he was homeless and living out of his car after he lost everything he owned in a lease-to-own home scam in 2015.
Over time, he watched the platform grow in prominence. In August 2016, Microsoft purchased it for an undisclosed amount. In 2019, the service, which is similar to Twitch in many ways, but has a built-in rewards system for watching videos as a key differentiator, reportedly spent tens of millions of dollars to bring over big-name streamers, including Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek.
For the last few months in particular, McCausland has been planning a significant step up for his own Mixer presence – a live show that would combine gaming, giveaways and reviews into one live stream. “The plan was to launch our show on Mixer, build a massive following and hopefully sponsors and others would take notice,” he says. He’s invested around $13,000 into Dave’s Sweeps on Mixer, money he got by delivering newspapers at night – but now he and thousands of others like him are stranded.
In a blog post published on June 22, Microsoft said it would be shutting down Mixer by July 22. Streamers who had built up an audience on the platform could move over to Facebook Gaming, should they choose. Some Mixer partners – a higher tier of creators who the company valued and gave support to – have been offered a bonus of $2,500 to move over to Facebook Gaming and stay for 90 days.
When Mixer lured Ninja and Shroud to its platform, some wondered if Mixer’s high-risk strategy would pay off, but the closure was a shock to many, given that it seemed to be keen to throw significant money at trying to make the platform a success. “They brought over some superfans, which was great, but it didn’t create this windfall of being top of mind in gamers’ minds,” says Phil Ranta, chief operating officer at Wormhole Labs, and until last month the head of gaming creators in North America at Facebook – which is now sweeping in to offer Mixer streamers a home. “You would still go on the platform, see Ninja: 9,000 concurrents, Shroud: 7,000 concurrents, then the next person was like 300.”
The plan “did not work out even remotely close” to what Microsoft hoped,” adds Rod Breslau, an esports consultant, commentator and journalist. “Yes, they brought over some viewership to Mixer, but this was never going to be a strategy that would put Mixer in a position to win or even really be a contender,” he says. “The only use for it was a bargaining chip for agencies like Loaded to get their clients a tonne of money in a market where live streaming is a big business, and to use them to position them against Amazon and Google for negotiating power.”
Some streamers did make money. Many who could claim some popularity on Twitch brokered big money deals. Mixer’s involvement fired up the market for exclusive deals off the back of Ninja and Shroud’s signings. But for ordinary streamers, some of whom left Twitch because they were unhappy at the platform, its abrupt closure leaves them trapped in the void. One Canadian streamer, who goes by the name Foxyzilla, was banned from Twitch in 2016 due to issues around users using stolen credit card details to subscribe to her channel. She ended up on Mixer, and when the news of its closure was announced, she posted tearful, distressed videos on Twitter explaining she felt she had nowhere to turn to. She’s since managed to reconcile with Twitch, and rejoined the platform.
Loch Ness (not her real name, which she declines to provide citing safety concerns) joined Mixer in January 2019. “I was tired of seeing little growth on Twitch and was getting tired of the way they were dealing with some of their ToS [terms of service] issues, so I looked to Mixer,” she explains. Her mental health had been suffering on Twitch; Mixer was a new start. She’s a World of Warcraft streamer, which wasn’t popular at the time on Mixer. But then within five months she built a community, and was offered a Mixer partnership by the platform. “I had so many opportunities finally found confidence in myself and my brand,” she says.
But “this weekend broke us. It broke the community’s spirit. All of the blood, sweat and tears suddenly meant nothing and everything crumbled,” she says. She now faces an unenviable decision: does she go back to the site she left a year and a half ago, Twitch, or does she join Facebook? In the last week, she started uploading her emotes – a visual descriptor of an action, popular in streaming chat boxes – to Twitch. “The only positive thing about any of it was that my community was still there, we just didn’t have a home anymore.”
Matt Gorman is equally concerned. He joined Mixer in late August 2018 under the username PumpkinKitty, and jokes the platform has broken up with him right before his second anniversary. And he’s annoyed with the way it happened. “I find it appalling and to be frank, criminal how Mixer just pulled the plug,” he says. “From what I hear, the staff members only knew 20 minutes prior to the tweet. I mean for a lot of people this is their career, their livelihood. This is how they feed their families and pay their bills. A lot of us dedicated years to this platform.”He’s been offered the Facebook Gaming partnership bonus, but is going to Twitch. “I spoke with my community and they spoke out, saying they’d like me on Twitch,” he says. “At the end of the day, I click ‘Go live’ and play my games. It’s the community that uses the site, uses the chat and all the features. Ultimately it was up to them.”
Breslau thinks the smart decision is to go with Twitch, rather than Microsoft. “Everything about Facebook in terms of the way they have set up their platform is underwhelming and nowhere near what it needs to be,” he says. “Nothing I’ve seen from them in their leaked NDA town hall makes me believe they have any idea of what they’re going to do going forward.”
He’s also worried the necessary changes won’t come because of Facebook’s stifling bureaucracy, and because, as former Facebook gaming creator chief Ranta says, the ambitions for Facebook aren’t to dominate the space. “Facebook Gaming is really just a brand of a content type within a platform that’s not going anywhere any time soon,” says Ranta. “What victory looks like for Facebook is not beating Twitch. I think it just needs to be a nice, self-sustaining community, that’s exciting to gamers and offers something different.”
As for McCausland, after years of work, thousands of dollars of investment, and a big decision to make, he’s not taking a leap anywhere without carefully considering it. “I want to see where everyone ends up going as many people are still undecided,” he explains. “I also want to see where the views will go. It is not an easy decision and time will tell.”
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