Yesterday, Twitch announced it will test a new feature that allows streamers and their audiences to pay for heightened visibility. Currently, only a select number of accounts participating in Twitch’s research initiative have access to the feature. Despite this, streamers are, unsurprisingly, not very happy about this decision.
“Boosting” means Twitch will recommend the stream to more users. How many more users is determined by how many boosts are purchased by both the streamer and their community. However, these recommendations likely won’t directly translate into viewers. For example, 3,000 recommendations won’t take a channel’s viewer count from 50 to 3,050 because not all of those viewers will actually start watching, but it is a drastic shift in who gets to be visible on the platform.
The overly generous read of this is that Twitch is trying to give smaller content creators more avenues for being discovered. Building an audience on Twitch, like any creative field, is as much about timing and luck as it is quality. This can be deeply frustrating, doubly so for dedicated creators who feel left out by Twitch’s standard algorithms.
This is hard to accept at face value because the move will undoubtedly benefit streamers that are already somewhat established more than smaller creators. If a streamer’s bank account and audience are already large, this feature will only give resourced streamers more opportunities to dominate the platform.
Others have called “boosting” exploitative and “pay-to-win,” equating the feature to viewbotting. Viewbotting, which is widely looked down upon in the world of online content creation and community building, is the practice of hiring a server farm to visit a website en masse to boost its popularity. The goal is to either use those paid viewers as a kickstarter for an actual community as people are drawn to the supposed existing popularity or to better convince advertisers that you’re worth working with. It usually fails at both and is famously corny behavior. It’s also one of the fastest ways to permanently undermine your credibility in online spaces.
Whether Twitch users consider its intent to be an exploitative power grab or an attempt to shakeup how discovery works on Twitch doesn’t really matter. Either way, the move is still a band-aid over one of the gaping wounds in its platform. Small streamers feel they aren’t given enough of a chance with Twitch’s algorithm, and who grows and when can feel like playing the lottery. While there are breakout moments for some creators, streamer wayneradioTV’s “Half-Life VR but the AI is Self Aware” series comes to mind, wild creativity is not frequently rewarded on Twitch. From Twitch’s perspective, boosting is a way to fix this. But from many streamer’s perspectives, this will only make things worse.
From implementation to justification, all of this combines into a tremendously bad look for Twitch, and if “boosting” ever leaves testing, it could signal a radical shift in how the platform operates.