When I saw Facebook’s new Gaming logo appear at the top of the app’s navigation menu, I thought it was some odd new venture I wouldn’t care about, like their Marketplace. Instead, I was surprised to see that the company had taken an interest in providing a space for gamers to stream and connect with their fans while sharing their love for gaming. This, of course, being done by leveraging your friends and family through the world’s most popular social networking site. I got excited.
I have to say that it seems like a great way to amass an audience quickly, especially for those who were popular in high school, but Facebook has never been a place for you to reach out to people that you don’t know personally. Google+ and Twitter have always been more of a place to do so, while Facebook remained a very closed and personal space for your inner circles, but based on my usage of the new service so far, that seems to be all I’ve been doing.
Since its launch in 2018, Facebook Gaming has grown by over 210%, attempting to crawl its way toward the likes of Amazon’s Twitch. As you can see by the chart below from the Streamlabs Quarterly Report, Facebook owns only 11% of the total watch time for Q1 of 2020 whereas Youtube Gaming has double that at 22%. Facebook Gaming has, however, given us a handful of things that Youtube Gaming took away. My favorite feature of Youtube Gaming was the ability to “Follow” your favorite games, adding them to a sort of ‘collection’ and being notified whenever that game was being live-streamed so you could join in on the action. A personalized page for every game that you didn’t have to hunt for and possibly find it’s just a generic listing. Facebook offers all of those things. There’s actually quite a lot to like about the service. The ability to jump in and out of live streams within an app that I pretty much never close stands out as its defining feature though.
In 2019, Google “sunset” Gaming’s mobile app and web experience and relegated the entire service into a subsection of the Youtube sidebar. It became limited to the simplicity of its core feature set too. No more can you follow games with ease. Instead, you oftentimes have to hunt for your favorite game after searching for it and ‘subscribe’ it like you would a regular channel. It’s also tossed in with your thousands of subscriptions. No special treatment. There is no longer a place to ‘collect’ them. What it truly lost was its ability to be a unique and cozy space where we could go to enjoy and celebrate games.
The point I’m trying to make here is that while Google may have found that absorbing Youtube Gaming into Youtube has brought much of the game streaming scene back into the fold of where they feel it belongs, there are some of us who got really excited about the standalone experience’s potential. Game live streaming finally had a proper home within the Google ecosystem. We had our little, cozy corner of the internet, but alas, all good things must come to an end.
Facebook Gaming is no stranger to bad decisions either though. It already has a handful of things that have frustrated users and streamers alike. Each time I visit Facebook, the top navigation decides on its own which icons it will show me. Sometimes the gaming icon is present while other times it’s the marketplace icon. I get the feeling that they’re just trying to show me the icon that they think I’ll use the most on that day. Why is this even a thing? I thought the consistency was key in UX design. After doing some research and reaching out to a handful of my developer buddies, they say that Facebook has done a poor job at communicating a roadmap for features that streamers can expect to see implemented too. In fact, they tell me they’ve hardly received communication about this at all. All of my friends have moved back over to Twitch where their viewership is. When you’re launching a new service, it doesn’t take much to turn people off from it.
As for me, my heart belongs to Youtube. I will use Facebook Gaming to support my friends and family when and if they decide to stream on a lazy afternoon, but despite the open, less gaming-centric nature that Youtube Gaming has taken on, I will continue to stream and watch people play there. I love that Facebook is dipping into the scene and trying to offer something that involves what we’re all interested in, but it’s just not for me – not yet, at least. Youtube was my first love and I certainly hope to see Google give it the respect and care that it deserves. There are things I would love to see changed about how they’ve recreated the experience as it feels like a sloppy, half baked version of what it could be. Even still, Youtube is my home. All of the creators I care so deeply about have lived there for over a decade. The only family bigger than the one I have on Facebook is the collective of incredible people in the gaming community on Youtube, but I’m excited to see what the blue giant does in the coming years.