One of the largest streaming platforms in the world, Twitch has over 15 million daily active users. Twitch was also the target of a recent data leak, in which the source code for the mobile, desktop, and video game clients was leaked, as well as details regarding creator payouts from the last three years. The anonymous hacker who leaked the data claimed that the leaks would “foster more disruption and competition in the online video streaming space.” In the past, Twitch has held the number one spot comfortably, with competing platforms such as Mixer never gaining much popularity. This most recent data breach could have the effect of lowering both user and creator trust in Twitch, thus moving people away from the platform. This may be further worsened by the recent protests against sexism and “hate-raids” on Twitch, resulting in the popular hashtag #DoBetterTwitch. While such a strategy could be an effective way to lower Twitch’s user numbers, it is too early to tell whether this breach will draw users from Twitch towards newer, competing platforms such as YouTube Gaming.
In order to assess the potential impact of this breach, the fate of older game streaming services should first be mentioned. In July 2020, Mixer, a Microsoft-owned streaming service, shut down permanently. Despite signing top streamers from Twitch, such as Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, and Cory “King Gothalion” Michael, Mixer failed to see its viewership rise substantially. In fact, its viewership actually dropped after signing its biggest creator, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Before signing Blevins in July 2019, Mixer had 37.7 million viewed hours of content on the platform. In September, Mixer’s viewership dropped to 29.6 million hours of content watched. In other words, the notion that viewers would leave a platform as a result of creators leaving the platform has not been empirically proven. As a result, although the data leak may scare some creators away from the platform, it is not guaranteed that their fans would follow. Many creators recognize this and will likely be deterred from moving to a new platform.
It seems that Twitch’s “quietly assured” dominance in the live streaming service market is here to stay. However, is it ethical to leak data from companies with a near-monopoly over their respective fields? It is not ethical, not because it harms the company, but because it harms the users of the service. In Twitch’s scenario, the platform was overlooking many issues afflicting its creators, such as the lack of action to resolve instances of blatant sexism towards creators and the “hate-raids” on live streams, affecting many Twitch streamers. From this most recent leak, Twitch received a necessary wake-up call. It must take action to fix the many issues that creators have spoken about in recent months. However, the salaries of many notable streamers were also leaked. There are many implications of this, especially for large streamers who make millions of dollars a year from Twitch. As a result of this leak, it is becoming more clear to viewers that many creators earn a salary enough to lead a luxurious life. Supporters may reduce their support for many streamers who make these large salaries, potentially harming the careers of many high profile creators and amateur creators alike. Although this leak provided the essential nudge for Twitch to move in the right direction, the information leaked could also harm hundreds of creators on the platform, as the incredible support they’ve built could dwindle away in front of their own eyes.
Although the hacker’s motivations were to “foster more disruption and competition in the online video streaming space,” the Twitch hack was neither an effective nor ethical way to carry out this plan. In the past, Twitch users have shown strong loyalty to the platform, where only a mass migration to a different streaming platform would create a significant ripple in Twitch’s numbers. Will this mass migration of users from Twitch to other streaming services ever occur? Probably not, but only time will tell.
By: Alex Zhu