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“And Today’s Top Donator is”: How Live Streamers on Twitch.tv Monetize and Gamify Their Broadcasts

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Abstract

This article examines cultural and economic behavior on live streaming platform Twitch.tv, and the monetization of live streamers’ content production. Twitch is approximately the 13th most-viewed website in the world, with over 150 million spectators, and 2 million individuals around the world regularly broadcasting. Although less well-known than Facebook or Twitter, these figures demonstrate that Twitch has become a central part of the platformized Internet. We explore a seven-part typology of monetization extant on Twitch: subscribing, donating and “cheering,” advertising, sponsorships, competitions and targets, unpredictable rewards for viewers, and the implementation of games into streaming channels themselves. We explore each technique in turn, considering how streamers use the affordances of the platform to earn income, and invent their own methods and techniques to further drive monetization. In doing so, we look to consider the particular kinds of governance and infrastructure manifested on Twitch. By governance, we mean how the rules, norms, and regulations of Twitch influence and shape the cultural content both produced and consumed within its virtual borders; and by infrastructure, we mean how the particular technical affordances of the platform, and many other elements besides, structure how content production on Twitch might be made profitable, and therefore decide what content is made, and how, and when. Examining Twitch will thus advance our understanding of the platformization of amateur content production; methodologically, we draw on over 100 interviews with successful live streamers, and extensive ethnographic data from live events and online Twitch broadcasts.
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Platformization of Cultural Production - Article
Introduction
This article presents an overview of economic behavior on
dominant market-leading live streaming platform Twitch.tv.
Specifically, we are interested in how live streamers profit
from their activities—monetization—on the platform, and
how they often do so through the implementation of game-
like interfaces, competitions, or concepts—gamification—
which are highly effective in this space. We begin by
reviewing literature on both Twitch and platforms, followed
by a description of our data and methodology which draws
on interview and ethnographic techniques. The article then
addresses seven core monetization methods we identify for
live streaming. Subscriptions entail a guarantee to give a
monthly amount to a streamer in exchange for the visual dis-
tinction of one’s username on Twitch. Donations and “cheer-
ing” entail either giving the streamer money directly through
PayPal, or donating through Twitch, during which the plat-
form takes a cut of the money, but viewers get automatic
recognition of their donations. Advertising entails running
adverts for corporate products on one’s channel. Sponsorships
are secured by many live streamers with games companies or
other brands, who offer free products or promotion in
exchange for highlighting their wares during particular
broadcasts. Competitions and targets involve encouraging
buy-in from viewers in the hope of winning an individual or
global prize. Unpredictable rewards for financial support
are the sixth method, drawing on the psychology of gam-
bling and games of unpredictability more broadly to keep
people donating in the hope of recognition. Finally, the
881694SMSXXX10.1177/2056305119881694Social Media <span class="symbol" cstyle="Mathematical">+</span> SocietyJohnson and Woodcock
research-article20192019
1University of Alberta, Canada
2University of Oxford, UK
Corresponding Author:
Mark R. Johnson, Department of Media and Communications, John
Woolley Building, University of Sydney, NSW 2050, New South Wales,
Australia.
Email: markrjohnsongames@gmail.com
“And Today’s Top Donator is”: How Live
Streamers on Twitch.tv Monetize and
Gamify Their Broadcasts
Mark R. Johnson1 and Jamie Woodcock2
Abstract
This article examines cultural and economic behavior on live streaming platform Twitch.tv, and the monetization of live
streamers’ content production. Twitch is approximately the 13th most-viewed website in the world, with over 150 million
spectators, and 2 million individuals around the world regularly broadcasting. Although less well-known than Facebook or
Twitter, these figures demonstrate that Twitch has become a central part of the platformized Internet. We explore a seven-
part typology of monetization extant on Twitch: subscribing, donating and “cheering,” advertising, sponsorships, competitions
and targets, unpredictable rewards for viewers, and the implementation of games into streaming channels themselves. We
explore each technique in turn, considering how streamers use the affordances of the platform to earn income, and invent
their own methods and techniques to further drive monetization. In doing so, we look to consider the particular kinds of
governance and infrastructure manifested on Twitch. By governance, we mean how the rules, norms, and regulations of Twitch
influence and shape the cultural content both produced and consumed within its virtual borders; and by infrastructure, we
mean how the particular technical affordances of the platform, and many other elements besides, structure how content
production on Twitch might be made profitable, and therefore decide what content is made, and how, and when. Examining
Twitch will thus advance our understanding of the platformization of amateur content production; methodologically, we draw
on over 100 interviews with successful live streamers, and extensive ethnographic data from live events and online Twitch
broadcasts.
Keywords
twitch, live streaming, monetization, gamification, platforms, gamblification
2 Social Media + Society
implementation of monetary “channel games” represent a
gamification of the Twitch platform itself, highly appropriate
given its primary user market.
We explore each monetization technique in turn, consider-
ing what elements of the platform encourage them, how
streamers act, how viewers act, and how elements of gaming
culture have been skillfully monetized by entrepreneurial live
streamers—yet within boundaries and confines laid out by
Twitch. In particular, we focus on practices that exist both
within and beyond the governance of the platform itself: this
analysis of Twitch examines how these economic dynamics
influence, and are influenced by the political, social, and cul-
tural relationships of live streaming. The monetization models
emerging here have important implications for the entrepre-
neurial (generally young) individuals trying to build new
online careers, as well as for how other platforms (or people
on platforms) may choose to monetize. On Twitch itself,
meanwhile, the striking profitability of the most successful
streamers and Twitch as a whole make it is crucial to interro-
gate who is winning and losing in financial terms, and why,
and how the role of money brushes up against the inherent
playfulness of a platform dedicated (primarily) to gaming.
Twitch and Live Streaming
Live streaming has emerged in recent years as a major new
topic in media and communication studies, digital sociology,
and digital humanities. It entails the live broadcast of one’s
activities, primarily but not exclusively the play of video-
games or engagements with other “geek” activities. By
“geek” in this case we refer to the label for cultures interested
in topics such as “comics, gaming and science fiction”
(Busse, 2013, p. 77), who connect through these interests and
related endeavors like podcasting, designing costumes,
attending conventions, and so forth. The potential impacts of
this broadcasting are further facilitated on Twitch by the abil-
ity talk to the “streamer” through a textual “chat” window
while watching a stream, and the streamer will often respond
and generate a conversation. This advent of live streaming
means that “anyone can become a TV provider” (Pires &
Simon, 2015, p. 255), and individuals from around the world
have been taking full advantage of this opportunity (Johnson
& Woodcock, 2017). Our primary study, Twitch, is a plat-
form which originated in 2011 as a development of Justin.tv,
another live streaming platform which emerged in 2007.
Although Justin.tv was a platform on which one could stream
almost anything, Twitch was focused as a platform for video-
game broadcasting. It grew rapidly to eclipse Justin.tv, with
the company passing 100 employees in late 2013, tens of
millions of dollars of venture capital investment in 2012 and
2013, before subsequent purchase by Amazon in 2014 for
US$970 million. In both 2017 and 2018 (and likely 2019),
between 100 and 200 million people regularly viewed
Twitch, watching the broadcasts of around 2 million regular
live streamers. This makes it approximately the 13th
most-viewed website in the world, with approximately 15
million daily users.
Given its focus, Twitch is in a similar market space to
YouTube Gaming and YouTube more generally (Kim, 2012),
as well as Facebook Live: but there are important distinc-
tions. For example, YouTube does possess a live platform,
but that it is only a fraction of the site’s overall content pro-
duction, with the majority being recorded and therefore gen-
erally edited, often to a high standard—there is also no
ecosystem of monetary support flowing directly from view-
ers to content creators, with the majority of profit coming
from advertising or sponsor revenue. By contrast, Twitch is
entirely live (although older videos can be watched later), the
majority of income for aspirational broadcasters flows
directly from their viewers, and much of the platform—as
we show—is designed to encourage long-term financial and
emotional support from viewers. Twitch can therefore use-
fully be understood as what Cunningham and Craig (2019)
define as a kind of social media entertainment, an interactive
medium combining traditional elements of both social media
(and its attendant connectivity and community-formation),
and entertainment (with its ecosystems of producers and
consumers). Twitch’s combination of elements as a plat-
form—its emphasis on amateur content production, the prox-
imity between producers and consumers, the diverse means
by which the platform and its streamers monetize their con-
tent, its unique cultures and practices—all make it an exem-
plary site for studying the ongoing platformization of cultural
production.1 In this article, we consequently will examine the
relationship between (a) the cultural content that live stream-
ers create, (b) how they monetize and gamify it, and (c)
Twitch as a unique platform with distinctive governance
norms and technical and social infrastructures.
Platforms
A platform is, at its core, a method to digitally mediate
between two or more groups of actors. As Nick Srnicek
(2017) has argued, platforms “are a new type of firm,” and
are
characterised by providing the infrastructure to intermediate
between different user groups, by displaying monopoly
tendencies driven by network effects, by employing cross-
subsidisation to draw in different user groups, and by having a
designed core architecture that governs the interaction
possibilities. (p. 48)
In the field of cultural production, as Gillespie (2010) has
noted, it is important to unpick what we mean by platforms
in relation to cultural production, otherwise there is a risk of
falling into a “comforting sense of technical neutrality and
progressive openness” (p. 360). Nevertheless, as Nieborg
and Poell (2018) have demonstrated, platformization “marks
the reorganization of cultural production and circulation,
Johnson and Woodcock 3
rendering cultural commodities contingent” (p. 4290). This
often entails issues of “hope labor” that are found with online
cultural production (Kuehn & Corrigan, 2013) and the role
of “aspirational work” (Duffy, 2017) as a whole, as well as
the specific demands of playbour found in the videogames
industry specifically (Bulut, 2015). To address this, we com-
bine these insights with a complementary field of literature
that focuses on the platformization of work more generally.
Much literature on platforms has so far focused on work,
with the “common feature of all digital labour platforms”
being “that they offer tools to bring together the supply of,
and demand for, labour” (Graham & Woodcock, 2018, p.
242). In many cases, new platforms are supplanting existing
forms of work—such as Uber has for minicabs in London—
which is undermining the standard employment relationship
(De Stefano, 2016). The emerging evidence is that platforms
are creating global markets for digital work (Graham &
Anwar, 2018), with long and irregular working hours, high
levels of stress, and low incomes (Graham et al., 2017). Work
platforms of this sort can often operate as “digital black
boxes” (Scholz, 2015), which hide their inner workings.
What is different with Twitch is that the platform is
not used to hide the labor of the worker, but rather to very
visibly show a content creator to a global audience. Work
platforms have tended to use the “the spectacle of innovation
to conceal the worker” (Scholz, 2015), yet streamers labor is
intentionally visible. However, what is hidden from content-
creation platforms is the additional forms of labor needed,
for example, with the “commercial content moderation” that
ensures these platforms are free from offensive material
(Roberts, 2016; c.f. Ask, Spilker, & Hansen, 2019). Twitch
could therefore be considered to be a form of “freelance”
platform, albeit a potentially very high-end version of what
Graham and Woodcock (2018, p. 245) outline. Twitch, like
YouTube (Postigo, 2014), provides a platform for “profes-
sional content creators,” which offers the potential for “new
career paths” to be “forged by entrepreneurial creators who
can make significant incomes from their activities” (Graham
and Woodcock, 2018, p. 243; c.f. Johnson & Woodstock).
However, one similarity that can be drawn with content-
creation and other forms of online work are the asymmetries
that Heeks (2017, pp. 16-17) notes relating to “value,” “risk,”
“resource,” “information,” and “power” between users and
the platform. As we will see, these appear in various forms
on Twitch, and inform the platform, its cultural production
opportunities for streamers, and how streamers act upon it.
Methodology
Methodologically, we draw upon interview and ethnographic
data. Over the past 3 years, we have conducted over 100
semi-structured interviews with live streamers of both pro-
fessional and semi-professional status. These have lasted
between just a few minutes in some cases, and close to 2 hr in
others, with an average of approximately an hour. We believe
this to be the largest body of interview data on highly suc-
cessful Twitch streamers yet gathered by scholars.
Interviewees were recruited through the authors’ attendance
at major streaming events, at which streamers were actively
looking to engage with interested third-parties about their
work and content production. Interviews were performed in
quiet areas at these events, some with the organizational
assistance of Twitch itself, while others were secured on the
fly. The majority were in their 20s and from the United
States, although nationality was diverse, with most of our
respondents hailing from other Global North countries (pri-
marily Canada and within Europe), but also a significant
number from the Global South (especially South America),
in a ratio of approximately five to one. Around 70% of our
interviewees were in their 20s, with almost 30% in their 30s,
and only one or two younger or older than those categories.
Although many streamers were keen to be cited in our work
by name (or username), given the sometimes personal details
they shared, standard research ethics, and our desire not to
serve as unintentional advertising for individuals, all names
used here are pseudonymous and do not reflect the gender or
national identity of specific speakers.
This interview data are coupled with ethnographic find-
ings from several 100 hr of observation at live streaming
events attended in person in the United States, the United
Kingdom, Germany, and Poland, and from 200 live streams
viewed each for at least 1 hr. During events, we focused on a
number of topics relevant to this discussion, especially
watching how live streamers and their most (financially)
loyal fans interact in person, and more broadly how potential
sponsors, advertisers, and other third-parties circulated
within these events. On Twitch itself, we focused on the
diverse methods streamers use to monetize their channel
content, and how this intersects with the affordances and
infrastructures of the live streaming platform, as well as
internet culture and norms more broadly. This ethnographic
engagement allows us to see something of the performance
of work that streamers perform in their daily activities, which
we have argued elsewhere (Woodcock & Johnson, 2019a) is
highly comparable to other public-facing performative jobs
which mobilize affect and emotion, such as fashion or blog-
ging. By combining interview data and ethnographic work,
we are thus able to achieve both a detailed look into the lives
and actions of particular streamers, and a broader assessment
of the culture arising around live streaming and the affor-
dances of streaming platforms, and—in this case—how these
shape monetization models.
Monetizing and Gamifying Broadcasts
Monetization Strategy 1: Subscribing
The first and arguably central method by which the cultural
production of Twitch is monetized is known as subscribing,
or “subbing.” Subscribing is a method of monetizing a stream
4 Social Media + Society
that was designed by the platform, coded into the way that
viewers can interact with streamers. If viewers are to sub-
scribe, a streamer must first be “partnered,” which means
Twitch believes their stream is large enough, and with suffi-
cient implicit potential for growth, that the streamer is worth
working with more closely and more directly. For partnered
streamers (and later extended to “affiliate” streamers, similar
to partnerships but with lower requirements), a viewer is
offered the option to “subscribe” to a streamer’s channel,
through a button on the browser or application. This requires
a viewer to make a monthly subscription payment to a
streamer through Twitch. The platform acts as an intermedi-
ary between the streamer and viewer, taking a variable cut of
the subscription cost. In return for subscribing, the viewer
receives a range of benefits, including custom “emotes”—
small images used to express a particular emotion or inside
joke—and a custom badge denoting their status in the associ-
ated stream chat window. Subscription costs money every
month, either US$4.99 for “Tier 1,” US$9.99 for “Tier 2,” or
US$24.99 for “Tier 3.” Twitch began only offering Tier 1, but
later included 2 and 3 after the platform was purchased by
Amazon.2 In addition, viewers were also offered one “free”
subscription if they also subscribed for Amazon Prime. This
upgrades the Twitch user to “Twitch Prime,” bringing a range
of benefits, including a “free” subscription to a streamer
which needs to be renewed every 30 days.
Building a subscriber base within the audience is also evi-
dence of the success of a streamer. Often streamers will dis-
play subscriber counts, sometimes with target counts for how
many more subscribers the streamer wants to get that day or
week. On smaller streams we have seen targets as low as five
subscribers a day, while on larger streams daily targets can be
in the dozens, or even in the hundreds. The addition of a new
subscriber becomes a mini-event on many streamers, cele-
brated by the streamer, and often with a custom notification
inserted onto the stream. Some streamers focus specifically
on activities to drive up subscriptions called “sub-a-thons,”
but whether they engage in these practices or not, it is com-
mon to have rewards for subscribers. For our streamer
respondent Alejandro, for example, this involved hosting a
monthly event called “Hyper Drive” and focusing on getting
new subscribers. To entice viewers to pay, they offered “our
sub only emotes, we have a sub only Discord [a videogame
focused instant message platform], so there are some incen-
tives to get people to subscribe.” For Anton, “I do sub games”
which meant they “host private matches in Rocket League,
they kinda join in on the team, and that’s about it.” In addi-
tion to these events, subscribers “get certain perks, they can
do song requests and stuff on the streams. I try to sell the
institution as best I can.” For Aubrey it meant they “just want
to give people a good experience and have fun with it”—it,
in this case, being subscribing to the streamer. Through sub-
scribing the culture of Twitch and the financial and techno-
logical infrastructures of the platform come together to create
a highly efficient, and compelling, monetization model. This
integration of the platform’s culture, the economic self-inter-
est of its producers, and the economic self-interest of the
platform itself, is quite distinct. It is, however, only the tip of
the Twitch monetization iceberg.
Monetization Methods and Common Traits are repre-
sented in Table 1.
Monetization Strategy 2: Donating and Cheering
Donating on Twitch is another method through which view-
ers can give money to streamers and get recognition in
exchange (Anderson, 2017). Donating, as originally under-
stood, technically takes place outside of the platform; cheer-
ing, however, is a method of donating that was added to
Twitch later. To begin with donating, there was originally no
facility for this form of monetization within Twitch. Streamers
would share a PayPal link within the chat or add a custom
section to their Twitch page which allows the donator to con-
nect with the streamer through another platform—in this
case PayPal—to make a donation. These “donations” are
taxable, rather than being donations in the charitable sense.
For non-partner and non-affiliate streamers, donations pro-
vided the first opportunity to monetize streaming, since they
did not require the platform to offer one a partnership or,
more recently, the easier-to-gain “affiliate” status. Once the
Table 1. Monetization Methods and Common Traits.
Strategy Monetization strategies and features
Subscribing Recurring payment to streamers, several levels of value, central to income for most streamers, diverse chat
icons
Donating / Cheering Individual monetary offerings to streamers, outside platform, and within platform, potentially unlimited, one-
off, diverse chat icons
Advertising Adverts for relevant products, tie-ins with other media items, personalized advertising, platform integration
Sponsorships Connections with games companies, and with other companies, broadcasting of sponsored content, strategic
choices of sponsors
Competitions / Targets Goals for money, goals for viewer interaction, viewers trying to outdo each other, encouragement of
competition and cooperation
Unpredictable rewards Unpredictable outcomes for monetary support, animations or sounds which sometimes play
Channel games Programming and coding, text-based games, money as a gameplay mechanic, creativity from streamers
Johnson and Woodcock 5
donation is made this is automatically displayed on the
stream, and streamers we interviewed noted how thanking
viewers for either subscribing or donating was a core part of
their activity. For example, Madison noted that they read out
messages and responded “we try to make sure that they know
that it means a lot to us.”
In response to the growth of donations, Twitch introduced
“bits” (Partin, in press). These are an in-platform currency
that can be used to “cheer” a streamer. Viewers can purchase
“bits” for a variable rate, such as 100 for US$1.40, reducing
in price the more they buy. In addition, these can be earned
for watching adverts. The streamer receives approximately
US$1 for every 100 “bits” used to cheer in stream. By typing
“Cheer100” into the chat, the viewer donates into the chan-
nel, with better emoticons available the more that is spent.
The “cheering” method brings donations back onto the chan-
nel, meaning that Twitch can take a cut of the donation, like
with subscriptions. As Victor explained, when it was intro-
duced for donations, “overall it went up.” They believed this
was because “it opened up new avenues for people to be like
hey, I’ll drop a couple ad bits on you. Or hey, I’ll give you 5
bucks because they’re bits and it’s fun and it’s entertaining.”
Connor pointed out that bringing it into the platform meant
“it’s definitely a lot easier to do that then go to the PayPal
website log in and, so you can do it straight from the chat
which is nice. The ease is the best part of it.” For Madeline it
led to an increase in revenue as “a subset of my audience has
really caught on to cheering,” while for Alejandro “the
sounds, bits, cheers, it was kind of the cherry on top, but it
didn’t really affect our business plan or anything like that.”
While it may not have changed the business plan for
Alejandro, it clearly changes it for PayPal and Twitch.
Through this method the platform has captured the act of
donating, altered its relationship with PayPal (in Twitchs
favor), and found a way to monetize this element of viewer
generosity, while simultaneously likely increasingly the
donations that viewers also receive.
Monetization Strategy 3: Advertising
Advertising has played a central role in traditional media, as
well as across the wider Internet, being core to the activities
of the major corporations that dominate much of the way
people interact online, for example through Facebook or
Google. Video hosting platform YouTube (which is owned by
Google) has built its business model around monetizing con-
tent-creation through advertising, something which is also
central to Twitch. This builds upon the broader trends of
media consumption, particularly declining print newspaper,
television, and radio consumption: Twitch has consequently
positioned itself as a platform between consumers (viewers)
of online video and potential advertisers (Deloitte, 2015). As
Twitch (2018) claims, it is now a “ubiquitous” platform for
videogames, one spanning “press/media, communities,
developers, esports, events (For a detailed analysis of how
Twitch reached its present state, see Taylor, 2018).” As they
continue, “Gamers are social. Video is their language. Twitch
is their platform.” This proposes that Twitch is not only the
mediator between users and content, but also a gatekeeper
that can provide access, offering “strategic ad solutions in a
social video environment.”
For Twitch streamers, these developments mean their audi-
ence can watch adverts as part of the experience. As Samuel
explains, “companies put their name and brand on everything
they can” and streaming has attracted that attention. Adverts
might include games, gaming hardware or peripherals, or
other “geek culture” items or services that might seem appro-
priate; this could be adverts for other platforms on which one
can buy digital games, adverts for events or conventions, or
podcasts, and so forth. In one example, developed to tie in
with the release of a new Alien cinematic title, a range of
streamers worked with Twitch to develop a bespoke set of
adverts in which the titular creature would appear in the back-
ground of the stream, its ridged tail visible as it stalked the
streamer. A similar campaign was organized for Star Trek, in
which the streamer was “transported” out of a “live” stream.
In both cases, the adverts play with the format of the live
stream, using the novelty of breaking the conventions of the
stream to appeal to viewers. From our observations, these
examples were far less likely to attract negative responses
from streamers, who on other occasions reacted aggressively
to attempts to integrate advertising into streams.
More traditional adverts appear in the middle of broadcasts,
cutting from a streamer’s content one moment to an advert the
next, while the streamer can also choose to deliberately run an
advert when they take a break, get some food, or go to the
bathroom. They are chosen to be appropriate to the market,
and they are often closely integrated with broadcasters given
the nature of game content and game adver tising. Due to the
unpopularity of these sudden adverts, however, some stream-
ers in fact use a lack of advertising as a monetization method
itself—by stressing how much they know their viewers hate
adverts, and thereby deciding not to show adverts, viewers
might be gently or implicitly encouraged to donate instead to
“make up” the deficit in income from newer using adverts. In
this way, whether streamers use adverts or not, the mere pres-
ence of advertising on Twitch—similar to, but distinct from, its
manifestations elsewhere on the Internet—is essential to
understanding monetization on the platform.
Monetization Strategy 4: Sponsorships
The fourth major monetization method for live streamers is
securing sponsorship. This builds on longer traditions of
sponsorships in traditional media, albeit in a new context. A
streamer must build an audience first, but once they can
show strong consistent viewing numbers, “it then becomes
possible to negotiate with companies for advertising or
sponsorship” (Woodcock & Johnson, 2019a). For example,
a streamer might be paid to play a game on their channel for
6 Social Media + Society
a particular length of time, or to host a banner for a certain
company next to their social media links. In other cases,
securing a sponsorship means that a streamer’s viewers can
click onto a sponsor site through the streamer’s channel to
purchase some products or service at a reduced price. The
sponsor gains the extra traffic, and the streamer is given a
small amount from each successful purchase.3 Given that
over 100 million people viewed Twitch in both 2017 and
2018—and this is just one live streaming site, although the
most successful in most of the world—there is a tremendous
audience to be reached by the savvy sponsor. Most sponsor-
ships come from games companies; Liam told us that
“Nintendo set me up, [I] did a stream for them,” while Malik
also noted that “when companies like Nintendo, EA and
Microsoft want to work with me, [I] feel like I’m part of the
game industry.” (c.f. Johnson & Woodcock, 2018).
Given that most of Twitch is dedicated to gaming, these are
obvious companies to partner with. However, Karl, more
unusually, reported a sponsorship with “Bodybuilding.com,”
a major fitness website; although gamers are often understood
as being physically unfit, there are commonalities between
nerd (e.g., Willey & Subramaniam, 2017) and jock (e.g.,
Tarver, 2017) subjectivities and many gamers are, in fact,
highly concerned with physical fitness. The platform itself is
very open to this, although almost any company can sponsor
a Twitch streamer, and the platform’s personalization options
make it easy for an enterprising streamer to put their sponsor
front and center (Woodcock & Johnson, 2019b).
A lot of strategy goes into a streamer selecting sponsor-
ships, but there is also a lot of luck that comes from being in
the right place, at the right time, with a particular demo-
graphic that sponsors might want to connect with. For exam-
ple, Holly told us about their “niche into mobile gaming” as
one of the first streamers to broadcast mobile games, so “I’ve
had a lot of opportunities come through that.” Others talked
about the dynamics for particular countries. Emilia explained
that streaming in English gives you a better reach than in
their native Austria because the “media world [is] very small
there,” but this also offers the chance for monopolization of
a small market: “I am basically the only person into market-
ing there, the only creator, so I get a lot of requests from
companies.” These, they added, wouldn’t expect to get “if I
were in Germany or the USA, because I am, like, one of
many fish there.” Similarly, Olivia described a hypothetical
scenario in which, if “we have a lot of fans in the Philippines,”
they would “go to Filipino companies and look for sponsor-
ship,” cite their viewing figures, and hope to bring a com-
pany onboard. The variety of what one is allowed to stream
on the platform, the countries one can stream from, and
therefore the overall openness of the platform, all, therefore,
broaden sponsorship opportunities for entrepreneurial
streamers.
Sponsorships also bring with them the need for greater
care and caution: with a sponsorship one is no longer an indi-
vidual acting independently on Twitch, but rather becomes
entangled with the expectations of a corporate actor, often
more formal or less wild than the behavior of many stream-
ers. As Kevin put it,
You do have to worry about, like, what sponsors and stuff think.
It hasn’t really affected me in a negative way because I know the
line, and I don’t have any intention of crossing that or trying to
ruin that.
One example of this is Lucas, whose username originally
contained a reference to a famous position in the Kama Sutra.
A reference of that sort, they explained, is “not too popular
when you’re trying to get a sponsor, so we switched it.” How
streamers present themselves as cultural producers on the
platform thus shapes their ability to secure sponsorships
from corporate actors; at the same time, the platform is suf-
ficiently open that rebranding is possible, and few things are
permanent.
As well as a suitable image, sponsors can expect a lot
back from streamers in exchange. As Kiara stated, as a
streamer you must “fulfil all your obligations if you have
sponsorships,” while Liam noted all sponsors had “condi-
tions” but they would only seek sponsors if these conditions
“weren’t ridiculous.” Unacceptable demands according to
this streamer would include enforcing specific streaming
hours, or insisting on them using a particular piece of hard-
ware. Such requests are indeed rare, with sponsor conditions
or obligations most often entailing the sponsor “ask[ing] for
stats” on the success of the sponsored streamers (Aubrey).
Like many streamers, Charlotte told us they don’t normally
even check their stats, “unless it’s a sponsor stream and the
sponsors want to see what those numbers are.” Sponsors here
take advantage of the platform’s affordances to quantify the
value of their purchase, keep sponsored streamers “in line,”
and ensure that a certain strict notion of a suitably profes-
sional image appears on what is otherwise a tremendously
open platform. The platform thus allows for sponsorships to
be present, yet the expectations of sponsors often run up
against those of streamers, resulting in complex dynamics
that must be navigated, anew, by each streamer.
Monetization Strategy 5: Competitions and
Targets
The fifth monetization method is the use of competitions,
and “targets” more broadly, on Twitch. Many streamers have
donation targets established on their channel. This might be
an element of their stream overlay which states that they
have thus far acquired US$X out of US$Y which is their
daily target—for example, US$56.05 / US$500.00—or an
element noting how far they are to a particular reward: they
might do a dance upon reaching a certain amount, for exam-
ple, tell an amusing story, or agree to change the music cur-
rently playing on their channel. Other sorts of targets are
always present, but these are designed to reward viewers
Johnson and Woodcock 7
who donate particular amounts. For example, perhaps a
viewer who donates US$10 or more will always trigger an
amusing animation; US$50 or more will always trigger a
text-to-speech reading of a donation message; over US$100
will always get the streamer to thank them personally; and so
on. In this regard, such a system is comparable to the model
of crowdfunding website Patreon, where supporters are
rewarded, and always rewarded, the more they give.
However, one kind of target is distinct from all others,
which is the competition. Many streamers run their own
competitions of various kinds on their channels. One sort is
the lottery, where donating anything over a small and gener-
ally nominal amount enters the viewer into a raffle to win
some kind of prize, often a games console or a particular
game. Another sort is more akin to a raffle, where viewers
pay to have the chance to be selected to play with the streamer
in an online game, for example. One of the most striking
sorts of competitions is the “top donor” counter. Many
streamers have a metric on their channel denoting the “top
donor” or “top donator” of the day, showing a username and
how much they were kind enough to donate. This is one of
the most effective techniques, since it encourages viewers to
compete to give the most money to a broadcaster in 1 day. In
one stream we have seen viewers competing by donating
hundreds of dollars, and in some cases, even thousands; one
notable example entailed a 1,000-dollar donation, which is
the streamer appeared blown away by, followed shortly after
by US$1,000.01, knocking the previous donation from the
top spot. This second donation required the broadcaster to
express their even more profound thanks to the second
streamer; while still continuing to thank the first profusely;
and making a joke out of the sheer amounts of money they
were being given. Viewers enjoyed this “battle,” and other
donations were soon forthcoming. This is consequently a
highly effective gamification of monetary support, which is
to say the “restructuring of social behaviour” into the form of
a game (Woodcock & Johnson, 2018, p. 543). Yet with such
striking conflicts for donations, it is hard to dispute Dragona’s
(2014, p. 237) assessment that gamification can easily pro-
mote “exploitation and control”—viewers become increas-
ingly tethered to streams they donate to, while these social
and technical elements of the streams encourage further
donations.
In several instances, we also note women streamers who
frame these competitions in different ways. Some use the
term “top D” or “D of the day,” where “D” serves two pur-
poses; it is both a shortened version of “donor” or “donator,”
but also serves to imply shorthand for “dick” as a slang for
penis, and in doing so playoff geek gender dynamics.
Primarily male viewers are encouraged to half-believe in the
possibility of truly getting to know women streamers who
seem to be single. In some cases, streamers state as much,
understanding its potential financial benefits, while others say
nothing either way and leave viewers to draw their own con-
clusions. Recent high-profile cases have involved streamers
facing harassment for possibly “lying” about their relation-
ship statuses (Alexander, 2018), with the implication that
viewers have been thus deceived, and were not developing
the relationships or connections they believed they were
through their donations. As we have previously shown, donat-
ing money does boost at least the sense of parasocial intimacy
between a streamer and a viewer (Johnson & Woodcock,
2017; Woodcock & Johnson, 2019a), but comes with a com-
plex set of potential consequences. Again, we return to the
profoundly open nature of the platform—Twitch express no
particular concerns with wording of this sort, nor with dona-
tion competitions, as all subscriptions and most donations
(through Bits) go through the platform. The close interactions
possible between streamer and viewer, the freedom to create
one’s own content, and the ease—see “Donating and
Cheering”—with which one can send money to a streamer,
combine to make competitions that are slick, easy to run, easy
to enter, and seem very natural for many streamers.
Monetization Strategy 6: Unpredictable Rewards
Closely related to competitions (against other viewers) and
targets (all viewers collectively), many Twitch streamers
have implemented gambling-style systems with their dona-
tion rewards (each viewer individually). For example, some
streamers play animations for only 50% of donations over a
dollar, selected at random. This is a trivial implementation,
and yet, when a viewer donates and does not get the anima-
tion, almost without fail that viewer will immediately donate
another dollar—or whatever the minimum amount is—to get
the animation, and will keep doing so until they are fortunate
enough to get the animation. This might only secure an extra
handful of dollars each time, but over a large viewer base,
over months or years, the extra income gained through these
unpredictable rewards adds up quickly. Different streamers
use different percentages to determine when rewards are
automatically given out, or not.
Such simple unpredictable “game” mechanics, built into
the platform or available for streamers, are thus highly effec-
tive. We particularly draw attention to Reith’s (1999, p. xiv)
observation that in unpredictable games such as this one,
players see an activity that is “regulated by chance” rather
than simply “subject to uncertainty”: there is a particular set
of outcomes, which players know, and they likely know the
odds, and pursue the particular outcomes they desire. The
immediacy and apparent ease of the desired reward is stron-
ger than in a competition, and generates a very different kind
of engagement. As the first author has argued elsewhere
(Johnson, 2018), players can become fixated with beating
unpredictable systems, establishing a sense of mastery, or
completion, which on Twitch the eventual donation reward
or animation provides. These “chasing” donations even
shape the video production on Twitch—it is not rare on
streams using unpredictable rewards to see long strings of
donations hoping for the right outcome, which can dominate
8 Social Media + Society
both the visual and aural elements of the broadcast for a
period. By gamifying—or more accurately in this case, gam-
blifying—the outcomes of donating, extra income can be
extracted from viewers. This gamification and gamblifica-
tion “motivate[s] the player to play” (Philippette, 2014, p.
188) the game of giving money to the broadcaster. In this
way, we see part of a wider ongoing transformation of digital
games through gambling mechanics and psychological
tricks—although a much wider area for future research, it is
readily apparent how effective these techniques can be on a
platform like Twitch with online celebrities (Johnson,
Carrigan, & Brock, 2019), viewers are already deeply
engaged with.
Monetization Strategy 7: Channel Games
The final method of monetization on the Twitch platform,
and arguably perhaps the most gamified of all, is the idea of
channel games. These are forms of play which are not entire
videogames in their own right, but rather generally small,
playful systems implemented on or integrated with a Twitch
channel. One of the most well-known of these is the “Bit
Boss.” This is a downloadable extension for one’s stream
which establishes a certain donor as being the “Boss” (Bits
are Twitch’s internal currency) other viewers can “attack” by
donating further Bits. The individual who deals the final
blow then becomes the Boss, and as a reward, their username
and donation remain on-screen until they are defeated by a
later donor. Our respondent Sarah explained that through
“Bit Boss” donating “becomes a game, competitive, with
people” who are determined to make it clear that “I love you
more, and stuff like that”—viewers use games like this to
express their appreciation to the streamer. Through channel
games of this sort the productive labor on Twitch is “deeply
engaged with DIY aesthetics and participatory culture”
(Witkowski, Recktenwald, & Manning, 2016, p. 430).
Channel games are created by fans and third-parties, not by
Twitch themselves, and then integrated into the streams of
thousands. Once again, the platform holders allow for such a
high level of customization, and appear to recognize that this
sort of innovation is beneficial to the platform as well as its
broadcasters, by further boosting the ways for viewers and
streamers to connect through both money and play.
Streamers have further innovated in this area. One indi-
vidual we observed has programmed an entire text adventure
game into their chat window using Twitchs potential for
adding new automatic chat commands. This is not something
many viewers engage with, but those who do tend to be some
of this streamer’s most committed financial supporters, or,
perhaps, those who engage become committed supporters.
The chronology of this is difficult to ascertain from data only
in the present, but this is certainly a technique that seems to
have entangled a number of viewers with the channel in a
deep way. More broadly, Twitch’s nature as an open platform
where streamers can program their own commands into chat,
and add their own programs into their broadcasts such as Bit
Boss, is essential to monetization methods of this sort. The
only boundaries are the imagination of the enterprising
streamer—seemingly with few limits—and the rules of the
platform, which are extremely open and allow all sorts of
methods through which to profit from one’s broadcasts. On a
platform focused on games, adding games of this sort
matches up well with the cultural expectations of viewers,
fits easily into an open platform infrastructure, and turns
donation from a method of financial support for an appreci-
ated broadcaster into a game—albeit a very simple one—in
its own right. More broadly, it also highlights how driven and
aspiring digital celebrities on social media platforms can
drive innovation in monetization themselves, and how plat-
forms can in turn profit and benefit from the widespread
implementation or adoption of these new ideas and systems.
Conclusion
This article has offered a first typology of how Twitch stream-
ers profit from their broadcasts, how this is structured
through (and influences in turn) the platform’s governance
and infrastructure, and how cultural content production is
thus shaped. Our objective has been to move beyond previ-
ous discussions of labor on Twitch and other live streaming
platforms to instead consider how cultural production is
interwoven with the unique specificities of this platform.
While deep commonalities undoubtedly exist between many
online sites, close examinations of the particularities of each
platform mark one of the most crucial strengths of the emerg-
ing area of “platform studies.” All platforms have unique sets
of rules, regulations, and norms, and the openness of Twitch
as a platform—combined with its association with gaming
culture—have led to an explosion in techniques for moneti-
zation, and consequently the financial support of its most
visible cultural producers.
Specifically, in the case of Twitch, there are seven keys
ways streamers monetize their activities: subscribing, donat-
ing and cheering, advertising, sponsorships, competitions
and targets, unpredictable rewards, and channel games. Such
a wide variety of monetization methods is possible because
the platform is relatively devoid of explicit rules or regula-
tions preventing streamer behaviors, allowing for consistent
innovation and change within the broader structure of the
live stream. This has led to an ongoing relationship between
the platform and its streamers which is both iterative—things
are regularly changing and progressing and becoming ever
more “optimised” (c.f. Partin, 2019)—and recursive—as
both parties are influencing the behaviors of the other. The
laxity of these restrictions is such that streamers can even run
games of chance of debatable legality, although the length of
time this situation will continue unabated, or without capture
by the platform, remains to be seen. Equally, the norms of
Twitch for both its streamers and its viewers contribute sig-
nificantly to this profusion of monetization methods: viewers
Johnson and Woodcock 9
are consistently eager to support their favorite streamers and
be rewarded (non-financially or financially) in exchange,
while aspiring streamers think nothing of encouraging as
many donations from their viewers as possible. The exchange
of money is built so deeply into both the infrastructure and
the culture of live streaming that new monetization methods
are welcomed by broadcaster and consumer alike. Alongside
all of this, the games focus of Twitch also makes it an envi-
ronment filled with viewers who are highly comfortable with
digital play of all different kinds, and thus both able and will-
ing to engage with some of the more gamified monetization
methods we have outlined here. However, this is not to say
that there is never tension between the platform and the
streamers. For example, with the growth of donations,
streamers had developed a way to make money not offered
by Twitchs infrastructure. Twitch responded by developing a
method to bring these donations back onto the platform, and
therefore make money from the interactions. Successful
streamers therefore work both with and against Twitch’s plat-
form infrastructure, an interplay which also shapes how the
platform itself operates.
This process and its significant revenue potential explains
why Amazon recently chose to purchase Twitch, seeing great
opportunities in the platform as a way to reach and profit
from consumers, especially consumers who are often hard to
reach by other means. As we have shown, Twitch streamers
are entangled with advertisers, sponsors, and other platforms,
in ways that are unique, and yet shaped by the wider actions,
needs and behaviors of such actors. Future research is there-
fore needed to follow and unpick these more complex global
supply chains and networks upon which streamers’ labor
relies. Tracing how these forms of work operated within ear-
lier genres of cultural technological systems, especially those
strongly disposed toward a small number of elite winners,
and how identity politics plays out within these contexts—
such as, for example, music production—could also prove
fruitful for making sense of monetized streams today. Live
streaming, embodied most strongly in most countries by
Twitch, is a major new part of the platformized Internet, and
one which shows us how the governance and infrastructure
of platforms—combined with entrepreneurial actors—can
lead to innovative monetization methods for both workers
and platform holders.
As a final note, we would also propose that Twitch—and
gaming platforms more generally, in the era of new moneti-
zation models for digital play—can be valuably seen as the
“canary in the coal mine” of future monetization strategies.
Twitch is a platform boasting impressive populations of both
creators and consumers, and one in which new strategies are
easily tested by platform holders and streamers alike, making
it a space for rapid experimentation and monetization
enquiry. This is also the case for other live streaming plat-
forms, such as Douyu, outside of the western context where
Twitch dominates. As such, we hope both for this article to
lay a foundation for understanding Twitch’s monetization
strategies but also to situate this in a wider context of rapid
platform innovation, and to encourage potential future cross-
cultural research comparing Twitch against other live stream-
ing websites. Doing so will help us to gain a broader sense of
how these platforms are pushing or leading the cutting edge
of content production and content monetization, and poten-
tially heralding significant future changes to how we pro-
duce and consume media on the Internet as a whole.
Authors’ Note
Mark R. Johnson is now affiliated with University of Sydney, Australia.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank the reviewers for giving their time
and highly valuable comments on the manuscript.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The
authors received funding from the UK Digital Economy Crucible
program for the research behind this article.
ORCID iD
Mark R. Johnson https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4622-650X
Notes
1. We should also note commonalities between Twitch and other
formats, such as subgenres of YouTube videos which empha-
size their liveness and their supposed unedited-ness (such as
unboxing videos), camgirls and other “amateur”-produced
pornography (c.f. Scully-Blaker, Begy, Consalvo, & Ganzon,
2017), and streaming platforms in East Asia.
2. This is somewhat comparable to the purchase of YouTube
by Google (or to a lesser extent the purchase of Instagram by
Facebook, Tumblr by Yahoo, and so forth), with a dominant
global corporate power securing control and influence over
one of the web’s largest content-creation platforms. This trend
of increasing centralization of platform power in fewer and
fewer hands is an important dynamic of platform capitalism.
The integration of Twitch with Amazon, meanwhile, shows us
how these platforms can be connected by their shared own-
ers, even while the relatively “light touch” of the specific
Twitch-Amazon context does show a savviness on Amazon’s
part about, and sensitivity to, anti-corporate feelings among
many gamers.
3. This is somewhat comparable to the relationships between
games journalists and game companies; a full look at this
related ecosystem is beyond the scope of this article, but games
companies have long been looking to co-opt seemingly “neu-
tral” commentary on their games through a variety of rewards
and other methods.
10 Social Media + Society
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Author Biographies
Mark R. Johnson is a lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department
of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. His
research examines live streaming, esports, gamification/gambli-
fication, and playbour. He has published in journals including
“Information, Communication and Society,” “Convergence,” and
“Games and Culture.” His first monograph, “The Unpredictability
of Gameplay,” was published in 2018 by Bloomsbury Academic.
Jamie Woodcock is a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. He
authored “Working the Phones,” a study of call centers, while his
current research involves developing coresearch projects with
Deliveroo drivers and other digital workers in the so-called “gig
economy.” He is on the editorial board of Historical Materialism.
... • That brands with a great reputation appear on social networks "has a positive impact on message credibility, attitude toward the ad, purchase intention, and eWOM intention" (Lee & Kim, 2020); • "The influencer narratives impair the effectiveness of sponsorship disclosure by analyzing the disclosure language in each post as well as the engagement performances" :1); • The identification of the desires and confidence by means of the relationship between type of endorser and advertising effectiveness ; • The negative spiral when it comes to sharing and commenting on content on social networks is stronger than positiveness (Dhaoui & Webster, 2021); • The business models evolve in a complex way, with a mixture and hybrid nature for the types of monetization very similar to what is happening with Twitch (Johnson & Woodcock, 2019;Sjöblom et al. 2019 andDiwanji et al., 2020); • The popularity of the influencer has an influence on their leadership but if their followers have very few accounts, this can have a negative effect on how likeable they are (De Veirman, Cauberghe & Hudders, 2017); • There is a trend to not take followers into account and to pay only for views as Snapchat has announced; • In advertising on social networks, the context triumphs over content and, consequently, "content is not king" (Voorveld et al., 2018); • "a high degree of congruence between the image of a social media influencer and the consumer's ideal self-image leads to effective endorsement outcomes" (Shan, Chen & Lin, 2020: 590). ...
... First, as a form of native advertising, branded content posted by influencers fit naturally in their media environment (i.e., social media platforms) and can look like organically created user-generated content (UGC) which lends greater credibility. It also helps that the audience is already relatively engaged on these social media platforms (Johnson et al., 2019). Second, influencers are ambassadors who serve to humanize a brand, reducing the social distance between a brand and its target audience. ...
... Another major advantage of working with influencers on YouTube is the flexibility of sponsored content. Brand-sponsored videos can range from product haul, vlogs (video blogs), product reviews, to how-to tutorial videos (Johnson, 2019). Moreover, since YouTubers' area of expertise varies greatly, options are endless for brands who wish to partner with popular YouTubers. ...
... • That brands with a great reputation appear on social networks "has a positive impact on message credibility, attitude toward the ad, purchase intention, and eWOM intention" (Lee & Kim, 2020); • "The influencer narratives impair the effectiveness of sponsorship disclosure by analyzing the disclosure language in each post as well as the engagement performances" :1); • The identification of the desires and confidence by means of the relationship between type of endorser and advertising effectiveness ; • The negative spiral when it comes to sharing and commenting on content on social networks is stronger than positiveness (Dhaoui & Webster, 2021); • The business models evolve in a complex way, with a mixture and hybrid nature for the types of monetization very similar to what is happening with Twitch (Johnson & Woodcock, 2019;Sjöblom et al. 2019 andDiwanji et al., 2020); • The popularity of the influencer has an influence on their leadership but if their followers have very few accounts, this can have a negative effect on how likeable they are (De Veirman, Cauberghe & Hudders, 2017); • There is a trend to not take followers into account and to pay only for views as Snapchat has announced; • In advertising on social networks, the context triumphs over content and, consequently, "content is not king" (Voorveld et al., 2018); • "a high degree of congruence between the image of a social media influencer and the consumer's ideal self-image leads to effective endorsement outcomes" (Shan, Chen & Lin, 2020: 590). ...
... First, as a form of native advertising, branded content posted by influencers fit naturally in their media environment (i.e., social media platforms) and can look like organically created user-generated content (UGC) which lends greater credibility. It also helps that the audience is already relatively engaged on these social media platforms (Johnson et al., 2019). Second, influencers are ambassadors who serve to humanize a brand, reducing the social distance between a brand and its target audience. ...
... Another major advantage of working with influencers on YouTube is the flexibility of sponsored content. Brand-sponsored videos can range from product haul, vlogs (video blogs), product reviews, to how-to tutorial videos (Johnson, 2019). Moreover, since YouTubers' area of expertise varies greatly, options are endless for brands who wish to partner with popular YouTubers. ...
Book
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YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Vimeo, Twitter, and so on, have their own logics, dynamics and different audiences. This book analyses how the users of these social networks, especially those of YouTube and Instagram, become content prescribers, opinion leaders and, by extension, people of influence. What influence capacity do they have? Why are intimate or personal aspects shared with unknown people? Who are the big beneficiaries? How much is vanity and how much altruism? What business is behind these social networks? What dangers do they contain? What volume of business can we estimate they generate? How are they transforming cultural industries? What legislation is applied? How does the legislation affect these communications when they are sponsored? Is the privacy of users violated with the data obtained? Who is the owner of the content? Are they to blame for “fake news”? In this changing, challenging and intriguing environment, The Dynamics of Influencer Marketing discusses all of these questions and more. Considering this complexity from different perspectives: technological, economic, sociological, psychological and legal, the book combines the visions of several experts from the academic world and provides a structured framework with a wide approach to understand the new era of influencing, including the dark sides of it. It will be of direct interest to marketing scholars and researchers while also relevant to many other areas affected by the phenomenon of social media influence.
... Curiously, while on most channels the content is free to access (supported through advertising), many viewers choose to pay to support streamers. In this respect, as livestreaming has become increasingly professionalized and competitive (Johnson & Woodcock, 2019a;Postigo, 2016), Twitch has led other livestreaming platforms in enabling and developing a multitude of innovative transactional features that allow streamers to monetise engagement with their audiences (Johnson & Woodcock, 2019b;Partin, 2019Partin, , 2020Taylor, 2018). There are a multitude of ways to pay -many of which are rich in meaning, and underpin the relations between streamers and their audiences. ...
... Bits can be also used as a kind of currency to support 'channel games' (Johnson & Woodcock, 2019b) or competitions between viewers. Several plug-ins configure donations or Bits to 'buy' particular items, or actions that a streamer will undertake. ...
... However, there is still a lack of evidence on how online users perceive advertisements on these streaming platforms that combine traditional social media elements and entertainment [29], and on the capability of in-game ads to properly draw the users' attention [30]. Attention, defined as the allocation of mental, visual, or cognitive resources to an object of interest, is strictly required for any communication message that aims to be effective [31]. ...
Article
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In recent years, technological advances and the introduction of social streaming platforms (e.g., Twitch) have contributed to an increase in the popularity of esports, a highly profitable industry with millions of active users. In this context, there is little evidence, if any, on how users perceive in-game advertising (IGA) and other key elements of the game viewing experience (e.g., facecam and chat) in terms of visual attention. The present eye-tracking study aimed at investigating those aspects, and introducing an eye-tracking research protocol specifically designed to accurately measure the visual attention associated with key elements of the game viewing experience. Results showed that (1) the ads available in the game view (IGAs) are capable altogether to attract 3.49% of the users’ visual attention; (2) the chat section draws 10.68% of the users’ visual attention and more than the streamer’s face, known as a powerful attentional driver; (3) the animated ad format elicits higher visual attention (1.46%) than the static format (1.12%); and (4) in some circumstances, the visual attention elicited by the ads is higher in the “Goal” scenes (0.69%) in comparison to “No-Goal” scenes (0.51%). Relevant managerial implications and future directions for the esports industry are reported and discussed.
... Case in point, there were 7.3 million viewers who sent virtual gifts on Douyu, a Chinese live-streaming platform, in the fourth quarter of 2021. Since virtual gifts usually require viewers to spend real money to buy them, gift-giving provides financial support for streamers and ensures the operation and development of live streaming platforms (Johnson and Woodcock, 2019b;Li and Peng, 2021). Many live streaming platforms have launched unique virtual currencies as conversion systems between real money and virtual gifts. ...
Article
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In China, live streaming has grown rapidly in recent years, with gift-giving, a unique business model in live streaming, driving the development of many industries. This article explores the association between gift-giving behavior in game live streaming and viewers' live streaming experience. Specifically, this study aims to explore the correlation between Para-social Relationships, Social Presence , and gift-giving in the context of China. Based on the survey and interview of the viewer on Douyu, a Chinese live streaming platform, this study found that there is only a weak to a medium correlation between para-social relationships and viewers' gift-giving behavior. The correlation between social presence and gift-giving was even weaker. Although the conclusion of this study may be affected by the sample size limitation, it can still provide a reference for the current research on gift-giving on Chinese live streaming platforms.
... • That brands with a great reputation appear on social networks "has a positive impact on message credibility, attitude toward the ad, purchase intention, and eWOM intention" (Lee & Kim, 2020); • "The influencer narratives impair the effectiveness of sponsorship disclosure by analyzing the disclosure language in each post as well as the engagement performances" (Feng, Chen & Kong, 2020:1); • The identification of the desires and confidence by means of the relationship between type of endorser and advertising effectiveness (Schouten, Janssen and Verspaget, 2020); • The negative spiral when it comes to sharing and commenting on content on social networks is stronger than positiveness (Dhaoui & Webster, 2021); • The business models evolve in a complex way, with a mixture and hybrid nature for the types of monetization very similar to what is happening with Twitch (Johnson & Woodcock, 2019;Sjöblom et al. 2019 andDiwanji et al., 2020); • The popularity of the influencer has an influence on their leadership but if their followers have very few accounts, this can have a negative effect on how likeable they are (De Veirman, Cauberghe & Hudders, 2017); • There is a trend to not take followers into account and to pay only for views as Snapchat has announced; • In advertising on social networks, the context triumphs over content and, consequently, "content is not king" (Voorveld et al., 2018); • "a high degree of congruence between the image of a social media influencer and the consumer's ideal self-image leads to effective endorsement outcomes" (Shan, Chen & Lin, 2020: 590). ...
Article
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The market size of live streaming on the Internet, in which the streamer earns profit by prompting users to give virtual gifts through emotional labor, is getting bigger and bigger. However, most users will only buy cheap virtual gifts in live streaming, therefore exploring how to promote users to buy expensive virtual gifts is a valuable topic in live commerce research. Based on social presence theory and information overload theory, this study used the PLS-SEM method to investigate the factors influencing live streaming users to shift from buying cheap virtual gifts to buying expensive virtual gifts, and analyzed the moderating role of information overload in these relationships. The results show that immediate interaction anxiety, verbal intimacy, and virtual physical intimacy positively influence users’ shift to purchasing expensive virtual gifts, and that perceived network size and perceived financial risk are negative factors in users’ shift to purchasing expensive virtual gifts. Information overload has a moderating role in the relationship between immediate interaction anxiety and switch intention, and it also plays a moderating role in the relationship between perceived network size and perceived financial risk on users’ switch intention.
Article
Game live streaming has become increasingly popular and web streamer is widely recognized as a real career. A streamer is anticipated to entertain viewers, build relationships with them and solicit high-value gifts from viewers for profit. We explore game live streaming from a business aspect and find session-level factors of gifting with a data-driven approach. Previous studies extensively investigated the financial aspects of game live streaming and the social motivations behind this newly-emerged social media, but mostly from the individual level or as case studies. This study uses real live stream chatting and gifting data of over 1000 h and proposes metrics to proxy in-session behaviors for quantitative analysis of mass scale. We propose to use viewer chatting as a session-level measurement to better understand the motivations of high-value gifting. We find that the ratio of game-irrelevant chats (GIC) positively promotes high-value gifting, while small burst in game-irrelevant chats (spike) and frequent exchange of dominant topics (swap) negatively influence high-value gifting. Two sources of interactions, streamer and other viewers, elicit a framework to explain how in-session performance affects the high-value gifting. Specifically, parasocial relationship (PSR) with the streamer, and group identification (GI) with peer viewers are identified as mediators of the aforementioned three variables, and the two also positively influence high-value gifting. This research contributes to existing theories of gifting in live streaming context, and provides practical insights for live streaming platforms and streamers.
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