YouTube Gaming is more or less shutting down this week. Google launched the standalone YouTube gaming vertical almost four years ago as a response to Amazon’s purchase of Twitch, and on May 30, Google will shut down the standalone YouTube Gaming app and the standalone gaming.youtube.com website.
The plan to shut down the gaming portal was announced in September, with a report from The Verge saying the site was dying because it simply wasn’t popular. YouTube serves more than 50 billion hours of gaming content a year, but people just aren’t viewing those hours through the gaming-specific site and apps.
Live game streaming is one of the few incursions into Google’s dominance of video on the Web. Google tried to buy game streaming leader Twitch.tv back in 2014, but the company was snatched up by Amazon. YouTube Gaming launched one year later as, more or less, a clone of Twitch. YouTube Gaming offered a very different interface from YouTube, in the same way Twitch is different from YouTube. Individual games got their own pages on YouTube Gaming that showed all the YouTube content related to that game, and viewers could follow a game to receive all the latest content and discover new creators. Livestreams were heavily promoted as part of the gaming push, along with a low-latency streaming mode for better chat interaction. The site also set about copying some of Twitch’s monetization features, with things like paid “Super chats” and paid channel subscriptions.
YouTube Gaming was only ever an alternative interface to YouTube’s gaming content. That means the death of the standalone portals shouldn’t result in the loss of any content, and livestreaming is still supported on YouTube.com. A support page does detail some of the changes users will have to deal with, like the merging of YouTube Gaming and normal YouTube subscriptions. Users will also lose their list of followed games, which isn’t supported on YouTube. Google is directing former YouTube Gaming users to a gaming sub-page on YouTube.com, which has some of the YouTube Gaming features intact, like the top live games list. On the Web, the gaming section is at YouTube.com/gaming, and you can find it in the regular YouTube app by tapping on “trending” and then “gaming.” Just like the standalone site, though, a normal person would be hard-pressed to discover these special interfaces.
YouTube Gaming seemed like a good idea at the time. Nearly every game streamer has a YouTube channel—even those who are heavily invested in Twitch—and with its own suite of live features, maybe YouTube could keep some of those people entirely on its platform. What didn’t work about that plan is that Twitch benefits from social network effects: all the content creators go to Twitch because that’s where all the viewers are, and all the viewers go to Twitch because that’s where all the content creators are. Neither side wants to make the jump to a new-and-empty social network.
Twitch also has its own appeal. The community has developed its own culture around the site’s numerous emotes, which have become their own shorthand language at this point. The site’s game directory, which is sorted by current viewers, essentially serves as popularity leaderboards for the gaming industry.
YouTube Gaming was just one of the many YouTube verticals Google has launched in the last few years, all of which tried to extend the YouTube brand to some other form of media. YouTube Gaming was going after Twitch. YouTube Music is Google’s Spotify competition. YouTube TV and YouTube Premium’s original programming are attempts at Netflix competitors. There’s also YouTube Kids, which attempts (and often fails) to provide kid-friendly collections of videos. YouTube Studio is for creators, and let’s not forget, of course, the regular YouTube app.
YouTube Gaming can be added to the very long list of Google shutdowns in 2019. The company has been aggressively culling its lineup of services and just this year has killed Google+, Google Inbox, Google Allo, the Chromecast Audio, and many others. Even Google Hangouts and Google Play Music are scheduled to shut down in the near future.
All these shutdowns are making it difficult to have confidence in the company’s future products, particularly new ecosystem plays like Google Stadia, Google’s upcoming cloud gaming service. For people skeptical of Stadia’s longevity, Google’s shutdown of a gaming product just a few months before the Stadia launch won’t help change any minds.