Facebook Gaming was supposed to be the social media giant’s answer to Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch – a place to watch people play video games. Four years after its promising launch, the service has turned into an eerie digital ghost town where some of the most-watched accounts aren’t even players, some of the best live streams aren’t even live, and much of the real player video views are gone . The typical fare on a game streaming site is for a player to narrate while playing the game. But on a recent February morning, the #1 spot on Facebook Gaming was dominated by a video from the military game Arma 3, billed as footage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Other top videos included a montage of chiropractic footage and an unmanned digital biplane hovering without comment. Sometimes the best live videos feature Southeast Asian women selling foot callus removal kits or diet pills with content tags like “play Grand Theft Auto V” or “play League of Legends.” Some videos purporting to be live run for up to 11 hours, repeating recorded material.
Such content is very different from the game live streaming presented on Twitch and YouTube Gaming. Seven of the top 10 most-watched Facebook gaming accounts at the end of 2021 were responsible for the weird or off-topic videos, which can attract over 50,000 Facebook users at once, according to data from Stream Hatchet, which pulls data directly from the Facebook API. Some were eligible to run ads or receive donations through Facebook. After Bloomberg raised the issue with Facebook parent Meta, many of the suspicious channels were delisted or removed.
While video activity, whether pre-recorded, commercial or just plain bizarre, is rampant — in the final quarter of 2021, it made up 42 percent of the hours spent on Facebook’s top 200 channels, according to Stream Hatchet data reviewed by a livestream analyst gaming – it’s becoming difficult for serious game streamers to make a name for themselves or build an enthusiastic audience around their work. The number of Facebook gaming streamers has declined since 2021, with top personalities like Jeremy “DisguisedToast” Wang and Corinna Kopf – each with millions of social media followers – defecting to Twitch in recent months.
“We have more and more fake streamers and fewer and fewer real streamers,” says Facebook gaming user Daniel Popa.
The rapid disappearance of Facebook Gaming demonstrates Meta’s challenge in bringing young people and their vibrant communities to its flagship social network and the limitations of its strategy of copying the competition’s successful products. Facebook as a whole shrank in daily users for the first time in the fourth quarter, causing the company to lose more than a third of its market value since its earnings report. Meta Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has asked his employees to prioritize video products that can help the company attract the next generation of users. Now another copycat product — Reels, a competitor to TikTok — is Zuckerberg’s main strategic focus.
Despite the difficulties, Facebook considers its gaming endeavors a success. “When we zoom out, we see a long-term uptrend in both developer count and viewership on Facebook Gaming,” the company said in a statement. Meta is focused on its “ability to help developers reach audiences who care deeply about their content and communities and are more likely to come back and engage with future streams.”
Launching in 2018, Meta invested heavily in trying to make the gaming platform cool, luring some of Twitch’s top game-streaming stars, like Wang, with deals that reportedly exceeded $1 million in some cases . Facebook Gaming would be a dedicated hub for gamers to live stream Call of Duty or Rocket League, build an audience and chat with fans about their favorite game. These creators could monetize their content through programs that allow streamers to receive donations or serve ads.
In 2020, Facebook launched its mobile app, Facebook Gaming. Months later, when Microsoft shut down its game live streaming service Mixer, Facebook offered them incentives to bring their streaming business under their roof. Streamers saw this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves with less competition than on Twitch. Popa, a UK-based video game streamer, says he amassed an impressive 28,000 followers in 2020 playing Euro Truck Simulator on Facebook Gaming. When it was live, its viewership hovered around 700 — a significant upgrade from Twitch, where it only attracted around 10 or 15 live viewers, he said.
But that didn’t last. Unlike on Twitch, where his viewers constantly spoke to him in the dedicated chat box, most on Facebook were completely silent or complained that his stream was an unwelcome surprise in their news feed.
Over the past year, Popa’s metrics and those of several other players who spoke to Bloomberg have fallen precipitously. Popa’s viewers weren’t chatting on his channel because most weren’t actually watching, he believes. Facebook had distributed his video via newsfeeds from people who may not have been looking for his content. It will play automatically as users scroll. Then, over time, Facebook flipped the switch and more specifically promoted his and others’ streams.
“One of Facebook Gaming’s unique strengths is our foundation as a social media platform, giving developers the ability to reach audiences that may not be directly associated with them (like following them),” said a spokesperson for Facebook Gaming in a statement. Over time, Facebook has gotten better at showing streamers’ content to “disconnected audiences who are more likely to be interested,” the company said. This contributes to “a reduction in their unconnected range.”
The drop in metrics gave players less incentive to stay and created a vacuum that had to be filled with the off-topic pre-recorded videos. Many of the artificial channels had or have “affiliate” or “level up” status, which allows them to monetize through Facebook from ads and donations from users. Facebook incentivizes looped video and e-commerce channels to flood the platform with content: In order to monetize streams, users must “play gaming content with game tags for at least 4 hours for 2 of the previous 14 days.” “, according to the company.
Nonetheless, the number of hours the service was watched continued to increase. “Reaching the correct creators caused a problem due to fake creators: there’s no doubt about that,” says India-based streamer Sanjeev Kumar, leaving from AKELA Gaming.
A spokesman for Facebook Gaming said the company moderates the platform with a “mixture of proactive detection and human-generated reporting.” The company pointed to policies that “do not allow improper flagging of non-gaming videos as games,” adding that the company “can automatically identify and downgrade videos that are flagged as games but non-gameplay content.” to artificially gain reach on our platform.” They added that it’s normal to see a mix of live video and was-lives. Flagging a game without actually playing it like the ecommerce videos do can get you kicked out of the money-making scheme.
Additionally, unlike Twitch, Facebook Gaming is much more popular outside of the US, with many tuning-in viewers from Vietnam, Indonesia, and South or Central America, according to StreamsCharts data.
Game live streamers attract a younger Gen Z audience, as opposed to one-way TV or movies, interactive videos which can attract more engaged viewers who are also more engaged in advertising and sponsorships. Advertisers may be reluctant to invest money in content without ensuring that audiences are real, attentive people or that ads are played on channels powered by live streamers.
View inflation is a huge problem for game live streaming ecosystems – although it makes these live streaming platforms more appealing to advertisers. Video game blog Kotaku reported in 2018 and 2019 that viewers of some Twitch live streams were getting inflated due to a scheme that embeds them on millions of websites. The live streamers were often placed at the bottom or somewhere viewers couldn’t necessarily see them. In 2020, YouTube Gaming’s most viewed videos were also dominated by cheating and auto-playing recorded videos – including those with inappropriate content aimed at children.
As Facebook Gaming struggles to attract, retain, and nurture game streamers, some users are giving up. “These days, I stream on Twitch,” Popa said. “Less headaches.”
© 2022 Bloomberg LP
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