Steam Broadcasting works great, but Twitch isn't threatened yet

Cs Go streaming

The first thing I watched with Steam's new livestreaming service was Dragon Ball Z. Then I shot over to another instance of Media Player Classic to watch some other anime I couldn't identify. When the stream cut out, the chat filled with one viewer's cries of "FUCK THE MODS WE RUN THIS SHIT."

Just like Steam's tagging functionality, which initially had undesirable results, it's going to take some time for Valve to get Steam Broadcasting right, which may include protecting itself from legal repercussions (and I can't imagine the complexity involved in doing so). For that reason and more, cries of "Twitch is dead" are massively premature. I'm not even sure Valve is gunning for the current leader in livestreaming, and after playing with the beta release today, I don't think it's any competition yet. I do like it, but it offers something different—an easy way to share with friends.

And Valve does have advantages. When I want to Stream on Twitch, I set up OBS, test it, then tell everyone on Twitter that it's happening and hope for some viewers. On Steam, which already houses most of the games I play, I just set it up once and play any game in my library. The streams are a good quality (mostly), and I haven't had performance problems while playing. My biggest fear is that I'll forget I've set my streams public, because it works so smoothly.

If I do decide to let anyone watch, any game I'm playing on Steam will be posted as a broadcast in the game's community hub. A couple minutes after I started streaming Metro: Last Light—not exactly a brand new game—three viewers showed up, and all I was doing was sitting at the menu. Steam offers a massive audience, so I expect popular games and streams to draw a lot of attention. It could be huge.

Steam Streaming

But Twitch has a huge audience, too. There are over 69,000 people watching League of Legends as I write, with one stream alone drawing over 24,000 of them. Over on Steam, the biggest Dota 2 stream at the time of writing has 179 viewers. Most have none. So, this isn't a magic bullet, and it's going to take time for Steam Broadcasting to grow. Additionally, Steam doesn't offer what Twitch does, and may never. Here are a few of the reasons Twitch streamers aren't going to abandon their posts:

  • Streaming on Steam means streaming with the Steam client. Twitch streamers can use Open Broadcaster Software, Xsplit, and others to customize their video.
  • Viewing Steam streams is only currently supported in Safari, Chrome, and the Steam client. Twitch already has popular mobile apps.
  • Steam currently cannot archive broadcasts. Twitch no longer saves archived streams forever, but it can export them to YouTube.
  • You currently need to be logged into Steam to view broadcasts, and they can't be embedded on other websites.
  • Popular Twitch streamers can make money from their broadcasts, and that's not the case on Steam, so they have no incentive to jump ship. (That does mean that Steam's broadcasts are nicely ad-free, but of course they are—Steam is already a store where products are promoted.)

Some of this may change in later releases, and it's possible that big Dota 2 and CS:GO tourneys will feel cozier on Steam (where Valve could potentially sell access), but we'll just have to see where that goes. For the moment, I don't see Steam as a competitor to Twitch, which isn't to say Twitch is the best possible service; it's just different. Steam Broadcasting is a service for Steam's community, while Twitch is a business opportunity and e-sports hub. If I were running a tournament, I'd use Twitch, but if I want to share a game with friends, I'll probably use Steam starting now.

I could notice Evan playing CS:GO, and decide I want to absorb some of his skill. He could notice me playing some new Early Access game, and find out what I think of it. It's easy, too. With the latest beta client installed (you can set that up in Steam's preferences), all you have to do is right click a friend's name and hit "Watch game." Depending on their settings, it'll either send you to the stream, or let them choose whether or not to share (it can also be set to invite-only, so that you don't have to opt out of requests). I'm going to prefer privacy most of the time, but I'd happily run around Far Cry 4 with an audience of friends. It would feel like a hassle to start a Twitch stream just to show Evan how much C4 I stuck to an elephant (and I wouldn't have bothered), but if he's already in Steam all he has to do is ask.

That's the real value of Steam Broadcasting for me. If Valve gets aggressive next year, we could see certain tournaments and big streamers switch over, but right now, I don't think Valve is taking on Twitch. (In fact, I've seen many users suggest adding Twitch support.) And anyway, I hear that League of Legends, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, and Minecraft are pretty big despite their non-inclusion in Steam. It's apparently possible to use Steam to broadcast non-Steam games, but why would you?

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.