Twitch researcher confirms that livestreams help boost game sales

Back near the beginning of the year, Punch Club publisher tinyBuild made an interesting proposition: It would release the game early if the audience of Twitch viewers could come together to beat it. It happened—much more quickly than anyone expected—and it also turned a very bright spotlight on the game, helping it to significant levels of success. In fact, Twitch Data Scientist Danny Hernandez said in a recent blog post that based on his calculations, 25 percent of Punch Club's sales are directly attributable to its presence on Twitch. 

That might seem obvious—people see game, people like game, people buy game—but Fernandez said he's “only recently acquired the data to really explore” the influence that Twitch has. And it's not just sales that Twitch boosts, but also player retention, through provided “complementary activities,” like viewing, chatting, and broadcasting. “The more invested someone is in your game, the more likely they are to buy cosmetics, DLC, and sequels,” Hernandez wrote. “I can’t put a monetary value on it, but I’m sure you know what retention lifts like this are worth to you.” 

But what I think is really interesting is that the greatest direct influence on consumers comes not from the most super-popular streamers, but “mid-tier influencers” with audiences between 33 and 3333 concurrent viewers, who account for nearly half of all Twitch-driven sales.   

“Smaller channels are more like your friend’s couch and less like a stadium. Mid tier broadcasters convert views into purchases 13 times more effectively than top tier broadcasters, and small broadcasters convert views into purchases 1000 times more effectively than top tier broadcasters,” Hernandez wrote. “This is strong evidence that Twitch does more than just remind potential buyers that your game exists.”

The strength of the big players, he explained, is their “massive reach.” He cited Hurtworld as an example, estimating that ten percent of its sales are attributable to Twitch; of that figure, 52 percent were driven by channels with 33 to 3333 average concurrent viewers, while those with more than 3333 accounted for less than ten percent. But those big channels have a very powerful influence over the smaller ones, resulting in a sort of trickle-down effect: “After Lirik, one of Twitch's most prominent broadcasters, played [Hurtworld] many mid-sized broadcasters followed suit,” Hernandez wrote. 

There's obviously a self-serving element to all this—Hernandez is a Twitch guy, so naturally he's going to promote it—and I'm not sure his final conclusion that game-makers can improve sales by building their communities is really all that terribly insightful. There's also a built-in element of inaccuracy,  as he acknowledged in his footnotes; for one thing, the sales estimates are based on Steamspy's numbers, which as we noted in our post-game coverage of the 2016 Steam Summer Sale are themselves extrapolations of data from a limited sampling. And measuring “influence” as a hard-and-fast number is fraught at best. Even so, Hernandez makes a convincing case. 

“Punch Club viewers were 4.6 more likely to buy the game within 24 hours than non viewers. The converse, purchasers were much more likely to watch within 24 hours is not true. That’s evidence we don’t have correlation with causality flowing in the opposite direction,” he wrote. “The strongest alternate hypothesis to viewing influencing purchase intent is that users seek out games they are already very likely to buy. The strongest evidence that Twitch is influencing purchase intent, is the variance different broadcasters have in selling games. Mid tier broadcasters convert views into purchases 13 times more effectively than top tier broadcasters, and small broadcasters convert views into purchases 1000 times more effectively than top tier broadcasters. This is strong evidence that Twitch is more than a pitstop on the way to checkout.” 

Thanks, VentureBeat.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.