Designers, Streamers and Twitch

A popular quip is “Who would watch someone play a video game?”


Which is more challenging for most graphic designers? Making things or finding people willing to pay to have things made? The answer is most often the latter. On the plus side, opportunities exist. Almost all media advances can benefit from professional graphic design intervention. One problem lies with the pace of change. Needs are popping up faster than designers can identify and address them. Live-streamers are an example of new media clients underserved by the ‘professional’ design community.

Live-streaming (or just streaming) is broadcasting video in real-time over the internet. The content may range from large productions, like concerts or other live events with a worldwide audience, to individual broadcasters streaming prosaic activities of their choice. These individual, entrepreneurial broadcasters are where the new opportunities are. Depending on the broadcaster a stream may get anywhere from dozens to tens of thousands of viewers per day. Online platforms that enable streaming include Youtube Live, Mixer, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope and Twitch TV. The live aspect of streaming is what differentiates it from a non-synchronous video platform like Youtube. A vital component of these streaming experience is the live-chat feature that allows for commentary, real-time interaction and community building. We are going to focus on Twitch because it is the most popular platform and has the most robust tools for streamers to monetize their content. Not incidentally Twitch also offers many things to design. Twitch was founded in 2007 and acquired by Amazon in 2014.

Historically most of Twitch content has been video games. A popular quip is “Who would watch someone play a video game?” The answer for Twitch is more than 100 million unique viewers per month who watch more than 2 million broadcasters.(1) Twitch has been aggressively diversifying their offerings over the past few years. Besides video games, you can now watch someone streaming just about anything you can imagine. (Twitch has guidelines and ratings, so don’t expect any sex or real-life violence, but adult language is fair game. Broadcasting copyrighted material is also a no-go) The range of streams include visual arts, music, computer programming, daily life activities, exercise, travel, woodworking, bounty hunting, trash pickup, Uber driving, auto repair, talk shows and true to their roots just about every video game imaginable.

Everyone dreams of working for themselves. Streaming gives would-be entrepreneurs that opportunity with the lowest overhead since selling apples on the corner. You need an internet connection and a computer (or even just a phone) with a camera. Then you just do the things you normally do; play games, chat, cook, eat, play music, and if things shake out well, make money doing it. Percentage-wise, very few streamers will succeed to the point where streaming becomes a full-time job, for most it will be a hobby. For the designer, picking winners and losers is not necessary. They all need the same design work done.

How do streamers make money? Twitch has developed robust tools to enable streamers to monetize their content. Currently, the platform offers two proprietary funding streams: subscriptions and “bits.” Twitch subscriptions are different from Youtube’s free “subscriptions.” On Twitch, a subscriber pays a $4.99 monthly fee. In return, subscribers are supporting their favorite streamers and receive minor perks including additional emotes and loyalty badges. A streamers take for subscriptions is contract specific, but no less than 50%. “Bits” are a platform currency. One bit equals one cent. Twitch takes a percentage when purchased and the streamer receives the full donation. Bit donations are one-time contributions usually acknowledged with an onscreen animation. Streamers can also receive direct monetary contributions through 3rd party software like PayPal. Additional income may come from merchandise often supplied by on-demand fulfillment services.

Where is the graphic design opportunity? What do streamers need that designers make? Streamers are small businesses with similar branding and identity to needs to other entrepreneurs. Most of the deliverables are digital. A typical list of needs might include: overlays, lower third graphics, banners, emotes, loyalty badges (similar to emotes) transitions, alerts, headers, intros & outros, social media elements, and depending on the streamer misc ephemera: stickers, postcards, business cards, etc. They may also require images and logos for merchandise including shirts, mugs, hoodies, etc. Besides basic graphic design skill, aptitude with web, motion graphics and scripting may be helpful.

Is there a catch? The business model limits recurring design work. A veteran streamer needs the same design products as a beginner. Following initial set-up the need for additional work is hit or miss. Also worth considering is that most instances of billable work will be less than $1000. These issues are mitigated by the large pool of potential clients and the relatively limited time investment once a workflow is developed. A couple of streamers per week over the course of a year is enough to buoy a young freelancer or serve as decent fill-in work for a more established studio. Also worth considering is how to reach potential clients. Streamers currently don’t see graphic designers as option. Developing a strategy to advertise specifically to streamers is certainly viable. Almost all are active on places like Twitter or Reddit and can be targeted in those spaces with ads. Conversely, it is easy to find contact info. A brute force approach by soliciting work individually is also an option. Sorting streamers by content and size would enable the development of a good list fairly quickly.

But streaming is a fad. The statistics don’t support this notion and neither does the marketplace. A burgeoning eco-system of support services is developing that cater to streamers. The non-design businesses include: broadcast software, donation services, chat moderator bots, trackers, analytic tools, VoIP and supplemental chat software. Business models like Stream Elements package and sell these services in a bundle. Additional more than 1,700 developers have registered to create extensions ― the add-ons that allow gamers customize their channels.(1) Currently, most of the design solutions are provided piecemeal by digital artists, template mills, amateur designers or DIY. Not to disparage any of these reasonable solutions, but there seems to be an opportunity for a customized, holistic full-service professional graphic design solution.

I have discussed Twitch but other platforms operate similarly and offer the same types of opportunities. This design space is certainly not for everyone, but new opportunities for good designers to do good work are always desirable. While designing overlays might be for you, keeping an eye on niche markets like this helps predict and understand other opportunities that may pop up. The truly adventurous can make an extra buck by going full-meta and stream the process of creating design solutions for streamers.