Youtube got a brand new Gaming focused UI this week, let’s see how it stacks up against Youtube itself and rival Twitch.
A Fresh Coat of Paint
The new design is modern, bold, clean, and a lot of other positive adjectives I wouldn’t normally apply to Youtube. On the main page we have a search bar, a “favorite games” sidebar to the left, a “my channels” sidebar to the right, and a long stream of different content in the middle. The right sidebar icons will light up in full color if any channels I follow have live streams active.
The site is a bit more of a different view into Youtube than an entirely separate site, so you’ll see content from your old Youtube subscriptions on here too.
The middle column starts with a “featured streams” section somewhat like Twitch’s, except it also includes your own subscriptions that happen to be live instead of just whoever asked (or paid) to be at the top of Twitch and got okayed. Below that we have My Channels (Youtube, focusing on my subscriptions? What is this magic?!), a list of Live channels, a few sections for games I follow, and a “spotlight” and “recommended for you” section at the bottom of the list.
I really feel I must commend Youtube for putting their recommendations at the bottom and letting stuff I actually care about come to the top, something normal Youtube has long since abandoned. It contributes to the feeling of them, well, actually giving a shit about what they’re doing which is not a feeling Youtube often inspires.
Search is improved and lets you search for channels, games or specific videos. It will only find gaming content so you’ll get only gaming-relevant suggestions. It recognizes even fairly obscure titles for search too which is nice.
In the focus on big, big BIG thumbnails, things are a bit spread out and it takes a little getting used to over the old Youtube interface. But at the same time it’s quite a bit neater and doesn’t have all of the stuff Youtube has that just isn’t very useful. There are very few menus, suggested videos seem more relevant, whitespace is used well. It’s a much less claustrophobic, jam-packed experience than Youtube. At this point Youtube feels designed by committee and there’s a lot of crap included that feels unnecessary. Youtube Gaming feels like what youtube could be if all that were thrown away and it were designed from scratch.
Designed for Gaming
This seems obvious, but Youtube gaming feels genuinely designed for a gaming audience in a way that not even Twitch does. Twitch’s UI honestly doesn’t exude much game-relevance beyond the actual “games” section which gets very little attention or respect. You have the front page, sorted by popularity and/or whoever paid twitch to appear there, you’ve got your follow page, you’ve got the top games, top streamers, and beyond that you’ve gotta search. You can follow games now, but it still feels a bit tacked on. Twitch is focused on Streamers, not games.
Now Youtube Gaming focuses on Streamers too, but the autogenerated Game pages make following content by game quite easy. You can also follow games and they’ll appear in your left sidebar for easy access. Take a peek at GTA’s game page here and all the nice auto generated sections for discovery:
Now it’s not infallible either. Youtube Gaming feels designed for games, but big games. Step outside of the AAA and rockstar indie circle and you might be greeted with a page like this poor specimen for Bunny Must Die:
Setting aside the puke-green color for a moment, no information beyond the title and release date are found, though fortunately videos of the game are still properly brought together. Functionally it’s fine for the most common uses, but quite unfortunately ugly. Twitch can have this issue with indie games as well to be fair, but it seems a bit silly here. It’s not even a super obscure game, having it’s own website and a Steam listing for Google to data mine from. I’m not exactly sure where Youtube gets its cover photos and info, but it’s clearly lacking for smaller titles.
An interesting discovery is the Let’s Play tab appears to focus on Playlists. It’s nice to see Playlists potentially elevated from being second class citizens, though creators of one-off “quick look” videos do not appear to fit as well in Youtube Gaming’s concept of a Let’s Play (or review).
Again Let’s Play and Review tabs are all auto-generated, so the tags and title of your video seem very important in how they’re presented on Youtube Gaming. Tag, thumbnail and title your stuff properly!
One slight shortcoming of how games are handled in Youtube Gaming is there’s no manual way to set a game–it uses your title, tag and description to figure it out and it’s usually quite accurate, but for niche games I’d like to be 100% sure the right game is set. Some videos of mine don’t have a game tied to them, even though the game is in the database, not entirely sure why.
I kind of assume the ability to manually set games will come later and that a goal for the launch was for Youtube Gaming to work 100% without any changes by creators. An exception to this quirk is Livestreams, which can manually set a game (changing game titles mid-stream doesn’t work very well either).
Administrating your channel for Youtube Gaming couldn’t be easier–this is because basically, you don’t administrate your Youtube Gaming channel. As I said before, Youtube Gaming is a UI for the viewer. Everything on your channel page, all the videos you upload, all your livestreams are handled through “normal” youtube. Youtube Gaming is just a skin that pulls out gaming-only content, categorizes it and displays it in a way more appropriate to gaming videos.
Your only controls for managing content in Youtube Gaming is the little Go Live button at the top right which provides a nice easy way for people to transition from watches to creators. But there are only two items in the menu, and both lead to their respective Youtube pages.
Some people don’t seem to like this, and it does sound kind of cheap. But honestly my only problem with this set up is that Gaming is so much better designed so I wish I could see upload tools designed by that team. Having used Youtube’s tools for 4 years, it’s kind of nice to just have all of my past content instantly categorized on Youtube Gaming.
I didn’t have to lift a finger but my users now have a brand new, totally optional way to view all my content. There’s only one toolset to create and I don’t have to worry about weird incompatibilities or differing feature sets (a problem I’ve recently had with Google Inbox vs Google Gmail, the former not supporting bulk actions that the latter has for years). I like this. I just focus on making great content and Youtube worries about presenting it. And it’s already doing a much better job than normal Youtube.
The one thing you do need to worry about slightly is your channel page in Youtube Gaming: the playlists you show on your channel on Youtube become the tabs on the interface below. If you’ve been neglecting the ability to feature playlists on your channel, Youtube Gaming might be a good excuse to start doing that.
Thumbnails are also much more prominent, displaying at a legible size at all times unlike Normal Youtube, so if you’ve been slacking on your Thumbnails, this might be the time to fix that.
New Livestream Interface
As per above, this isn’t actually part of Youtube Gaming itself, it’s part of Youtube like all creator tools. But the livestream interface went into Beta a couple weeks before Youtube Gaming’s launch and it’s obviously part of their plans for Youtube Gaming. But it’s nice for non-gaming stuff as well, as it’s much better than the old UI.
The Livestream UI is arranged into nice, movable chunks (you can click the 3×3 square “grips” to move any element). Here you can watch your own stream, see the chat, some realtime analytics, update your stream settings and some other fun stuff.
Livestreaming on Youtube is now no harder than streaming to Twitch, you simply enter your stream key and the server to stream to in your OBS/Xsplit/etc settings, start sending video and the video goes live. No more scheduling or encoder warnings or any of that ridiculous crap that made livestreaming on Youtube complicated.
Fan Funding is reasonably well promoted, especially in Gaming’s chat interface where there’s a dollar sign button for fans to contribute right while they watch. I haven’t been paid mid-stream yet, but there’s a nice tool that shows you who donated if you like to give shoutouts for donors. There’s no “sub button” equivalent on Youtube yet, fans either give money directly (youtube takes a cut, but less than twitch’s 50%) or you earn money via ads as always. Also, you can stream with NO ads if you prefer, unlike twitch.
I love the idea of Youtube’s Fan Funding, though I’ll admit I’ve seen extremely little use of the feature on my ~8k sub channel so far. It’s nice to see them promoting the feature a bit more, but I’m unsure if wallets will remain tight.
There’s a new interaction-focused lower latency mode for chat, though it doesn’t seem notably lower latency than Twitch. I didn’t measure exactly, but I’d say they feel in the same ballpark. Hitbox still has the advantage here.
Youtube doesn’t hold any features behind “sub buttons” like twitch–quality options are open to everyone, there aren’t chat faces anyway, I believe all you have to do is provide your tax/payment information to monetize. It’s a bit hard to follow Youtube’s exact restrictions on features over the years, but I can tell you they’re the lowest they’ve ever been.
The new livestreaming is in “Beta” but anyone familiar with Google products means that means almost nothing. Products change well after they’re out of Beta, may not change much while in Beta, products function quite well despite the label. I’m kind of surprised Google is still so insistent on using the label, I’m not sure who they’re fooling at this point.
The Content ID Boogeyman
So, Content ID sucks. I hate it, I consider it an overreach far beyond what the DMCA requires, I’d love to spit on it’s grave. But people really have a hard time grasping how it actually affects things, and best I can tell concerns about content ID for livestreams are greatly exaggerated.
Content ID, Youtube’s auto copyright sniffing tool, allegedly works on livestreams and can warn or even pull down a live stream if certain content is being streamed. Obviously every single stream will be instantly ripped down and banned to eternity, right? Well, not quite.
A great deal of games just don’t actually get hit by content ID, namely indie and other niche games. Licensed music is iffy, and I have gotten Content ID’d on N++ due to it, but GTA Live Streams seem to be surviving on Youtube, one of the most common examples of “that’ll get pulled down”, and personally I’ve never gotten this ominous “stop streaming or get banned” content ID warning even when playing N++ which totally does get Content ID matched.
I can’t say anything for certain, as a huge downside of Content ID is it’s very spotty, but not only can you definitely stream games uninterrupted, even streaming games that get Content ID matches after the stream don’t necessarily get pulled down. I have no idea when, if ever, this “stop or die” message actually appears, but it does not appear to be the pervasive all consuming monster people imagine it to be.
The biggest problem of Content ID is that it’s scary and poorly understood. It’s very clear to me that the pall of Content ID is scaring many off already, and Google really needs to address this in whatever way they can. They need to be as clear and flexible as they legally can, and will need good word of mouth to assuage fears. For now, it appears Content ID is, like everything else creator-side, no different, and if you had no Content ID problems uploading videos you shouldn’t have them streaming.
Youtube Gaming is an impressive dive into gaming content and shows Youtube is really taking gaming seriously for once when it felt like a dirty secret before. They’re directly accepting of ideas like Let’s Plays, they’re promoting live streaming and fan funding, they focus on subs and games rather than (only) shoving popular faces in your feed.
There’s some sure limitations and things that could be improved such as the auto generation of content, and the sites’ focus on gaming means that many users may prefer to use “normal” youtube instead, but that’s kind of a strength. Youtube Gaming is a great new tool for users that requires almost no extra work for creators.
The big open questions are how popular it will be, especially for livestreams (youtube easily dominates in on demand), and how the Content ID situation turns out. In my opinion the Content ID situation should be immediately addressed by Google not because the situation is clearly bad, but because the situation is badly unclear.
As a Youtuber who never really found success on Twitch, this gives me plenty of reason to stay on Youtube, but big Twitch channels will probably want to run their own test streams or see how things shake out, as live view counts are still lower than Twitch on the brand-new site.