Almost a year ago, Microsoft acquired the Seattle-based Beam game streaming service, a member of the TechStars Seattle 2016 class, co-founded and led by Matt Salsamendi, then 18 years old. The deal gave Microsoft a rival to YouTube Gaming and Amazon’s Twitch, letting users livestream and watch games and other content.
Fast-forward to today: Beam has been renamed Mixer, and Microsoft has integrated the service into Xbox One and Windows 10, with Salsamendi continuing to lead the product team. Mixer seeks to differentiate itself with features including low-latency streaming, the ability for up to four broadcasters to stream to a shared chat experience, and ways for viewers to interact with games as they’re streamed.
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Another advantage is Mixer’s close ties with Microsoft’s PC and video-game platforms. The Xbox One and Windows integration has resulted in “crazy awesome growth,” Salsamendi said during a talk last week at the Casual Connect gaming conference in Seattle.
He didn’t give specific stats, but Microsoft reports 500 million Windows 10 monthly active devices and more than 50 million monthly active Xbox Live users, so if even a small fraction is using Mixer, it’s a significant number. Twitch, widely regarded as the market leader, was acquired by Amazon for $970 million in 2014. It now reports about 10 million daily active users.
However, Salsamendi said, what’s most important to Mixer isn’t user growth but maintaining the focus on the “very community-oriented experience” that led to the success of the service in the first place.
So how does he view Mixer’s competition with Twitch? GeekWire asked Salsamendi that question during the audience Q&A at the event. Continue reading for his thoughts on that topic, where Mixer is headed next, the potential for eSports, the technical infrastructure needed to support sub-second streaming, and other comments from the Casual Connect session.
How he views the competition with Twitch: “My perspective is a little bit unique in that I started on Twitch. I think it’s really important to respect the communities that are there, and the platform that they’re building. But ultimately I want Mixer to be the best place to broadcast your content regardless of what you’re streaming, and I think we’re doing a good job of that, and we’re continuing to see growth through it.”
“In terms of our content acquisition strategy, being very respectful and cognizant of the communities that are being built there is very important, so we’re doing a lot with natural and viral growth, and the product speaks for itself in that regard. We get tons of huge broadcasters on board just because they like the product. I’m excited to see more. Definitely keep an eye out for more people coming over. I don’t personally think of it as much about competition, but in reality it sort of is. I think that our North Star is always going to be those interactive broadcasters, and continuing to build features for them and socialize what we’re doing.
Mixer’s growth and focus: “From the very beginning, it hasn’t really been much about the numbers. More so about the communities that we’re building. What we’ve been doing with the Xbox integration, with the Windows 10 integration, we’ve seen crazy awesome growth. If you look at the platform if you’re a user, I think that’s something that’s super exciting for you. But really it’s all about continuing to help foster that very community-oriented experience even, I guess the word might be in spite of the growth, because it can be hard, as communities grow, to keep things feeling connected, keep people feeling united around this goal of making streaming interactive.”
“That’s really how we focus. We’re doing things around chat moderation. We’re doing things around the interactive platform, getting more games on board, working with broadcasters directly to help be the focal point to look to as to the kinds of communities that we want to build. Those partner broadcasters, we work really closely with, helping them ward off trolls, helping them build the kinds of streaming experiences that they want to see, and so those are things that are big focuses for us.”
What’s next for Mixer: “I want to continue to grow, focusing on those communities. My vision really involves us scaling the way that we accept feedback, scaling the way that we develop product such that, with all these new awesome Mixer Create apps, with all the new Xbox stuff we’re working on, we still maintain that North Star of broadcasters.”
“I think that’s a really important thing, and it’s not something where you can just sit back and say, ‘Oh, we’re doing it.’ You actually have to go and make a concerted effort to do it. You have to build tools. You have to bake it into your development process. And you have to do things differently in an effort to cater to those users from the start. So that’s something I’m really excited about scaling.”
“From a product perspective, you’re going to see more interactive games. That’s the most obvious thing. As game developers, that’s a little bit of a longer lead there, but you’re going to start seeing more and more games supporting this stream-first functionality. We’re at the forefront of that, and we’re going to continue to be. Those are ways that I’m excited to see it expand.”
On the potential of eSports: I think eSports is cool. We’re still really, really early on. One of the things I’m particularly excited about, if you look at traditional sports, since they’re built historically primarily via cable TV and set-top boxes, there’s not as much opportunity to get in there and get statistics and actually be a part of that kind of gameplay. I think that, as eSports continues to evolve you’re going to see a lot more viewers becoming fundamental part of the experience. Not just watching but actually participating in the eSports, being able to drill down and see player statistics, the ones that you want to see and not just the ones that they’re showing, and actually get better at the game yourself through those things. I think that’s going to be one unique aspect of eSports, because it’s delivered over the Internet and all the challenges but also the possibilities that that entails.
On the infrastructure needed to support sub-second streaming: “We were very lucky early on … because we had existing points of presence in something like 24 different data centers all over the world. Having the data centers is one thing. The interesting thing about what we do is really all about the underlying transports that are used to deliver video, the recovery mechanisms we use when there are network faults, and then the way that we redistribute traffic between our ingest systems and the distribution systems to actually serve that traffic to the viewers.”
“That whole stack is almost completely in-house, almost completely proprietary, which is something that we’re really proud of building. We’re the first company, as far as I’m aware, to do low-latency, large-scale streaming. If you look at what we did with E3, we had 200,000 concurrent people watching E3 in 4K — not 200,000 in 4K, but we were offering it in 4K — and that pipeline held up really well. Of all things, the chat was actually one thing that actually had a little bit of trouble with that scale.”
“But those aren’t fundamental problems, those are things that we’ve worked through, and we’re always iterating on that. It’s all about just continuing to work through trial and error. It’s something that is very new. We use a technology called WebRTC to do video delivery in the browsers, which is a very, very new technology. It hasn’t even been fully standardized yet. But it does exist in most browsers, and there’s libraries to do it on mobile for example.”
“So we’ve definitely been pioneers in that community, and we help wherever we can to help foster that. And it’s been a really exciting journey for us, going from my personal background, I didn’t know much if anything in video streaming and I think that’s actually a blessing in disguise, because it means that you can start fresh, and you can look at ways that you can improve the systems fundamentally because you’re naive to everything else that everybody else has been doing. It’s worked well for us. I have an awesome team. Stefan (Slivinski), who’s our principal video engineer on the FTL (Faster Than Light streaming) side, does an awesome job at what he does, and we’ve got a great team with him that continues to integrate that and more technologies, more browsers, and get it to more people.”
“The great thing is we use H.264 for our video delivery, which has hardware acceleration for both playback and encode pretty much everywhere. So we’re using the hardware encoders on devices for things like Mixer Create. We’re using the hardware decoders wherever they’re available — just pretty much everywhere. It doesn’t use materially more battery life or bandwidth than other platforms, which is really great. The underlying compression and such is the same as what’s being used. It’s more so about the transport and the way we deliver the video that makes it unique.”