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From left to right, Mixer team members Tara Voelker, Chad Gibson and Ben Favreau at the Mixer studio on Microsoft’s campus. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

It’s been more than two years since Microsoft bought the Seattle game-streaming service Beam, later rebranding it as Mixer, and now the tech giant is revealing a slate of updates that go back to the service’s original mission and help the players make more money off their content.

Under the tagline of “Season 2,” Mixer’s newest updates primarily focus on helping streamers — the people playing and broadcasting the games — connect with their audiences and get paid for that interaction. And viewers get more options to express themselves and become a bigger part of the action.

In an interview with GeekWire, Ben Favreau, Mixer product marketing manager, said the new features are meant to “offer experiences that have not been seen before and push live streaming beyond somewhat of a passive consumption experience into something that is more active and engaging.”

A beach ball party on Mixer. (Mixer Photo)

Here’s a look at the new features Mixer is releasing now and in the coming weeks:

  • Skills: A new ability for audience members to react within game streams using more animated elements such as stickers, GIFs, fireworks, bouncing beachballs, confetti showers and laser shows. Every time a fan deploys a Skill within a channel, the streamer sees a financial benefit.
  • Sparks Patronage: Mixer’s free currency Sparks are accumulated by streaming games and watching streams, but previously there wasn’t much to spend them on. With the update, users can support their favorite streamers by spending their Sparks on Skills and other goodies that can lead to payouts for streamers.
  • Mixer Embers: A new virtual currency that audience members can purchase with real money. Embers are the next step up from Sparks, enabling more intricate Skills and celebrations and greater financial rewards for streamers.
  • Progression: Starting next year, Mixer will gamify the audience portion of streaming. Fans will be able to raise their status in chats by leveling up through the use of Skills, earning props from fellow audience members and participating on a regular basis. As viewers level up, they will get access to cooler celebrations and other perks.
The Mixer studio. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

These features build on and were inspired by other recent offerings from Mixer, most notably a function called MixPlay that lets developers build new tools to create more interactive streaming experiences. However, that feature required abilities and equipment that not all streamers have access to.

“You had to have some technical knowledge to be able to set up MixPlay on your own channel,” said Tara Voelker, a program manager at Mixer who also co-hosts the MixerBlueShow on the platform. “And obviously, a lot of our streamers using the built-in easy broadcasting on Xbox, they might not have the technology or knowhow to be able to do that. So by developing the Season 2 system, all of a sudden, all of those streamers are up on the same platform. Everyone has access to this. It’s not gated behind this physical need of a computer and technological knowhow.”

Gaming has been a bright spot for Microsoft overall in recent months, with the tech giant hitting $10 billion in revenue from that business alone for the first time in the 2018 fiscal year. Mixer is a big part of it. Microsoft acquired the service, then known as Beam, in August 2016 for an amount that has never been disclosed.

Founded in 2014 by Matt Salsamendi and James Boehm, Beam’s original mission was to make it easier for streamers and viewers to interact and keep audiences engaged. Beam was part of the 2016 Seattle Techstars class before Microsoft snapped it up.

Salsamendi and Boehm are still at Microsoft. Salsamendi leads product for Mixer and Boehm is principal community manager at Microsoft.

Matt Salsamendi pitches what was then known as Beam at TechStars Seattle Demo Day in 2016. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The first Microsoft employee to join the Beam team is also still there. Chad Gibson, Mixer general manager, first met the Beam founders back in 2016 when he was working on Xbox Live. He saw Beam’s presentations at Techstars Demo Day and TechCrunch Disrupt, and was wowed by the potential.

“I think about when we were building the Xboxes, when we first put network cable in the 360, and really changing and making multiplayer experiences that much more accessible,” Gibson said. “Seeing that presentation about how viewers can be part of the experience, I was pretty convinced then, and our experiences galvanized that for me to a certain extent that there’s ability to take this form of content into something that’s much more engaging.”

Microsoft has invested heavily in Mixer, building out a big studio in New York City as well as creating some prominent real estate for the service in Redmond. GeekWire got to check out one of the two studios in Microsoft Studio D. The setup of the 725-square-foot space rivals what you’d find in at any television station. With a multi-camera setup and several areas to shoot shows that complement the nearly endless hours of content created by streamers who broadcast games for audiences of eager fans, Microsoft has essentially built its own gaming-based TV network.

(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Despite Mixer’s ties to Microsoft and Xbox, it is platform agnostic. Mixer has shows dedicated to other platforms, such as MixerRedShow for Nintendo fans, and Voelker’s MixerBlueShow that is focused on PlayStation.

Mixer is in the midst of an uphill battle against Amazon-owned Twitch. In June Mixer reported 20 million monthly active users, up from 10 million in late 2017 and 100,000 at the time of the acquisition in 2016.

Twitch has 15 million daily active users. The streaming platform that Amazon paid close to $1 billion for back in 2014, is coming off some major new features released at its TwitchCon event in San Jose last week.

Mixer is known in some gaming circles as having a superior feature set. The Mixer staff said the company has  worked hard to create a positive community that encourages participation, and it is these traits that employees want to maintain as Mixer grows.

“I think the value of community, listening and being transparent, and the positive community sentiment that was there from day one, we’ve been working hard to maintain that,” Gibson said.”And it’s something that as we’ve been growing, both in team size and product size, it’s something that we’re incredibly proud of. And so that was the thing that I knew about when I first, myself was playing around with Beam, but over time, the importance of it has just become more meaningful certainly.”

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