As an industry, video games generated $120 billion last year. If the gaming industry was a country, it would rank within the top 100 GDPs in the world.
And not only does that industry involve people buying video games to play themselves, but there’s also a rapidly growing subset of the population that watches other people game via streaming platforms – and they pay them, too, like you might tip a piano player at a bar.
The dominant platforms for video game streaming are Twitch, owned by Amazon, Google’s YouTube, which has a dedicated video game streaming section, and Mixer, owned by Microsoft.
Starting in January 2018, Facebook threw its hat in the ring, too. And the largest social media network in the world is already proving to some of its creators that it might be the most viable streaming service yet.
The Facebook Gaming homepage when accessed on a desktop.Screenshot/Facebook Gaming
The most recent viewership statistics from April, May, and June of 2019 show 153,000 active streamers on Facebook, while Twitch had almost 3 million active streamers in September. Twitch still dominates for both hours watched and hours streamed, compared to YouTube Gaming and Mixer.
Facebook Gaming can be accessed from the platform’s left sidebar on a desktop or via the menu on the Facebook app. Plenty of recommended live streams pop up immediately, with some of the most popular games being “Pokémon GO,” “Apex Legends,” “Grand Theft Auto V,” and, no surprise, “Fortnite.”
When you start watching a live video game stream, especially one that’s recommended to you by Facebook, there’s usually an option to give the streamer “stars,” with each star equal to one cent (100 stars for $1), or to become a paid subscriber of that streamer for $4.99 a month.
These revenue streams are similar to the ones on platforms like Twitch, but multiple streamers who talked to Business Insider said it was significantly easier to build a streaming audience on Facebook.
Those who are partnered with Facebook, giving them access to revenue streams, also suggested they could make more money on Facebook than on other gaming platforms.
Video game enthusiasts can make their entire living using Facebook Gaming revenue streams
The most prominent video game streamer, who capitalized off his Twitch fame and was later recruited to Mixer, is Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. At his peak, he once made $500,000 in a month for playing “Fortnite.”
Anthony Helm, 23, was enrolled at West Virginia University when he decided to follow in Ninja’s footsteps. So he dropped out of college and started investing all his time and money in streaming “Fortnite.” That “turned out for the better,” Helm told Business Insider.
Helm plays “Fortnite” for 10 hours a day – four hours in the morning, and six at night – and was able to get “partnered” with his page “Helms World” after just three and a half months of regularly streaming. Currently, he sits at more than 100,000 followers and makes a very comfortable living off Facebook Gaming alone.
“Growing as fast as I did didn’t come easy. I put a lot of time into my work, and it does get a little boring at times, but it’s my passion,” Helm said. “[Partnering] was a major accomplishment, everybody’s aspiring to become one. It was life-changing.”
Helm, 23, streams Fortnite using a green screen, so that it appears he has immersed himself into the game.Screenshot Facebook/Helms World
There are two ways to get access to Facebook Gaming’s revenue streams, and both require Facebook to actually choose you. The first is the “Level Up” program. Those newer to streaming can “Level Up” by creating a special creator page and streaming gaming content for at least four hours over two days within a 14-day period. They also need 100 followers.
“We select people after watching them stream a little bit. We put our stamp on creators who fit our community,” Vivek Sharma, Facebook’s head of gaming product, told Business Insider. “We do have a huge demand for this thing. The numbers change every month but there’s a long queue of waiting to get into the ‘Level Up’ program.”
Leveling up gives you access to stars and subscription features. Partnering is more intense, and Facebook hand-selected some initial partners for the launch of Facebook Gaming and has offered a pathway to it for creators since.
Partners have a manager who works for Facebook, get additional financial support (an actual reliable paycheck), and are testing out features like ads and custom sticker packs for their fans to use. Partnered creators sign a contract, which involves a non-disclosure agreement, and agree to a streaming quota.
Read more: Ninja’s move to Mixer brought more streamers to Microsoft’s platform – but not more viewers
The “Level Up” and Partner programs at Facebook are similar to those found on other game streaming platforms, especially on Mixer, which has a similar review process that holistically looks at a streamer’s quality, as well as a set of metrics that have to be passed.
Twitch also has a two-step program, like Facebook, with “affiliates” at the lower level, followed by partners. Similarly, to become an affiliate with Twitch, a streamer has to amass a certain number of streaming hours within a 30-day period and have a certain number of subscribers. There is a human review process to pass Twitch streamers on to the upper tier.
Affiliates unlock some monetization features, while partners, who have even more subscribers and stream even more hours, get full access to an advertising revenue percentage, a tipping token system, a “bounty board” of tasks with monetary rewards, subscriptions, and an opportunity to use Amazon affiliate links.
On YouTube, to make AdSense money, a channel just has to pass a set of benchmarks. Most creators on YouTube never speak to a live person or go through a live review process concerning their channel. YouTube relies on an automated strike system both before and after monetization is enabled to assess whether a channel is adhering to community guidelines.
“We’re happy to see Gaming creators succeed on our platform and are continuing to invest on YouTube. It’s exciting to see all the video platforms committed to the Gaming community as it’s great for the ecosystem overall,” a spokesperson for YouTube told Business Insider in an emailed statement.
Sharma said that Facebook Gaming was a natural transition for its platform, which has 100 million active users that participate in more than 30,000 gaming-dedicated groups on the social media network alone. That huge audience, combined with the nature of Facebook’s platform, has been an asset for streamers looking to start their careers in live streaming.
Streamers told Business Insider that Facebook’s platform makes it easier to build a big audience and make more money
The best aspect of Facebook for video game streamers is the size of its pre-existing audience. Every streamer who talked to Business Insider emphasized that being able to share streams into gaming groups and onto their own timeline made a huge difference in being able to build an audience.
“I have a lot of people in my community who don’t even play video games,” Timmothy Havlock, a partnered streamer who goes by “Darkness429” and has more than 550,000 followers, told Business Insider. “They found my content on Facebook and they really enjoyed it and they liked the community so they stuck around.”
Havlock was a member of the first incoming class of partnered streamers and began live streaming on Facebook in February 2018. Facebook recruited him from Twitch, where Havlock said he was able to reach 160,000 followers in four years of streaming. On Facebook, he went from 0 followers to half a million in the first year alone.
Havlock, 29, streams "Destiny 2: Shadowkeep” for his audience of over half a million people, around 600 of which are tuned in to this specific stream.Screenshot Facebook/Darkness429
“I’m making more money on Facebook than I did on Twitch. I don’t know if that’s because I’m hitting a different audience, because I’m hitting people who are at work, in their mid-20s to early 30s, and these are people who have somewhat disposable income,” Havlock said. “I think people are more generous on Facebook than they were, for me at least personally, on Twitch.”
Of course, most streamers on Facebook aren’t making any money, unless they’re using third-party revenue streams like Patreon or accepting donations through PayPal. A Facebook streamer who goes by “Its Noob” on the platform and has more than a quarter of a million followers told Business Insider he’s still waiting to get into the “Level Up” program.
Streaming the game “PUGB Mobile” is his full-time job, which he does 8 to 12 hours a day, so he’s eager to get into the “Level Up” program so he can start making money through Facebook itself. He said he doesn’t understand why he’s met the eligibility requirements listed publicly but hasn’t been invited to the program yet.
Read more: Professional gamers reveal the best things about their profession
Its Noob uses a multi-streaming service to air his gameplay on both Facebook and Twitch at the same time, but he said his Facebook audience is significantly easier to grow.
“It’s so difficult to get followers if you didn’t start early,” he said of Twitch.
Part of the reason Sharma says Facebook seems to be cultivating a more generous community for its streamers is because people tend to use their real identities on the platform and that in turn makes the community healthier.
“Creators often tell us that the communities feel a lot more welcoming than other platforms, partly because they’re used to being in this mode of being on Facebook and hanging out and talking with others and sharing on their timeline and feed,” Sharma said. “We kind of already have the foundation of a healthy community on Facebook and creators notice that. “
Facebook is continuing to expand its partner program to more streamers, and it plans on debuting new products
Sharma told Business Insider that over a third of the Facebook Gaming creators who benefit from revenue streams had their first experience with live streaming on the platform.
As new streamers “Level Up” those creators might not be able to compare their experience to Twitch or other platforms. But one current streamer, who has had a long career on YouTube, thinks Facebook is the most promising competitor.
Zack James, 29, first built a following on YouTube ten years ago with his channel OutbackZack and has since started his own animation company. His Facebook page “Yo Mama” has almost 4 million followers and his Facebook Gaming stream has more than 3.5 million followers. He signed to be a partner around May of last year.
“We’ve been around for eight years,” James told Business Insider. “So even if you kind of outgrew our stuff a little bit, you know, whether you’re a kid who had a certain sense of humor and you kind of got over it as you got older, people kind of rediscover us on Facebook.”
James plays games like “Grand Theft Auto V” and said working with Facebook Gaming has given him a chance to dive back into the types of games he played as a kid. He also says the team at Facebook has the best company culture out of any platform he’s ever worked with – despite Facebook’s recent PR problems.
Members of Facebook’s first class of partnered streamers for Facebook Gaming.Facebook
“I think a lot of these big tech companies like Facebook are being re-evaluated, and when you re-evaluate anything like that, any of these companies are going to have scrutiny. Any of that sort of scrutiny can align or realign certain public perception,” James said.
James also said he observes that he can make more money from ads on Facebook videos than on YouTube videos. Specifically, he said he makes about two to three times the ad revenue on a 3-minute Facebook video than he does on a 10-minute YouTube video.
Read more: The best-selling video game of every year, from 1995 to 2018
“It looks like Facebook will be one of the few companies that will actually bring real competition to YouTube,” he said. “And they don’t have a company culture that I think will have a negative impact on creators. If and when it gets larger, I think it’s only going to be more welcoming to creators like me.”
Next, Facebook Gaming plans to launch an app. Right now, it’s being tested in three markets – the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico. Sharma says most of the traffic to Facebook Gaming comes from mobile devices, as opposed to desktop, and when using the app, streamers will be able to start streaming from any app on their phone.
“I think they’re definitely looking at the market a bit differently than Twitch or YouTube has,” James said. “Creators need more competition in the market, and it seems like Facebook could actually provide that real competition.”