Of all of Twitch’s non-gaming classes, “Just Chatting” appears to have essentially the most clearly outlined objective. It’s for chatting. That’s it. And but, after the platform dissolved its ill-defined “IRL” part into 13 totally different non-gaming classes in 2018, Just Chatting grew to become its catch-all successor. Now it’s a juggernaut—Twitch’s prime class. But it’s additionally clear proof that Twitch’s class system is busted.
Twitch is organized through a system of classes, most of them devoted to particular video games, that viewers can browse at their leisure. Categories are displayed on a single web page that’s populated by increasingly classes as you scroll down. These are organized in accordance with both viewer numbers or a comparatively new and very simple advice system, relying on which possibility customers choose. When Just Chatting overtook all different Twitch classes by way of viewership numbers final 12 months—together with huge video games like Fortnite, League of Legends, and Grand Theft Auto V—it heralded a sea change. Where as soon as Twitch’s guidelines forbade lengthy intervals of game-free useless air and a few customers jealously gate-kept their valuable streaming playground, it had since developed into a spot the place creators of all kinds and stripes may thrive. Mainstream acceptance, many figured, was simply across the nook.
Or a minimum of, issues had been transferring in that path. In reality, there are nonetheless loads of individuals who consider (and act on the thought) that girls who simply hang around with viewers and different non-gamers are Twitch’s greatest drawback, a scourge that in some way blots out all others. In addition, Just Chatting homes all types of content material that may match extra neatly into different classes: artwork, music, politics, health, journey, and particularly, video video games. It’s not unusual, for instance, to test the Just Chatting web page and see Félix “xQc” Lengyel on the prime enjoying a online game, flanked by three or 4 different streamers enjoying video games within the prime 15 or 20. At different instances, you may see political streamers like Hasan Piker close to the highest, regardless of the existence of a Politics part (that hardly anybody really makes use of), or the fact TV-lite stylings of the Austin Show, although there’s a Talk Shows & Podcasts class.
In current instances, this has led to controversy. During a stream earlier this week, chess grandmaster and burgeoning Twitch megastar Hikaru Nakamura mentioned the truth that two of his chess compatriots, the Botez sisters, Alexandra and Andrea, stream chess video games into Just Chatting. The Botez sisters repeatedly pull over 10,000 concurrent viewers on their shared channel, which is a fairly large increase to any Twitch class. Their choice to go along with Just Chatting, Nakamura urged, could possibly be taking a toll on Twitch’s Chess part and occasions born out of it.
“When you have advertisers or sponsors looking to the Chess directory and thinking about, say, sponsoring [Twitch chess tournament] Pogchamps 2 or other possible events, what it does is, the numbers aren’t actually truly reflective of the number of people watching chess,” Nakamura mentioned throughout his stream. “I do think that when you look at the viewership and you see 7-10k people probably every day who are not showing up in the Chess category when she is streaming chess, it does affect chess as a whole, and it does affect the directory.” (Kotaku reached out to Nakamura and the Botez sisters for extra info, however neither replied.)
There are many causes streamers choose Just Chatting over different, extra becoming classes. In some circumstances, a streamer may begin a broadcast by chatting with viewers for 30 minutes or an hour or so, start enjoying a sport, and neglect to vary classes, or not see any actual level in doing it. But there’s additionally a transparent profit to streaming into Just Chatting: At any given second, it’s prone to have essentially the most viewers on Twitch, placing it on the prime of the platform’s “Browse” web page and making customers extra prone to click on it. As I mentioned in my piece about Fall Guys earlier this week, Twitch lacks the invention algorithms of different platforms, leaving it nakedly numbers-driven. As a end result, the massive are likely to get greater and the small are likely to wallow in obscurity. This goes for each classes and streamers.
There’s extra to it than simply that, although. During a current stream, news-focused streamer Zach Bussey examined Just Chatting’s paradoxical place atop the Twitch hierarchy. Not solely does it usually have essentially the most viewers, however it additionally, in accordance with statistics scraped from Twitch by unofficial stat-tracking web site Sullygnome, has considerably fewer channels streaming at any given second than prime sport classes like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and League of Legends, and streamers broadcasting into the class achieve this for much less time. There are different clear and crucial variations as nicely. In the previous 30 days, Just Chatting has gained 240 million viewers and 13.6 million followers. This devoted development makes even different prime classes look positively glacial by comparability. GTA V’s viewer/follower numbers in the identical time interval, for instance, had been 87.5 million and 4.2 million, respectively. League of Legends’ had been 159.6 million and three.5 million. Even Fortnite, Just Chatting’s closest competitor in followers gained, nonetheless trailed behind Just Chatting with 114.Four million new viewers and 12.1 million new followers.
What we’ve got is a state of affairs the place Twitch’s prime class is rising a lot quicker than every other however can also be, on common, placing streamers up in opposition to a shallower pool of competitors.
What we’ve got is a state of affairs the place Twitch’s prime class is rising a lot quicker than every other however can also be, on common, placing streamers up in opposition to a shallower pool of competitors. Finding an viewers on Twitch might be almost unimaginable in case you’re beginning with nothing however a Yeti mic and a dream, and regardless of Twitch’s growth this year, even relatively large streamers still plateau in categories dedicated to their games of choice, which frequently get pushed down by other, larger categories. Conventional wisdom says that you gain more viewers in Just Chatting, and numbers seem to back that up. Many streamers look at the numbers and find themselves liking those odds.
Even on an individual channel basis, the numbers bear out—albeit with some asterisks. If we look at the Botez sisters, their channel enjoyed a month of decidedly upward trends in viewership after they made the switch from Chess to Just Chatting at the end of May. However, some of this could also be attributed to the general chess boom all across Twitch at the time, and in the past couple weeks, their channel has seen a slight dropoff in peak viewership. Lengyel’s numbers, too, tend to fare better when he’s in Just Chatting. If he switches to a specific game’s category, they sometimes dip.
Why does Just Chatting operate differently from other top Twitch categories? Bussey thinks there are a couple factors at play. For one, many streamers can only just chat for so long.
“It’s not as saturated because most of the content in the category is not something that people can maintain for long periods of time,” Bussey told Kotaku in a DM. “A lot of the content in Just Chatting is either opportunities to chat with their community as people arrive, before swapping to a game, or it’s [‘react’-style content, like watching YouTube videos] that even the most reactive person can’t keep going for more than a couple hours. As the platform continues to pull in the mainstream, Just Chatting is the most accessible category, so new people who may not be interested in games are also going to find their way there first.”
There’s also the way Twitch users have been primed to discover new streamers: They go to big categories, and they scroll down. This, however, presents would-be Just Chatting streamers with a dilemma: If each channel in the category has, on average, a larger number of viewers than in other categories, then you also need to come in with more viewers in order to appear closer to the top. Even for streamers who aren’t that big, though, Bussey still believes that Just Chatting represents an attractive proposition.
“Accessing audiences is always a nightmare on Twitch because it’s built with viewer count in mind,” Bussey said. “Bigger streamers are always going to have the benefit of the top of directory placement, the same way that games do. But because the platform has been high-to-low for so long, existing users are used to scrolling multiple times down the page to find new content. And because Just Chatting appeals to all on a content level and on a direct communication level (one of the core reasons why live streaming is so interesting), more people are willing to make those long scrolls.”
Twitch does technically require streamers to use the category system for its intended purpose. The platform’s rules state: “You are expected to accurately label your content to the best of your ability. When choosing a category or tag, please choose whichever best describes your content. Deliberate or extensive misuse of titles, tags, games/categories, or other metadata are prohibited.” In addition, a Twitch spokesperson replied to Kotaku’s inquiries about Just Chatting by saying that “Streamers are expected to accurately label content to the best of their ability.”
After a certain point, it no longer makes sense to organize an entire platform along rigid category lines originally intended mostly for individual video games, especially when it means that fresh faces have a prohibitively difficult time rising to the top as a result.
Streamers, however, continue to broadcast games and other content for which there are specific directories into Just Chatting, and while Twitch issues warnings and enforces these sorts of rules through methods that don’t necessarily involve suspending streamers outright, there doesn’t seem to be much pressure on streamers to stay in their respective lanes.
Those lanes are also, in many ways, increasingly arbitrary. Steven “Destiny” Bonnell, who frequently uses Just Chatting for react-style broadcasts and political discussions, but who also sometimes plays games like Minecraft in Just Chatting, said that he uses games as background imagery for discussions.
“If the ‘focus’ on my stream is chatting about stuff, rather than the actual Minecraft game, I’ll put myself in the Just Chatting section,” he told Kotaku in an email. “Honestly a lot of people just throw themselves there for the additional viewers, but I’ll do it if the conversation is the focus of the stream rather than the game itself.”
It’s far from unprecedented. On YouTube, there’s an entire genre of video that’s just people talking about various topics while wholly unrelated video game footage plays in the background. How different is talking over a YouTube video from talking over a game, really? Is that even just chatting? Or should it also have its own category? As entertainment mediums evolve, creators blur lines. Just Chatting looks nothing like it did when it first launched, with countless new genres and subgenres of channel emerging since then. It’s also basically absorbed the content of several other sections, like Politics, which never really took off. After a certain point, it no longer makes sense to organize an entire platform—one that continues to flirt with the mainstream outside of video games, no less—along rigid category lines originally intended mostly for individual video games, especially when it means that fresh faces have a prohibitively difficult time rising to the top as a result.
But Twitch is also not YouTube, nor is it Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or any number of other platforms that have embraced algorithmic recommendation systems. Discovery on an almost-fully live platform is tricky, a puzzle that even Twitch, the streaming platform that casts an unmistakable purple shadow on all others, has yet to crack. Bussey suggested that perhaps it’s time for Twitch to lean harder into a feature that’s already there.
“Clips are so deeply underused as a feature of the platform,” he said. “It’s individual highlights from channels, yet the main driver of clip consumption is usually [notorious subreddit] r/LivestreamFail or the streamer posting a link on Twitter. Meanwhile, people go to YouTube to watch compilations of clips! There’s a clear demand for this highlight content, but it’s a matter of getting the right clips in front of the eyes that will want to see it. I can’t be in a stream every minute of the day. Show me what I missed from the channels I follow, and throw in a few clips from streamers I may be interested in.”
Until Twitch evolves in a substantially new direction, though, Bussey does not see Just Chatting’s chaotic reign—or streamers’ tendency to use it for much more than just chatting—coming to an end.
“There are clear benefits of building a community around a category. If everyone streaming art was in the Art category, more people might watch art, but they watch in Just Chatting, taking away potential eyes from the Art category,” he said. “However, that’s a bigger-picture ‘community’ thing. Most bigger streamers, I imagine, aren’t concerned with the 200-viewer streamer, or 75-viewer streamer or first-time streamer. Big streamers stay big streamers due to the lack of discoverability, so there are few small but fast-growing channels catching up to them, and as such, no real reason to feed downward. Better to move to where more viewers are.”