Facebook is all in on video and over the past year or so an important element of that shift includes wooing video game publishers and streamers to its platform.
That effort has so far involved striking deals with Nvidia and Blizzard to make it easier to stream games on Facebook, opening up streaming to profiles and bringing in major esports programming from the likes of the ESL, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Paladins and Wargaming. It also means experimenting with monetization, something Facebook still hasn’t mastered for video, and testing out higher resolution streams that support high definition video.
Slowly, those efforts seem to be paying off as the platform’s most popular gaming streamer approaches one million followers.
David Steinberg, a 25-year-old former investment manager from Portland, Oregon, spends his meticulously scheduled out days playing video games on livestreams as StoneMountain64, and he says his most important platform is Facebook.
But that wasn’t always the case and even now he knows it’s a bit of a risk.
“It is still the wild west,” he says. “A lot of creators ask me what I’m doing on Facebook, there isn’t any revenue. The main thing I’ve stuck to is that I treat it as an investment. It comes from my economics background. This is a long-term investment and I’ve already seen so much growth.
“They already have a platform with the audience, they’ve expressed interest in growing videos and livestreaming. I thought if I could get in on this and really make it work and give them good feedback it could get to where it needs to be.”
Where it needs to be, he says, is a platform that combines Facebook’s already massive audience and seamless connection to an assortment of other social platforms, with a better way for video creators to make money and higher quality videos for all to watch.
“We are now a video-first company and gaming videos are an incredibly important part of that,” says Stephen Ellis, partnership manager on the games team at Facebook. “Gaming videos are incredibly important to gaming overall.”
Ellis, who works with Steinberg among others, says that Facebook views gaming videos on its service in terms of four different groups: esports, publishers, professional streamers like Steinberg and “everyday folks.”
“We try to satisfy every one of them,” he says.
Steinberg’s relationship with Facebook started in 2016 one of his YouTube videos went viral on Facebook.
He says he started creating gaming videos six years ago when he was a sophomore in college. His friends had mostly stopped playing games and he was looking for a new community to play with. That’s how he found YouTube and its online gaming content. Initially, he says, he edited short videos together and posted them on his YouTube channel. It wasn’t until two or three years ago that he tried his hand at livestreaming, first on YouTube and then on Twitch.
“I thought it was a fun way to interact,” he says. “Instead of having to edit I just have it all live and people are getting the full raw experience. That was my origin into online streaming.”
While he did have a Facebook page, he didn’t use it for much other than to link out to his videos on other platforms. He says those posts didn’t do well at all. But then one day in early 2016, the official Facebook page for EA’s shooter Battlefield posted his YouTube video on its German page.
“It went so viral it reached everybody,” he says. “It hit seven million on Facebook and I thought, ‘Holy shit, that’s insane reach.’”
At the time the video only had one or two million on YouTube and while it was nice to get the exposure, that share didn’t really do anything for his channel. But, he says he saw an opportunity and started investing more time in creating videos specifically for Facebook.
He would create shorts of the full-blown content he created for YouTube and post them on Facebook and his views on Facebook jumped from in the hundreds to in the tens of thousands. Then in June of 2016, he was invited to EA Play by Electronic Arts as part of the company’s Game Changers program, which reaches out to social influencers. Part of that event included a sort of boot camp for streaming. Among the classes offered were talks by YouTube, Twitch and Facebook on a variety of topics. The Facebook discussion, Steinberg says, was contentious, mostly because everyone in the room wanted to know why they should spend time on a platform that still hadn’t figured out monetization.
“The answer they gave at the time was that it is something they want to do, but that they want to make sure they roll it out in the right way,” Steinberg says. “They didn’t want to turn off their huge audience.”
After the class, Steinberg caught up with Facebook’s Ellis to ask a bit more about the company’s outlook.
“He came afterwards and we had a great conversation,” Ellis says. “He said he had started casting with Facebook and wanted to learn more about where we were headed.”
Life as a Facebook Streamer
That eventually turned into a professional relationship which involves Steinberg getting access to a number of the company’s beta programs, including ones involving monetization and improved streaming quality.
Increased quality, for instance, started out with a test involving Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm which streamed high definition video at 720p at 60 frames per second. Once that test worked out, they extended it to Steinberg in hopes of receiving greater feedback.
Sometime after his summer meeting with Ellis, the new deal with Facebook and his slowly expanding livestream empire, Steinberg quit his job. While his videos still appear on YouTube (He had to leave Twitch’s partnership because it requires exclusivity), Facebook is now his primary live platform. And he can monetize through it. He declined to discuss how much he’s making but confirmed he’s living off that income now.
“It has been valuable working with Facebook,” he says. “The interesting thing is that with Facebook I can post live streams, video, text, photos, Instagram posts. I can do everything right there. My Twitter feed is even on Facebook.”
And Steinberg is working hard to get Facebook to bring some of what he considered to be the best elements of all platforms to its.
That includes things like the ability to tip a streamer, text to speech, subscriptions. He’s also dabbling in a number of different sorts of videos, including launching a new show for Facebook’s Watch program called World’s Best of the Best.
These days, Steinberg follows a strict schedule to grow his audience and maintain some semblance of a personal life.
He says he works Monday to Friday from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. He spends his mornings reading through emails, editing videos and interacting with the community. Then from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. PT, he livestreams on Facebook. After that wraps up he spends the afternoon editing, working on projects and doing research for new content. On Saturdays, he says, he starts about 6:30 in the morning preparing for what he calls his big stream, a livestream that runs across all platforms, including Microsoft’s Mixer, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch, at the same time. That runs from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. PT.
“I don’t think there is anyone way or formula you can copy to have success,” he says. “It’s a matter of having fun and enjoying what you’re doing.”
Steinberg does say there are a couple of things to keep in mind when streaming on Facebook, though. For instance, the audience on Facebook tends to show up immediately and only sticks around if they see something interesting. That’s different than a platform like Twitch which tends to have an audience that grows over time. He also believes a one to three-hour stream is ideal on Facebook, down considerably from a typical Twitch stream.
Facebook’s Streaming Future
Steinberg doesn’t even pause when I ask him what Facebook needs to do to improve its game streaming.
The items he lists out almost immediately include improving video quality, streamlining the process for going live, adding better interaction between subscribers and followers with the streamer, taking better advantage of sharing and having a home screen on Facebook for all the livestreaming going on across the platform at any given time.
“We are listening to the feedback we’re getting first before we roll it out more widely,” Ellis says. “As we get more feedback the intention is what we would roll it out wider.”
When it came to the biggest question streamers had for Facebook - the economics of hosting video on the platform - Ellis says the company is focused on what value they can deliver.
“One thing we heard at the game workshop was that monetization is incredibly important to the streamer,” Ellis says. “We are experimenting with new ways to monetize content.”
That is a bit trickier than it might sound, though. Ellis points out that they need a system that can satisfy all sorts of video content. That could mean traditional ads or things like third-party software that adds in things like subscriptions, emotes and interactions.
“In terms of where it is going, we want people to make a living streaming on Facebook,” Ellis says. “We want to grow an audience and have it be sustainable.”
And gaming is an “incredibly important” element of that.
“We are looking for more partners like” Steinberg, Ellis says. “We think gaming video has a long future ahead of it. It’s in its infancy really.”
Steinberg sees a lot of potential in Facebook and thinks it’s certainly possible that livestreaming could become the next big thing for the platform.
“I see it as a possibility,” he says. “I will say it’s been one of the most fun places for me to stream. I see Facebook as the best outlet for me to stream on, so I want to make sure it is the best platform too.”