Twitch and Facebook Gaming Are Having One Hell of a Year. YouTube Gaming? Eh, Not so Much

Illustration for article titled Twitch and Facebook Gaming Are Having One Hell of a Year. YouTube Gaming? Eh, Not so Much

Photo: Martin Bureau (Getty Images)

As the world descended into lockdown last year, people overwhelming tuned into livestreams to connect with others and stave off boredom while stuck in their homes. And that pandemic-fueled growth shows no signs of slowing down even as the world attempts to return to business as usual, with both Twitch and Facebook Gaming seeing record viewership in the first quarter of 2021, according to the latest numbers.

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The popular livestreaming software provider StreamLabs released its first streaming industry quarterly report for 2021 on Friday. Using data compiled by streaming analytics firm Stream Hatchet from the beginning of January to the end of March, it offers some interesting insights, most notably that Facebook Gaming is closing in on YouTube Gaming’s spot for the #2 most popular streaming service. In first place is long-time leader Twitch, which still easily commands the largest chunk of the market with more than 72% of the total hours of content watched this year.

If you (like me) never really got that into livestreaming, you may be surprised to learn just how massive the industry’s become in such a short time. At Amazon-owned Twitch, viewership, hours streamed, average concurrent viewership, and the number of channels have all roughly doubled since this time last year, StreamLabs said. Twitch broke its viewership record for the second quarter in a row with users watching 6.3 billion hours of content, an increase of almost 1 billion hours compared to last quarter. The platform also saw its single largest quarterly increase in hours streamed since the early days of the pandemic, jumping from roughly 230 million hours to 265 million.

While Twitch is most well known for streaming video games, its most popular category continues to be “Just Chatting”. This category—considered the successor to Twitch’s ill-defined “IRL” section, which was reconfigured into 13 distinct non-gaming categories in 2018—involves exactly what the name implies: Content where streamers simply hang out and chat with viewers or engage in real-world shenanigans.

“Just Chatting” racked up a whopping 754 million hours watched in Q1 this year. To put that figure into perspective, Grand Theft Auto V, the most-watched game on Twitch in 2021, had 536.3 million hours, with League of Legends not far behind at 534 million.

Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming, which is owned by Google, continue to lag far behind Twitch, but the gap between them is quickly narrowing. Facebook hit an impressive milestone this past quarter, surpassing one billion hours watched for the first time, almost double the total viewership the platform garnered around this time last year.

“For the first time, we are seeing Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming closely compete against each other in terms of viewership,” said StreamLabs head of product Ashray Urs in the report. “While the difference in viewership was approximately 1 billion hours last quarter, that gap has shrunk to about 300 million in Q1. There is a chance we could see Facebook Gaming overtake YouTube Gaming in viewership next quarter. ”

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StreamLabs attributes a lot of that success to PUBG Mobile, Facebook Gaming’s most-watched gaming category for at least the past two years. Users watched 254 million hours of PUBG Mobile livestreams in Q1, an impressive year-over-year increase of 76%. Facebook Gaming absorbing Microsoft’s failed livestreaming platform Mixer last summer no doubt attracted plenty of new talent and viewers that migrated over.

YouTube Gaming was the only platform of the big three that experienced a dip in viewership this quarter, down 28.6% from 1.92 billion hours to 1.37 billion hours. Both its total number of hours streamed and unique channels also fell, though not as much (6.7% and 9.9% respectively). However, taking into account its year-over-year growth, YouTube Gaming doesn’t seem to be doing half bad, as its total viewership and average concurrent viewership both increased by roughly 28%. The platform is also home to the most popular female streamer across all platforms: Valkyrae, whose content viewers watched for 12.2 million hours during Q1 this year.

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We’ve reached out to Twitch, Google, and Facebook for comment, and will be sure to update this blog when we hear back.

All told, it seems the attention livestreaming platforms attracted during the pandemic isn’t dying down anytime soon even as lockdowns lift, vaccines roll out, and people start to journey outside their homes more regularly again. But whether Facebook and YouTube’s gaming livestreaming services will ever pose any real threat to Twitch’s industry dominance remains to be seen.

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Twitch’s Latest Sensation Is A Stop Sign Where No One Stops

Illustration for article titled Twitch's Latest Sensation Is A Stop Sign Where No One Stops

Image: Twitch / Stopsigncam

A blue car pulls up to a stop sign. Against all odds, it briefly, miraculously comes to a halt. Twitch chat goes ballistic. Numerous people spam “I was here” as pogchamp emotes flood in. This is Stopsigncam, a Twitch channel that suddenly has over 125,000 followers even though it’s just a camera trained on a single neighborhood intersection in Salem, Massachusetts.

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Ideally, every car would stop at the sign, but that would ruin the fun. Stopsigncam’s stream title says it all: “98.73% of vehicles don’t stop.” That’s almost certainly an estimate, but if you watch the stream, it really is incredible how few drivers stop—or even pretend like they’re maybe going to do a halfhearted roll-through stop. Most drivers just pass right on by, despite how precariously close they come to getting into wrecks with other drivers. It’s an entirely unnecessary game of chicken that makes for weirdly riveting viewing, especially with chat yelling out every stop and non-stop its collective Eye of Sauron sees, doling out nicknames to cars, making memes, and establishing an ever-expanding lexicon of terms like “rollers” and “zoomers.” It’s like watching a gigantic esports event, only it’s cars passing by some rando’s front yard.

With the channel suddenly exploding in popularity, the Stopsigncam stream has also grown more eventful. Earlier this week, somebody got out of their car and did a backflip for the camera. Other people showed up one night and had a lightsaber duel. In just the past few hours today, a viewer walked up to the sign, identified himself in chat, and removed a sticker from the sign, which had previously been applied by some miscreant who sought to deface its purity (or do some advertising). Not long after, two other obvious stream snipers held up unreadable signs of their own while standing next to the stop sign. Some have speculated that the police now use the stream as a means of monitoring the stop.

The stream has a strange sort of intrinsic appeal, but that alone did not propel it to such absurd heights. According to longtime fans, it’s been running since at least last year, but it averaged single-digit viewer numbers, when it had any viewers at all. Then, over the weekend, a couple things happened: The stream got some play on Twitch drama hive turned kingmaker r/Livestreamfail, and probably most importantly, a big name, 100 Thieves intern JhbTeam, promoted the stream to his audience. First he tweeted about it, but it wasn’t until he created a TikTok on Monday that things got out of hand.

“At first, I thought it’d just be a little fun joke between me and my audience on Twitter for only [one] night, because I deleted my tweet hours later,” Jhb told Kotaku in a DM. “When people actually stayed and watched it throughout the night, it made me want to create the TikTok to see if I could make it bigger. I went to bed that night when it had 400 viewers, and woke up to 4,000 viewers as well as my TikTok having 800k views in only a few hours. I’m very happy with the result of the TikTok because it was my ultimate goal to make it popular, and it became more popular than I imagined.”

The TikTok, which implores “bored” viewers to check out the stream and gives a rapid-fire summary of its appeal, now has over 2 million views. Ever since it caught on, Stopsigncam has had a consistent audience of 1,000-3,000 concurrent viewers 24 hours a day. So, for those keeping score, this all came about because a streamer made a tweet and TikTok about somebody else’s Twitch stream. Oh, and he recounted all of this in a YouTube video, as well.

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The owner of the channel ended up giving Jhb moderation privileges, which he occasionally exercises to keep the chat he personally turned into an avalanche of screams from getting too rowdy, despite how busy he is working for a major gaming organization: “Since I was the first person in the stream and I was a verified user, the owner put trust into me and gave me moderation privileges,” Jhb said. “I’ll usually have the stream open on the side and if I see an inappropriate message or anything that could link to the location, I’ll ban that user.” (Kotaku reached out to Stopsigncam’s owner, who declined to answer questions for the time being, as well as a couple moderators, who did not reply in time for publication.)

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“First person in the stream” might be a stretch, given that others claim to have been watching Stopsigncam for a little while now. One, a writer and financial analyst named Daniel Connolly, says he found the stream last year in Twitch’s travel and outdoors category. “I often leave location cams on as background while I work,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I really started watching this stream during the winter, during a snowstorm.”

As a (relatively) longtime viewer, Connolly said he’s “happy” for Stopsigncam’s owner, but the growth spurt hasn’t impacted his viewing habits, since it’s all just background for him. Others, however, worry that in its transition from obscure curiosity to sensational stream sniper target, Stopsigncam has already lost something essential. One of those people is a viewer who goes by the handle Ilikecorndogs. Buoyed by his love of chat’s reactions to last-second stops and stunts like the aforementioned lightsaber duel, he created a subreddit for the Stopsigncam stream earlier this week. Now, though, he’s on the verge of being done with it.

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“Honestly, after two days of knowing about [Stopsigncam], I’ve already grown out of it,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I might hop into a stream here or there, but I feel like it grew too much out of a quirky stream in the corners of Twitch I was told about one night.”

Watching so many people show up during today’s stream clearly aware of the camera, it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. Some Twitch sensations stick around and evolve into institutions. Others are just bizarre little moments. Before you know it, they’re over, because they were never meant to be anything else.

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There are also more practical concerns: It has not been difficult for locals to figure out where Stopsigncam’s stop sign cam is positioned. What happens if somebody doxxes its owner? PC builder and streamer Robert “OD_Technology” O’Donnell, who says he was one of a few people who were involved in the lightsaber fights, doesn’t think it will come to that, but he acknowledges that it’s possible.

“We were able to find [the house] because we hang out in the bars [in] the area, but we won’t tell specifically where it is,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I put up a Facebook post asking where or who it was, but I took it down immediately after thinking about it because we want it to be fun and not a risk… I really hope [the stream lasts] because the guy deserves it, but if locals ruin it, it will be on them and not him.”

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He’s optimistic about the stream’s chances, though: “I think it will last a long time,” he said.

The whole moment has remained remarkably wholesome so far, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay that way, with thousands of people tuning in to watch the daily lives of hundreds of unknowing others. Despite watching for longer than most, Connolly thinks Stopsigncam feels temporary—like a brief roll-through rather than what the unmissable red sign tells everybody to do.

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“I assumed people would have moved on by now,” he said. “I suppose it’ll last as long as the chat stays active and friendly. It feels like an ephemeral moment in a tiny, weird corner of the internet.”

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CodeMiko Is The Future Of Streaming, Unless Twitch Bans Her First

CodeMiko is nervous. I can tell because she tells me. “This is, like, my first interview ever,” she says over a Discord call. “I’m sorry, I’m a little shy.” It’s December of 2020, and Miko’s entire life is about to change.

Miko does not know it yet. She is, after all, not a fortune teller, though based on her stream—a sophisticated all-digital setup she can modify using her own skills as a coder, brought to life by a full-body mocap suit—you could be forgiven for thinking she’s from the future. On stream, she is an unflappable presence, a literal video game character whose off-kilter, on-point observations pierce straight to the heart of famous streamers’ insecurities and extract lighthearted humor. But in this moment, she is just another streamer, doing her best to capitalize on a surge of career momentum that could make or break her. She has no way of knowing it will ultimately do both.

Soon, her Twitch follower count will skyrocket, from 20,000 up to more than 500,000. Soon, she will collaborate with an endless procession of Twitch and YouTube’s biggest names: Imane “Pokimane” Anys, Hasan Piker, Asmongold, Sykkuno, Moistcr1tikal, Videogamedunkey. Soon, she will get suspended from Twitch for the third time, for questionable reasons. Soon, she will have nightmares about the prospect of a fourth suspension—one that, per Twitch’s rules, she likely will not come back from. Soon, she will hire a management firm and a development team and overhaul her entire approach to being a public figure. But she does not know any of that right now.

All she knows now is that this is her first interview with a journalist, and she hopes it goes well.


The concept that drives Miko’s stream is simple: She’s a glitchy video game character who interviews real people—specifically, famous Twitch personalities. The great strength of her act is that Miko, the character, does not know who any of these people are, and even when she does, she doesn’t give a fuck.

“She’s kind of a dick, but a lovable dick,” Miko, the real person, not the character, told Kotaku of Miko the character, not the real person, in an interview. “She has no filter. I think that’s what makes her slightly dick-ish. Maybe ‘dick’ isn’t the right word…She’s kind of stupid, unfiltered, and not afraid to say whatever is on her mind or what she sees.”

This results in interviews where Miko regularly interrupts guests or bombards them with awkward, invasive questions. She’s yelled at Pokimane about catheters. She’s forced Piker to talk to the Dark Souls boss he could not defeat (spoiler: it was Miko, dressed up as the boss). She’s gotten Dunkey in “trouble” with his girlfriend. In the hands of a lesser comic, her shtick might be annoying. Miko, however, times her interjections perfectly, and she knows just how to fluster guests so that it’s entertaining, not off-putting. Her character is unpredictable, but also endearing. She’s very funny, and more importantly given the demands of Twitch audiences, she’s consistent about it.

When Miko first started blowing up on Twitch late last year, this dynamic drew comparisons to ‘90s Cartoon Network classic Space Ghost Coast to Coast, in which the titular hero-turned-talk-show-host interviewed (and irritated) celebrity guests like Conan O’Brien, Bjork, and William Shatner. Miko told Kotaku that she never watched the show. Some viewers have also classified Miko as part of the monolithic VTuber trend, in which real people stream as (typically anime-inspired) avatars, each with their own backstory and personality. Miko told Kotaku that she doesn’t really pay much attention to that scene. In truth, she doesn’t need to. She’s carved out a niche that’s uniquely hers.

It all started when Miko died.

Miko began streaming while working at an LA-based animation studio—specifically on live animation, which is how she came up with the idea for her stream. But even after she got laid off and began streaming full time last year, she found herself gaining traction at a pace familiar to most Twitch streamers: glacially. On top of that, she was $20,000 in debt because her stream setup, especially the mocap suit, did not come cheap. Unemployed and making $300 per month on Twitch, she could no longer afford her apartment. But just before Miko was forced to pack it in, she had a breakthrough: Viewers, she discovered after three months of slow progress, would happily pay to murder her.

“I always had interactivity in my stream, but my income tripled the day I put in this interaction where the audience could kill me,” Miko said with a laugh that suggested she still couldn’t fully believe it. “It’s a nuke. When I added the nuke and the mute—where the audience could mute me for 30 seconds—I was able to afford my rent and pay off my debt slowly.”

Viewers can kick in “bits,” Twitch’s proprietary currency, to directly interact with Miko, forcing her to dance, shut up, and yes, die—albeit only for a short period of time. Miko told Kotaku that it’s “good” her character is “kind of a dick” because it means that chat doesn’t feel bad about doing terrible things to her. “She kind of deserves it,” she said. During Miko’s streams, the audience activates these features with no warning, and her guests are forced to roll with the punches. Miko started out with no guests at all , but over time, she began to pick up bigger and bigger names. Now streamers who entertain millions of people every day come on Miko’s show, and suddenly, they’re fish out of water again. For viewers and streamers alike, it’s something new.

“[Miko dying] was random enough that it caught me a couple times,” Devin Nash, a streaming and esports industry insider who went on Miko’s show last month, told Kotaku via DM. “Also, immediate trigger of imposter syndrome that I can’t carry a significant viewer show.”

During the stream, Miko explained the miracle of birth to Nash, in her own way. It was entirely unprompted, as many of Miko’s tangents are, and involved phrases like “penile erectum” and “The Coom.” It took over ten minutes. Miko began to explain that people of any gender could have a baby several different times. Nash’s exasperation was written all over his face. “The Coom brings forth le life, and thus, a baby is made inside,” she finally concluded. “And you poop it out.”

Nash was equal parts impressed and flabbergasted by her commitment to the bit. “Every day I learn something new on this platform, man—for better or worse,” he told Kotaku.

Miko also came on Nash’s stream, where he helps streamers build their brands, back in December. At one point, she showed him underwear she’s collected, because she cannot resist trolling, even when she’s not in character. “It’s all jokes, ultimately, but she caught me off-guard on the first stream we did together when she started showing me her underwear collection,” Nash said. “It’s not on your list of [things to expect] coming in to build someone’s brand.”

Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo, a popular streamer with a tendency to push boundaries into edgier territory, embraced Miko’s chaotic energy when he went on her show in January. Over the course of the pair’s banter-filled 40-minute conversation, he took off his shirt, made loud noises, and shaved his eyebrows—all of which Miko went along with and, when she could, participated in.

“Pretty much, it just became a game of who could get dumber, and I had to win,” Rinaudo told Kotaku over a Discord call. “So I started to shave my eyebrows and be an idiot and walk around and scream and yell and roll around and act like a monkey.”

“I have the easiest time with streamers who are just natural trolls,” Miko said during our December interview. She went on to explain that she suffers from severe social anxiety, but when she streams in-character, at a breakneck pace with no dead air, she’s able to exist in the moment and react to what’s happening. She can just voice whatever pops into her head, and most of the time, it’s very funny. “I just go and do it,” she said. “It’s hard to feel any negative emotions when you’re streaming.”

Fans love that about her.

“Saying her streams are entertaining is an understatement,” a fan named Richie Aquino told Kotaku in an email. “She is unpredictable, has great comedic timing, and I love how she has no filter with her questions. She is the most entertaining person on Twitch by a long shot.”

“I looked her up and was so confused by what I was watching,” another fan who goes by the handle 100LL told Kotaku in a DM. “At first she was very annoying, but after the stream with [streamer] PaymoneyWubby, I was sold. She made me laugh so hard.”

Her stream’s presentation mirrors her manic energy, risk factor be damned. For example, Twitch chat messages appear on Miko’s shirt at a blistering pace. Given Twitch chat’s reputation, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but messages are delayed such that moderators can weed out offensive content. It’s all in service of the larger whole.

“Her whole stream is focused on not just broadcasting, but introducing new standards of interactivity with her audience,” one of Miko’s moderators, Camro, told Kotaku in an email. “That means spamming certain characters or emotes in order to draw a reaction, change her appearance, or help her decide what to do next. That kind of enthusiasm creates a ton of volume, so it’s not about suppressing a conversation, but finding the signals above the noise.”

Nash and Rinaudo’s responses to Miko’s antics could not have been more different, but the two were perfectly aligned on two points: First, while Miko said she tries not to slide into people’s DMs too abruptly, both described their own experiences with her somewhat differently. Nash, who considers Miko a friend, said he went on her show after “she incessantly spammed my chat in all caps until I begrudgingly accepted,” while Rinaudo said that “she reached out to me, but she reached out to literally everybody.”

Second, both see her not just as a flash in the pan gimmick, but as somebody who could be Twitch’s next truly massive star.

“Miko will be around through the next several iterations of Twitch and will iterate her content to fit with the evolving meta of the website,” said Nash. “She will grow consistently and continuously reinvent anything that gets stale in her show. It’s more about the person behind Miko, who is highly driven and success-oriented, [than it is the gimmick]. She has what it takes.”

Rinaudo put it more succinctly: “I think Miko has potential for long-term success because she’s actually funny, which is very rare, especially on Twitch.”


All Miko has to do is keep her stream going. But that’s the hard part.

The first time Miko and I spoke, she eventually found a comfortable rhythm. By the end of our conversation, she was in good spirits. The second time we talked over Discord, toward the end of January, she had a much easier time sinking into the rhythm of an interview where she wasn’t the one asking the questions, but her tone was less energetic, and her voice had a noticeable rasp to it. With nearly 350,000 Twitch followers and regular audiences of well over 10,000 concurrent viewers, she’d become a bonafide breakout star. But stardom takes a toll.

Streaming for hours and hours a day multiple times per week is not easy on anybody, but it’s doubly taxing for Miko, who has to remain in-character. Also, there’s the suit. The suit is a big issue. It requires recalibrations every few hours. If Miko crosses her real legs for too long, her digital legs will start to do weird things. Oh, and she can’t pee.

“I can’t drink water during my whole stream,” Miko said during our second interview. “If I drink water, then I have to go pee. And when you go pee, you have to take off everything. And then that whole process takes me, like, 10 minutes, right? And during that whole 10 minutes, you lose like, like, thousands of viewers. And those are your regulars, right?”

For a while, Miko ignored this problem in the name of maintaining viewership. This, she says, resulted in full-blown, medically-diagnosed health problems, so these days, she tries to stream in-character for only four or five hours at a time, instead of six or more. This would put her well below the full-time streamer standard of eight-plus hours per day if not for the fact that she also regularly streams as herself—or rather, as a second character called The Technician, who is basically the real Miko, but with her nerdy developer predilections cranked up to 11.

Technician streams offer a behind-the-scenes look at Miko the character and Miko the person. While many VTubers and other online performers who embrace fiction jealously guard their true identities for fear of breaking immersion, Miko’s whole thing is taking a screaming jackhammer to the fourth wall. It makes perfect sense, then, for her to regularly drop the façade. One of her earliest viral clips actually stars her real-life boyfriend, Brandon Winfrey, rather than Miko. In the clip, Miko, as The Technician, swears up and down to her Twitch chat that she has a boyfriend and proceeds to call Brandon, who answers in an over-the-top robotic tone: “Hello girlfriend. How was your day?” When Miko replies in an exasperated tone, he repeats the phrase, pretending to be a Siri-like AI, and then says, “Please respond, girlfriend.” She implores him to tell chat he’s real, but he continues the bit to the bitter end. “Haha yes, I am a [robotic pause] real boyfriend,” he says.

Now, Winfrey, formerly a game developer at Insomniac (who, weirdly, appears in Sunset Overdrive as a boss), is part of the Miko-verse. It’s an arrangement that’s worked out shockingly well for Miko, especially given Twitch’s pervasive problems with sexism.

“It’s crazy how sexist Twitch can get, because if a male streamer gets a girlfriend, no one gives a shit. It doesn’t affect their viewer count or subscription count,” Miko said, noting that back when she was a smaller streamer and she first started dating Winfrey, her concurrent viewer total dropped from 400 to 200 in just one week. “But I had Brandon when I grew really fast [at the end of 2020]. I got my audience used to him really fast…But it’s not their business, right? It shouldn’t affect my stream. That’s another reason I like having Brandon around: It just filters out those types of people and keeps the good people in.”

“I was nervous at first, because I want her to succeed as best as possible,” Winfrey told Kotaku over Discord. “I don’t want to mess up anything. But you know, her audience just isn’t that way. It’s been fun. When I get a call from her when she’s normally streaming, I know that [it’s like] ‘Alright, let’s put on a show. Let’s have some fun.’”

Fans appreciate the additional access to Miko’s life, as well as genuinely wholesome moments that come of it, like when Winfrey, a longtime Dunkey fan, got to tell the beloved YouTuber how much he appreciates him. But, somewhat ironically, all of this streaming takes away from time Miko could be spending on her real passion: developing new features for her stream.

“I’ve really been itching to go back and do all my devving things,” Miko said, noting that she was instead bogged down with everything else that goes into being a successful streamer: sending emails, making YouTube videos, finding a YouTube channel editor, signing with a management company and a talent agency, and so on.

“I don’t have a break,” Miko said. “The thing is, if I have a break, then I should be devving. But if I don’t have time to dev, then I don’t have time for anything.”

One thing full-time streamers and full-time developers have in common is that the specter of burnout constantly looms. Miko is both.

“The thing is, I burned out a long time ago,” she said with a dark chuckle. “The thing that burns me out the most is when I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over and over again. Like, I don’t find my interactions with streamers and chat funny anymore. And so when I feel like I can’t change it because of all this other stuff I have to do, it’s mentally frustrating, and then that mentally drains me. And then I get stressed out, because it’s like ‘When am I gonna find the time to actually do the things I want to do?’ When I do get to start devving, I think that’s going to rejuvenate my soul again.”

When Miko first began to blow up, she was the apotheosis of the solo creator ideal. Because of her broad skillset as both a top-notch developer and a whip-smart performer, she could do everything according to her exact vision. No streamer is ever truly a one-person show—everybody has chat moderators and Discord admins—but Miko was about as close as you get. A while back on Twitter, I saw somebody note that the childhood hobbies of millennials and zoomers (video making, fan fiction, fan art, etc.) eventually morphed into viable careers, and they asked what skills the next generation will incorporate into their creations. Almost immediately, someone replied, “coding.” At first I found this response predictable—an extension of the cult-like crowd that worships at the altar of “learn to code.” But then I thought of Miko, and I realized that that person might actually have been onto something.

Problem is, when you’re doing everything, you don’t actually have time for anything. When Miko finally found time to develop new features, it wasn’t because she’d cut down on her obligations or become a savvier planner. Instead, it was because Twitch suspended her account, slamming the brakes on her life as a performer.


During our December interview, Miko confided to me that she was worried. She hadn’t paid off all her debt yet, but she’d already been suspended by Twitch twice in September, for things she characterized as “slip-ups.” On Twitch, three strikes often means you’re out—though there’s wiggle room for bigger streamers. Miko was not a big streamer yet. She proceeded to explain that one of the times she’d been suspended, it was because she let viewers pay $1 to send Miko, the character, a “D pic.” It was a literal letter D, as a joke, and it would pop up on Miko’s phone. Twitch apparently thought she was serious, that she was “soliciting money for pornography.” She tried to appeal the suspension, but to no avail. Twitch just closed her ticket and marked subsequent attempts as duplicates.

“I think I have, like, ban PTSD,” she told Kotaku in December. “I still don’t feel completely safe on Twitch. I’m terrified of getting an indefinite suspension for something I didn’t mean to do.”

In January, Miko got suspended a third time, for something she did not mean to do. Twitch suspended her because, during an interview with Amouranth—a streamer who’s dealt with no small amount of harassment over the years, and who has been suspended multiple times herself—Miko asked Amouranth to show her the worst harassment she’d received. Amouranth sent her a copy of an email. Miko made the mistake of displaying the email, in which a viewer repeatedly accused Amouranth of being a “slut,” live on stream. This violated Twitch’s rules around broadcasting other people’s personal information.

When Miko explained the reason for her ban at the end of January, she noted that “from my experience, threats are almost never sent from a user’s actual email address, but throwing up the screenshot got me banned.”

Initially, fans were in the dark as to why Miko got suspended again. As a matter of policy, Twitch does not address these things publicly. Many spent the week after her channel got taken down concerned that she’d been permanently banned. Even after Miko cleared the air, however, some fans remained upset.

“I am absolutely infuriated with the Twitch bans,” said 100LL. “Banning people for accidents is not the way to reprimand the same people who are bringing in the money for Twitch. Twitch needs to be more communicative with their streamers. Instead, they just ban them without warning, and it’s difficult to get a reason for the ban, let alone a way to explain the error with a solution to prevent the issue from happening in the future.”

In the end, Miko’s suspension lasted two weeks. On Twitch, that’s a lot of lost income, but it’s better than a month, or forever.

Miko used the downtime to finally get some devving done on an idea she first told me about in December: a digital game show, starring popular streamers and hosted by Miko.

“The game show concept had been in development for months!” Miko told Kotaku in an email last month. “The ban was unfortunate, but after streaming for nearly 12 hours a day, it did give me the time to [flesh] out concepts and put real development hours against it. I was determined to make the most out of the negative situation.”

When Miko returned from her suspension at the start of February, she went all out. Leading up to the game show’s debut, she did a full day of interviews with big names like Asmongold, Esfand, Sykkuno, and T-Pain (yes, the musician). Despite barely having slept the night before, she put on a heck of a show. She persuaded Asmongold to try being gay. She made it through a very harsh job interview from Esfand. She simped for Sykkuno. Then, in the middle of her chat with T-Pain, she stood up and walked to a new wing of her digital den: a game show studio. Surrounded by a bug-eyed NPC audience, T-Pain, Rinaudo, Ludwig, and Moistcr1tikal—whose video streams were broadcast onto podiums—had to guess the price of exotic items like some rocks, a lamp, and a chair Félix “xQc” Lengyel had farted on. Then Miko asked them a bunch of trivia questions that did not really have definitive answers. Points were awarded seemingly at random. It was a janky mess, but it definitely carried the manic spirit of Miko’s interviews.

A triumphant day gave way to a more somber evening. In the wake of the show, Miko did a Technician stream in which she reflected on her big return. After giving fans a tour of the virtual game show studio, she discussed her suspensions.

“It is a little scary that I’ve gotten so many bans in a short amount of time, when I don’t try to be controversial,” she said during the stream. “I care too much about my content. I work so hard for content that, why would I try to throw it away, you know? Why would I try to be toxic?”

Then she began to tear up. “It hurts because I feel like [Twitch] sees me as, like, a toxic person or something. Sorry,” she said while covering her face and wiping tears from her eyes. “Sometimes I think my jokes cross the line, and I’m trying not to do that much anymore…I know jokes are fine. You just get paranoid. That’s all.”

“Sorry,” she said while trying to compose herself, “this is embarrassing.”

After the moment passed, Miko explained to viewers that she intends on keeping things more “brand-safe” and “brand-friendly.” Speaking to Kotaku in an email, she later added that she “made significant investments in ensuring these minor mistakes are never repeated.”

“Significant” might be an understatement. Miko now employs a senior engineer, an environmental model artist, a character artist, an animator, and a rigger to help her with development. She’s also working with a management firm, Underscore Talent, and a publicist. Miko, once a scrappy mostly solo effort from somebody with no background in performance, is now a polished team effort, a production with the backing of seasoned entertainment industry pros.

Communicating with Miko in February was very different than it was in December and January. Where once she’d never done an interview before, now she is extremely busy with meetings. To answer my questions, her publicist sent over squeaky-clean copy that, alongside responses from Miko, included comments like “MANAGEMENT NOTE: REQUEST FULFILLED.” Twitch thrives on perceived accessibility and interaction, but the truth is that many big streamers are surrounded by red tape. It took just a few months for Miko to reach that point. The pipeline that turns streamers into brand-friendly productions is getting faster. That’s by design.

Perhaps there was never any other outcome for Miko. Beyond the bounds of the traditional entertainment machine, she built something that thrived on absurdity, spontaneity, and risk-taking. But she was burning the candle at both ends. It wasn’t sustainable—not within the Twitch ecosystem, anyway.


Nash still isn’t convinced Twitch is the place for Miko.

“Twitch hasn’t given a lot of confidence in the past couple years in building a career here,” he said. “This is especially true for people who have been banned multiple times. If I was banned 1-2 times, I would be looking to diversify my income streams in 3-6 months, and I’d be DEFCON 1 on that until it happened. Twitch has shown little concern in protecting broadcaster income streams who are ‘problem children’ in their view. The responsibility is on content creators to realize that over-indexing [more than] 90% of their income on a platform that will remove them for 2+ weeks at the drop of a hat is unwise. In this day and age, no creator should be oversubscribed to one platform.”

Miko also seems uncertain about the future. Last week, she appeared on the stream of professional psychiatrist Dr. Alok Kanojia. Speaking as herself, not her character, she said she’s been having nightmares about getting permanently banned from Twitch.

“I dream about it,” she said. “The last dream I had—it’s kind of funny—I wanted to get pizza, and I had a pizza flyer, and I showed my chat the pizza flyer, unbeknownst that the owner’s first and last name and number was on the pizza flyer. I showed it to chat, and I got banned for it. I was so upset in my dream.”

Some fans have noticed Miko’s newfound hesitance, saying it’s made her streams feel more restrained.

“The bans have definitely impacted how free she is on stream,” said Aquino. “She’s constantly worrying about [Twitch’s terms of service]. It’s giving her anxiety that you can clearly see, and she’s talked many times about how she’s afraid of being banned again.”

Despite it all, Miko, encouragingly, remains Miko. Her most recent YouTube video, a clip from an end-of-February Twitch interview with PC-building streamer Kristofer Yee, is entitled “CodeMiko boobs grow whenever she farts…” It is about what it says it’s about.

The theme that persisted across all three of my interviews with Miko was her desire to keep building. She spoke of grand ambitions, firing off ideas so quickly that it seemed like they were being generated on the fly by the part of her brain that handles Miko the character’s madcap ramblings. Her audience, she said, might come with her on an adventure through a 2D platformer, or an RPG, or a streamer-focused Celebrity Deathmatch game, or a Pokémon-style game. Her roadmap is always changing, but now she has the means to transform her ideas into (digital) reality. She just has to make sure that when the dust settles, there’s still solid ground beneath her feet.

“CodeMiko’s world is literally designed to grow,” Miko said in an email last month. “It’s not meant to stay the same. I’m a very curious person with a real thirst for learning and will always push to be a better streamer and person. My community, new and old, has a lot to look forward to—I promise!”

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Twitch Pulls Its Parent Company’s Union-Busting Ads

Illustration for article titled Twitch Pulls Its Parent Company's Union-Busting Ads

Screenshot: More Perfect Union on Twitter

While around 5,800 Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama vote on whether to unionize, Amazon has been trying to win over hearts and minds with a slew of ham-handed anti-union propaganda in their warehouse bathroom stalls, on their phones, and now on the Amazon-owned streaming service Twitch. Earlier this week, More Perfect Union tweeted the Amazon brand-paletted spots, featuring workers talking up management and parroting Amazon’s claims that unions only want your money.

In an amusing twist, Twitch has removed the ads and said they should never have run in the first place.

“Twitch does not allow political advertising, and these ads should never have been allowed to run on our service,” a Twitch spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email. “We have removed these ads and are evaluating our review processes to ensure that similar content does not run in the future. We are grateful to our community for bringing this to our attention.”

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As Kotaku has reported, several Twitch streamers tweeted that they would stop allowing ads on their channels until the anti-union ads were removed. They also told Kotaku that it sends the message that Twitch would oppose streamers in their own efforts to unionize.

The ads, reported to More Perfect Union by an Alabama resident, show workers extolling the Amazon workplace.

“We at the Birmingham team have great leadership,” one worker says. “We really don’t need anyone coming in and telling us what they want to give us because basically we have everything we need here.”

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Other workers, who started organizing a union drive just months after the warehouse opened in April 2020, characterize the workplace as a panopticon where they’re forced to work to their physical limits. An organizer told the Guardian that Amazon has let people go “for no reason.” They’ve also reported that Amazon has aggressively tried to prevent workers from organizing, and Motherboard published leaked documents showing that the company hired Pinkerton agents to monitor employees. Amazon told Gizmodo vaguely that it does hire third-party companies but “to suggest Amazon or the third party companies we work with are doing something nefarious is irresponsible and incorrect.”

Another worker featured in an ad claims that unions “just take your money, and they don’t do anything for you.” This echoes Amazon’s deceptive suggestion that forming a union means everyone will be forced to pay dues. Alabama is a right-to-work state, meaning that even workers do unionize there will be under no obligation to join.

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“Amazon feels that it has to go to extremes like this in order to gaslight its workers about the dreadful working conditions at its Bessemer warehouse,” Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) said in a statement shared with Gizmodo. (The RWDSU will represent Bessemer workers if the vote succeeds.) “Amazon is leaving no stone unturned – including ads on Twitch – in its efforts to deceive and intimidate their employees into voting against the union.”

The election, which is currently underway, will be finalized on March 29th, and the NLRB will begin counting ballots on the 30th.

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Amazon was not immediately available for comment.

VTubing Is More Than Just Livestreaming With Cute Anime Avatars

Illustration for article titled VTubing Is More Than Just Livestreaming With Cute Anime Avatars

Screenshot: Hololive

Social HygieneSocial HygieneThe internet is hell, particularly social media. In this series, we discuss the ways it’s flawed and how it could be better.

There’s a new type of livestream building steam: It’s called VTubing, and for many people, it might only exist as thumbnails in YouTube’s recommended videos section. But VTubing is way more involved than just clips that feature kawaii anime avatars. It’s an important evolution of our social media landscape.

Until fairly recently, VTubing was a relatively niche social media trend confined to Japanese internet culture. For the unfamiliar, VTubing is essentially livestreaming, but instead of showing your own face you rely on a digital anime avatar. The origins of VTubing can be largely traced back to Kizuna Ai, an online persona voiced by Nozomi Kasuga. Kizuna Ai quickly gained nearly 1 million YouTube subscribers following her debut in late 2016, with videos ranging from Lets Plays to art sessions to “yoga” tutorials. Kizuna was producing the same kind of content you’d see on Twitch, just with a virtual avatar instead of actual face and body.

In 2019, VTubing’s popularity really started picking up steam due to the growth of VTuber agencies such as Nijisanji, .Live, and most notably Hololive, whose founder Motoaki Tanigo (better known as Yagoo) once described Hololive as a streamer group similar to Japanese female pop group AKB48. Well, at least that was the plan. In reality, Hololive produced streamers that were much more engaging and personal than the super polished pop idol groups from ye olden times. The effect is a livestream mixed with anime augmented by curated personas with deep backstories that are almost like what you’d get from a WWE wrestler, but way way cuter. Calli isn’t just a pink-haired binge drinker, she’s an ageless (semi-retired) Death God with hopes and dreams of making it big on Earth.

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VTubing is both a twist on an existing medium and something completely new at the same time.

Outside of Japan, VTubing exploded last year when Hololive added its first generation of English-speaking streamers to its existing Japanese and Asian cast, exposing the trend to millions of people in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. So between a novel type of social content being ported over to a new language (with a much larger population) combined with people being stuck at home turning to the internet for entertainment, the popularity of Hololive’s new English roster skyrocketed. Member Gwar Gura not only became the first Hololive idol to hit 1 million subscribers on YouTube, but also the first member to hit 2 million subs—all in a little over six months. Gura isn’t just speed, she’s lighting in a bottle.

Now before anyone crowns Gura the best VTuber ever, it’s important to remember, it’s not a contest. Of the more than 50 Hololive members, idols from other agencies, and thousands of independent streamers, VTubing has become a movement in its own right, with something to offer almost anyone. Even just within Hololive, there’s a happy dog, a mischievous cat, a horny pirate (her words, not mine), a dragoness meme lord, an artistic octopus, and a whole bunch more. The trend has become so big, YouTube even mentioned VTubing as part of its 2020 summary, with VTubers now dominating the ranks of the highest-grossing Super Chat earners. And now, for better or worse, notable Western streamers like Pokimane and Scarra have tried their hands at VTubing.

On one hand, the idea of using anime avatars controlled by a variety of eye, face, and even body-tracking techniques might seem strange or even somewhat foreboding (like that one episode out of Black Mirror), but in a lot of ways VTubing is a natural reaction to today’s social media landscape.

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More and more kids are turning toward content creation not only as a way to grab their 15 minutes of fame, but as a real career path. However, the rise of livestreaming also brings the pitfalls of internet stardom, including a loss of privacy. By putting an avatar between the creator and the viewer, VTubers have a much easier time of keeping personal things that don’t impact their stream truly private. And if they want to share details about past jobs, relationship status, or family connections with others, they can do so without risking public intrusion into the lives of people they care about. Avatars obscuring their identities still leaves plenty of room for genuinely wholesome moments like when Pekora revealed she’s a VTuber to her mom.

VTubing allows for a certain level of both privacy and personality, even if the latter is a somewhat over-produced and manufactured one. But I ask you, in a time when most famous gamers are better recognized by their in-game handle than their real name, is using an animated avatar all that different? I would even argue that VTubing feels more genuine than so-called “reality TV.” There’s way less editing, and while there are producers who help big VTubers out behind the scenes, there aren’t directors or publicists guiding every interaction. 

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VTubers are still normal people on the other side of the screen, their avatar is simply their makeup. And as an added bonus, the use of avatars allows VTubers to focus better on their talents, whether drawing, singing, rapping, or making absolutely foul ramen recipes (I’m warning you, this video is not for people with weak stomachs).

VTubing fans have desmonstrated that they understand their favorite creators’ need for privacy and desire to establish boundaries. Fans across forums often advise others not to doxx or reveal a VTuber’s real identity. So far it seems to be working, because while some serious internet sleuthing may turn up some sensitive info, the biggest leak so far resulted when an online news story revealed Subaru’s real face. Even when Kizuna Ai’s original actor was revealed, it took almost four years to happen and it was officially announced long after the role of Kizuna Ai had been handed off to new candidates.

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The use of a digital avatar allows people who might be shy, anxious, or embarrassed to create videos more freely. There’s huge pressure on people to look or act the perfect way on video, to the point where many people on social media are plucked or airbrushed into oblivion. But for VTubers, you can simply roll out of bed, put your “face” on, and go about your day. It’s anonymous and accessible without forcing people to become an overly primped talking head.

While VTubing might seem awkward or even cringeworthy to the unfamiliar viewer, it’s also very much a product of our times and technology. It blends what people already love about livestreaming with increased accessibility and added protection to help respect a content creator’s privacy. And with avatars this responsive and animated, VTubing is only going to get bigger.

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