Elon Musk sees games as Twitter’s future. Content creators aren’t sure.

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Video games are a big topic of conversation on Twitter, generating 2.4 billion tweets last year. On new owner Elon Musk’s Twitter, where major executives and nearly half of the company’s workforce have been purged, and where generating revenue is the priority, gaming still has a place. But the drastic changes the company and its more than 200 million daily active users face are reverberating across the gaming community and industry.

In May, Twitter’s global head of gaming partnerships, Rishi Chadha, said in an interview with The Washington Post: “When people think about gaming, they’re thinking about the Twitches of the world, the YouTubes of the world. And it’s like actually, you can’t forget what Twitter is doing. Twitter’s been that home for conversation and it’s been silently there.”

Gamers flock to Twitter to talk about their favorite games, to meme, to angrily respond to unwanted game changes and more. Content creators use the platform to reach their audiences, and some try to monetize their presence, to varying degrees of success. During major gaming events, regular users and influencers share their live reactions.

But all of that may change. On Nov. 4, Musk laid off about 3,700 Twitter employees, almost half of the workforce. More employees resigned this week, following a sudden mandatory-return-to-office policy.

As part of a move to cut costs, Musk fired employees in marketing, content moderation and other departments he has indicated will be less of a priority. Many members of revenue-generating teams such as partnerships and sales were retained. The marketing side of Twitter Gaming, which spent company money to make indirect income, was let go. Chadha, who oversaw a moneymaking team, has kept his job, he confirmed last Friday.

It’s “the end of an era,” said a former Twitter employee with knowledge of how Twitter Gaming worked. “Bird ain’t gonna be the same.”

Twitter’s gaming strategy

If you’ve never heard of Twitter Gaming, that was on purpose, according to the former employee. Part of reaching gamers organically on social media meant not forcefully shoving a brand down their throats. Twitter Gaming used a lighter touch — consistently replying to tweets and promoting creators and large events.

Twitter Gaming’s original goals were to earn money for Twitter and gaming companies, keep the gaming conversation going and make video clips, live broadcasts and highlights more accessible to users, according to Chadha. Gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry; this approach from Twitter mirrored attempts by tech companies like Apple, Meta, Google and most notably Microsoft (which owns Xbox and is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard) to earn a slice of the pie.

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While Twitter Gaming was not well known across the company or to users, it planned to change that over time. Before Musk taking over and privatizing the company, Twitter published blog posts in January and July highlighting the presence of gaming on its platform. According to Twitter, there were 1.5 billion tweets about gaming in the first half of 2022, compared with 10.4 billion tweets about news.

“Whatever you follow on Twitter becomes a big presence for you,” said Zack, better known as Asmongold, a top Twitch streamer based in Austin, with over 800,000 Twitter followers. He declined to provide his last name, citing privacy reasons. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) “If you follow a bunch of people who think the Earth is flat, in your mind, whenever you open up Twitter, everybody on Twitter is going to think the Earth is flat. Gaming is the same thing.”

The official Twitter Gaming social media account, created in 2015, has been silent since Nov. 3, a day before the layoffs. It is unclear who, if anyone, will take over the account.

“We’re still committed to posting content on Twitter (even in turbulent times like these) because of how important it’s become to our community.”

— Joe Hixson, Riot Games spokesperson

The gaming initiative was started by Twitter employees in partnerships and in marketing who were gamers themselves.

“I’ve been at Twitter now for almost five years, and when I got there, there wasn’t really a gaming strategy,” Chadha said in May. “There were a few deals that were in place where we had signed for some live rights. But that was really it. And so one of the first things I had to focus on when I started at Twitter was thinking about, what are we doing? What’s our narrative?”

Twitter Gaming employees directly interacted with gaming communities on the platform. Speaking to The Post, several creators who focus on games like “Destiny 2” and “Apex Legends” sang the praises of recently laid-off Twitter Gaming social lead Shiraz Siddiqui, who they say helped expand their audiences and looked out for them in challenging times.

“He wasn’t just another employee — he was very well connected with the gaming space and its creators,” said Malik “Crusader” Forrester, a Twitch streamer and “Apex Legends” team manager at esports organization Team Liquid. “He’s gone out [of] his way to help creators during times like the record labels and music groups cracking down on music streamed on Twitch and on Twitter. He personally helped me with using Twitter’s media studio tool to filter out any media I uploaded with music.”

“Destiny 2” YouTuber and streamer Ryan ‘True Vanguard’ Wright spoke of Siddiqui and the Twitter Gaming team’s ability to make connections, recalling a time they spotted a small upcoming “Destiny 2” creator who goes by the handle DFlawless on Twitter, recognized his potential and quickly put him in touch with developer Bungie. Almost overnight, DFlawless was working directly with the studio to promote new in-game content to thousands of people.

“It’s stuff like that — creating catalytic moments for creators and developers — that we’re really going to be missing now with [Siddiqui] and that team out of the picture,” Wright said. “As an influencer who got his biggest boost in viewership from a catalytic moment like that, I really feel like this is a net loss for the industry as a whole.”

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Twitter Gaming employees would also occasionally collaborate on bigger projects like the League of Legends World Championship, Summer Game Fest and the Game Awards. Riot Games said that its deal with Twitter involves earning a cut from advertiser spending on Riot esports videos. Twitter also benefits from the deal, as it earns advertising revenue on Riot’s videos.

“The only money right now is flowing from Twitter to Riot, not the other way around,” said Riot spokesperson Joe Hixson. He added that Riot’s last paid promotion was during the November 2021 launch of the Netflix “League of Legends” series, “Arcane,” during which Riot paid to promote certain tweets to reach a larger audience. “We’re still committed to posting content on Twitter (even in turbulent times like these) because of how important it’s become to our community.”

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Media entrepreneur and gaming event organizer Geoff Keighley declined through a representative to share any updates on how the December Game Awards, another moment when many in the gaming community gather on Twitter to react to news, would be handled on Twitter. Previously, Twitter promoted Summer Game Fest with a “hashmoji,” or a hashtag ending in an emoji, as well as Twitter Spaces. “One of the things we’ve found is really fun with Twitter is just the sense of community,” Keighley said in a May interview.

Amid Twitter’s week-long deluge of changes, the Game Awards announced on Thursday that it had a new partnership with gaming communications app Discord for people to watch and discuss the event together next month. It plans to take advantage of Discord’s Twitter Spaces-like features.

Wooing influencers with the promise of money

After purchasing Twitter for $44 billion on Oct. 27, Musk has sought to improve its profit margins. To that end, his pitch for upgrading an existing Twitter subscription product, called Twitter Blue, was simple enough: Users pay $8 a month for a blue check mark.

In practice, democratizing the blue check mark has given rise to an immediate host of problems. In response, on Friday morning, Twitter suspended sign-ups for Twitter Blue, citing “impersonation issues.”

Users in some countries with a lower standard of living have said that the fee is unaffordable. Some users have started buying check marks for accounts impersonating famous companies and personalities. (Earlier this week, a fake account posing as Nintendo of America posted a photo of Mario making a profane hand gesture).

“We’ve looked to verified accounts to provide us with legit and true information for years, and it’s hard to look at these accounts suddenly and question if they’re legit or not,” said Melissa Prizzia, a 25-year-old Twitch streamer from Morristown, N.J., who goes by the name XSET NuFo, “especially for the people who don’t use Twitter regularly and are unaware of all of these changes.”

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Before Musk taking over Twitter, the subscription service Twitter Blue cost $5 a month and gave people the ability to edit their tweets for 30 minutes after posting. It had no correlation with the blue check mark, which previously was reserved for news outlets, journalists, celebrities, politicians and other notable public figures who had to verify their identify with the platform.

Musk has said the check-mark subscription will give Twitter a revenue stream for paying creators. Historically, Twitter has been one of the hardest platforms to earn money on. It has an ad revenue program that one creator noted he found impossible to join and offers few other ways to convert a large following into consistent income.

“Any type of monetization would be an improvement for me,” said Asmongold, the Twitch streamer, who said that he hasn’t received any money from Twitter and that he was willing to pay $8 a month to see if that would help.

The gamers still standing

Musk has made multiple references to gaming when describing Twitter’s future. During the Baron Investment Conference in New York this month, Musk said he wanted to set different user experiences, so that users could pick whether they wanted “full-contact battle” or to just look at “puppies and flowers.” In an Oct. 27 note to advertisers, Musk compared these options to video games, saying that “our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all ages to mature.”

A player-vs.-player version of Twitter, or a proposed mode that would encourage free speech and dialogue, could look a lot like Reddit or Discord, said University of Oregon game studies professor Maxwell Foxman. In an environment like that, certain groups could flourish — such as gamers accustomed to online harassment. Twitter’s Trust and Safety team, which handles content moderation, has faced cuts of about 15 percent of its staff, Yoel Roth, its then-head of safety, tweeted on Nov. 4, before stepping down six days later.

“If [Twitter users] were going to leave, they would already be gone. It reminds me of the 2016 election when people said if Trump won, they would move to Canada. Nobody moved to Canada.”

— Twitter user @ModernWarzone

“There’s concerns that Twitter becomes a more toxic, negative space, based on certain groups leaving and certain groups staying,” Foxman said. “Streamers and influencers in the gaming space have had to deal with that sort of behavior for a really long time. So for better or worse, they’ve built up resistance to some of that behavior.”

Mass layoffs and declines in advertiser spending, which hurt normal users’ experiences and those of influencers attempting to monetize the platform, have already prompted some users to leave Twitter or seek alternatives.

Twitter user Nibellion, who posted gaming news to more than 440,000 followers, announced on Oct. 31 that he would leave the platform, saying he had done some introspection and decided to focus his time and energy elsewhere.

“The sad part is that when Nibellion leaves, somebody is gonna slide up to take his place and do exactly what he did,” said the person who runs a Twitter account called Modern Warzone, which often posts Call of Duty news to its nearly 700,000 followers. The person, who goes by the alias Doug, is a 27-year-old content creator based in Augusta, Ga., and declined to share his name, citing security concerns. “That’s just how it goes. If I were gone tomorrow from Twitter, somebody would slide in to do my job. That’s the reality of the capitalist world we live in is that there’s always somebody next up willing to take less than you are to do exactly what you do.”

Over the past two years, the amount of users who are “heavy tweeters” has been in constant decline, according to internal slides viewed by The Post. (Twitter defines a “heavy tweeter” as someone who logs on six to seven days a week and tweets about three to four times a week.) The number of esports users, streamers and YouTubers who are heavy tweeters has also declined.

The one exception is large accounts such as “Minecraft” content creator Dream and YouTuber Mr. Beast, who have seen an explosion in popularity. Twitter noted that they and other creators who attract similar audiences have found continued success.

“One of the reasons why I think Mr. Beast is extremely popular is he doesn’t really alienate a lot of viewers by having extreme political opinions,” Asmongold said. “Somebody like Mr. Beast is extremely careful to not have controversy. … There’s a lot of fatigue from a lot of the extremist language that people use online and a lot of times people just want to sit back, relax and watch a video and chill out. That’s something that Mr. Beast is able to do well, and that’s why it captures a large audience.”

Dream, Mr. Beast and other accounts did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment; the majority of Twitter’s communications department has been laid off.

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Other creators and notable gaming accounts remain on the platform and confirmed they had no plans to leave.

“We always think about where our brands and communities show up. It’s an important consideration for us,” Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Gaming, said at a New York media event on Tuesday when asked by The Post about his reaction to Musk buying Twitter. Spencer has over a million Twitter followers.

Ben “Cohh Carnage” Cassell, a popular Twitch streamer who regularly uses Twitter to interact with fans and fellow streamers, plans to stick it out for now but has fears about the future of the platform.

“My concern is that we’re going to wake up and it’s going to be gone, or [Musk] is going to wake up on the wrong side of the bed and decide he’s going to shut it down for two weeks and reset it,” Cassell told The Post. “Where do we go next? I left Facebook years ago. Twitch is great, but they got rid of their messaging system. Me and many, many, many other creators use Twitter as a form of communication with each other, and there’s not really a fallback right now that everyone’s using.”

Modern Warzone said that he and others were likely to stay on the platform: “If they were going to leave, they would already be gone. It reminds me of the 2016 election when people said if Trump won, they would move to Canada. Nobody moved to Canada.”

Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.

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