Rumors of Google's intent to compete directly with Twitch have finally started to wander into reality through an upcoming service called YouTube Gaming. The goal is to be be quite similar to YouTube in the way content is consumed, but to focus on game-specific browsing and search functions so users can more quickly discover and consume the video they want to watch.
It's something Google should have done years ago, but instead of being first to market the company seems focused on having the app that does it right. As a result, YouTube Gaming is being slowly released to the public, first as a private beta to perfect consumption and then as simple broadcast technology that makes it possible for anyone to be a content creator.
We've been granted access to the first part of the equation, so lets take a look!
Material Design and video games as far as the eye can see
At first glance, YouTube Gaming isn't all that different from YouTube. It's a well-designed series of rectangles inviting you to watch a video, with recommendations based on your preferences and viewing history. Google's Material Design language plays a big part in the overall feel to the app, with lots of bright colors that change based on whatever it is you are looking at. The home page is bathed in that iconic YouTube red, while a game page like Splatoon switched to a bright blue for all of the accents. It's a visually pleasing setup if you're a fan of Material Design, but if you lean towards darker themes this setup can be a little overwhelming.
As advertised, this is YouTube with an intense focus on gaming.
The live ribbon at the top of YouTube Gaming is a living feed of things you might want to watch. If there's something live right now from someone you are subscribed to, or if a particular Let's Play video has received a lot of attention since you last checked the service, you'll see it in this list of autoplay videos. You can swipe between them like changing channels on a television, or if you're using the app on your phone you can just swipe up and make them go away while you look for something else to watch. Tablet UI keeps the ribbon front and center until you decide to watch something else, but there's no audio unless you tap on the video so no need to worry about accidentally blasting your viewing habits to the world around you.
Navigation is broken into three parts, Games, Feed, and Channels. You always default to the Feed, with Games on the left and Channels on the right. As the names for these sections suggests, the Games panel is a list of currently popular titles while Channels is a list of popular YouTube accounts focused on gaming. Games includes a function for you to add your favorites to the top of the list, while Channels lets you import from your existing YouTube subscriptions or pick and choose who you want to see in your feed. As advertised, this is YouTube with an intense focus on gaming.
Live streaming, eventually for everyone
Included in the YouTube Gaming service, which is also available in web form for those who have access, is direct access to live events. The app and the website include the ability to glance at everything currently broadcasting live, and the results are sorted by channel and game preference whenever possible. Compared to plain old YouTube, it's significantly easier to find a live stream of a game. When you do find something to watch, a live chat interface is available for users to participate in.
Long term, it's not totally clear what we should expect in terms of broadcast capabilities.
If you're looking to be a part of the broadcasting experience yourself, it looks like Google isn't quite ready to pull the lid off of the easy broadcasting methods the company has been talking about. The link inviting you to "Go Live" currently tells everyone the feature isn't quite ready, but if you're familiar with the current methods for broadcasting live on YouTube you should be good to go.
Long term, it's not totally clear what we should expect in terms of broadcast capabilities. At Gamescom this week the YouTube Gaming folks are showing off everything the platform can do, but there's no mention of direct console integration or dedicated hardware from Google to handle the stream. The only thing anyone would say with certainty was that any of the current capture tools are expected to work with YouTube Gaming, which is no surprise since they already do exactly that for regular YouTube.
Taking on Twitch
Google has done a lot of things right here, which is great when considering we have no real idea when this is going to be a finished product. The important parts of a consumer experience, largely video quality and volume of content, are things Google has had in the bag for quite a while now. What we're seeing here are the details, specifically an enjoyable interface to watch games, and in that respect it seems YouTube Gaming is going to do well.
The only part of the equation missing right now is the ability to broadcast. If YouTube Gaming can make the broadcasting experience simple and easy, it's not hard to see this service rapidly pick up steam and compete directly with Twitch for broadcasters and users. Until that happens, this is a nice paint job for the YouTube avid gamers already have.