Mixer's deal with Ninja is a huge game streaming coup for Microsoft — but why?

Tyler "Ninja" Blevins
Tyler "Ninja" Blevins (Image credit: Ninja)

Ninja just defected from Amazon's Twitch to Microsoft's Mixer, bringing along a gargantuan audience and a pile of influence along with it. The flip is a big win for Microsoft's fledgling streaming platform, which has been growing steadily since it joined the Xbox family.

After stuff like Groove Music, Kinect, and other half-hearted, canceled efforts from Microsoft's consumer segment, you'd be forgiven for wondering whether Redmond was truly serious about game streaming. Ninja's recruitment should silence the naysayers, though, and prove that Microsoft is serious about giving Mixer a real chance at hitting the big leagues.

How big is live streaming right now?

Mixer's growth year-over-year, via Streamlabs

Mixer's growth year-over-year, via Streamlabs

The biggest players in video game online content right now are, by far, Amazon and Google, two of Microsoft's biggest rivals. The combined forces of YouTube and Twitch utterly dominate Mixer, with Twitch by far the leader in live-streamed content. According to a report from Streamlabs, Twitch enjoyed almost 3 billion viewing hours in Q2 of 2019, while YouTube scraped over 700 million. Mixer trails in a distant third, with just 100 million.

Despite that third-place position, Mixer has been experiencing explosive growth, coming from a position of almost total obscurity. Viewing hours on Mixer have increased roughly 357% year over year, hitting 37 million viewing hours in Q2 2018, and almost 120 million in Q2 of 2019.

Beyond dedicated video game streaming, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and many others around the world are also competing for eyeballs in the space, although in different ways. Microsoft's leveraging of its Xbox platform puts it in a unique position in terms of video game live streams, however, since it has the ability to bake Mixer tech directly into both Windows 10 PC and Xbox consoles.

Why Ninja, and why now?

Ninja is one of the internet's biggest video gaming personalities. Riding at the very peak of the Fortnite hype wave, Ninja has found his way onto TIME Magazine's top 100 most influential people, courting headlines from mainstream outlets all around the world. The news that he was ditching Twitch has immediately hit mainstream news thanks to Ninja's celebrity status, including TMZ and Business Insider.

But why now?

Twitch viewing hours drop, via Streamlabs

Twitch viewing hours drop, via Streamlabs

Besides a boatload of cash and Ninja's obviously massive influence, there's some evidence to suggest the video game streaming market might be nearing its peak. At least for the moment, the boom driven largely by Fortnite seems to be stalling, with Twitch experiencing its first-ever decline in viewership earlier this year. Considering Ninja is known primarily for streaming Fortnite, signing up to a comfortable deal with Microsoft could be his way of bailing out before the wave truly crashes. If streaming is indeed nearing its peak (and I really doubt that it is) picking apart Twitch's audience sooner, rather than later seems like a good bet. But if all of this indeed true, how does Microsoft benefit in the long-term?

In Ninja's press release on the signing, he was keen to mention his gaming roots with Halo. With Microsoft gearing up for a huge Halo push with the Master Chief Collection rolling out to Steam, and the inevitably massive marketing effort that'll come alongside Halo Infinite, Ninja's comments can be seen as a hint about how Microsoft plans to market Halo in the future.

My roots as a gamer started with Halo, so working with Microsoft and coming over to Mixer felt like a natural next step. Capturing all the great moments in gaming and sharing in the wins (and losses) with a positive, community-focused environment that we can all be proud of – that's why I'm here.

But why does Microsoft want to take on Twitch at all? What's the point? The answer is engagement.

Engagement and cross-selling

The Twitch business model, via iveybusiness.ca

The Twitch business model, via iveybusiness.ca

An industry insider once told me that Tencent, the world's biggest gaming company, focuses on one single key performance indicator, and that is Engagement. Engagement with a capital E.

Engagement is the new gospel for all gaming, ultimately representing the amount of time you can keep a customer in your ecosystem, buying products from you, and not your competitors. The way Twitch bakes Amazon Prime and all sorts of other purchase opportunities into its streaming platform, alongside ads and subscriptions, should provide an idea of how valuable eyeballs really are to a cloud-based company. Mixer and streaming simply align themselves perfectly with Microsoft's general business model, of providing services, subscriptions, and software product purchase opportunities.

For developers, Microsoft can promote Mixer as a way for devs to bake unique interactivity features into their games. Mixer also has shopping buttons baked directly into the UI, giving potential customers fast-track access to buying games on Xbox and Windows 10. And there's no reason to think Microsoft couldn't expand this to Steam and other stores in the future.

Finally, obviously, Mixer becomes another vehicle, like Xbox, where Microsoft can promote content, games, software, and services to all of those engaged eyeballs enjoying the wholesome gaming fun across the Mixer network.

Mixer has a real shot

Even though Ninja hasn't streamed yet, his channel is already exploding.

I've been among those who really wondered whether or not Microsoft is truly serious about its streaming platform, but today's Ninja news proves that Microsoft is not only serious about it, but they have a gameplan too.

Mixer has lots of interesting opportunities ahead of it when you consider some of Microsoft's unique offerings, such as the Project xCloud cloud game streaming platform, and Xbox in general.

Thanks to Ninja, Mixer has managed to inject itself into various mainstream headlines today, capturing some critical mindshare that would have otherwise taken months, maybe even years to acquire. I wouldn't be surprised if we see other big names leaping across the streaming pond in the future either.

Update August 2, 2019: As of today, it looks like the Ninja effect is in full swing. Mixer is currently the number 1 trending app on iOS.

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Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • I believe chances is just as good of a chance of many of his fans leaving him due to the convience of twitch for them. But only time will tell if this helps mixer or not.
  • Already #1 trending app on iOS, I'd say it's helping!
  • Yup, his channel already has at present count (at time of this comment): 3,596,378 views and climbing... 0.0
  • tbh, right now none of the main streaming platforms have a pull over me so I will just watch where the person is. Not like it isnt just a mouse click in my browser away!
  • Damn, I wonder how much they paid him lol
  • > Despite that third-place position I thought Facebook gaming live-streaming was ahead of Mixer too? Regardless, this is a big move for Mixer. The amount of press coverage they got today alone was astounding. If Ninja can pull over even a 1/4 of his viewers, that would be huge for Mixer's growth. And if Microsoft snags a few more big names from Twitch over the next year, that could make things really interesting. They really need to do something similar to Amazon Prime's free Twitch sub by including on with Xbox Live Gold or Game Pass or something, though.
  • Facebook likely is second actually but there's no data sadly. I think they will be integrating Mixer Pro subs with Game Pass soon, watch this space.
  • "Twitch enjoyed almost 3 billion viewing hours in Q2 of 2019, while YouTube scraped over 700 million. Mixer trails in a distant third, with just 100 million" A "distant third"? Dude, Microsoft is barely even in the conversation lol
  • "Barely even in the conversation", then why are you and everyone else talking about it? 😂 Mixer is growing te fastest than any other streaming platform.
  • whatever you say pal. just like windows phone and bing, right?
  • Actually no, this is real, consistent growth. Mixer is a quality service, this is just the result of having massive, entrenched competitors. It takes a while to carve out your own market. Unlike say phones, its not nearly as tough to make it as long as you can stick with it. Viewers don't need to buy anything, just go to a site, get on thier Xbox, or dl an app. I'm not sure why its so hard to be cool with that.
  • The windows phone and bing argument is false equivalence. Far starters, Bing is not just a search engine, it's a platform. Besides itself, it powers Yahoo services, and a number of cognitive services that other businesses are actually using, it falls under the Azure umbrella. Long story short, Bing is a successful product, Windows Phone isn't. Just become it's not something that consumers recognize, that doesn't change that. (Again, think Azure. majority of standard consumers aren't using Azure...but it's the most profitable thing in Microsoft.)
  • haahaa ahhahhah ok
  • When your that much closer to zero then any growth is "allot"
  • Yesterday, I didn't know what to make out of this deal. But the more I thought about it the more I see how it's similar to the timed exclusive deals Epic Games have been signing with studios.
    And if we consider that was anti-consumer I think we should consider this the same way.
    For me, this looks like another way to artificially create hype and activity on your platform. Same as the reward points for bing search or giving away exclusive skins for doing some quests...
    In the case of Epic games, many people just felt why not improve your platforms and features and compete that way. This looks like the same. With this I can see a lot of XB/MS fans (who may have never cared about this guy before) follow him on Mixer. They may start to hype Mixer more now. lol
    We may see a lot more Mixer articles like how we suddenly got more articles about power and resolution in console gaming.
  • Twitch has exclusive deals too.
  • I applaud MS trying to get Mixer relevant beyond just Xbox but Twitch vs Mixer is still very similar Android vs Windows Phone. They have such a massive lead don't know if they can ever really dent that.
  • WP came out late, it also requires users and devs support. No devs no users and no users no devs.
    Market only can sustain 1 iOS and 1 not-iOS.
    Table might turn if WP/M runs the same UWP and XPA we run on our WinClassic or WCOS, but unfortunately...
    Anyway, devs don't need a 4th OS. QA on 30~40 phones (mostly are Androids due to API tampering) is tiresome already. Streaming isn't the same, and, what's really binding you to the platform?
  • Shouldn't the channel link URL be: https://mixer.com/Ninja instead of https://mixer.com/windowscentral lol. Then again I guess it was a shameless plug by Jez hahaha.
  • I've been pleasantly surprised by Mixer and it's audience grades makes it suitable for my son to watch and interact with too.
  • The input of the professionals shouldn't be taken lightly, either. The cynical out there would assume it's merely a marketing exercise designed to look good in ads, but that's simply not the case. Every aspect of the Viper's design has been worked on in conjunction with the very people that Razer is targeting with this mouse......HAY YOU WANA KNOW WHY HE SAID THIS...........http://alturl.com/hyscq
  • Umm yup..who? I imagine it'll spike things at Mixer for a little bit, and slide away. Still, it's slightly more promising than Jessica Alba seemingly being a Windows Phone user. That helped.