Microsoft announced today that it would kill its Mixer streaming service and transition users to Facebook Gaming. The announcement both is and isn’t a surprise. On the one hand, it’s been rumored that Microsoft might make a move with Mixer and shake things up in the process. On the other, Microsoft has spent a tremendous amount of time and money building Mixer in the first place — and integrating it as the automatic streaming solution for the Xbox One.
When Microsoft bought Mixer (formerly Beam) in 2016, it explicitly set about integrating streaming as a push-button feature. It’s still possible to configure other alternatives, like Twitch, but there’s currently no way to duplicate the exact functionality Microsoft offers you with Mixer integration. If you’ve purchased Embers or Sparks, you can award them to your favorite Mixers through the month of June (they’ll receive double credit), but after June 30 you won’t be able to buy them. You’ll get an Xbox Gift Card of “similar value,” automatically applied to your Microsoft account, but only have until September 30 to spend the money.
This is an odd deal. Facebook Gaming has no method of directly streaming from consoles. Microsoft refers to plans to bring that feature out in the future but had nothing ready for this announcement. This about-face also comes less than a year after Microsoft announced it had signed Tyler “Ninja” Blevins to a multi-year Mixer contract — and Blevins wasn’t the only streamer who moved to the platform.
We didn’t know this was coming. We found out right before you.
— Tara Voelker Wake (@LadieAuPair) June 22, 2020
The sudden announcement caught even Mixer staff off-guard. Tera Wake, who worked at Mixer and was chairing an accessibility committee that had “barely gotten started,” announced that staff had found out about the project shutdown right before the announcement was made public. Mixer has had some noted morale problems, as reported by OnMSFT, but there was still no sign the service was being canceled.
Polygon reports that in exchange, Microsoft is getting something it wants — Project xCloud support on Facebook Gaming. Again, this is something of an odd deal. Why would Microsoft need to tap Facebook’s gaming leverage when it has so many methods of reaching its own customers directly?
My guess is that this is about extending xCloud to a group of users who might not encounter the service another way. Microsoft doesn’t need Facebook to reach Xbox gamers, but it could use Facebook’s social reach to try and appeal to people who don’t fit the standard core gaming demographic. That makes sense, as far as it goes, but Microsoft’s entire business approach to gaming is that it attempts to cater to what I’d call the “core gaming demographic.” The idea of reaching people over Facebook with the appeal of games they might not have considered seems like the sort of thing that would play more to Nintendo’s strengths, with family-friendly titles like Animal Crossing (if, of course, Nintendo was interested in that kind of cloud gaming service).
Microsoft is spinning this idea as a way to help its Mixers find larger audiences. Mixer, unlike Facebook, was known for robust moderation tools and cultivating non-toxic fan communities. Facebook is, shall we say, not known for these things.
It’s not clear if anyone actually benefits from this. Mixer isn’t a big enough platform to make Facebook Gaming look appealing. Facebook Gaming still has the word “Facebook” in it, which makes it a non-starter. Microsoft gets to put xCloud on Facebook Gaming, but whether it’ll actually provide any kind of meaningful market for the product is another question entirely. Oh — and it’s not clear how content creators will themselves be impacted, though Microsoft has made some mouth noises about trying to help them establish themselves on equivalent terms with Zuck and Co.
As of now, it’s likely the Xbox Series X will either feature streaming integration with a service like Twitch or will simply allow users to set their own service without a preset default. The feature has become too important to imagine consoles leaving it off altogether.