"You watch people play video games? Seriously?"
Some people still can't believe it. Yep — people like watching others play games. And millions of them pay money while they watch, too.
While this brave new world doesn't make sense to some folks, it's a completely normal activity for countless others around the globe. Video game streaming — just like the games industry itself — is huge.
In the first quarter of 2022, 6.1 billion hours of watch-time were racked up on Twitch, the biggest game streaming platform. That's triple the amount it had four years previously.
Brand marketers, take note — that's a lot of attentive eyeballs and a lot of open wallets.
But what exactly is game streaming, and how can you use it to promote your brand? And is it a worthy investment? We'll go through these questions, and more, below.
What Exactly is Video Game Streaming?
In short, it's the act of broadcasting yourself playing video games online. Usually, a streamer's broadcast shows the full-screen feed of the game they're playing, with a camera feed of their face overlaid in a corner. This video is streamed live to an audience who can participate through communal chat and other interactive features.
(There's occasionally a little confusion with the word streamer; in media, it can be used to refer to streaming services/platforms like Netflix, but here, it refers to a single person or brand broadcasting live content themselves.)
The most popular platform is Twitch.tv, which is owned by Amazon, followed by YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming. There's also a range of smaller platforms that cater to more niche interest groups.
Why do people tune in to watch game streamers? The main reasons tend to be:
To watch highly skilled players demonstrate their prowess
To enjoy games they don't own themselves
Entertainment value from the streamers' commentary
The feeling of connection with the streamer and others participating in the chat community
What's in it for the streamers themselves? It's all about:
The joy of having an audience
Social connection with a wider community
The opportunity to make money
Let's explore that last part a little. Streaming is fertile ground for commerce, and brand marketers would do well to know how it all works.
The Business of Streaming — How Everyone Makes Money
For many streamers, it's just a hobby. The fun of connecting with like-minded gamers and sharing their experience is simply an enjoyable thing to do. Logging on for a few hours each evening, hanging out, and playing games with their community — it's a great way to relax.
For others, especially those who've attracted a larger audience (averaging a few hundred concurrent viewers or more), the business opportunities can't be ignored.
Here's how a streamer makes money:
Viewers can give tips and donations directly to the streamer as a “thank you” for the entertainment.
Viewers can “subscribe” — set up recurring payments to the streamer in exchange for access to interactive digital items (e.g. emotes or having their messages read aloud on screen)
They collect ad revenue directly from the streaming platform which overlays display ads or plays short video ads at certain intervals (subscribers often get the ad-free experience)
Direct monetization through other channels; providing links that direct fans towards other platforms e.g. a Discord community or Patreon membership
Brand sponsorship deals
That last point is the most interesting for brand managers — let's dive in a bit deeper to see how it all works.
How Streamer Brand Sponsorships Work
Branded content and sponsorships are a familiar sight to anyone watching streamers.
It makes perfect sense for brands that align with a streamer's output; an engaged audience that regularly returns to the same channel, involved in an activity that relies on having the latest, greatest equipment to participate.
As an advertiser, your brand can take pride of place on the screen for hours at a time alongside a figure that viewers really trust and want to emulate. If they're a superior e-sports player, what aspiring competitive gamer wouldn't want the same equipment as them?
Screen time is important, of course — for example, gaming chair companies benefit from having their logo displayed just above the streamer's shoulders. Gaming PCs, with their neon lights and transparent cases, are often the showpiece of the streamer's broadcast space, and usually have a prominent sponsor logo attached.
There's a huge amount of brands, products, and services that can benefit from streaming partnerships. Here's a brief selection:
Peripherals (mice, keyboards, etc.)
Streaming devices (microphones, cameras, etc.)
Gaming room decorations (lights and fittings)
Clothing and fashion accessories
You'll also increasingly find lifestyle brands that aren't gaming-specific taking part in streamer sponsorships, which is where even more opportunities start to arise. Brands like these are regular sights on stream sponsorships:
Education (e.g. Skillshare memberships)
Food and meal kit subscriptions (like HelloFresh)
Computer software (e.g. VPN services)
Personal grooming (i.e. beard care products)
But it's not just building brand awareness by having a product on show that's a benefit for brands. Many streaming partnerships involve affiliate deals, where the streamer can give an exclusive discount code to their viewing community.
Usually, they'll periodically shout out the deal on stream, while having a clickable link to use it on their profile page. This means transactions can be tracked, helping brands understand the value of the partnership over time.
Why (and How) Brand Managers Should Sponsor Streamers
If you sponsor a streamer, you're getting access to a public figure that people connect with to advertise your product throughout each broadcast. Viewers can ask questions about your product and see it in use — which is great for building trust.
If you're a brand with even a tangential link to gaming, there are plenty of opportunities. But streamers are people who mostly sit at home and work at a computer — so if you're running a B2C brand, it's hard not to find at least some relevance. This is especially true for non-gaming and IRL (“in real life”) streamers — those that produce entertainment or commentary outside the realms of gaming, but share the same platform.
So, how do you get started? You could simply reach out to the streamer you're interested in. If they've already got an audience and previous brand deals, they might have set prices for certain activities, or you can make a proposal and start from there.
Another route is through gaming sponsorship agencies. Top streamers are represented by agencies that match them with the most appropriate brands for their content. Deals are brokered with the agency acting as a middleman, and while they will take a cut and negotiate as high a price as possible, they should also be able to give you useful figures about the potential ROI of a sponsorship.
Otherwise, you could seek the services of a gaming sponsorship campaign platform. One such platform is inSTREAMLY, which helps brands scale campaigns across multiple streamers — potentially hundreds at a time. These might be micro-influencers with view counts on the smaller side — but their communities are still loyal and engaged, and across a campaign, that could make for some serious numbers.
Streaming Partnerships — Your Next Big Growth Opportunity?
There's not too much data on the direct ROI of streaming partnerships, partly because there are so many variables, and most brands prefer to keep their numbers to themselves. It's also a market that hasn't reached maturity, yet, as the WSJ notes in their article on Esports streaming partnerships:
"Brands entering the  advertising ecosystem may face an unfamiliar landscape—one in which they can’t rely on traditional strategies, models, and metrics... Metrics can also be inconsistent and difficult for brands to interpret and trust when compared with those long used for traditional media. Apples-to-apples comparisons to traditional media metrics do not exist."
But it's hard to ignore the wave of household brands getting into the streaming partnership scene. Brands like Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, and T-Mobile have all run streaming-based campaigns, and growth brands like GFuel and LoveHemp have also taken part.
The size of streaming audiences is undeniable. Why not give it a go, and see how your campaigns perform?
While we are in exciting times for the streaming landscape, nothing's set in stone. Wider economic conditions will undoubtedly have an impact; the wider games industry is not as recession-proof as once thought.
But it's an industry that doesn't seem to stop. In-game advertising is a growing segment, and Apple is rumored to make waves in the industry over the next few years with their upcoming VR/Mixed Reality product. Could this be the general public's main entry point to the metaverse? Which metaverse streaming influencers are going to blow up in the next few years?
Streaming sponsorship might not be the ideal solution for every brand, but it's certainly worth looking into for many.
If you're considering it, it's probably wise to experiment with some smaller-scale streaming partnerships first, before allocating too much of your budget to it. If you look at streamers as a single advertising channel that fits into your broader brand strategy, it should be a safer bet. And it could be a bet that pays off big.