Back in August 2016, Microsoft bought Beam – a fast-growing competitor to Twitch, the live video game streaming company that Amazon bought for $970 million in 2014.
At this week’s Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft outlined its vision for the future of Beam, and explained how this service is going to be coming very soon to a PC and Xbox One console near you, when the Windows 10 Creators Update launches this Spring.
“We think there’s a future for interactivity that hasn’t been explored,” says Xbox Group Product Manager Peter Orullian. “We’re aware that there are now more hours spent viewing than hours playing.”
Importantly, Beam doesn’t mean that Microsoft is removing support for Twitch or other streaming services from the Xbox One or Windows 10 – it just thinks it now has a better, easier option of its own.
For starters, Orullian says, Microsoft believes that Beam has a significant technology advantage: While other streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch have a live video delay of anywhere from 5 to 20 seconds, Orullian praises Beam for its “subsecond” latency.
That lower latency means more interactivity with the audience. Later this month, Microsoft will release the second version of its Beam Interactive tools, so game developers can build features into their games that let viewers of a live stream participate in the fun.
Twitch and others offer similar tools, Orullian notes. Some games, like “Ultimate Chicken Horse,” let viewers vote on aspects of the action. But Beam’s lower latency gives it an advantage, Orullian says, opening the door to more real-time, action-oriented integrations. Plus, it makes it easier for a streamer and their viewers to hold a conversation without having to account for the lag of that delay.
Finally, Orullian shows off how Beam will be built straight into Windows 10 and Xbox One. Streaming your session to Beam is just a few clicks away, with integration into both platforms’ interfaces while playing a game.
And on the Xbox One, you don’t even need a Beam account to get started: Click the controller’s Home button, and the option is there on a revamped side menu. It’ll start the broadcast to your Xbox friends, and even auto-generate a URL for you to share so anyone can tune in.
“All of a sudden, I’m a streamer now,” says Orullian.
That ease of access, plus what he sees as the platform’s superior technology, will give Microsoft a real foothold in the market that Amazon’s Twitch currently dominates, Orullian says. The fact that it only took them less than a year from buying Beam to getting it just about ready for gamers shows how ready Microsoft is to compete, he says.
“I think that probably speaks to how important Beam is,” Orullian says.