Popular streaming service Twitch is eight years old this year. Technically, though, the service has a much longer and more storied history than that. What we know of as Twitch actually started way, way back in 2005, and wasn’t called Twitch. The site has been through a long and interesting history since its relatively inauspicious beginnings; it wasn’t always the internet juggernaut we know it as today. Come and join us as we take a trip down memory lane and investigate the history of Twitch.
The year is 2005. The Pussycat Dolls stand shoulder-to-shoulder with The Black Eyed Peas for chart dominance, Christopher Nolan is just beginning his classic three-movie Batman run, and bird flu paranoia sweeps the world (don’t worry, it turned out basically okay). 2005 may not seem a long time ago, but remember that most people were still using those ancient off-white CRT monitors and massive PC tower units back then, so the internet was reasonably primitive by modern standards.
In 2005, Twitch founder Justin Kan was studying for a physics and psychology degree at Yale University. Kan was, of course, a software buff, but the world didn’t know it yet. His first business venture was an online calendar that was way ahead of its time. Kiko – for that was the name of his venture – was an online calendar with a relatively user-friendly UI and API integration. It’s pretty much an early version of the modern Google Calendar, on which so many professionals and creatives now rely.
Unfortunately, Kiko went the way of the dodo shortly after its inception. Back in 2006, Kiko was apparently sold to an eBay user by the name of “powerjoe1998” for the relatively paltry sum of $258,100. Still, Justin Kan wasn’t to be deterred. Clearly, Kan was a man with a vision, as were the other members of the Kiko startup. Their next venture had to be something useful, something that would actually attract attention rather than flounder in obscurity as Kiko had.
What Kan and his team came up with was justin.tv. The site is sadly defunct now, but justin.tv was a pretty eerily prescient predictor of the modern phenomenon of “lifecasting”. Kan said that he wanted to create a website similar to the reality TV show Big Brother, a site that would broadcast the lives of both him and his team around the clock. Kan’s venture coincided with the widespread availability of webcams and faster internet connections, as well as predicting the rise of YouTube.
When justin.tv first started, it was just that; Justin. It wasn’t possible for users to upload their own video to the website, even though this was a widely-requested feature. In 2007, Kan was the victim of swatting, with a police raid being dispatched to his house despite no crime taking place. It was likely events like this, as well as other concerns about public safety and the internet, that made Kan and his team so reluctant to allow users to upload their own video.
Nevertheless, this feature was eventually added to justin.tv. In October 2007, justin.tv officially opened its doors to allow users to register themselves and broadcast their own lives (or, in theory, whatever they wanted). The concept took off, as it invariably must. By April 2008, justin.tv had over 30,000 registered broadcasting accounts. That’s 30,000 people in the space of just six months. Clearly, this was a concept that wasn’t going to leave the public imagination.
It wasn’t until June 2011 that justin.tv’s Gaming section was rebranded to Twitch.tv. This was presumably because gaming content was incredibly popular on justin.tv, with that section taking up a huge amount of the site’s broadcasts. Even in 2011, actually filming yourself playing video games, as well as capturing what was on your screen, was difficult. Although anyone could technically stream themselves gaming, software was limited and expensive.
The name “Twitch.tv” (and later “Twitch”) was inspired by the concept of twitch gameplay. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, it essentially refers to games that require quick reflexes from the player. Examples might be Call of Duty, Super Meat Boy, or DOOM. You can also see elements of twitch gameplay in titles like Tetris and mobile games like Bejeweled. Many of the most popular Twitch titles are twitch-based games – MOBAs and FPS games still reign supreme on the Twitch landscape today.
Twitch became monstrously popular. The site enjoyed 80 employees in June 2013, hiring a further 20 to create a staff of 100 by December that same year. The success and popularity of the site was sealed in February 2014, when “Twitch Plays Pokemon” went viral. This series saw a crowd of Twitch viewers attempting to play the Game Boy game Pokemon Red using a series of chat commands translated into game commands. Since then, Twitch has also taken on various other games including Dark Souls.
In August 2014, Twitch was acquired by Amazon. It now operates wholly as a subsidiary of Amazon, which is why Amazon Prime subscriptions will also net you some Twitch Prime benefits (as well as some free games each month). As it stands, Twitch enjoys around 15 million daily active users, making it far and away the most popular live streaming service in the world. Who knows what the future holds for this once-modest lifecasting website?