At the time, Wood had been driving through small town Minnesota, exhausted, with two dogs in the car and her parents sleeping in the back. She roused her mom, switched seats, and started fielding tweets, text messages and phone calls. To Wood, 29, Mixer was a full-time career. She was one of the top female streamers on the platform, and the 34th most followed overall. Her success had afforded her a new car, a Range Rover, bought just weeks before the announcement. She met her current roommate on Mixer. Then on Monday, the ground shifted suddenly under her feet.
“I thought that I would get to keep my channel and that it was just moving to Facebook. So I was like, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad, I’m still keeping my followers and everything I built,'" Wood told The Post. When she finally realized what was happening, her mood changed. “I realized, okay, we’re done. I’m losing everything.”
Mixer was acquired by Microsoft in 2016, when it was still called Beam. The streaming platform was meant to compete with the likes of Twitch, which Amazon had acquired two years prior. Despite the backing of a corporate giant, and one with a significant footprint in the video game industry, Mixer never took off. Instead, it became something of a punchline for observers of the streaming and esports industries.
One oft-cited statistic: the site saw 0.2 percent growth in terms of hours watched, when comparing viewership in April 2019 to viewership in April 2020. In that time, Mixer spent tens of millions of dollars acquiring top streaming talent, all to no apparent effect. By contrast, Twitch and Facebook Gaming both saw triple digit percent growth. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
Most of the Mixer streamers who spoke with The Post for this story described the site’s shutdown as an inevitability — but one that they always perceived as coming a few years down the road. Streamers who saw the Mixer tweet when it came out — some, while streaming — were incredulous. One thought it might be a joke. Most felt blindsided and betrayed.
“You were in a relationship for two and a half years that you devoted everything to,” said Bree Roberson, a former Mixer partner. “And then you got broken up with over a text message and just ghosted forever.” Roberson has since transferred her streams to Twitch. Her audience isn’t comfortable with the alternatives, such as Facebook Gaming, she says.
Mixer’s announcement on June 22 came with the news that the company would be partnering with Facebook Gaming to transition viewers and streamers from one site to the other. Mixer partners, streamers who receive additional benefits when streaming if they meet certain thresholds set by a platform, would receive a similar status at Facebook Gaming, and be given access to familiar monetization features. Crucially, the partnership would give Microsoft a bigger viewer base to entice users to its xCloud game streaming service. The technology, which is similar to Google Stadia, hopes to allow people viewing streams to quickly and easily jump into the games they’re watching.
Mixer hosted three town halls after the announcement came out. These functioned as de facto Facebook Gaming infomercials, where designers, engineers and the head of Facebook Gaming, Vivek Sharma, made their pitch to Mixer partners. Sharma acknowledged the likely skepticism of his audience. “In any which way we can support you as streamers and creators and brilliant artists, that is what we’re here for. I know it may sound corny coming from big bad Facebook blue.”
And why wouldn’t the partners be skeptical of Facebook? They had just been betrayed by a different giant corporation.
“[Mixer] was our home. And Hurricane Microsoft just came and wiped us and our home out. And now instead of crying and being upset about our old home, we have to go build our new home, wherever that is,” wrote iCharley, a former Mixer partner who is moving to Twitch, in a message to The Post. “I won’t lie, I’m terrified.”
Microsoft did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment by the time of publication.
Despite Mixer’s outward appearance of failure, those who used it had largely positive feelings. Many Mixer partners described other streamers on the site as family. Their viewers were seen as members of healthy, happy communities. Some mentioned great chemistry in their working relations with partner managers at Mixer. Streamers on Mixer were well aware that they were a source of humor for those who valorized Twitch; sometimes, trolls would enter stream chat on Mixer and entreat streamers to ditch the platform. Still, where some saw Mixer as diminutive, partners saw the smaller scale as an asset.
“A lot of other people, they look at platforms like Twitch, and Twitch is massive … so sometimes they feel like their voices aren’t heard and they’re just a grain of sand at the beach,” said Milan Lee, a former Mixer employee. “On Mixer, our thing was, ‘Hey, we know we’re new to the game. We’re building out communities, and you as a partner get to help us shape the future.’”
But the Microsoft-ification of the platform also meant a gradual decline in that feeling of partners having power over the platform. When Mixer was still Beam, the company’s two founders, Matt Salsamendi and James Boehm, were easily accessible and communicative.
“When we brought up issues, the guys that created [the technology] were there. And when they said, ‘Hey, we see this as an issue, we’re gonna fix it,’ they did,” said Jesse Mayer, a former Mixer partner who had been on the platform around the time of the Microsoft acquisition. “There wasn’t a hoop. There wasn’t, ‘Okay, it’s gonna take $2,500, three weeks of testing, two change orders signed off by executive leadership.’ We had a direct outlet right to the founders.” Mayer is moving to Facebook Gaming.
One Mixer partner analogized the different eras of Mixer to the difference between a fast casual eatery and a family-owned restaurant. “There’s a restaurant I used to go to all the time. … It’s a place called Betsy’s Pancake House. And I knew Miss Betsy before she passed away. I know her daughter who owns the place now. I know her granddaughter and her great granddaughters, all of whom are lovely people. And because I know them and because they are a family owned business, I know how that business runs. I know their favorite vendors. I know where they buy their coffee. I know what day the bread guy brings the bread order,” said James Pfeiffer, a former Mixer partner who is now moving to Twitch. “You walk into an IHOP, and I don’t care how long you stay there, you’re never gonna know how IHOP works. And that’s the difference between Beam and Microsoft’s Mixer.”
The launch of the battle over exclusivity deals, which Mixer triggered by poaching Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Twitch’s most popular streamer, and the introduction of HypeZone channels, which highlighted streams where players were close to winning their game, also seemed to signal a change in priorities at the company. These weren’t unwelcome changes. Ninja felt like a legitimizing presence to some, and the HypeZone channels were genuinely exciting places to be featured.
“Ninja coming to Mixer wasn’t a better deal for Mixer. Ninja coming to Mixer was a better deal for every streamer out there,” said Trey Veasy, a former Mixer partner. “Ninja created a pathway that made content creation a real career. … I’m now in talks with Facebook Gaming and potentially Twitch to be a paid content creator under a contract earning more than just what my community can offer me.”
Still, those two changes signaled to partners that Mixer was looking to compete with Twitch. And that was a fight that the site wasn’t positioned to win.
Mixer’s slide into non-communication, culminating in the brusque announcement-via-tweet of its shutdown, led many of the partners who spoke to The Post to speculate on the timing of Mixer’s shutdown. One recurring theory was that Mixer was shuttered to sidestep the fallout of a weekend of painful allegations. Amid a broader reckoning in the video game industry and streaming in particular, numerous partnered streamers at Mixer had been called out for sexual misconduct, and other partners were demanding swift action on the part of the company. Some vowed to leave the platform entirely.
Allegations also surfaced about racism at the company. In a statement titled “Mixer: The Black Experience,” published the day before the company shut down, Milan Lee accused his manager of calling Mixer partners “slaves” in an internal meeting.
“She was like, the partners on our platform, they’re my slaves. So I own their content, I own their future, I own their success. I’m the reason they either succeed or fail. I control all of that. And me, I’m their slave master,” Lee told The Post. “And when she said that, everybody looked at me immediately; I was the only Black person in the meeting. … I immediately said, ‘Yeah, that’s not okay.’” Other Mixer employees backed Lee up in subsequent statements, and ascribed a toxic work environment to the manager.
The announcement of Mixer’s closure caught Lee off guard. Earlier that day, Mixer had tweeted a response to Lee, thanking him for being open about his experience. “I wasn’t expecting [Mixer to say] ‘Hey Milan, thanks for saying that, we’re going to build a better future for tomorrow,’ and then literally in seven hours, you announce that … you’re dismantling the platform,” said Lee. “I didn’t feel like I was getting, quote unquote, justice, you know?”
Into this strange moment steps Facebook Gaming. Mixer’s three partner town hall meetings all started on more somber notes, with streamers and members of the Mixer team eulogizing the platform. But the bulk of the event, in line with Microsoft’s partnership with Facebook Gaming, was a pitch, outlining existing and upcoming features on the social media giant’s streaming platform.
Among the new features and quality of life improvements promised by Facebook was greater discoverability, and plans to cut latency down by 50 percent, and even to sub-second levels. A Facebook product manager on the call stressed that creator pages, from which users stream content, would not be publicly linked to personal Facebook pages; Streamers won’t need to accept friend requests from followers. The company is also developing a way to bridge that same gap for viewers, and link personal profiles to a gaming identity. “To be blunt, Facebook is a social media platform that is built on real identity. You use your real name, you chat with your real name, it’s people interacting with other people. And that’s not how other gaming platforms are built,” said the product manager, acknowledging that the platform would have to change its usual approach to aliases in order to appease streaming audiences.
The product manager also touted a feature that would allow streamers to set rules for their communities. “You can choose which rules fit your community best, and then we’ll give a prompt to people that enter your chat and say, ‘Hey, these are the rules of this community. Here’s a little blurb about what this community is about. If you want to chat, you have to accept these rules.’”
On the monetization front, Facebook Gaming offered Stars as an analog to Twitch’s Bits and Mixer’s Embers — currency that viewers can use to donate to certain streamers. (The platforms get money when viewers buy the currency, and a portion of that is sent to the streamer when a viewer chooses to donate their Stars or Bits of Embers). Facebook also announced that it is testing gifted subscriptions, a standard feature on other streaming sites.
A benefit of Facebook’s size is also that streamers could attach ads to clips from their streams and release them into the broader ecosystem, where the clips stand a chance to go viral, said Vivek Sharma, the head of Facebook Gaming. “You’ve now just organically, for free, created your own PR department that just went all over Facebook, showing your channel, getting ad revenue,” said Sharma.
Now, with Mixer gone, the biggest streaming platforms are owned by Facebook, Amazon and Google. Though Twitch is the dominant platform, Facebook’s massive install base, its advertising capabilities and even its chat and group functionalities could make it a meaningful entrant into the space.
“If you remember the early days of America Online, you weren’t technically on the Internet. You dialed in to AOL and there were information pages, the chat room, you could send mail, you could meet up with your friends,” Mia Consalvo, a professor research chair in game studies and design at Concordia University in Montreal, told The Post. “If you look at Facebook now, it’s almost like they’re trying to replicate that experience. … With some of the streaming platforms, you might need more peripheral technologies like Discord or Twitter to broaden out the channel. But the platforms themselves were always, always striving to try and keep [people] within the platform as much as possible.”
The loss of Mixer as an alternative isn’t just bad for the streamers who were on the platform. “For a streamer who is interested in making money, [Mixer’s closure] means that they have a little less leverage with other companies,” says Consalvo. “They can’t say, ‘oh, I can’t get a good deal with you. I’ll go there.’ There’s no there there anymore.”