YouTube Gaming arms Google to battle Amazon's Twitch

Ahead of the E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles next week, Google aims to level up with a competitor to the gaming video service it reportedly tried to buy last year.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
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Google will make it easier for people to live-stream gaming videos on YouTube. Google

Google wants to make YouTube the go-to destination for gamers.

To do that, the search giant on Friday unveiled a new YouTube Gaming app and website, which focus on video games and their devout communities of players. The service is a rival to Amazon's Twitch, the popular video game live-streaming site Google tried to buy last year.

"YouTube is the best video game site out there," said Ryan Watt, the service's head of gaming content, from a press event in Los Angeles. "But we never built gamers the experience they deserve."

Google has good reason to push YouTube for gaming. Tech giants have been making bigger investments in gaming and so-called "e-sports" -- which refers to the world of competitive gaming -- as they compete for the eyeballs of younger audiences. Marketers are increasingly looking to reach those audiences through e-sports, and some analysts think it's because e-sports provide a familiar path for advertisers.

"If you're running around in a horror game and all of sudden there's a gleaming Coke machine, it throws off the narrative," said Joost van Dreunen, CEO of game analytics firm SuperData Research. "But advertisers know their way around sponsoring sports. People who watch sports are comfortable with watching advertisements."

The service is available on the Web, Android and Apple's iOS devices. Google

The YouTube Gaming site will contain pages for more than 25,000 games. The service also puts an emphasis on live streaming, where gamers discuss their favorite titles or broadcast footage of games while they are playing them. Some of the new features -- which Google says are coming in the next few weeks -- are focused on making it easier for gamers share their broadcasts with other people. That includes no longer needing to schedule a broadcast ahead of time, and allowing people to share all their streams with followers through a single link.

The project's engineering team also tweaked YouTube's search engine to make it specific to video games. That means if you type in the word "call," YouTube will suggest the game "Call of Duty" and not the music video "Call Me Maybe." One of the biggest challenges in building the service was scouring all of the videos on YouTube and deciding which ones were considered gaming videos, said Jonathan Terleski, a senior staff product designer at YouTube.

Google said the new service will launch later this summer starting in the United States and United Kingdom. It will be available on the Web, on devices running Google's Android operating system and on Apple's iPhones and iPads. The announcement comes days before the industry converges on Los Angeles next week for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, the world's largest video game trade show.

Google's fiercest competitors have also made big pushes in gaming. Amazon last September bought the game streaming site Twitch for almost $1 billion, after a deal with YouTube reportedly fell through. Facebook last year spent $2 billion on Oculus, a virtual reality goggle maker. On Thursday, the company showed off a consumer version of the headset, new games and new controllers for the device. Oculus also announced a partnership with Microsoft to bring its catalog of games for the Xbox One console to Oculus.

YouTube is Google's best shot at making meaningful inroads into e-sports. The service is by far the most dominant video site in the world, attracting 1 billion unique visitors a month. Google also claims YouTube already has more game-related videos than any other platform, according to its own metrics, though a Google spokeswoman declined to share specifics.

YouTube Gaming and Twitch have already begun a friendly rivalry. Screenshot by CNET

The service is already popular among gamers, as people flock to watch videos by gaming YouTube star PewDiePie. The UK-based Swede -- whose real name is Felix Kjellberg -- is YouTube's biggest personality, with 37 million people subscribed to his channel of videos depicting himself shrieking obscenities over his own video-game play.

But even with YouTube's might, it will be a lofty challenge to take on Twitch, which has built a dedicated user base. The site, founded in 2011, gets more than 100 million viewers a month, with 1.5 million broadcasters. One popular feature of the service is the ability to couple music with gaming the videos. In January, Twitch announced Music Library, which gives users a list of more than 1,000 songs cleared for them to use in their videos. YouTube said it would explore that option, but wanted to be mindful of copyright issues.

CNET's Nick Statt and Joan E. Solsman contributed to this report.

Update, 12:10 p.m. PT: With more details on YouTube Gaming.