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Microsoft’s Mixer lets streamers and spectators play games together

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Since Microsoft acquired its Mixer (formerly Beam) livestreaming service 14 months ago, it has been updating the platform on a regular basis, and now it has some interactive features that will make it stand out from the pack of streaming platforms.

Microsoft hopes Mixer will give it a competitive edge in the $4.6 billion streaming market. More than 600 million people worldwide are consuming livestream content, according to market researcher SuperData Research. Ben Favreau, product marketing manager for Mixer, showed me a demo of the latest Mixer build in a visit to the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

“The size and scale of the audiences have become pretty significant,” Favreau said in an interview. “We have made it really easy for people to become game broadcasters.”

Microsoft has integrated Mixer into its Xbox Live service so that you can record video or broadcast a livestream to fans on either Windows 10 or the Xbox console platform. Broadcasting has been integrated directly into the operating system. You can plug a USB camera into an Xbox One game console and it will superimpose the video of you into a game broadcast — and it will do so automatically.

Microsoft isn’t saying just how big Mixer has become, relative to rivals such as YouTube and Twitch. But it notes that its service is quicker and more interactive than its rivals.

Mixer uses a proprietary protocol dubbed Faster Than Light (FTL). It enables much lower latency, or interaction delays, so that the chat is more interactive. When someone types a message to the streamer, the streamer sees it right away because of sub-second latency.

You can filter by people who are playing in an interactive way. Someone playing Player Unknown Battlegrounds can get help from the spectators. A streamer could get an item donated from a spectator and start using that item in the middle of the game.

“You can look at the stream and look at the gameplay at the same time, and you’ll see the latency is less than a second,” Favreau said.

In a short time, Mixer has come a long way. Matt Salsamendi started the company in early 2016, and he was just 18 years old when Microsoft acquired the 24-person company in August 2016.

Above: Mixer wall in Redmond, Washington.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Game developers can customize a game to allow spectators to give a streamer new items. It takes just a couple of lines of code. In a demo of Minecraft, Favreau showed a variety of buttons on the right side of the screen during a Minecraft stream. The spectators can gift items such as a diamond sword or a bow and arrow, and it immediately appears in the hands of the character on the screen.

“It changes the play of Minecraft,” Favreau said. “The spectators can spawn a bunch of zombies and give the streamer a bunch of weapons to fight them.”

Above: Microsoft, Mixer, and Minecraft, or mmm for short.

Image Credit: Microsoft/Mixer

Mixer also has a mobile app dubbed Mixer Create. It allows broadcasters to stream their gameplay directly from a smartphone. That has been hard to do, as it often required a complex process of plugging a phone into a PC and use a variety of software tricks. Mixer Create handles all that through the app itself.

“It lets streamers stay in touch with their community on the go,” Favreau said.

Mixer has generally been launching updates every couple of weeks.

“We’re super excited about the Minecraft integration, where someone can watch a stream, interact with it, and change the gameplay,” Favreau said.

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