When you’re watching a livestream, you’re usually watching gamers duke it out in the digital realm. This time though, we’re watching two live streaming platforms go toe-to-toe, as young streaming start-up Hitbox is looking to play ball in the big leagues, and it claims it has the technical chops to do so.
Earlier this month, Hitbox turned one and had plenty of huge figures to reveal about the growing service – though it’s in its infancy, the Twitch rival has plenty of plans in-store for the future. We spoke with Martin Klimscha, CEO and co-founder of Hitbox about how it got started, why it’s focusing on quality and how he even wants to make watching gaming a game.
Hi Martin, tell us the story behind Hitbox.
MK: We started about 12 months ago, and our goal at the moment is to build a superior live streaming platform. Back at the start, there was just Twitch out there as the market leader, taking in around 100 per cent of the live streaming traffic. Our team has a lot of experience in video streaming platforms and live streaming platforms, so we know how it works, and how to build a top notch platform. The cool thing is that we don't have a platform that's five or six years old: instead, we were able to start from scratch and combine the newest tech components to build something totally new. A totally new live streaming experience, and that starts with streaming technology where we really try to be a live streaming platform.
Isn’t Twitch live anyway?
We want to have this live streaming platform really running live [Editor's note: Twitch says its average latency is 12 seconds]. We wanted to minimise this delay between broadcaster and viewer to around two and five seconds. This is one of our main goals, and I think we've achieved it.
So the second thing is definitely also quality. We're a live streaming platform dedicated for gamers to gamers, so we definitely know how demanding gamers are – they want to have the best laptops, the best mice, the best headsets and so on, so everything should be the best. They also want to have the best live streaming tech and quality, so with Hitbox, we don't have a limit on bitrate, so you can really stream high quality videos, such as 1080p resolution streams at a fast 60 frames per second, and our streaming tech allows that.
What else are you bringing to the table? Twitch has the critical mass so why should gamers care?
I think the third and most important part of Hitbox is that we think that the live streaming experience is more than just having a player and a chat box, which sometimes on other platforms works and sometimes doesn't work. We really want to build interactivity into this live streaming experience. So that starts with real time interactivity, but what we're also doing is enabling features that people can participate in. We want to make the viewers kind of like content creators; they can take part in polls for example. There are plenty of options in the chat, which is a proprietary chat system that we developed from scratch. It's based on web sockets and HTML5 instead, which is really state of the art, and enables a lot of options. You can embed a video, you can post GIFs, and the poll system is integrated right into the chat where people can vote straight away, so if the broadcaster asks "Which champion should I play next?", people can vote live. There's also a giveaway system built in, and we have plenty more in the pipeline too. So it's all about interactivity, and making viewers take part.
How has that gone down with users so far?
We were a very tech focused company, and we haven't put a dollar into marketing, but we have a pretty decent user base already. No one has been paid to stream on Hitbox, it's just that people have found out about Hitbox by themselves, they tried it, they found that 'hey, I can finally communicate with my audience', so it was a viral thing more or less. Our users, they love the quality, they love the near-to-no delay, they love the features and it's clear they use them. We also track intensively which features the users really want and need, and we're actually building the platform with our users. We also have around 250-300 partners, so these are people who already rely on Hitbox, we're creating the platform with them.
What sort of tools can you tap into?
There's a lot. So, of course, you can start your live stream, and connect your viewers to Hitbox. There's the usual aspects, such as following a channel, you can subscribe with a paid subscription to get additional features, like a badge in the chat or special emoticons. You can sort by games, we have an integrated dashboard where you can connect your Facebook or Twitter accounts, so you don't have to go to Facebook to tell your audience you're starting a stream, as you can do it straight from the Hitbox dashboard instead. You can pop a sticky message at the top, such as "Today's stream is on until 8pm, tomorrow's stream will start at 9am" for example. You can monetize your stream by playing ad breaks whenever you want, so you can pop an ad on and head to the restroom or make a sandwich, so that's just a few features there.
You’ve launched a Hitbox app on Android, are there any plans for iOS?
So, we wanted to make an app very soon. We launched an Android app at an early stage; it's still in its beta stage actually, and we're working on updates for it too. It's not a native app just yet, but that's coming very soon. We're not fully happy with the app, but still, we wanted to give the viewers the option to view a stream, have a chat and read a chat in the app, and that's the basics,and those are the most important tools to have in the app. We'll be updating it very soon too, and an iOS version is also in the works and should be out soon.
What sort of figures can you reveal from your first year out?
So from the start until right now, without any marketing, we've had over 100 million page views on the site, and we're far over 10 million unique users. We've had a bunch of streamers streaming over Hitbox and we've had over 3,000 years worth of video content streamed through the platform. That's a lot, and it's really growing month by month, and we really want to accelerate it.
Now that we think the platform is ready very soon, we won't just focus on the technology, but we'll also let people know that we exist, reaching out to people, and showing just what Hitbox can do. Our ultimate goal is to go much further though: we're all gamers, and we want to create a real cool experience on the side, and make watching a game a game itself. It's all about giving more and more options to viewers and broadcasters to not be bored, because we see there is a trend in viewers becoming bored in chat, and you see the conversation start to become rotten. People are just spamming, and so on. If broadcasters use the features we give them, we find that the people are much more entertained. People are entertained on Hitbox, while they're bored on other platforms. Not bored, per se, but if you give your viewer more options to do something, such as letting them take part in the content creation, I think engagement level is much higher and you'll find the chance of people doing stupid things much lower as a result.
One of the features that people really do love is that the broadcasters, moderators and admins all have the option to post GIFs in the chat. If you have a funny GIF for a situation that really fits, you'll find people dying of laughter in the stream and in the chat, and you'll see the engagement and entertainment levels up high.
What games are proving most popular on the site so far?
It's pretty much the usual suspects. We have a lot of Let’s Players on Hitbox, and that's the cool thing, as you'll see a lot of really different games being played on the site, as we think our platform is really made not just for big tournaments and events, but for the Let’s Play scene too, as it really allows them to communicate and interact with their audience. Of course, from a more eSports level, you'll see Dota 2, we also have a big Counter-Strike community on Hitbox, but of course there's also League of Legends and Hearthstone which are also top flight games.
Do you have any plans to hit consoles?
It depends. You have to understand that you can broadcast from Xbox and PlayStation as long as you have a capture card, and actually, most of our amateur and more professional streamers use that sort of tech. The production level is like 50 times higher when you're using pro-level broadcasting software on your desktop compared to the built-in console apps, and you can make a really high level production. With Xbox and PlayStation streams, you see that while there are a lot of streams, they usually only have one or two, or in most cases, zero viewers. It's not our priority though, but we want to make sure production quality is higher when you start streaming from a couple of clicks on Xbox or PlayStation. We don't see that a lot of people are using that, and when you just follow other platforms, you might see a lot of streams coming in, but you don't really see big streams running on other platforms.
What else can we expect in the future?
I don't want to break the surprise of course, but one thing is that we see the platform as a live streaming platform, and you have at the moment a bunch of statistics for the broadcaster. We’ve included stats such as viewer development, how many users you have, where they are coming from, how long they stay on the stream, how many viewed hours you have, how many hours you've streamed, how many ads you've played, how much money you've earned and from which categories you've earned money. We want to also establish a life tracker statistics tool, so from the dashboard, you can can easily immediately see all of your stats, so at the press of a button you can see all the money you've earned. We've also got a big redesign in the works, all to refresh the UI. We've listened to our users, and we've tweaked the site around to suit. We've also got a dark theme for example, to help view streams in the dark and to help reduce eye strain. There'll also be a lot of options to configure around, both as a viewer and a broadcaster.
With one year down, how’s the next year looking for Hitbox?
The main focus is reaching out to people. We saw that a lot of people started to search for alternatives to other platforms, and that some people don't even know there are alternatives, so we really want to reach out to those kind of people. A lot of people who have tried out Hitbox so far, they love what we're doing and want to work with us and bring their viewers over, but we really have to start marketing and bring the brand out.
The second thing is, we more or less have the basic product ready, but the cool stuff is still in the pipeline, and we have a lot of cool stuff coming soon. Now that we have the platform, which is cool, the next few months, we'll have month by month releases that will add plenty of new features that will not only make it cool, but awesome. This technology base that we have, and the tech we have used and combined, they give us a unique position in the market. First of all, we're much more flexible in doing things, secondly, we also have unlimited possibilities with what we're doing and we want to use that to the maximum.
Of course, we want to build a platform to be an alternative on the market, but next year, we'll show that we're not just an alternative. We really want to be the number one streaming platform.