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Is It Game Streaming’s Turn for a Labor Revolution?

Before streaming, QueenEliminator used to bartend. “You know you’re going to make money and more tips on a weekend,” she says. Streaming is far more volatile. On a good day, 30 people might subscribe at $5 a person. One person’s donation might start a train that earns her a plush $500. Other days, she might only get 15 subscriptions and no donations.

“I can stream every single day and every single day is different,” she says.

QueenEliminator says that, in the beginning, Mixer was transparent and communicative. A couple of times a week, she interfaced with her partner manager, an employee assigned to take her feedback and help her use the platform. There were focus groups, too, in a Discord server just for Mixer partners and employees. Over time, though, she and other streamers began to feel less heard.

“There were so many dead promises. ‘Broken promises’ is the correct term, but these were dead promises,” she says. Mixer streamers wanted fans to be able to buy and gift multiple subscriptions to their friends—a major contributor to Twitch streamers’ income. The feature never came. Streamers wanted better viewership analytics, so they could actually understand who was watching them and how they could improve. That never happened, either. QueenEliminator began to feel discouraged. “I felt like I was stuck there, that I was controlled. I hated it. I had no voice,” she says. “I felt like my life was not my life anymore, or that my career was not in my control.”

Apparently, that sentiment was grounded in reality. In a harrowing Twitlonger post calling out racism he had experienced at Mixer, former Mixer community acquisition manager Milan Lee detailed an instance in which his boss, who worked with Mixer partners, described the partners as “slaves” and herself as the “slave master” in a meeting. “I own their content. I control their success on our platform,” Lee recalled her saying. (In a reply to his tweet, Mixer wrote, “Our goal is to build a positive, welcoming, and inclusive team and community. To those sharing your stories; it’s unacceptable that we did not provide that for you. We’ll be vigilant in addressing this more diligently in the future.” Microsoft did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment for this story.)

In an interview with WIRED, Lee explained that the racially insensitive comment, and Microsoft’s reticence to hold his boss accountable, is endemic of a value problem. “All these [viewers] are giving, you know, money to these streamers, which essentially is also going into the company’s pockets,” Lee says. “Streamers are putting in 50, 60 hours, streaming every single day of the week … We need to take care of them and make sure we have their best interests at heart.”

Lee says balancing out what streamers wanted and what Mixer execs wanted entailed a fight for resources. Not everybody had the same priorities. Some Mixer employees were focused on getting more big-name streamers on the platform, he says, like Blevins and Grzesick. “What if we took all that budget and resources we had and put them in our own partner base, in the sense of marketing initiatives, growing their channels, making them bigger personalities and rewarding their loyalties?”

Partnered streamers have front-row insight into some of the platform’s business and are under NDA already—why not show them product roadmaps or share business plans? Thinking bigger, Lee says, why not give them benefits, or at least discounts on benefits? “If they get sick or have kids, it’s all out of pocket, 100 percent.”

Despite all the potential protections—and the fallout of Mixer’s closure—most former Mixer streamers interviewed by WIRED wouldn’t want the streaming companies they work with to consider them employees. Citing control over their content and working hours, they don’t want to feel beholden to some tech giant’s idea of what they should be doing. Also, some streamers get only a portion of their income from streaming, with the rest of their work scattered across YouTube, Patreon, OnlyFans, and other sites. That gets messy fast.

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