Will this be Microsoft’s strategy for Mixer partners and future exclusives?
Starting at 5:00 Central time on September 3, Ninja began exclusively streaming the first look at Gears 5’s campaign on Mixer. This announcement, made via Ninja’s Twitter account, not only strays from the usual game types he streams but potentially brings to light Microsoft’s strategy moving forward.
It was a little over a month ago that Tyler “Ninja” Blevins announced his exclusivity contract with Microsoft’s streaming platform Mixer. While he has gained over 2 million followers in just under a month since the deal, it’s still a far cry from the 14 million he had back on Twitch. This has led many to wonder how much Microsoft had to pay to bring Ninja over to a much smaller, and most likely less lucrative service. With no exact figure released by either party, the speculative range has been left wide open. A handful of outlets claim it to be $20 million over 3-years and some say it’s much closer to $50 million+.
Ever since the announcement, Ninja has explicitly stated that money wasn’t the reason he switched platforms. That it was an opportunity to go back to his roots. It’s no secret that Ninja used to play Halo multiplayer professionally and with the launch of Halo Infinite looming on the horizon, it more than likely had a hand in Microsoft’s pitch to the streamer. His exclusive stream of Gears 5 only seems to further confirm this point, with the opportunity to showcase first-party Xbox titles most likely being a part of Ninja’s contract. This not only benefits Ninja, who gets exclusive privileges to stream unreleased games first but creates an on-demand influencer marketing channel for Xbox.
This arrangement almost makes Ninja an adjunct employee for the brand while still allowing him to retain the authenticity of an influencer. While he wouldn’t typically dive into a story-driven campaign on-stream, the exclusivity, and backing by Microsoft makes a one-off stream an easy choice to capitalize on the interest leading up to release. For Xbox, their goal seems to be trying to capture the interest of an audience that may not have considered picking up the game otherwise. With them owning the streaming platform, it would be easy to promote and prompt a trial subscription to GamePass Ultimate to try out the game.
It’s exactly this uniform ecosystem Microsoft is creating that explains their pursuits with Mixer and Ninja. Instead of trying to compete directly with Twitch, why not establish a home for Xbox enthusiasts by making every 1st-party title exclusive across every Microsoft-owned platform. Why not make it extremely easy to go from watching a preview stream, only available on Mixer, to immediately playing the title on Game Pass. Then throughout the whole ordeal have a familiar face in the streaming community indirectly be the spokesperson for this ecosystem.
Much of this is speculation, but the Gears stream potentially sets a precedent for what Microsoft is looking to do with influencers moving forward. Even with Ninja’s surge in subscribers and peak streaming numbers sometimes matching the height of his career on Twitch, it’s the Xbox team’s actions over the last month that imply this non-competitive strategy. We haven’t seen many other big streamers switch to Mixer. We haven’t seen Microsoft sign other personalities. If there was a push to really make a dent in Twitch’s numbers, we would see a much more aggressive strategy to acquire influencers. Instead, their focus seems to be elevating one voice as the sole representative of their exclusives and potentially for everything in the next console generation.
The Future of Xbox?
What is being established now is most likely preparation for the launch of Halo Infinite. After the lackluster impression of Halo 5, there is a lot riding on this title to reboot the franchise and launch a new console. Having the top streamer in the world promoting your games, who also happens to have a history with the series is a match made in heaven. Potentially having this same individual help relaunch Halo eSports and possibly even a battle royale mode, even better.
We really won’t know for certain if this is the path Microsoft and Ninja will be taking. It could be that the Gears 5 stream was a one-time test and doesn’t reflect their long-term strategy. Yet, the vagueness of the contract and lack of other movement during the height of Ninja’s switch seems to speak to Microsoft’s willingness to be patient and carefully utilize streaming as a core marketing pillar for the Xbox platform.
We’ll be sure to keep updating Ninja’s journey with Mixer as it progresses. For insight into Ninja’s career and competitive setup, check out our profile page.
You can pick up Gears 5 on Xbox One and PC starting September 10, 2019, and can start playing at 9:00 PM EST on September 6 if you preordered the title or are subscribed to Game Pass Ultimate. If Ninja’s preview of the campaign has you interested in Gears 5, it’s currently available at a discount for $49.94 on Amazon.