Amazon and Google now have company in the game-streaming wars—in the form of a major game publisher, no less. On Thursday, Microsoft announced its acquisition of a burgeoning game-streaming service called Beam, and its mix of unique features and exclusive game integration should get the attention of the streaming world’s current leaders.
Beam, which is headquartered down the road from Microsoft in Redmond, WA, is built around gamification features that encourage and reward active participation. The more you watch and interact with Beam, the more Beam XP you earn, which can be spent on in-game votes, cosmetic boosts, and other perks within the Beam interface. (Some of these boosts can only be earned when Beam doesn’t recognize the use of ad-blocking services.) Like Twitch, Beam offers an SDK to game developers for integration with their games, but Beam’s interface has been built from the ground up to display tappable icons on both desktop and mobile platforms to alter or influence a myriad of factors in a given game. We imagine that will make “Beam Plays” sessions smoother to build, even for game fans who are inserting crowd-participation experiments into existing games.
Microsoft apparently won’t waste much time jumping on this interactive aspect, as its announcements talked a lot about how Minecraft games can be altered by Beam’s audience-participation systems—the company showed some video proof, to boot. Viewers can spawn bad guys, make volcanoes erupt, and do more via a clean, button-controlled interface. Beam will also support team-based streaming, which Microsoft has begun advertising by talking about its not-yet-released Xbox and PC game Sea of Thieves. (That game revolves around teams of players talking to each other while managing parallel objectives, including the simultaneous piloting, repair, and combat systems in its zany pirate ships.)