In the world of live-streamed video games, there’s Twitch and then there’s everything else. Twitch has the backing of Amazon, boasts more than 15 million average daily visitors and now even counts President Donald Trump as a user.
But former Apple designer and serial entrepreneur Ben Keighran is working with a handful of other Apple alumni to take on Twitch with a new service called Caffeine, set to launch to the public later this year.
Caffeine, whose name is inspired by the idea of people connecting over a cup of coffee, wants to compete with live TV by offering a platform that cuts out any delay time from a live broadcast, versus the seconds of delay on Twitch. It also doesn’t have any ads, unlike Twitch.
The company has raised $146 million since its founding in 2016, including a $100 million investment from 21st Century Fox in early 2018. The service has been open for users to try out in beta since last year.
Now, Caffeine is attempting to compete against its much larger rival by enlisting a prominent rapper to attract his hip-hop fans to the platform. On Thursday, Caffeine announced an exclusive deal with Offset, who, depending on one’s pop culture preferences, may be best known as either Cardi B’s husband or one third of hip-hop group Migos. (Caffeine CMO Brian Howell said the “financial compensation details” of the deal are private.)
The arrangement highlights a familiar tactic in the online streaming wars, regardless of whether the content that’s streaming is video games or movies. Companies throw money at top artists and influencers in the hopes of compelling new people to sign up in an increasingly saturated market.
“If you’re a teenager and you look at the portfolio we’re putting together, everybody’s heard of the kinds of content creators that we’re pulling in,” Keighran told CNN Business in an interview.
Keighran argues that “the whole community on Twitch is built around 50 hardcore gamers.” Caffeine, he said, is “starting from scratch, right at that intersection of gaming, sports and entertainment.” Twitch declined to comment.
Offset, whose real name is Kiari Kendrell Cephus, already spends hours each day playing “Call of Duty” with strangers online and befriending them. On Caffeine, he’ll stream every Sunday night, starting October 27 for beta users. He’ll also host a bi-weekly variety show called “Bet with Set,” where celebrities are challenged to visit on the Empire State Building wearing a dinosaur hat, or have a fan meet and greet on Hollywood Boulevard.
“You know how my wife has her Bardi Gang, a fan base for music? I’m going to try to get me a fan base on gaming,” Offset told CNN Business. While he currently plays “Call of Duty” and sports video games, Offset said he will be open to games like “Fortnite” and “Apex Legends.”
Offset said that while he’s new to the world of livestreaming games, he’s been streaming music for a long time. And while Offset is certainly the biggest talent grab so far for Caffeine, he alone probably is not enough.
“I don’t think a single creator can make a streaming platform, just like there is no single show that can make Netflix the number one service,” said Doron Nir, CEO of StreamElements, a company that provides tools for video game streamers and publishes quarterly reports on the state of the industry. “It’s really about the overall experience of going on there every night and having something to watch.”
Caffeine is looking to stand out in other ways, starting with design. Caffeine is inspired in part by Apple’s minimalism, Keighran said. He gave CNN Business a first look at the platform ahead of its official release. Featured content is neatly laid out, with images dominating over text.
In fact, Keighran said he had pitched Apple to launch its own livestreaming service. When the tech giant couldn’t be persuaded, he broke out on his own. (Apple did not respond to a request for comment.)
Caffeine also tries to innovate on the existing livestream model popularized by Twitch and also adopted by Facebook and YouTube.
Unlike on Twitch, viewers can’t see how many people are tuned in to a stream, to keep the emphasis off the numbers. The comments section is a series of bubbles that expire after a while and can be upvoted, like a Reddit thread. Moderation is more automatic: You can’t hire moderators to help you clean up your comments section. Instead, Caffeine monitors the streams itself. Creators can report or ignore users.
Instead of ads, streamers will split viewer donations with Caffeine. Viewers who donate a few dollars to a streamer will get a digital item to gift the streamer. Those who spend more than $100 can send a streamer a virtual potato that shoots out rainbows. Why a potato? Keighran said it’s all about keeping the teens entertained.