Is YouTube a music service or a movie rental store? A space for news outlets or beauty vloggers? Is it for video essays or game streamers? For years, Google has wanted the answer to be a simple, “Yes, all of the above.” Today’s shutdown of the YouTube Gaming hub shows the actual answer is a lot fuzzier than that.
YouTube occupies a unique position somewhere between a TV-like service — where it gets its name — and a social network. Its core function of hosting and sharing videos is useful to a wide variety of communities with wildly different needs. Some of these needs are even contradictory, such as shopping channels that need to monetize products, versus news channels that attempt to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. Google has attempted to reconcile this clashing platform identity in recent years by spinning off pieces into independent hubs, but it’s unclear if that strategy is working or if it helps those who get left behind.
YouTube Gaming was meant to be one of those hubs. When it first launched in 2015, YouTube Gaming was a separate mobile and web app designed to leverage the massive gaming community already on YouTube and turn it into a competitor to Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. At the time, YouTube proper lacked features that would make the site better for creators making gaming content, like the ability to browse livestreams or explore all videos related to a single game. A separate app would let Google more carefully serve the needs of this one community without changing the entire site for everyone else.
There was just one problem: People didn’t use it. In September of 2018, Google told The Verge, “There was confusion with the gaming app,” which led users to skip it. They just used the main YouTube app instead. While 200 million users watch gaming content on the main YouTube app every month, so few used the separate app that Google has decided to get rid of it entirely. Now the features the app spawned are being moved to a tucked away section of YouTube.
Someone who uses YouTube for music doesn’t need to browse people live-streaming games, while someone who watches for games doesn’t really…