Before it became the hugely popular, Amazon-owned, Editors’ Choice video game live streaming service Twitch was just a website called Justin.tv. While live streaming was always the main hook, Justin.tv had a broad library of channels. Twitch still has non-gaming content, but it’s clearly not the focus. If the idea of a more mainstream live streaming service appeals to you, consider Caffeine. It may not match its gaming-centric rivals in terms of tech and features, but its high-profile entertainment channels give it an identity all its own.
Getting Started With Caffeine
You can create a Caffeine account for free on your desktop or your mobile device. If you want to broadcast you’ll have to stick to your computer. Unlike Facebook Gaming, Mobcrush, or Twitch, Caffeine doesn’t offer mobile broadcasting. The app is just for viewing and chatting.
Fortunately, Caffeine is one of the rare live streaming services to offer its own streaming software, as opposed to making users download a third-party solution. Caffeine’s desktop streaming app isn’t entirely original; it’s based on the popular OBS software. The Twitch Studio beta seems more custom-built. Also, Caffeine’s app is only compatible with about 900 PC games as of this writing. But that number represents a solid mix of big hits (Apex Legends, Fortnite, League of Legends) and indie gems (Firewatch, Gris, West of Loathing). I was happy to see Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, which, full disclosure, is a game I personally contributed to. The most notable absence may be Minecraft, perhaps because Microsoft offers its own streaming service with Mixer.
Still, anything that streamlines what’s usually the trickiest part of broadcasting is great for encouraging novice potential users. The process is even easier if you don’t want to stream a game. With the press of a button, you can broadcast whatever real life action your webcam picks up. It even snaps a picture to use as your thumbnail.
The lack of mobile broadcasting is a bummer, but at least you can view and interact with streams on Android and iOS. More disappointing is the lack of apps for video game consoles or set-top boxes. Twitch is available on almost any device you can think of. Caffeine’s mainstream entertainment channels would feel right at home on a television screen.
What Can You Watch on Caffeine?
Video games might be the largest single category on Caffeine. When you go to the website or launch the app you’ll be blasted with streams for Call of Duty and Valorant like you would be on any other video game live streaming service. Red Bull Gaming is a featured channel. Unfortunately for gamers, the optimal resolution of 540p at 30 frames per second is low for those of us used to 1080p at 60fps. The otherwise stylish visuals of the interface just highlight the lower quality of the video itself.
Caffeine is also full of prominent, exclusive, non-gaming content, and not just folks chatting or whatever else is on Twitch’s IRL tab. Caffeine boasts recognizable studio partners such as Disney and Fox (a deal made before those two companies were the same thing). This immediately gives the service a slightly more corporate feel compared to more organic streaming communities, but it is a distinct selling point. This year Caffeine and Twitch teamed up to stream SuperBowl pregame celebrations. Fox Soul is an interactive talk show on African-American culture. Drake may have famously played Fortnite on Twitch with Ninja, but he also has a personal channel on Caffeine, as do other rappers such as Offset and Eric B. & Rakim. You can enjoy the Ultimate Rap League show, too. The alternative resolution of 720p at 24fps is much more tolerable for these kinds of shows.
You won’t find much of what Caffeine offers on other platforms. Unfortunately, once a stream is over, you won’t find it on Caffeine anymore, either. Videos aren’t archived so your choices are to watch something live or miss it. I understand wanting viewers to pay attention to what’s happening in the moment, and saving money on server storage, but no other service I’ve tested has this restriction. Even live TV has had DVR for years.
On the bright side, Caffeine’s layout does a good job making sure you don’t miss the shows you may care about. The glossy presentation is dense with not only trending games, stars to follow, and videos to watch right now but also previews of upcoming shows. Clicking the clock button on the top nav bar brings you to a calendar of coming attractions free from distractions.
Making Money on Caffeine
A live streaming service can’t just poach celebrities to stay relevant. A strong, organic community of broadcasters is the bedrock of these platforms. Those broadcasters, like everyone else, need financial support to do what they do. You won’t go broke broadcasting on Caffeine, but you may want to hold off on making it your primary online home.
Caffeine has a partner program for popular channels with perks like swag, access to other partners, experimental features, and invites to exclusive events. Partners also get paid for hitting certain milestones. Before becoming a full-on partner, you can first grow your audience by becoming a Caffeine Caster and get your channel highlighted on the homepage. But you don’t need to be a partner to get paid. Viewers can spend money on gold to buy items to send to broadcasters in the chat. These items earn credit that broadcasters then trade in for real cash.
That’s about it, though, when it comes to building community. Caffeine has a Discord server but no proper Discord integration—unlike Mixer, Twitch, and YouTube. Viewers also can’t pay to subscribe to your channel. In fact, aside from one-time gifts, viewers can’t pay for anything at all. Caffeine offers no paid premium version and is also ad-free. That’s great for viewers but potentially worrisome for broadcasters who depend on monetization. Even as a viewer, I also get the sense that Caffeine can only temporarily get away with this model because of its generous venture capital funding. The service is only two years old, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see it eventually pivot to a business model that’s much more eager to grab your cash after establishing this initial free goodwill.
Live streaming is way too cool a technology to be limited to video games. It has become a significant part of the future of entertainment in general. So we respect Caffeine’s ambition for bringing that future to content that appeals to other, broader audiences beyond people who just play boring battle royale games all day. However, dedicated video game live streaming services—especially our Editors’ Choice, Twitch—still lead the way when it comes to showing what these platforms can do. Caffeine should keep studying.
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