Microsoft makes software and hardware, and recently, the company has arguably become equally skilled at both. But Microsoft’s software still shines brightest, especially in gaming. Inconsistent sales and hardware failures have plagued Xbox consoles, but the online multiplayer revolution brought on by Xbox Live is one of the most important contributions to the medium. With Mixer (the service once known as Beam), Microsoft brings its software strength to the promising world of video game live streaming. Mixer’s clever interactive features turn the act of watching someone play a game into a game in and of itself. However, Mixer’s lack of other, more basic broadcasting features makes it a runner-up to our Editors’ Choice, Twitch.
Getting Started With Mixer
Sign up for Mixer using whatever Microsoft account you already use for Windows or Xbox. You can use Mixer on the web or download mobile apps for Android and iOS. All these platforms are all fine ways to view streams and chats, with layouts full of videos to watch, personalities to follow, and lists of live channels to browse. The interface is pleasant and well-organized, with little of the obnoxious gamer aesthetic from the early days of the Xbox. I experienced no crashes during mobile or web viewing sessions.
Broadcasting is a little trickier, however. Previously, the Mixer Create mobile app let you broadcast from your phone the way Facebook Gaming, Mobcrush, and Twitch do. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. The app is now just for viewing streams and turning your archived streams into clips. Mixer also used to offer native streaming in the Windows 10 Xbox Game Bar, but that feature has been removed. To stream from a PC or Mac, you need additional software such as OBS, Streamlabs, or XSplit. While it’s only in beta, Twitch offers built-in desktop streaming with Twitch Studio. The Mixer app for Xbox One has built-in streaming at least. Just don’t expect to find that app on rival consoles and set-top boxes such as the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, or Apple TV. You may need to invest in capture equipment (such as a capture card and audio mixer) as well depending on the games you want to broadcast.
Mixer is free to use, but for $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to Mixer Pro. This premium subscription gives you ad-free viewing, grants early access to new features, highlights your posts so they stand out more in chats, and doubles the amount of experience you earn. I’ll explain the purpose of experience points a bit later. These are all fine optional bonuses, but, considering Microsoft’s status as a major video game publisher, some free cross-play PC and Xbox games would sweeten the deal—even if it meant raising the price.
Twitch gives you free (mostly indie) games every month with a Twitch Prime subscription, costing $12.99 per month through Amazon Prime or $8.99 per month through Prime Video. At least if a Mixer streamer convinces you to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass (a fantastic way to play exciting new games every month), that streamer gets some compensation. You can also subscribe to individual channels, although unlike Twitch, channel subscriptions on Mixer only have one tier at $5.99 per month.
While Twitch and especially Caffeine are branching more into general entertainment and real-life streams, Mixer remains strictly game-focused. On the main menu, clicking the categories tab brings you to a list of different video games to browse and follow. Don’t worry, these aren’t just Microsoft games. Of course, you can watch Halo and Gears of War gameplay, but you can also watch streams of Apex Legends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Valorant. Some games are definitely more prominent than others, but the library runs deep.
On a technical level, the viewing experience feels suited for gamers. You can broadcast and watch streams in 1080p at 60 frames per second if your machine can handle it. Microsoft also boasts about its “Faster Than Light” streaming protocol for reducing video latency. I once saw a very impressive demo of this feature, but the results may not be the same from home compared to Microsoft’s fancy, highly controlled New York store/esports arena.
Like a wealthy sports team hungry for free agents, Microsoft is also sparing no expense luring top-tier streaming talent to Mixer. If you’ve heard of any professional video game streamers, the most likely is Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. In 2019, Microsoft paid Blevins a substantial amount of money to dramatically leave his Twitch channel, the most popular channel on the service, to stream exclusively on Mixer. Other streamers who made this move include Shroud and King Gothalion. When these big names transition to a new service, they bring their audience with them and strengthen the community overall. Thanks to Mixer’s Discord integration, streamers can maintain access to their fans regardless of platform. You can also become a Mixer partner yourself after fulfilling requirements for follower numbers and broadcast frequency.
Remember how I said Mixer has experience points? That’s because the coolest aspect of the service is the way it turns watching video game streams into their own kind of video game. Watching streams and broadcasting on your own earns you experience points, which are mostly for bragging rights. However, leveling up also earns you a currency called Sparks, which does have real value. Give enough Sparks to a streamer as patronage to hit certain milestones and they get paid real money. Alternatively, you can spend real money on a different currency called Ember to drop special GIFs and emojis in the chat that help support a channel. While the two different names may make things seem convoluted, collectively this is basically the same system Twitch uses with its Bits currency, with Sparks as the free version and Ember as the paid version. Ember prices start at $1.99 for a pack of 140. Mixer even uses these currencies to reward players for fostering a positive environment by, say, offering special Ember emojis that give money to charity whenever you use them.
If you don’t want to engage with these meta-game features, Mixer still has some fascinating interactive functionality. Just note you might have to spend Sparks to unlock these perks for your channel. You can create a team for you and other users. This pairs great with the co-streaming feature that allows up to four broadcasters to stream at once on the same channel in split-screen.
Remember Twitch Plays Pokemon? That viral phenomenon blurred the line between viewer and player with a hacked version of the Game Boy game controlled by the random list of inputs entered by people in the chat. MixPlay is a slightly less chaotic version of this same idea. With MixPlay, viewers can directly interact with broadcasters inside the game they’re playing by just hooking up an Xbox controller to their PC and downloading a separate free Windows app. It only works with select games, but helping your favorite streamer explore the galaxy in No Man’s Sky or wrecking their intricate Minecraft creation is pretty nifty.
Overwatch and other esports make their matches more thrilling to watch by highlighting the most exciting moments. HypeZone is a collection of channels where Mixer uses AI to intelligently find the most action-packed parts of a live stream to find and present the play of the game as it happens. Like MixPlay, HypeZone only works with select games such as smash-hit battle royale games Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The feature also isn’t advertised as heavily as it used to be.
Mixer is open to all games, but naturally, Microsoft gives you some incentive to stream games developed by its own studios. Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best open-world racing games in years. If you stream it on Mixer, you earn points in the game that help you progress faster. Your character’s goal is to be an influencer, so the whole thing is pretty meta. I hope to see more, deeper integration like this in whatever games Microsoft has planned for the upcoming Xbox Series X.
Mix It Up
Mixer makes a strong argument to be your video game live streaming service of choice with big names and exclusive features that aren’t just gimmicks, but rather real community-building tools. It’s even more appealing if you’re already committed to Microsoft’s gaming ecosystem for Windows and Xbox. However, we can’t ignore flaws like its limited availability on other platforms and removal of built-in streaming software. Twitch remains our Editors’ Choice, but Mixer comes closest to the crown.
|Mobile Streaming||Mobile Viewing|
|Console Apps||Xbox One|