Executive exodus at Twitch

Twitch, the popular site where people go to watch other people play video games, has lost at least six top employees since the beginning of the year, including the chief operating officer, chief content officer and head of creator development.

The exodus began last year, when more than 300 employees left, and so far 60-plus people have walked out the door in 2022, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

The departures will probably continue, if not accelerate, according to seven current and former employees, because they say Twitch is losing touch with its north star: a community of about 8.5 million streamers whose gaming exploits attract an average of 140 million people to the platform each month.

Long a haven for game streamers to make a living doing what they love, Twitch in recent years has focused on expanding and finding new ways of making money from its streamers, rather than listening to and understanding them, these people say.

That strategy, they say, has alienated some hard-core users and the employees who serve themthe very people whose ingenuity and enthusiasm that made Twitch a success.

Marcus “DJ Wheat” Graham, the head of creator development who departed in late January, faults Twitch’s approach to becoming a mainstream service, which he says included hiring outsiders uninterested in the business or culture.

“We went down the Silicon Valley route—hiring from Facebook, from Twitter,” he says, adding that many recruits had little understanding of gaming or livestreaming and were “unwilling to learn what this community was, why it was special.”

Another former employee says, “The customer was the content creator. If you’re not passionate about the product, you’re not really looking at it from the customer’s lens. And so you don’t have the same level of empathy.”

Twitch remains by far the world’s largest game streaming ecosystem and has little meaningful competition, despite attempts by the likes of Facebook and YouTube to build rival services.

It’s not clear if the exodus is hurting Twitch operationally, and some people are leaving because they’re tired of the day-to-day grind.

Still, the departures of Graham, COO Sara Clemens and chief content officer Michael Aragon have left a potentially damaging gap in Twitch’s leadership, according to former and current employees.

Their exits have solidified the reign of Chief Executive Officer Emmett Shear, whose engineering-first focus has led the company to misread what the streaming community wants, these people say. “It’s really hard to help Emmett understand anything qualitative,” one former employee says. “It has to be quantitative.”

Of particular concern, two former employees say, is a failure to heed warnings that efforts to monetize streamers’ work would fall flat. One product invited viewers to buy extra exposure—1,000 recommendations for 99 cents, say—for their favorite streamers.

The initiative generated a backlash from creators who felt it would advantage streamers with bigger channels. Another feature, released in late February, offered users who stream at least 40 hours a month financial incentives to run ads on their channels.

Employees say they told their bosses that clunking up the experience with these ads would annoy viewers but say their input was ignored. “Twitch’s leadership is uncomfortable with mid-level and lower level employees pushing for change,” says a former employee who requested anonymity for fear of repercussions from their employer.

In an-emailed statement, a company spokesperson said that streamers’ input guides every aspect of decision-making.

“The common thread for all employees is a drive to serve our community—from staff members who started as streamers themselves, to those who integrate themselves into Twitch culture when they start at Twitch,” she said.

“Serving a community as dynamic as Twitch’s means there isn’t always one clear solution or answer, and as a result we have always believed in being experimental and innovative—even when that means launching a bold product or experiment that might have short-term risks, but will ultimately help us build the best possible solution.”

She also touted efforts to hire people with different backgrounds and skillsets, whose “diversity of thought” help Twitch innovate and improve.

Twitch improved employee retention in 2020 and 2021, and both years saw lower attrition than the company has experienced historically, according to the spokesperson.

Twitch hired more than 500 people last year, she said, bringing the global workforce to 1,800. In exit surveys during the last two years, a majority said they would recommend working at Twitch but preferred to move on, the spokesperson said.

CEO Shear declined to comment through a spokesperson. Former COO Clemens, who recently joined Blackstone as an adviser, also declined to comment. As did former chief content officer Aragon, who now runs Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s MIRROR and digital fitness division.


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Executive exodus at Twitch