Since I started live streaming on Twitch over a year and a half ago I had been using Streamlabs to facilitate broadcasting. For those that don’t know, Streamlabs is a service that allows you to add alerts, take donations, manage contests, play chat games, take media requests, and more, all in your live stream. They also offer a merchandise store as well as a small profile page with your stream and chat on it. They use their own version of a broadcasting software called “OBS” which they have integrated their services into. They also have their own mobile app on both Android and IOS which allows you access to the same overlays and alerts as your desktop broadcasting software.
StreamElements is the main competitor of Streamlabs. They offer similar services except they don’t offer a mobile app ( they do have an android app in beta ), nor ( at the moment ) a merchandise ( coming soon ) store and instead of an integrated OBS, you use the standard OBS software with a StreamElements plugin. The way you set up your overlays and alerts are a little different but the viewer would never know that watching your stream.
When I started looking into which service to use when I first started live streaming, the consensus was that they were, more or less, evenly matched in usability, but that Streamlabs required a little more technical understanding of the service. For some reason, this attracted me to Streamlabs because as a techie kind of guy, I assumed that the more technical something was, the more I could do with it. Also, they had an IOS mobile app that allowed me to add overlays. So I chose Streamlabs for that reason.
For the first year that I used Streamlabs I was happy with it. Everything worked right. I had little issues here and there but all were resolved easily. I was happy. What I really loved was the mobile app. Twitch’s mobile app is very bare bones for broadcasters. No overlays. No alerts. Just the video, and you could read the chat. The Streamlabs mobile app offered overlays, and alerts which allowed me to personalize the video in much the same way I could with the desktop app. My setup was simple. I used a small tripod for my smart phone, along with a small wide angle clip on lens for the rear facing camera ( the selfie camera ) to give my audience a wider view of what was going on around me. This worked great until my lens broke and I had to replace it. I replace it with a more expensive, and somewhat larger lens hoping to improve the range of the lens as well as the quality. This is where I ran into my first big problem with Streamlabs.
You see, in the Streamlabs mobile layout, the chat that you read from ( not the chat overlay that the viewer might see. ) is always justified to the far left. Right next to where the smart phones selfie camera is. When I was using a smaller clip on lens, there wasn’t an issue. However when I switched to a higher quality lens that was also larger, it covered the beginning of the chat. This meant that I couldn’t see the names of the chatters or the first part of what they were saying. This of course was a big problem. I looked for a way to move the chat, but there was none. So I had to make a decision. Do I keep using the Streamlabs mobile without the selfie widescreen lens or do I switch to the Twitch mobile app whose chat is on the right side of the smartphone away from the lens?
I chose to keep the lens and stop using the Streamlabs mobile app. I was giving up my overlays, but that was fine because the quality of the video was what mattered most. I was disappointed, but I managed. However this kind of thing bothered me. Why wasn’t the chat movable? Hadn’t they considered moving the chat? This to me seemed like an obvious need considering the platform, and I petitioned Streamlabs through social media and their official ” suggestions ” page, but nothing would come of it until 9 months later. ( more on that to come. )
Next they created a ” Prime ” package to sell to their users. Prime consisted of upgraded themes, merch store, custom website with your own URL, and a few more luxuries for a monthly and yearly subscription. Before they rolled it out they allowed users to have a few of these luxuries free of charge, but stripped down. For example they gave you a profile page with your stream and chat on it and let you add a few other loyalty features along with it under a Streamlabs URL. I didn’t really need it, so although I played around with the settings, I never was that interested in it.
Then in September I noticed something started to change. They raised their price for the Prime package and stopped allowing non Prime users access to things like changing the look of their profile page, adding new items to their merch store, and so on. At first I was a little put off, but I really didn’t care all that much because I didn’t need any of those things. It was around this time that I had discovered that Logitech, mostly known for their keyboards, mice, and webcams, had purchased Streamlabs. This I thought, was too much of a coincidence. Did Streamlabs raise it’s prices and cut off previous access to features because they wanted to show they could make money to Logitech?
A month after this I had replied on Twitter to a tweet sent by Streamlabs regarding a new feature. They replied and after a few tweets I was helped by one of the developers of their mobile app ( I won’t say who because the person was very nice and open. ) who helped explain a few things. I took the opportunity to mention the chat positioning problem with the mobile app. To my amazement I found out that despite mine and others attempt to draw their attention to this problem, they had never considered it. Three weeks later, their android version had an option to move the chat to the right. ( at the time of writing this, it’s still not a feature in their IOS app. ) I was excited at first because I thought, maybe I’d be able to use the Streamlabs mobile app again. That never happened.
Then around the beginning of November they did something that made me realize where their heads were at. They added a watermark to the mobile app which could only be removed if you… I bet you can guess this… subscribed to their Prime package deal. This REALLY bothered me.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking. ” They obviously have to make a profit. ” to which I completely agree. I don’t begrudge them their profit motivation at all. I get it. It’s expected. My issue is HOW they go about doing that. To me, and to many others, adding an unwanted watermark in order to push people into a service that they may not need or want, was greedy. Why didn’t they just break up their services and sell them independently? Charge slightly more so that if someone DID want the full Prime package, they would get a discounted rate. This is a technique that has been used countless times from many different types of services. Why did they make the decision to push the full package on to their users?
In my eyes this was the final straw that broke the camels back. Sure I could have just ignored it, I don’t use their mobile app anyway. However it spoke volumes to me about how they view their users. When I had spoken with the developer he explain how he and others in the development team were passionate about the live streaming space and wanted to help small streamers find their space in live streaming, and honestly, I believed his sincerity. I’m sure all of the developers do feel passionately about what they’re doing. They just aren’t the ones making the big decisions.
Two weeks ago I decided I no longer wanted to use Streamlabs. I felt like I could see the writing on the wall. Streamlabs was just going to get more and more aggressive and I didn’t want to get caught up in it all. So I switched to Streamelements. Their competitor. I expected that their service would be a downgrade from Streamlabs. After all, Streamelements doesn’t even have a mobile app. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t at all. So far it’s been easy to switch over and the service has been excellent. Their plugin to the OBS software works great and uses about half of the CPU that Streamlabs used. This improved the quality of my stream and made it easier to run other applications at the same time. I even like their different way to add overlays. Plus some of their services actually work BETTER then Streamlabs.I was definitely WRONG about them when I first started streaming. The only thing I’ve had trouble with is using my tablet as a remote webcam at home, ( an integrated service that Streamlabs provides between their desktop and mobile app ) but I’m sure I’ll find the solution with further investigation.
Now I just hope Streamelements doesn’t go down the same path Streamlabs did. Let’s hope that they care more about small streamers.