What Is Viewbotting: How Twitch Are Taking On The Ad Fraudsters
15th July 2018
9 min read
Sam obsesses over three things in life: Animals, Films and Marketing. We may have over exaggerated his love for marketing.
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Online streaming is currently one of the most lucrative ways to make money online. With 20 something-year-olds earning up to $500,000 a month playing video games, everyone wants to make it big. But with thousands of others streamers out there competing for subscribers, viewers, sponsors and marketing deals, getting your stream noticed has never been harder.
Nevertheless, this competitiveness and almost impossible task hasn’t put people off trying. Some streamers are hell-bent on achieving fame and success no matter what it takes, even if it includes breaking a few rules or terms of service. By using fraudulent techniques known as viewbotting, these individuals can catapult themselves to stardom and profits in record time. With thousands of dollars up for grabs, the risk seems little when compared to the potential rewards.
These fraudulent techniques might not sound like they’re harming anyone, but that’s because they’re costing them millions of dollars instead. Thanks to viewbotting, advertisers are wasting millions on adverts that are never seen by real people. There’s no other way to say it: they’re falling victim to ad fraud.
Marketing agencies and advertisers are always looking for new and original ways to target the younger generations. With millions of youngsters saying no to Facebook, TV, and other social media, getting products in front of youngsters can be hard when they’re too busy playing games. Though over the last few years, the popularity of online streaming has increased dramatically. This means that for many advertisers, online streaming is now the go-to place for targeting younger generations with their products. However, with the rise of viewbotting, and increased fraud, how long can this new marketing platform last?
To help you understand what viewbotting is, we’re taking a closer look at what it is and whom it affects. From why people do it, to how streaming platforms are fighting back; welcome to the dark world of viewbotting.
Before we dive into why people viewbot, first we need to get a firm understanding of what it is. So what exactly does viewbotting mean?
What Does Viewbotting Mean?
Viewbotting is an interesting term that is used to describe a type of fraudulent activity found on many streaming websites. Although it’s not linked to any streaming website in particular, you’ll most commonly find this term used when talking about Twitch.tv
Launched in 2009, Twitch.tv is currently the biggest online streaming platform in the world. At any given time during the day, there are hundreds of thousands of streamers playing video games while competing for subscribers and viewers. Some streamers have become so popular that they regularly draw in hundreds of thousands of viewers and make money in the same range. From playing the latest popular games to goofing around outside, everyone has their own niche and target audience they’re trying to attract.
By default, Twitch arranges streams into their own game category. For example, any stream playing Fortnite will be placed in the Fornite gaming category and any stream playing League of Legends will be placed in the League of Legends category like below.
Within these gaming categories, streams are sorted by the most concurrent viewers to the least concurrent viewers. This means if you happen to have the most concurrent viewers at a given time, then you’ll be the first stream at the top of the page. To achieve such a feat, you’ll need an army of loyal subscribers and followers that enjoy watching you game.
But what about if you don’t have any fans or viewers? This is where viewbotting comes in, and why it was invented.
Viewbotting allows streamers to “rent” viewers for their stream, which in turn can be used to help push them up the virtual leaderboard. When many streamers first start out, it can be very hard to attract the attention of viewers and gain followers. Just imagine being at the bottom of the page with 5,000 other streams in front of you. Getting to the top can seem like an impossible challenge. Nevertheless, with viewbotting, you can easily rent 100, 200 or in some cases up to 1,000 viewers to watch your stream. These fake viewers push your stream up on the leaderboard and significantly increase the chances of real viewers stumbling across your stream.
Ever since Twitch was released back in 2009, viewbotting has been a popular technique for many streamers to gain exposure fast. Some of the biggest streamers out there have been accused of viewbotting, but with little evidence, these accusations have been linked back to other jealous streamers spreading rumors. If a streamer is caught viewbotting, then there’s a good chance they’ll get their stream banned and lose all of their hard work. Yet with so much potential earnings on the horizon, it’s a risk many streamers are willing to take.
So why do streamers viewbot? Getting more viewers and followers sounds like a good thing, but how exactly do they make money from it if they are not real people?
As mentioned before, viewbotting helps push up streams on the virtual leaderboard. If you’re at the top of the leaderboard, then the chances are you’re going to receive the most real viewers. Think about it; nobody wants to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to watch a stream. And since most of the streamers at the top of the leaderboard are entertaining and skilled in the game they play, this naturally attracts more viewers to their streams. By using 400 fake viewers, a stream can easily attract 50 real viewers who are likely to subscribe and give them money. Every subscription a streamer gets earns them around $2.50 depending on their profit share. But streamers can also make a lot of money from donations which come from viewers watching their stream. These donations can be anything from $1 to thousands and form a considerable part of many streamers earnings.
By using fake viewers, they are basically cheating the system and pushing themselves into the limelight. Why spend months waiting for your stream to take off when you can just rent hundreds of viewers instantly?
Since real users are required to make money on Twitch, making your channel look like it’s popular is a good way to gain a lot of interest.
If all of that went straight over your head then don’t worry, here’s a nice video explaining what viewbotting is and how it works.
How Does Viewbotting Work?
Currently, there are a few viewbotting services out there that promise to give you hundreds or even thousands of fake viewers in exchange for money. These fake viewers are nothing more than robots that connect to your stream and interact as if they were real users. This means spamming the chat with automated messages at certain intervals to look real.
Most viewbotting services run on a monthly subscription fee based on the number of fake viewers. Here’s a screenshot of the pricing page from one of these providers.
From just $25 a month, you can get 100 fake viewers watching your stream with 50 chatters, 500 followers, and 500 channel views. For a streamer just starting out, this probably sounds like a really good deal. Though for Twitch and advertisers, this is a huge threat that is costing them millions of dollars a year.
Why Viewbotting Is Bad
So far we’ve spent a lot of time covering what viewbotting is and how it works. To recap: streamers use viewbotting to artificially inflate their viewer count in an attempt to attract real viewers. To many readers, it might sound like a harmless technique that isn’t causing anyone any trouble. However, not only is viewbotting a type of fraud, but there are plenty of other reasons as to why it’s bad.
Viewbotting Costs Advertisers Money
The biggest reason why viewbotting is a problem for Twitch and advertisers is that they lose their advertising budget to robots and fake viewers. When an advertiser pays Twitch to display an advert they expect real people to watch it. Albeit with viewbotting, there are no real eyes watching these adverts, just robots.
This type of fraud is commonly referred to as ad fraud and can be found on many other advertising platforms including Google AdWords and Facebook. One of the largest ad fraud rings discovered ran a scheme where they would send thousands of fake viewers to video ads. The people behind the scheme reportedly earned over $1 million a day by fraudulently viewing ads. Since it’s very hard to distinguish a real viewer from a fake viewer, all the views were counted as real views and the advertisers had to pay. Viewbotting on Twitch is no different; fake viewers cost advertisers money which puts them off advertising on Twitch in the first place.
As part of the Twitch partner program, certain streamers have the option to run ads that are displayed on their viewer’s screens. If 400 people are watching, then each user will be shown an ad (unless they have ad block installed). The streamer then gets paid a commission of the advertising revenue that has been paid by an advertiser to Twitch. For example, if a video ad has a cost per 1000 impressions of $10, then the streamer will receive around $5 for every 1000 viewers who watch it. These ads can be shown at regular intervals to viewers, meaning they can be shown several times per hour. Since telling the difference between a genuine viewer and a bot viewer is extremely hard. Twitch will pay the streamer regardless of which viewer they have.
This means that people who viewbot on Twitch can receive money for showing ads to robots. Undoubtedly, this is not what advertisers want to spend their money on. Without a crackdown on viewbotting, advertisers could lose millions per year fake views.
Viewbotting Gives False Impressions
Another reason why viewbotting is bad is that it gives a false impression of popularity on streams. As mentioned earlier, the streams at the top of the gaming category pages are often the most popular streamers for a reason. These streamers have spent months or even years growing their audience, fans, and loyal subscribers. For many people who watch streams on Twitch, they often trust that the top result is the top result because that streamer is popular and has earned their viewers. But with viewbotting, that’s certainly not the case. A streamer can get to a very high position on the gaming category page just by paying for viewers.
This means a streamer can rise to the top with absolutely no skill or entertainment value. It’s almost like pay to win for streaming. A streamer invests a few hundred dollars a month in the hope of making thousands in return. Not only does this take advantage of Twitch’s system but it also makes other streamers less likely to put in effort. It can be hard to maintain a quality stream when all of your competitors are beating you with fake viewers.
With so many reasons as to why viewbotting is bad you’re probably wondering what Twitch are doing about it. Well the good news is, Twitch have already caught thousands of people using these viewbotting services and over the years their detection systems have got better and better. But with viewbotting costing advertisers money and being a type of online fraud, is viewbotting illegal?
Is Viewbotting Illegal?
Currently, viewbotting is not illegal and is considered a civil matter for now. Nevertheless, there is always the chance that a streamer viewbotting could be tried in court for wire fraud, but so far, that has yet to happen.
Twitch has been vigorously dealing with the viewbotting epidemic. Not only are they banning users who use these viewbotting services, but they are also targeting the suppliers with legal action. For those of you that don’t know, Twitch was bought by Amazon back in 2014. This means they have access to one of the world’s strongest legal teams, which aren’t afraid to take people to court.
In January 2018, Twitch was awarded $1.3 million in damages after they won the lawsuit against 3 viewbotting providers. In the lawsuit, Twitch said that the viewbotting services made it easier for the streamers involved to make money and became Twitch partners. They also added that it resulted in poor quality content becoming more prominent on their platform. The makers of the bot were ordered to hand over $1.3 million of their estimated earnings and a further $55,000 in legal costs.
Today, there are still some viewbotting services out there, but their days are greatly numbered. With Twitch winning this massive lawsuit there’s a good chance the remaining other services will disband before they feel the wrath of Twitch’s legal team.
A Triumph For Twitch?
For now, it seems that Twitch have got the viewbotting situation under control. By targeting viewbotting services and winning the lawsuit, they’ve sent a strong message to anyone thinking about jumping on the bandwagon.
Of course, this still raises the issue of private viewbotting services. What if there’s still a huge provider out there that Twitch don’t know about? When looking at the other providers, it’s clear that they only got sued in the first place because they were easily found on Google. But are there perhaps bigger viewbotting services out there hiding in the dark web that haven’t been discovered yet?
With online fraud continually on the rise over the past few years, it’s great to see companies like Twitch fighting back against the fraudsters. If every company out there took this proactive approach to combatting fraud, then it would be wiped out in a matter of years.
So what should you take away from this article? Takeaway this: Ad fraud is a huge problem and no matter what industry you are in there will always be fraudsters trying to take advantage of the system. For online streaming, Twitch has done a pretty good job tackling the threat and sending out a message to anyone thinking of frauding their system. The truth is that no matter what platform advertisers use they will always have the risk of malicious users wasting their budget. Most advertisers think there is nothing they can do, but that’s a wrong assumption. By informing the advertising network of the clicks you’re receiving they should be able to investigate it and do something about it. If not, then they don’t deserve your money. It’s as simple as that.
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