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Twitter adds in-app purchases with new Super Hearts for Periscope streams

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Coins, hearts, stars, cash

Broadcasters on Twitter’s live-streaming app Periscope can now make money directly through the service. The company today is introducing Super Hearts, a set of virtual goods that users can send to their favorite broadcasters as a show of support. The hearts closely resemble “cheering,” a paid form of commenting on Amazon’s rival broadcast platform, Twitch. If successful, Periscope’s Super hearts could attract more broadcasters to the platform — while giving Twitter a highly profitable new revenue stream in the process.

First, though, users will have to navigate the process of acquiring Super Hearts — and it’s a doozy. Starting today, anyone will be able to buy and send Super Hearts during live streams. (They are disabled for replays.) To buy them, you need Periscope coins — a new virtual currency that is rolling out in the app today. Coins range in price from $0.99 for 1,050 to 132,650 for $99.99.

In turn, coins buy Super Hearts — of which there are three types, which increase in cost according to how prominently they appear in the chat stream. Basic Super Hearts cost 33 coins, Super Hearts that feature your profile picture cost 66, and deluxe super hearts that include both your profile picture and a kind of supernova sparkle effect cost 111. An individual heart costs fractions of a penny — but some users send hundreds of hearts during a broadcast, and the cost can add up quickly.

For broadcasters, any Super Hearts sent their way are stored on their profile as ... stars. (Periscope said it needed to distinguish between “purchased currency” and “earned currency,” but I find the whole thing needlessly confusing.) The value of a star is equal to the value of coins that were spent on it. So if a user sends you 10 Super Hearts that they bought for 330 coins, you get 330 stars. Once you get 185,000 stars — valued at around $175— you can cash them out, a maximum of once a month. You receive “the majority” of the money, Periscope says, minus the 30 percent cut taken by Apple and Google, and minus Periscope’s cut, which is about 30 percent after the fees from in-app purchases and payment processing.

To cash out your stars, you have to enroll in Periscope’s new “Super Broadcasters” program, which involves filling out an application and filing some tax forms. (More confusion: This is distinct from Periscope’s VIP program, which grants special badges to people who broadcast frequently.) Only broadcasters in the United States are eligible to be Super Broadcasters for now, but Periscope says that the program will come to other countries eventually. “The spirit, and the goal, is for all broadcasters to be able to do this,” said Sara Haider, director of software engineering at Periscope.

Generally speaking, it’s good for social platforms to enable users to make money directly from the platform. YouTube’s partner program, for example, which provides creators with a share of revenue from the ads shown against their videos, has been widely credited with helping YouTube grow.

And Twitch became the default place to stream video games seemingly overnight thanks to a focus on helping broadcasters make money, first with subscriptions and later with cheering. Broadcasters who are still using Periscope regularly can now benefit directly from their work there — and I wouldn’t be surprised if this feature helps Periscope attract new ones.

Still, there are some questionable product decisions buried in here. Mastering the relationships between coins, hearts, stars, and cash will take time, an accountant, and possibly a degree in philosophy. The hearts are cute enough, but I wonder whether Periscope could have had just as much success by offering a tip jar, or Twitch-style subscriptions.

Perhaps someday they will. “A lot of this is going to be listening and learning to our community,” Haider said. “We want to give broadcasters a way to monetize their hard work.”