Friday, May 20, 2022

Important Growth Concepts for Any Streamer


On a Twitch channel, it can be difficult to manage all the moving pieces. As I’ve mentioned in entries before, adding features can sometimes hurt your content as much as help, if you’re not being smart about how you do it. This time, I wanted to mention a few topics that I’ve found useful when building my own Twitch channel. I believe these concepts can be valuable to a broadcaster of any size, and help them either grow their channel, or grow as a streamer. 


➢ ADD AND SUBTRACT


When streaming on Twitch, the most important thing is to continue gaining experience. This means that, no matter what I advise in this resource, as long as you’re actually going live regularly on your channel, you’re on the right track. Never let concerns about how best to stream get in the way of actually doing your streams. But if you’re doing well at maintaining your habit, it’s worth implementing a few optimization tips along the way. My suggestion on this front is to focus only on one type of improvement at a time. If you add ten features to your channel all at once between episodes, it will not only be hard to manage the overall quality of your broadcasts, but you’ll also be unable to isolate the effect each individual feature is giving to your streams. By taking things more slowly and focusing on one new aspect at a time, you can keep track of the response each feature gives, and hone your skills at using them during your streams. There will be plenty more broadcasts in the future. There’s no need to rush to implement everything at once. 


When playing FromSoftware games, I
keep a written to-do list. There's always
so much to do!

In addition to having a ‘to-do list’ for adding in new features on your stream, it’s just as important (if not more so) to maintain a ‘stop doing list.’ I spoke about this a bit in the growth check-in entry called
Simplify Your Streams. Channels can often become bloated through the months and years of adding features, and sometimes those features become obsolete. Whether viewers no longer use them in chat, you don’t like doing them anymore on the shows, or they simply no longer have any use, I’m sure there are a few vestigial components on your channel right now, if you’ve been streaming more than a few months. In that earlier entry I mentioned, I helped you to take stock of every aspect of your channel, and make real decisions about how to separate the wheat from the chaff. I know it’s difficult. There are probably great memories associated with some of those aspects of your streams. But if the feature isn’t working right now, those memories shouldn’t play into your decision. You either get the feature to work, or remove it. By making your channel leaner in this way, it removes a burden from you as the streamer, helps viewers understand your shows more easily, and (depending on what you removed) can even help your stream’s performance. 



MAKE MISTAKES


As I’ve spoken about before, you shouldn’t worry about being right all the time. You’re going to make mistakes on Twitch, and instead of sulking about them when they happen, or allowing the fear of failure to paralyze your decision-making, you should embrace those blunders! Every time you do something on your channel that isn’t as good as it should be, and you’re able to recognize that it isn’t up to par, you’re gathering valuable data. You’re improving your skill to identify what doesn’t work, and increasing your likelihood of finding the right answer down the road. Think of it like playing Minesweeper. In that game, you’re trying to identify a set number of mines on a large grid. Each tile is blank at the beginning, and could either be a mine or a safe space. But after clicking the first tile (assuming you don’t immediately hit a mine), a large space opens up, telling you about the number of mines adjacent to your newly opened area. In order to win the game, the knowledge of what not to do, and which spaces not to click, is just as important as knowing which spaces you should click. Figuring out both kinds of information, both the positive and the negative, are necessary in order to reach the end without exploding. I like to look at Twitch streaming in the same way. Each time you make a decision or add a feature, it’s like you start another game of Minesweeper. You’re not going to get it exactly right from the beginning, but you’re gaining valuable information about what move to make next. And even if your idea hits the equivalent of a mine and blows up in your face, you can always try again with a whole new approach. 


Connor has made some mistakes, and
he does his best to atone for them. 

Finally, in order to really succeed on Twitch, no matter what you’re aiming for, you’ll need to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. Avoid excuses. It can be comforting to make them, but they only hurt you in the end. Whether you missed a day, want to change the games you play, need to remove a feature, or anything else, just own up to it and keep going. There’s no need to tell everyone about your mistake or make a public apology, just do it right the next time. As I mentioned in the entry How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, you are 100% responsible for your time. But that’s really true of everything else too. When you’re the owner of a Twitch channel, the buck stops with you. Yes, something out of your control may have happened and prevented you from going live, but that still means the viewer missed out on your show when they expected to see it. Your problem has nothing to do with them. No matter what you say, you can’t change the disappointment they felt in that moment. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how good an excuse is, because no excuse will change what’s already happened. It’s more productive to focus on what you can actually accomplish in the future. 


So consider these concepts the next time you go live. Whether you’re slowly adding features to your streams, removing old ideas, making mistakes or kicking the excuses habit, any one of these things can help your Twitch channel a great deal. Keep streaming, keep learning, and keep getting better. No matter the size of your operation, the concepts laid out here can help you to stream that much more effectively. 


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Successfully Streaming Without Self-Promotion



When you watch a Twitch broadcast, it’s par for the course to hear the streamer ask you to do things. Whether that involves following, subscribing, buying merch, or just becoming more active in the chat, you’ll quickly find that the occasional commercials aren’t the only things advertising to you during a stream. Nobody really likes watching a streamer constantly remind them of the fact that they can subscribe, and no streamer really likes having to do it either, but promotion is typically considered to be a necessary evil. But is it really? Are there ways to be successful as a streamer without doing any (or, at least, as much) self-promotion during your streams? 


➢ REMOVING CONTROL


If you played David O’Reilly’s incredible surrealist video game Everything, you’re probably familiar with speaker and self-styled ‘philosophical entertainer’ Alan Watts- he’s the guy whose audio tidbits play throughout the game. When Watts did speaking engagements, he had an interesting way of giving his presentations. He would explore deep themes and offer really profound advice, but he never considered himself a ‘self-help guru.’ 


In the game Everything, you can play as,
literally, everything.

When someone is selling the promise of personal improvement, they usually want something from you as well. To unlock the full secrets, you’ll have to buy their books, attend their seminars, and join their followings of like-minded devotees. But Watts thought of his content in another way. He described his business model as that of a physician, who he said, “is always trying to get rid of his patients.” For him, it was simply about putting his thoughts out there. When someone found value in those thoughts, that was enough. They didn’t have to come back for more talks or buy all his merchandise- if they found something to help their lives then he had done his job. 


Here’s a quote of his that I love: “I am not trying to help you or improve you; I accept you as you are. I am not out, therefore, to save the world. Of course, when a stream or a bubbling spring flows out from the mountains, it is doing its thing. And if a thirsty traveler helps himself, well that’s fine. When a bird sings, it doesn’t sing for the advancement of music, but if somebody stops to listen and is delighted, that’s fine.” This kind of content creation- modeled after a bird that sings purely for its own sake- has gone on to inspire my philosophy on making Twitch streams. I’ve spoken in other places about how this applies to the enjoyment of streaming, but here, we’ll talk about how it relates to selling your streams. 



CREATE VALUE 


From the smallest electron to a massive solar 
system, all of creation is encompassed 
in this game.

How are you leaving people after they watch your broadcasts? Are you asking more from them than they are from you? Many streamers get carried away with the business side of their channels, constantly pushing others to subscribe, donate, buy merch, or support in some other way. But not everyone is going to want to do these things. And even if they did, the constant reminders could hurt more than they help. Put yourself in the viewer’s shoes. Would you rather subscribe to a channel you love after being prompted to do it by the streamer, or out of genuine appreciation for their content? In my opinion, it’s best for a streamer to first think about the value they’re putting into the world, and let the benefits come naturally. If viewers really like what you’re making, they’ll show their support. To return to the example of Alan Watts, many people did end up buying more than one book, or returning to hear him speak again. Heck, there was a whole video game created after his death, which was narrated entirely by audio clips from his public appearances. Clearly, he became well-loved for his ideas, but he didn’t need to pressure others into doing it, in order to make it happen. 


In various entries, I’ve spoken about the importance of always offering more value than you ask of others. This principle doesn’t apply only to increasing your view count or making money, it can be put into effect anywhere. This kind of ‘no expectations’ philosophy can be a major help when trying to network on Twitch, for example. Many new streamers think only of themselves when meeting other channels. They wait in the other streamer’s chat like a coiled viper, saying one or two token comments before jumping on the opportunity to mention their own channel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen users who either directly ask for followers, or casually drop comments like “I’m about to do my stream now” to let others know they’re going live. This is not only tacky and completely transparent to the reader, but it’s also very rude. It’s an attempt to siphon viewers and attention from the other streamer’s channel into their own. You wouldn’t go to someone’s small mom and pop store and post a sign that customers could visit your own similar store instead (unless you’re Larry David, I suppose), so why do it on someone's Twitch channel? In the entry 3 Easy Tips to Network on Twitch, I went into detail about how you can create true connections with other Twitch streamers by simply enjoying their content without asking for anything in return. In the style of Alan Watts, benefits can come if they come. And if not, you made a friend along the way. But of course, friends are more likely to help each other out in the end. 


So no matter what you’re doing on Twitch, consider simply being. Create your streams, make real connections, and don’t think too hard about your bottom line. Sometimes that lack of pressure can be exactly what the viewer comes to appreciate about your content. You might just find that removing some of the promotion from your streams brings you better results than you had before. 


Sunday, May 8, 2022

One Must Imagine the Streamer Happy



You’ve probably felt self-conscious about your channel at some point in your Twitch career. There’s no shame in it- it happens to all of us. Streaming and self-consciousness just sort of go hand in hand. Because no matter how big you are, there’s always going to be somebody with more followers, better content, a livelier chat, or a more interesting personality. Yet as creators, we’re always putting ourselves in motion, working toward the next goal or the next exciting project. Some of us do so because we want to, and a much larger percentage of others expand because they feel they have to. In this entry, we’ll look at the bigger picture of streaming. We’ll consider how to find more enjoyment in the content we create right now, rather than feeling we need to grow before allowing ourselves the luxury. 


➢ THE ILLUSION OF CHANGE


There's always another mountain
to climb.

I’ve spoken before in this resource about how elusive streaming ‘success’ can be if you define success by your channel’s metrics. No matter what target you aim for, the goal will always move further back by the time you reach its original position. For example, let’s say you just started streaming and worked hard to reach 10 followers. But then during that time, you saw other channels with many more active chatters, and all those channels had 50 followers. You might then assume that these two figures show a direct correlation- if only you could reach 50 followers, you’ll also have that amount of people talking in your chat! But once you get there, your amount of active chatters is still nowhere near the other streamer’s. Then you see another stream with 100 followers, which has all these fancy graphics. Maybe if you had fancy graphics, you’d get to 100 followers that much easier? So you have graphics drawn up and add them to your stream, but you don’t notice the needle moving much. Eventually, through the usual slow methods, you reach 100 followers. But you see someone at 200 followers with all sorts of giveaways and donation goals, and they’re making a lot of money! So you set up those same kinds of promotions on your own channel, but you end up losing more than you gain. Why does it feel like your channel is consistently failing where others of a similar size are succeeding?


It’s because in this scenario, you (as many new streamers do) are assigning a lot more significance to the follower count than it really merits. Because the amount of followers is displayed as a nice, big number on the front of every Twitch channel, it’s easy to measure all other things by it. That’s the ‘success’ that streamers aim for, but it doesn’t really correlate to much. The 50-follower streamer in the example has an active chat because they’re personable. The 100-follower streamer has fancy graphics because they like to design logos in their spare time. The 200-follower streamer is great at promotion. They don’t get those results because of the sizes of their channels, they get them by working hard on the aspects of their streams that most interest them. Every streamer likes certain parts of the craft better than others. It’s only by finding those things and focusing on them that we can truly become content with our broadcasts. Don’t look to the size of your channel to give you meaning. If you find meaning right now, you won’t care how big the channel is, and it’ll grow anyway. 



ENDLESS UPHILL CLIMB


In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was an overly ambitious man who cheated the gods. As punishment, Hades stranded him in the underworld, where he was doomed to push a heavy boulder up a mountain, only for it to roll back down again when he neared the top. He would toil endlessly, without ever seeing his task completed- the ultimate frustration for someone of ambition like him. In modernity, this legend is applied to many things throughout daily life. A ‘Sisyphean task’ can be any endless grind, with no end in sight- going to work every day, being short on money, mowing the lawn, or buying groceries, for example. As soon as these things seem like they’re finished, it’s only a matter of time until they need to be done again. 


Sisyphus would have been a fun
inclusion in the God of War series.

Twitch streaming is another Sisyphean task. There’s really no finish line, only a constant stream of effort. But like any Sisyphean ordeal, your quality of life comes not necessarily from finishing the task, but how you perceive the task. If you rush as fast as you can, with the sole objective of reaching higher and higher points on the mountain of Twitch followers, dejection is likely to set in eventually. There will always be more distance to cover, and even when it looks like you’re near the top, you’ll see that you’re really only at the beginning of another climb. But if you can find a way to enjoy what you’re doing right now, at whatever pace you choose, it doesn’t matter that the task is endless. That’s how you beat the system, whether you’re streaming or doing anything else. As French philosopher Albert Camus famously posited, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” That’s the only way the Greek hero could have escaped the punishment the gods intended- not by finally getting his boulder to the top, but by learning to love the act of pushing it forward. 


Don’t put off your love of streaming in order to grow faster. Look inwards and find what you love about it right now. The task has no end. As long as you stay on Twitch, you will always be pushing the boulder uphill. But if you keep your passions at the center of the streams you create, you’ll look forward to that climb every day. 


Saturday, April 30, 2022

How to Recover from Twitch Mistakes



Every streamer has made mistakes. It’s a natural part of the content creation process, and there’s really no way to get around it. In addition to the usual joy, excitement and companionship you’ll get from Twitch streaming, you’ll also find embarrassment, dejection and confusion to be constant companions throughout your journey. But as I mentioned in the entry On Twitch Failure is Your Friend, you should actually be welcoming the opportunity to be wrong. Making mistakes can feel bad in the moment, but the act of failure is precisely what makes us stronger. We learn lessons, and the embarrassment of failing causes those lessons to stick in our brains much more strongly than if we had simply read about them in a book. When a channel gets larger however, it can be very difficult to identify individual mistakes. Unless you make some huge blunder, the mistakes on a more seasoned stream are typically buried under years of features, graphics, and set-in habits. So if you’ve noticed a downward trend on your streams over time, but you can’t figure out what’s causing it, we’ll explore how to identify the issue and get on the path to recovery. 



➢ CLEAR YOUR MIND


Yoda would tell you the same thing.

As I’ve spoken about in many Twitch Playbook entries before, going back to basics is a great way to solve any problem. Are you having technical glitches? Maybe you can’t come up with a good style for stream graphics and layouts. It’s possible you’re becoming more forgetful in the setup process. Or you could even be seeing a dropoff in viewership. No matter what the problem, it’s usually very helpful to get to the root of the issue first. When something becomes overcomplicated, it’s difficult to trace where the issues are coming from. But if you strip your stream down to the barest essentials, all the problems suddenly become very easy to see. In the entry
Simplify Your Streaming Problems, I spoke at length about this subject, and how taking your show to ‘first principles’ can help solve issues much more easily. You don’t need to keep the stream this way forever, but it’s a good way to flush out any detritus cluttering up the show while you figure things out. 


Once you have your stream simplified, try getting yourself back on track with that more basic show, before introducing anything more complex. Use the techniques I mentioned in past entries like Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day to help you break your larger problems down into small, easily solvable tasks. Everyone’s problems will be different, but if you come at the issue with an open mind, you’ll always have an easier time finding the solution. Let things play out slowly, get a feel for your simpler setup, and pay attention to the differences between this and your more advanced shows. If you work at this for a while, you’ll begin to notice the issues melting away, one by one. 



➢ BUILD YOURSELF BACK UP


Whenever you feel you’re getting back on track, you’ll be able to think about adding advanced features back into your stream. But don’t be too quick to restore everything that was in your original show. After all, depending on the problem you’ve been having, some of the more complicated aspects of your broadcast could be part of the issue. Re-introduce elements slowly, from the simplest to the most advanced. Keep track of the reaction to each part over the course of several streams. Does it impact your audience response? Does it make your show harder to prepare before going live? Do you feel it adds to the overall quality of the broadcast? If you feel it’s hurting your shows, consider removing that feature for now. But if it helps, you can keep it and move onto adding the next feature. In the entry Revising Your Streams from the Ground Up, I spoke about the merits of a strategy like this. On my own shows, it’s helped a lot to rebuild my content from scratch every once in a while, just to make sure I’m not losing my way.


Unless you're playing Spider-Man 2 for the
PS2. Then you really will drown by falling
into the Hudson River. 

The Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho once said, “You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it.” The fact that you made a mistake on your Twitch channel isn’t going to ruin your streams. But letting yourself be dragged down by that mistake will. Many streamers are too proud to admit they’ve made mistakes, and will let the flaws eat away at their content rather than fix them. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your dreams. As long as you actively try to get yourself out of your streaming predicament, your channel will eventually end up right where you want it to be. 


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Using YouTube as a Twitch Streamer



In the entry Streaming to More Than Just Twitch, we explored the idea of going live to multiple platforms in addition to Twitch every time you broadcast. In that entry, I mostly talked about the monetization side, such as how streaming without an Affiliate or Partner contract can still offer many of the same payout benefits. This time, I want to specifically cover YouTube, which I’ve found very useful as a Twitch streamer- whether affiliated or not. I’ve used YouTube in various capacities over the years for my different content offerings. Before starting on Twitch, I used to stream to YouTube. I also would upload several different types of weekly content, and I used YouTube embeds as the backbone of a larger website I ran at the time. Even in my time as a Twitch streamer, I’ve found many ways a YouTube channel can still come in handy, whether that means multistreaming to Twitch and YouTube simultaneously, posting directly to it, or using it for archive purposes. 



➢ ON THE AIR


It's possible to use your existing content
to make more content. 

The first thought for most Twitch streamers using YouTube is to re-edit previous livestreams into short, entertaining videos. This can bring in a whole new audience that may not have seen you on Twitch, and diversifies your content offering. Maybe someone doesn’t have the patience to watch a 5-hour long Overwatch stream, but they love seeing little 1-minute compilations of your best plays of the week. It’s also popular for streamers to build their own tutorial series, motivational videos, or regularly scheduled vlogs. All these things can bring in totally new audiences or strengthen your existing one by offering a change of pace. Just make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew- the editing time alone for content like this may take you by surprise. You can find more thoughts on how to build this kind of satellite presence in the entry
Expanding Your Twitch Brand


If you want to make it even easier to build a YouTube presence for your streams, you could of course just go live on YouTube. Many streaming software suites, as well as intermediate web services like Restream, offer the option to go live on multiple platforms at once. It’s even possible to funnel YouTube comments into your Twitch chat through automated tools, so you have everything in one place. Going live to two platforms instantly puts your shows in front of more potential viewers. But this benefit doesn’t come free- it also creates a bit more work in the setup time and troubleshooting of your streams. You’ll have to remember to change the show title, description, tags, thumbnail and more for each show on YouTube, on top of what you already do on Twitch, for example. If you’re a Twitch Affiliate or Partner, this option is also unfortunately off the table. Twitch limits those under contract to their own platform while live on Twitch. 



AFFILIATE-FRIENDLY OPTIONS


Even if you’ve already signed a monetization agreement with Twitch, you still have many choices when building a YouTube presence. All the video montage, vlog, and other edited examples from earlier are totally fine to post on YouTube while under contract with Twitch. You can also post any short highlights or clips created from your streams directly onto YouTube. Twitch even has automated tools to help you with that. Within the Video Producer screen of your Dashboard, click the three dots to the right of any highlight or stream, and you’ll see an ‘Export’ option. This will allow you to send a video from your Twitch channel directly to YouTube, without having to download and post it manually. 


If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can technically still stream to YouTube, even as a Twitch Affiliate. As long as the show isn’t going to Twitch at the same time, you’re totally free to go live wherever else you choose. Of course, this would mean essentially creating a whole new set of bespoke live content for your YouTube channel, but if you feel that helps your brand it can be a strong option for building community, who might then later check out your Twitch streams. 


If you're playing this series, there's going to
be more than two months between when
you play the first game and the latest one.

And finally, I personally love to use YouTube as a permanent stream archive. Unless you highlight every one of your shows after it ends, they will only be saved for a maximum of two months on Twitch. But YouTube can host an unlimited amount of videos which never expire. Of course, when you stream without a Twitch contract, it’s possible to simply go live on YouTube along with Twitch. And then when the show is over, your broadcast will be automatically posted to your YouTube channel. Using the YouTube export feature on Twitch, you can even take advantage of this archiving feature as an Affiliate or Partner. You’ll just need to wait a day if you want to post a show in its entirety, as Twitch wants the full stream to be exclusive to its platform for 24 hours after broadcast. Your episodes can be organized into playlists, enhanced with extra information and tags, and given many more options for posterity than Twitch offers, like timestamped chapter markers and the ability for viewers to comment after the fact. I find this very useful when streaming story-based games. It’s nice to have an archive of the hundreds of Assassin’s Creed episodes I've done all neatly organized together. My Twitch viewers sometimes tell me about how they went back and binged a playthrough from years ago, or others who never knew my channel before will discover old episodes of mine that I’d forgotten about. Since starting my current Twitch channel, I’ve archived every Twitch stream I’ve ever done. They're all on my YouTube channel for posterity. As of now, that’s over 5,800 videos! 



EXPANDING YOUR HORIZONS


YouTube can be very helpful as a satellite channel for a Twitch streamer. Because of the nature of our work, we’re already generating a huge amount of video content. Why not take that content, repurpose it, and use it elsewhere? Whether going live directly to both platforms, editing custom videos to be uploaded, or simply using it as a repository for your past shows, there’s a whole lot you can do with a YouTube channel as a Twitch streamer. So if you feel your Twitch channel is in a good place and you want to expand, YouTube is a great place to start. 


Friday, April 15, 2022

Expand on Your Stream Ideas



In 1937, the year The Hobbit was released, J.R.R. Tolkien began work on a sequel. This new Hobbit book was supposed to be the story of Bilbo, having used up all his treasure horde, looking for a new adventure. The publisher was happy with this pitch, as they’d have another popular children’s book to capitalize on the first one’s success. What they received, after 16 years and a huge amount of rewrites, was an entire trilogy about Bilbo’s nephew getting mixed up in a continent-wide geopolitical conflict and trying to prevent the devil from destroying the world. That’s a far cry from The Hobbit’s fumbling treasure hunter and the lessons he learns along the way. When reading these two stories it’s difficult to imagine how someone could be so creative when envisioning a way to expand on their invented universe. Tolkien was able to throw away almost everything about the original book and make its sequel completely unique. Is there a way we can harness that same creative power when improving our own content? I believe there is. 



LOOK TO YOURSELF FOR INSPIRATION


When you re-read The Hobbit enough times, you start to realize something interesting. The DNA for The Lord of the Rings story was there all along. No, I don’t just mean the character names, locations and languages. I mean that Tolkien was able to return to his original story, which was filled with wonderful allusions to a larger universe, and extrapolate on those little sparks to ignite a much larger creative fire. 


Gollum was originally a 
nicer guy.

One excellent example of this is the “
Riddles in the Dark” chapter. Anyone who knows The Hobbit will remember this moment where Bilbo Baggins competes with Gollum in a deadly game of riddles. But did you know that this chapter was first published very differently than the version we know today? When releasing the original version of The Hobbit, Tolkien didn’t have a real idea of what the ring truly was, and as such there were many aspects of this encounter which played out differently. Gollum intended to give Bilbo the ring willingly as a prize for losing the game, and when he couldn’t find it he essentially shrugged his shoulders and led the hobbit out of his cave. It was only after The Hobbit was released, and Tolkien was thinking about a sequel, as well as the interesting ideas he might be able to extract from Bilbo’s magic ring, that he revised the scene. In the version we know today, Gollum is much more volatile and tortured by the ring’s corrupting powers, and would certainly never give up his ‘birthday present’ willingly. This updated edition was published, and that’s the version we have now. Then in another brilliant move, Tolkien actually decided to canonize the fact that his text was retconned. Since within the world of Middle-earth, the story of The Hobbit is meant to have been written by Bilbo Baggins himself, it’s revealed in The Lord of the Rings that this earlier published version of the Gollum chapter was actually a lie written by Bilbo to assuage his own conscience. What a cool way to expand on a story! 



➢ USING OLD IDEAS IN A NEW WAY


Tolkien applied those same principles for much of the story of The Lord of the Rings. No other chapters of The Hobbit were drastically changed like that, but small little details from Bilbo’s quest were used to flesh out this new one. And not just that- Tolkien had another trick up his sleeve. Decades before even The Hobbit was published, he had been working on a much larger project. This massive history of the gods and heroes of Middle-earth would eventually be known as The Silmarillion, but at the time it was simply a scattered collection of ideas and stories. After publishing The Hobbit, Tolkien actually wanted to finish and release The Silmarillion as his next book (a pretty jarring thought to anyone out there who has read it!) but the publisher thought it would be too much for readers to handle- and they were probably right. So instead, Tolkien used much of that saga’s texture to flesh out the books he worked on in its stead. When reading The Lord of the Rings, it’s amazing to consider how many folk tales, heroic legends, songs, poems and other pieces of fictional lore exist within its pages. It’s an astoundingly complete universe. And much of that was possible because Tolkien cannibalized his scrapped project to feed this new one. 


And the games based on Jackson's
movies are still great.

Similar to how Tolkien pulled much of The Lord of the Rings’ texture from his then-abandoned Silmarillion manuscript, Peter Jackson did the same when adapting his six film adaptations. Many of those who have only read the main texts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings might be surprised to learn that there were several other stories written by Tolkien which took place during the events of Bilbo and Frodo’s quests. Jackson and company sourced from all these side stories, in addition to the main books, to make up his films. Some things were explicitly written about elsewhere, like much of Gandalf’s relationship with Thorin Oakenshield. Others were extrapolated from small clues and allusions in the original stories, like what happened at Dol Guldur. And many of Jackson’s choices stretched the source material to fit more with the story he wanted to tell. For example, Bard the Bowman, an extremely important character in The Hobbit, as well as Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, have almost no characterization whatsoever in the books, but they add a huge amount to the film versions. Others like Azog the Defiler, the chief villain throughout the Hobbit trilogy, and an embodiment of Thorin’s ruinous vengeance, had roles in Tolkien’s expanded universe stories during other eras, and were shifted into the timeline of the films to enhance the narrative. Jackson and his writing team have consistently shown a masterful ability to look past what’s simply happening on the page in the books they adapted, and instead bring in Tolkien’s own sensibilities of universe-building and texture. 



STREAMING LIKE TOLKIEN


When streaming, it’s very possible to utilize this spirit of constant idea expansion. On my own channel, I’ve done this many times to continually build my little throwaway jokes or features into full-fledged aspects of the show. After one moment where I put on a cowboy hat and created a western persona for a joke on stream, that led to my later playing the entire Red Dead series in character as a cowboy. Because of my logo design having an old-style CRT television in it, that led to many aspects of my stream’s design over the years slowly incorporating more of the classic TV aesthetic. Like with Tolkien’s Silmarillion inspiring LOTR, I’ve used scrapped graphics, ideas, music and other aspects from old versions of my streams to build out features on my new one. And in the style of Peter Jackson, I often use the power of extrapolation- even on this podcast! Instead of trying to cover every aspect of a subject out of the gate, I work from a top-down perspective. I’ll make an entry about a broad topic, and then revisit aspects of that idea later to say more specific things about the same point. I personally think it helps make things easier to understand, without getting hung up on details in the beginning. So if you think you’re out of ideas for your stream, look inward. Watch your old shows. Look at your graphics. Your next great concept might be on your streams already, without you even noticing. All you have to do is expand on that stream idea. 


Friday, April 8, 2022

Streaming For Yourself



In the entry Your Content Should Make You Happy, I spoke about a difficult topic for many beginners to understand: the crushing weight of your project actually becoming successful. I talked about The Twitch Playbook podcast, which had taken off by that point and garnered a lot of attention. When a project grows, there are certain expectations that you will scale the content along with it. But I wasn’t interested in doing anything like that at the time, and my thoughts now haven’t changed. I make the Twitch Playbook primarily for myself. I like to write about my experiences, I enjoy narrating and producing the audio, and breaking down my strategies helps me get a clearer picture of my own process. But having said all that, The Twitch Playbook serves another very important purpose. Based on the hundreds of testimonials people have sent me over the years, it’s clear that even though I merely make the podcast because I like to, it’s helping a lot of other people. 


Geralt works for himself first, but he
still helps lots of people in doing so.

I’m thrilled by this kind of reaction, and I’m flattered every time someone tells me how important the show is to them, but I don’t rely on that praise to keep me going. Even if nobody responded, I would still make the content, simply because I like making it. That’s the secret to staying true to your values: make your content for yourself first, no matter what anyone else thinks of it. It applies to Twitch just as much as it applies to this podcast. What kind of stream would you personally want to watch? Don’t think about what your viewers are asking for, or what game is most popular right now. Begin with you. There are like-minded people out there, and they will gravitate toward your authenticity and passion. Just because the content starts with you doesn’t mean others can’t enjoy it. But if you start by worrying about the whims of others, it’s very possible that
you won’t enjoy it. 



SUGGESTIONS ARE NOT ORDERS


Feedback can have a huge influence on how we produce our content. It’s a valuable tool for any content creator to hear what others think of what you’re making, and you should pay attention to suggestions and reactions to your channel. But feedback can also quickly spiral out of control. Did you ever play the game ‘telephone’ when you were a kid? Everyone sits in a circle, and one person whispers a phrase to the person on their right. Then that second person whispers the same phrase to the person to their right, and the game continues all the way around the circle. Invariably, through mishearing or mischief, the phrase that comes back around to the original person is always different. 


If you’re not careful about how you take feedback, this can end up happening to your streaming values as well. With enough unchecked changes, you could look up a year from now with a successful stream that you hate making. Make sure you check in with your core values every few months when making content. Are you staying true to what you believe in, or are you making concessions simply for the attention they give you? Most importantly, do you truly love what you’re doing? 



➢ HURTFUL FEEDBACK


Negative feedback can of course be very damaging to some content creators. If someone is berated by enough mean comments for example, it may make them want to give up. These situations can be tricky to deal with, but it’s useful to remember that the person saying such things doesn’t know you, and they don’t have any say in who you are as a person. You can find some techniques for curbing the worst offenders in entries like Dealing With Disruptors in Twitch Chat and Combat Negativity in Twitch Chat. But feedback doesn’t even need to be that extreme to have an effect. Many content creators struggle even with constructive messages, overreacting to things genuinely meant to help. I explored some strategies to deal with this issue in the entry How to Take Stream Criticism


But in the end, the most dangerous feedback of all isn’t the slippery slope of suggestions, or the bad feeling from negative comments. The most destructive kind of feedback for a content creator is positive feedback. This sounds completely backwards, but it’s unfortunately true. Too much positive feedback can cause an inflated ego, bringing out the worst in a content creator and encouraging bad habits. Without pointing out any specific instances, I think we’ve all seen enough YouTubers and Twitch streamers in the news who thought they were ‘too big to fail’ to know what I mean in this regard. 


Don't let positive feedback go
to your head.

But even before reaching that point, positive feedback can create bad habits even when you’re starting out. Maybe you hear compliments on your channel. Maybe chatters have been having a good time lately. Maybe your average view count has been rising. These are all great things, and you should be thankful for them, but they can hurt as much as help. Caring too much about positive feedback and growth on your channel can cause a dependency. And if you allow that dependency to take root, you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. When a slump comes, and you’ve come to depend on seeing upward trends in order to stay motivated, how do you carry on? This is how many streamers, and content creators of all kinds, who seem so solid in their work, suddenly drop off the face of the earth. They allow positive feedback to slowly become their sole fuel for moving forward. Then, when trouble comes, they no longer have any means of pressing on. The positive feedback is gone, and so is their will to stream. 



GO YOUR OWN WAY


What is it you love about streaming? If you’re starting out, try beginning from that point. This sounds obvious, but many streamers begin by asking, “What would the audience want?” rather than, “What do I want?” And an attention-hungry mindset like this can lead to a lot of unhappiness later in your streaming career. Even if your audience is enjoying itself, make sure you love what you’re doing too. That’s the point, right? The same applies if you’ve been streaming for a while. Don’t forget to check in with yourself and examine whether your core values and passions are still aligned with what you’re doing day-to-day on stream. It’s easy to get blown off course without even noticing, but it’s never too late to put yourself back on track. No matter where you are in your Twitch career, stream for yourself first and others will follow.