Friday, July 31, 2020

Perfecting Your Pre-Stream Checklist



Making our streams run without a hitch, or as close to that point as possible, is a goal we all aspire to. It doesn't matter how perfect a broadcast is overall- one tiny mistake at the beginning can sometimes throw our confidence for the entire rest of the show. In the previous entry, Creating a Pre-Stream Checklist, I detailed the tool I've found most useful in preventing mistakes from cropping up on my own broadcasts. By laying out every step involved in starting a stream, and then following that script to the letter every time I'm about to go live, I've been able to stream without incident for the past 1,000+ broadcasts. But as I mentioned in that entry, it's not a one-and-done solution. Things will need to be adjusted and fine-tuned, and as your stream evolves, the pre-stream checklist will need to evolve with it. In this entry I'll help you to perfect your pre-stream checklist. 

First, when something goes wrong on your shows, keep in mind the basic troubleshooting steps I laid out in that previously mentioned entry. Essentially, there are three main pre-stream checklist oversights: either your list isn't complete enough, you're not sticking to the list well enough, or there might be a unique situation at play. Even if your problem falls into that third category, you may not have been able to predict it, but you're still responsible for it. Don't start thinking that any problems are outside your realm of control. If something causes you issues on your show, one way or another it can be dealt with. Sometimes you just need to think outside the box. 


➢ THE CHECKLIST IN PRACTICE

I have two quick examples of how a pre-stream checklist helped me with very specific issues. You probably won't have the same issues in the same way, nor will the exact solution likely work for you, but try to understand the underlying reasoning that went into solving them. Then use that mindset to help customize your own list. 

☑ EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

Isaac Clarke deals with the unexpected every few minutes.
Every few dozen streams, my capture card suffers from an unfortunate glitch where the video feed freezes. I have no way of knowing it's happening in the moment on my streams, sometimes for several minutes, because chatters often assume it's their internet connection causing the show to lock up and won't report it to me. To solve the issue, I have to disable and then re-enable the capture card feed in OBS, resetting it behind the scenes. This works for that single stream where it occurred, but the issue always comes back in a week or two. It's not possible to predict an exact time when the issue will occur again, but it's safe to assume it will never stop happening. So several months ago I incorporated this glitch into my pre-stream checklist, and instead of fixing the problem when it appeared, I started disabling and re-enabling the capture card as one of the steps every single time I turned on OBS. The issue never came back, not because that glitch got patched out from my capture card, but because I built a personal system that wouldn't allow it to appear on-stream in the first place. 

☑ THE RIGHT ORDER

And then of course there's the classic streamer mistake- forgetting your microphone. I have a lavalier mic that attaches to the shirt collar. This means that if I forget to clip it on before a show, I'll still be audible but I'll just sound quieter, like I'm far away. From the audience's perspective in this scenario, I only 'sound different,' and they typically won't point it out as a problem because it's not objectively wrong. To them it could simple be a personal choice- maybe I lowered my microphone volume for some reason. People typically don't want to cry wolf about stream problems- most will only mention something to the streamer if there's no chance it's supposed to be that way. And sure enough, every three months or so I'd go for an entire stream without the mic attached- a very embarrassing mistake. It was especially frustrating because by that time I was already following a pre-stream checklist I had made, but was still forgetting this step every once in a while. How could this be? Instead of simply shrugging and being thankful that the problem didn't occur more frequently, I took it upon myself to revise the checklist once again. Maybe something was too loose, and it only needed a little bit of tightening to prevent me from making that mistake in the future.

Sometimes the checklist just needs piecing together
like a puzzle.
The solution ended up being hidden in one of the most unlikely of changes. Before I appear on camera at the beginning of one of my streams, a startup screen appears. This scene plays clips and elevator music, giving viewers a few minutes to congregate in the chat before the episode begins. When I'm about to end the intro and start the show properly, I switch to an OBS layout I created that displays a 30-second countdown. And this exact moment is where the bottleneck lived. Before altering my checklist, when I was getting ready to switch off the intro screen, I would do three actions in the following order: put on my headphones, start the 30-second countdown, and clip on my microphone. I was very rigid in following this action, and 99 times out of 100, it would work without any flaw. But I do a lot of streams- I go through this process of starting a broadcast three separate times every day- so there are a lot of chances for me to screw up. And 100 streams come and go pretty quickly for me. That means after those 99 flawless executions, I was still bound to forget the microphone on that 100th attempt a few months later. 

Of course on paper, this should have been foolproof. This portion only involved three steps- how could I forget them? What I realized was that these steps would work when there was no outside stress or interference, but what if someone distracted me right after pressing the countdown button, or if I needed to respond to something in chat during that moment, or if I had something heavy on my mind? I found that it was those instances when I'd forget to execute the final three steps correctly, and there was no failsafe between clipping on the mic and appearing on-air where I could catch my mistake. Once I realized this, all it took to solve my problem was a simple reorganization. I switched the order so that I had to have my mic clipped on before pressing the countdown button. This created a built-in moment to check myself: if I was starting that countdown, I would always reach for my shirt collar and make sure that the mic was there. If the mic wasn't clipped, the countdown couldn't start. And in finding a way to reliably check myself earlier in the process, I've prevented making that mistake for the past year and counting. 


➢ FIND YOUR WEAK POINTS

Once again, my mistakes and solutions aren't going to translate 1:1 to whatever you're experiencing on your own shows. But in this entry I showed you two ways in which adjusting my pre-stream checklist has helped me in a very tangible way with my own personal streaming issues. All you need to do is identify whatever is causing you the same kind of grief on your shows- once you identify the problem, you'll be able to start zeroing in on a solution. As long as you stay inquisitive and don't resign your problems to the cruel Twitch gods, you too can perfect your pre-stream checklist. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Scaling Your Twitch Channel



We all have very different Twitch channels, but none of us can avoid running into one universal problem: scale. As we expand operations, things will invariably go wrong. The way in which they go wrong will differ, but the fact that they will go wrong can't be avoided. What we can do however, is minimize the damage to our streams (or our willingness to stream) which comes from scaling incorrectly, by thinking through our ideas more strategically. In this entry, I'm going to help you scale your streams the right way. 


➢ PLANS VS ACTIONS


From the moment we start our channels, we're already facing a problem of scale. "How do I turn streaming into a consistent habit?" is the first question we all have to answer. Most prospective streamers never find a solution, instead broadcasting a few scattered 'first streams' over the course of a few months and then giving up, without ever figuring out how to scale their idea into a scheduled activity. These people typically lose because they think about the scale of their success, but not the scale of their process. It's easy to do one stream and then immediately daydream about what it'll be like when you're a famous Twitch personality, but daydreaming doesn't actually get any work done. As these people find out, this type of cart-before-the-horse thinking can actually hurt your dream more than help it. 

For more experienced streamers, scale still looms large. Any time we want to add a new community feature, a new social channel, or stream longer, we face the possibility of outgrowing our production capabilities. Oftentimes we take the same mindset as those streaming hopefuls. We think, "Wouldn't it be great if I had a morning talk show in addition to my main stream?" and then we get so caught up in the romantic notion that we don't consider the practical necessities of fitting that show into our schedules. Our ideas about how cool it would be to do daily posts on Instagram might be fine on paper, but in practice they may not work quite as smoothly once three months have gone by and we can't go a full week without breaking our streak. 


➢ OPTIMIZING GROWTH


What causes us to fail so often when trying to scale our channels? The problem is actually quite simple. When adding some new idea, we typically only consider how busy we are right now. What we should be doing is thinking about how busy we are on our busiest day and then creating a schedule to fit that. By not working this way, most streamers set themselves up to fail from the moment they decide to expand. 

This guy clearly thinks a lot about scale.
My mindset on the subject is very similar to how I optimize my PC games. If a game has cutting-edge graphics, there are two ways to go about adjusting the graphics settings. First, you can do some tests and figure out the absolute highest settings your PC can handle while still outputting 60 frames per second, then play the game at those settings. Or, you can find those absolute highest settings, and then set every slider to be 25% lower than that value. The second strategy is always smartest. This is because the first doesn't take into account the fact that things will change as you progress through the game. Every level has differently sized environments and a different amount of special effects. Just because the game runs smoothly with those settings in the initial area where you tested it, doesn't mean it'll run smoothly throughout. You'll encounter performance issues as soon as the action gets more exciting. But if you lower the bar from the outset, you won't ever run into a performance problem. This is because you accounted for scale from the beginning, and it means dealing with a lot less headaches. 

Most streamers expand their channels in a similar way to the first PC optimization strategy- they find their peak output levels, then attempt to perform at those maximum levels every day. This works fine until their lives get busier, and they realize that they can't actually keep pace with their channel expansions. But if you find your peak levels and then scale back your expectations significantly- planning to make a two hour stream every day instead of three, or an Insta post every week instead of every day- you'll find that you'll keep hitting your targets. Plus, if you do more on a given day, then great! There's nothing wrong with going above and beyond, but by scaling back your expectations, you'll still hit the baseline even on your worst days.


➢ IMPLEMENTING IDEAS


Of course, I've made every scaling mistake imaginable throughout my past endeavors. Some have led to giving up on projects entirely, while others have simply meant stunted growth. The three key scaling factors that have helped me most on my current channel have been cutting back on time commitment, removing expectations, and good old preparation. 

Learning a language is hard enough without a huge
commitment added in.
The first example has been a type of show you've heard about before in The Twitch Playbook: my Duolingo streams. I knew I wanted to learn Japanese, but I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew by adding another full-sized stream to my roster. So instead, I cut back on the time commitment of these shows from the beginning, making the Duolingo streams themselves only as long as it would take to complete my daily challenges on the app. Any other interactions or additional learning were bonuses. Sometimes the language streams would be longer, but the daily challenges were all I ever expected myself to do each day. I wasn't shooting for anyone's standard of a 'full-length Twitch stream' every day on Duolingo, instead simply documenting my journey each morning as I learned a little bit more. This has allowed me to stick with this habit for the past 450 days in a row and counting. 

Another major boon has been removing expectations. You may be aware from previous entries that I produce three livestreams every single day. It's actually part of my brand's identity at this point. And yet this statistic isn't actually true- for more than 100 days in a row I've actually been doing four streams every day. In addition to my Japanese language learning and video game streams, I also do a fourth show in which I edit YouTube videos live on stream. These shows, which I refer to as 'secret streams,' have allowed me to consistently populate a satellite YouTube channel while also consistently adding more content to my live offering. I could have announced from the outset, "Okay guys, now I do FOUR streams per day!" but this would have set me up to potentially fail, because upon starting, I didn't know whether I'd have the time to fit that fourth stream into my lifestyle yet. Instead, I just did the fourth stream without setting any expectations, and I found out that, yes, I could in fact do it consistently. 

Finally, preparation helps a lot when scaling up. The best example of this would be the resource you're engaging with right now. Before starting The Twitch Playbook, I had no idea how to write, record, mix, produce, or release a blog and podcast. I didn't know how long each entry would take to make, I didn't know whether I'd be covering subjects that could help anyone, I didn't even know if I wanted to make it for the long term or if it was just a fleeting idea. So instead of releasing the first episode immediately upon completion and hoping for the best, I wrote the first nine entries before I ever released a single one to the public. This allowed me to really shape the content on a macro scale, get an idea of whether a weekly schedule was realistic, and see if I enjoyed doing it in general, before committing myself. 

Cutting back on time commitment, removing expectations, and properly preparing have all helped me in many ways. They've allowed me to fit three completely alien and time-consuming concepts into my daily schedule without skipping a beat. When starting my channel, I never could have imagined creating the amount of content I currently produce, but by thinking about scale I was able to expand beyond my wildest dreams. The next time you want to add something to your Twitch brand, do yourself a favor and think about scale before taking the plunge.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Stream How You Want


You may be thinking about making changes to your Twitch channel, but are worried about how they will be received by your audience. You've heard me talk in previous entries about streaming the kinds of things that make you happiest, but you don't see any guarantee that such a strategy would work. It's too simple to work. Sure, you'd enjoy doing this new activity or using this new schedule, but what if everyone else hates it and you lose followers? How can you take that step into the unknown?
Allow me to answer this question with a story of one of the past century's greatest musicians and how he dealt with this very problem: 


➢ HOW DOES IT FEEL?


By the beginning of 1965, Bob Dylan was wildly popular in his chosen craft. Armed with acoustic guitar and harmonica, he wrote folk music and protest songs like nobody else. Tracks like Blowin' in the Wind and The Times They Are a-Changin' told with stunning accuracy the sentiments of the young culture on hard subjects, and consequently this man was more than a popular musician at the time- among many, he was treated as something closer to a prophet. His simple acoustic arrangements served to amplify the angry, powerful verses within his compositions. The conscious choice to use this classic sound was a major part of his appeal to many young people looking to wean themselves from the loud rock and roll which had dominated the airwaves for the past several years. For good reason, the media had labeled him 'The Spokesman of a Generation.'

Not everyone will agree with your changes
And then something very unexpected happened. A few months later, in March 1965, Dylan released an album which utilized an electric rock and roll backing band. And after that, singles and more albums began dropping with an entirely rock sound. The collective hearts of millions sank. This wasn't a simple gimmick. Dylan had gone electric. On performances and tours throughout the following two years, the 'Spokesman of a Generation' was shouted at and harassed on stage every time he played one of his electric songs. Millions of fans around the country felt betrayed.


➢ LIKE A ROLLING STONE


Why did Dylan switch to electric music if his fans all loved his acoustic songs? Why did he keep playing on stage when people actively hated the music? Why, at this point, did he even get out of bed in the morning? 

Because he wanted to. 

There's nothing more to it than that. Dylan didn't owe anyone an explanation for exploring a new style of music. His creative driving force wasn't owned by his fans, it wasn't subject to anyone's approval. He didn't, as he put it, "need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," it was clear that a huge portion of his audience now hated him for trying something new. But it was his right to go down that path if he chose, accepting whatever consequences may come with this choice. 

Do you have the same courage when it comes to your Twitch channel? If there's something you want to change, which alters your content to its very core- if this change would make you happier, but upset almost everyone in your audience- would you make it? It's a sobering thought. Not many of us would have such fortitude, and none of us have even a fraction of Bob Dylan's fame. 

Going your own way is one of the hardest things you can do.
I don't think there exists any better example for how to choose the authentic pursuit of your craft over public popularity than the infamous era of Dylan going electric. And yet, there's a part of this story I haven't told yet. Today, critics hail Dylan's 1965 debut electric LP, Bringing It All Back Home, as one of the greatest albums ever recorded. You'll find it, along with his subsequent two electric albums, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, highly placed on any respectable all-time list. After a few years, fans simmered about his change and began to adore him once again, and of course in the ensuing decades Dylan went on to continuously shift his sound even further. He didn't rest on his rock music laurels, just as he didn't rest on his acoustic ones.


➢ NOTHING TO LOSE


It almost doesn't matter what the critical or audience reception to his music ultimately was, however. It's easy to see these positive upswings as a 'moral' to the story, but that would be missing the point. The real gem to take away from this isn't the success or love that eventually came from Dylan's change, but the fact that he didn't allow any opinions at all to sway him from pursuing his craft. Because that's what we all do in the end: we pursue our crafts. Sometimes our muse gets up and flies away, and it's our choice whether we follow it into uncertain territory or stagnate out of fear. So any time you're thinking about making a change to your Twitch channel, no matter how earth-shattering, think back to Bob Dylan and simply stream how you want. You'll be happier for it.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Your Goals Might Be Sabotaging Your Streams



As Twitch streamers, we have big ambitions. Most of us start our channels hoping to someday make a living off of our shows, never having to clock into a 9-5 job again. We create roadmaps for ourselves, with milestones along the way: a certain number of followers, average chat activity, money made from subscriptions, all sorts of things. We see the bar going up and become even more motivated to keep going. Oftentimes we will take one of these milestones and put everything we have into achieving that one thing. For example, reaching affiliate status, or gaining our first 1,000 followers. These are major events for a Twitch channel, and would indicate clear forward progress. But what if I told you that these very goals you set for yourself could end up toppling your channel in the long run? 


➢ SPRINTING DOESN'T FORM HABITS


How can goals backfire? Let's flash back to almost a decade earlier. The year was 2011, and throughout my life it had been my dream to cover the video game industry. I was already working on small commercials as a video editor and camera operator at this point, and in my spare time I had created a small brand where I wrote articles and created video coverage about video game events. Over the ensuing six years, with no connections at all, I did an insane amount of research, got to know all the PR companies, and worked my way up as press at events like PAX, Comic-Con and eventually E3. I booked interviews with the developers, managed a team of friends as crew members, and then edited all the footage when I got home into a highly polished video. I worked incredibly hard on this side project for no pay and no fame- it was simply my dream to be there among my personal heroes, creating something of my very own. After each piece of coverage was complete, I was over the moon about accomplishing another of my bucket list items, having felt so motivated while planning and executing these endeavors. 

And then the next day I'd go on an unplanned hiatus, not releasing anything else for months. 

Going to things like this were bucket list items for me.
What was the problem? I was too in love with the milestones themselves. I was blinded by the fact that I'd be going to more prestigious events and meeting more famous developers, rather than thinking about the larger picture. Questions like, "What kind of content will I make after the event is over?" didn't really cross my mind. You'll notice that these goals in themselves did not prevent me from working hard- in fact, they did the exact opposite. But I wasn't able to sustain the hard work, because once the event was over I knew the next wouldn't come for another few months. My work ethic was essentially a series of sprints, and despite getting frustrated with myself every time I noticed I was slacking, I couldn't bring myself to stay consistent in those first few years. 

This is the way most people create things, and it's the reason most people don't continue to create things. In the entry Streaming Under Quarantine, I talked about how inspiration is not enough to form a habit. That initial spark can sustain you for only so long before you run out of steam, so it's important to maintain discipline as well. When I was working on my games industry coverage, I never figured out how to get as excited about the mundane months between events as as I did about the events themselves. And because of that, I was left feeling very unsatisfied with my content output. For most streamers it's the same issue: there will be an incredible amount of drive when embarking on their goal to reach 1,000 followers, and there will be another burst of energy when approaching that goal, but before reaching that point the doldrums between might sink their channel entirely. This is because the systems aren't in place to keep them motivated about what they're doing. 


➢ MARATHONS ARE OVERRATED


Okay, so you get where this is going. This has just been a fancy way of saying that streaming isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. But you'd be wrong. It's not a marathon either. And why is that?

Because sprints and marathons both have finish lines. 

That's the problem in essence. Some streamers may work toward their goals as a sprint, and some may approach them more carefully as a marathon, but both strategies require that these streamers reach an end point. And it's during this end point that the vacuum of demotivation sucks away all energy and drive. 

Consider the story of The Lord of the Rings. Within its pages, Frodo embarks on an insanely ambitious quest- something that the strongest people of the realm wouldn't dare to undertake. He goes through immense physical and psychological strain, but always keeps his eye on the prize. With a few helpful nudges from friends along the way, he comes out six months later and one finger shorter, having completed his quest. He's a hero throughout Middle-earth and is set for life- now having time to write his book, visit the greatest kingdoms of the land with the highest honors, and basically live better than anyone else of the newly christened Fourth Age. But what actually happens when Frodo returns home? Having rid himself of both the greatest burden and greatest purpose in his life, Frodo is stricken with such a black melancholy that he decides to sail into the undying lands of Valinor, symbolically choosing death over a twilight existence on earth. 

Had to fit a LOTR reference in there somewhere.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that undertaking ambitious goals as a streamer will kill you, but you can see the parallels in Frodo's journey. When grinding for partner, undertaking huge marathon shows, trying to reach some arbitrary follower number, or any of a thousand other possible goals in between, streamers will put themselves under extreme stress for long stretches of time. And that's not good for the psyche. You might lose your taste for streaming along the way. And if you don't, then once you reach that goal you could end up feeling purposeless enough to lose it afterwards. Before you know it, you might be on a break without even realizing how it happened, watching your channel slowly sail to the undying lands to quietly gather digital dust.  


➢ THE RIGHT KINDS OF GOALS


So sprints aren't the answer, and neither are marathons. Instead, think of your progress simply as constant movement. This descriptor has no implication of finishing, nor does it suggest a particular speed. It simply means you're going to move forward and never stop moving forward. As I mentioned in entries like Gain Your First Followers Using the Power of Celebration, break up your goals into tiny portions so that they're constantly achievable. If you're completing a goal and starting a new one every week, or even every day, then you'll never have time to fall into a pit of demotivation. Never allow a goal to be so large that it becomes part of your identity. 

But let's check back in on that struggling YouTuber from 2011, who would create content in bursts but couldn't keep a steady pace. Now, nine years later, my content runs like clockwork. As I've mentioned in previous entries, I've done over 2,100 broadcasts in the past two years and never missed a single scheduled show. I'm proud of my content for plenty of reasons, but the largest of these is that I can look myself in the mirror as a content creator. By focusing less on goals, I've been able to completely sidestep the doldrums that would cause me to go dark for days, weeks, or even months on end during my YouTube days. If you ever have similar crises of motivation on your own channel, consider that your goals might be sabotaging your streams. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Clipping and Highlighting Your Streams



If you've been streaming for a while, you've probably had several amazing moments on your shows: an incredible match-winning headshot, the last-second boss victory, the perfectly timed chat-activated fart noise- truly legendary occurrences. But after each stream is over, what's to prevent these magical memories from simply fading away? You've decided you want to become more effective at using Twitch's clipping feature to save your show's best bits for fans to watch at any time. Twitch clips are of course incredible useful. They can help new viewers find your channel, they can be shared to social platforms to expand your reach, and they can be saved to speed up the editing of your compilation videos or channel trailer. You can extract an incredible number of uses from your clips if you're keeping an open mind, which you can find more info about in the entry Using Twitch Clips to Their Fullest.

But what's the best way to obtain Twitch clips? After all, while the stream is happening you're busy in front of the camera- it would be hard to grab, edit, and name your clips effectively. Of course the ideal scenario is for viewers to clip your show for you, preserving those great moments without you needing to do the legwork. But in reality, viewers won't necessarily think to clip everything you want them to. Sometimes when they create a clip it will have a problem, like being cut off in the middle of a sentence or rambling on way past the funny part. Maybe there was just no one in chat willing to clip your show at that instant. At the end of the day, your viewers saving clips for you should be treated as a privilege, not an expectation. In short, if there's a moment you really want to save, you should be prepared to save it yourself. In this entry I'll give you some tips for creating and managing your stream clips and highlights without missing a beat. 


➢ GRABBING GREAT MOMENTS


Preserve that 360 No Scope! 
To create a clip, there is a button you can press while watching a stream either during the broadcast or after the fact to save a section of the show. You can then edit the length of the clip and give your creation a title. This is very useful for someone watching, but what about for you as the streamer? You wouldn't likely be able to clip something while you're in the middle of hosting your own broadcast, and wading through hours of content once your stream is over to find a single 30 second snippet would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, there is a tool available on Twitch to make this process significantly easier. 

Enter the 'Marker' function. At any point during one of your streams, you can place a marker and attach a note to it. Then, when your stream is over, you can go into the 'Highlights' section of your episode to see that marker and its note at the exact timestamp where you placed it earlier. As you could imagine, this is incredibly useful for keeping track of those top-tier moments that you'd rather not let slip away. Similar to how we started taking notes about potential stream improvements in the entry Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day, utilizing markers frees up your mind to focus on the stream, without having to worry about remembering to clip something and where that clip might be. I use markers on almost every broadcast I do, logging moments I'd like to share on social media, appearances of our channel's custom-voiced characters, and even potential problems I want to take a look at later. There's no end to the marker's uses. 

As to placing markers, you have a few options. Inside your Dashboard's Stream Manager, there's a widget you can click to add a marker with a description at any time. This of course requires you to be able to click on something outside your game, so its usefulness may vary based on how your particular shows function. Since most streamers only use one monitor, this would mean switching out of the game itself in order to open your dashboard, which might not be desirable during a show. What I've found more useful is using the marker command in chat. Inside any chat window of your stream, whether on your computer or phone, you can enter /marker to place a marker at that spot in time. If you follow /marker with written text, it will add that text as a note into the marker that gets saved. This is my preferred method, because I always have chat open on both my PC and my phone while streaming, so no matter what kind of game I'm playing I'm always able to type in the chat and add markers if I need to. 


➢ ARCHIVING FOR ALL TO SEE


Now that you have a marker placed on one of your broadcasts, it's time to decide whether that moment will live as a clip or as a highlight. Though ultimately similar in function- clips and highlights on Twitch both preserve segments of your streams for posterity- there are a few key differences between these two features. 

Keep your favorite shows in their entirety if you want!
First, a clip can be a maximum of 60 seconds long, but a highlight can be as long as you want. This is an important distinction, as a highlight will allow you to capture some moments which simply wouldn't work as clips. You can even permanently save an entire stream by making it into a highlight. I know streamers who do this with every stream they've ever done, so viewers can go back and watch their content later. This is especially useful among streamers like me, who focus on story-based games. If someone joins one of those games while you're 10 episodes into the storyline, they might want to go back and catch up. Saving a full broadcast also works well when you're making limited-run content, like a marathon stream or a world record attempt. For me, after returning from my trip to Japan, I highlighted all 18 streams where I walked around the Tokyo streets, so anyone can watch at any time after the fact. 

You might be saying, "But Nick, I already set up my channel to store Past Broadcasts like you told me to in previous entries! Why would I need to highlight a full episode if it's already saved?" Well, the wording is a bit confusing on that feature. When you tick the box to Store Past Broadcasts, it will save your previous episodes for between 14 and 60 days, but after that they'll be deleted. Having that window of time to watch your previous episodes as Past Broadcasts is incredibly useful for checking on your recent progress, and keeping shows around so you can clip them at your leisure, but if you want something to be saved forever, clips and highlights are the only way to do it.

When getting into shorter content, there are other distinctions between highlights and clips to consider. Funny singular moments and jokes are great for clips, but when you win your first Victory Royale it might not be enough to merely clip the final 60 seconds of the match. You might want to highlight that winning match in its entirety. This of course is doubly useful, because viewers can then watch your win at any time, and you yourself can also go back if you want to check your playstyle to see where you could improve. 


➢ CAPTURE THOSE MEMORIES


As of this writing, Twitch displays a tip whenever you visit the Dashboard: "32% of viewers that watch a highlight return to watch a live stream within a week." I can't say I've measured the difference from when I started highlighting to confirm this, but it's quite a staggering number if true. I've certainly found a huge amount of value in the highlighting and clipping features of Twitch, so I would always recommend taking advantage of these at every opportunity. And by embracing my workflow for marking and preserving stream moments, you should be equipped to clip and highlight like never before! 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Stream for the Moment


What is it we love about Twitch streaming? What gets us to sit down, prep a show and press the Go Live button day in and day out? Often we aren't being paid to do it, and the vast majority of those who do monetize don't make anywhere near a living wage from our broadcasts. The preparation, post-show and streaming processes take an incredible amount of time and energy, requiring us to devote ourselves on the level of another work or school commitment- often dozens of hours a week. We face several of our fears every time we go in front of an audience- performance anxiety, stage fright, sometimes outright harassment. All in all, this whole pastime is incredibly taxing in several aspects of our lives. So I ask again, what is it we love about Twitch streaming? 

The answer will vary for each of us, but to me it's clear: We're creating something out of nothing.

As streamers, we have the audacity to enter a very crowded space and plant something of our own. We say, "Here I am, this is what I've made," and we invite others to be a part of it. And you know what? Despite the field being packed with thousands of others creating their own projects, people do join our budding little channels. Starting from the smallest seedling, each of our creations invariably ends up being unique and valuable not only to ourselves but to others as well. Every one of us who takes this leap, who has the courage to stake their claim and stick through the hardships, has created something with its own look, feel, style and personality. We can gaze upon our content in a month, or a year, or ten years and say, "This is what I created. Look how it has grown." To me, there's no idea more rewarding.

Have you stopped to smell the roses lately? Have you considered why you personally love streaming? 


➢ STREAMING FOR STREAMING'S SAKE


We're all trying to create something great, and in that long grind we can often lose the forest for the trees. Each show has to be better, and each week we're trying to add, refine, or customize something or other. We can get so caught up in the details that we never slow down enough to truly enjoy the here and now. Think about the most recent stream you made. Pick something about it that you truly loved. Maybe it was the way you conducted yourself, a funny joke you told, or an excellent play you made. It could be that you simply take pride in your most recent show going off without a hitch, no errors in sight. Possibly you're happy about the way you handled a tough situation in chat, or brightened someone else's day. Forget, for the time being, all the things about that stream you didn't like and focus just on that one aspect of your most recent show that you're proud of. Give yourself a moment to appreciate the things that you get to do, the people you get to meet, and the zen state of creating something all your own. 

Rock on!
I think about this concept often. When you're out there doing your thing, there's nothing else but the stream. It's almost like streaming itself is a form of meditation. Sole focus. For all the chaos, excitement and unpredictability of actually making a show happen, all my energies are always directed toward a single fixed point. Making content. As Ryan Gosling says in La La Land, "It's conflict and it's compromise, and it's brand new every night. It's very, very exciting." Make sure you aren't too caught up in the grind of improving your channel to appreciate the simple pleasure of creating your content for its own sake. 


➢ MASTERING YOUR CRAFT


Consider Jiro Ono, who you're probably familiar with from the excellent documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This 94-year old culinary artisan has been making sushi day in and day out since he was nine years old. He simply fell in love with his trade and aspired each day only to be a tiny bit better at his craft than the day before. After opening a modest ten-seat sushi restaurant in the corner of a subway station, Jiro quietly did exactly as he set out to do. He got a little bit better every day. For 60 years straight. If you've seen the film, you know what comes next. Jiro's shop attained a perfect 3 Michelin star rating, the man himself has been recognized by the Japanese government as a national treasure, and the 10-minute dining experience at his restaurant (which still only has 10 seats) would cost you $400 USD if it weren't impossible to get a reservation. 

And then of course there's that other master artisan who we all know and love: Spongebob Squarepants. Like Jiro, Spongebob never aspired to be the owner of a hamburger conglomerate, or use his first job at the Krusty Krab as a stepping stone to claw his way to the top. From the outset, Spongebob aspired to be a fry cook. It's the thing he loved doing, and every day he was excited to get to do it again. He lived for the simple act of working on his craft, and became acclaimed at what he did (even beating the ocean god Neptune himself in a cook-off) by simply living in the moment. 


➢ CONTENTMENT IN YOUR CRAFT


Focus on your craft.
So don't always worry about furiously adding, removing, boosting and measuring things on your channel. If you want to relax on certain days, being content in what you do is enough. Time spent doing something you love is never wasted. As long as you keep moving forward and don't skip days, you will continue growing no matter how many tricks you employ behind the scenes. Don't forget that Twitch streaming is about the journey. Whatever finish line you think is out there will only change to another, less attainable finish line once you reach it. The only way out of this deadly loop is to stop playing for a prize. Stream for the moment and you'll find out just how happy you can be. 


Friday, June 19, 2020

Making Your Streams More Flexible



At the end of the day, there's only one important thing when you're a Twitch streamer, and that's streaming. If you aren't streaming, and doing it consistently, then it doesn't matter how many graphics you've made, giveaways you've done, or social channels you've created. If you can't get yourself to stream, then you're just procrastinating. For most of us, this is a no-brainer concept. Of course you have to stream to be a streamer. And yet in practice, getting ourselves to actually go live regularly without ever missing a day is one of the hardest things for any Twitch streamer to do. 

Lack of time is the most common excuse. A lack of time prevents most from ever starting their channels in the first place. Or if someone has been streaming 100 days in a row, a dinner reservation taking up their night might make them feel they need to break their streak. Twitch streamers tend to get overly rigid ideas into their heads about what it means to be a streamer, and if a potential show doesn't meet their arbitrary criteria, they oftentimes won't bother going live that day at all. This is a bad way to look at streaming. It'll erode your habits and lead you down a dark path. In this entry, I'll help you to make your streams more flexible. 


➢ WHEN LIFE COMES KNOCKING


Small differences can change an entire outcome.
There's a classic scholarly article by Herbert Simon called 'The Architecture of Complexity.' In this work is a parable about two watchmakers, which I'm going to paraphrase here. The two men, who we'll call John and David, made excellent watches and the phones rang often in their workshops with new orders coming in. But over time John prospered, while David continually got poorer until he eventually went out of business. What went wrong? 

The watches they both made were comprised of 1,000 individual parts each. It's incredibly intricate work to create a watch, and whenever David needed to put his watch down in the middle of assembly, all the pieces would fall apart and he'd have to start over. This means that the more that customers liked his watches, the more they would call him on the phone to place orders. The more customers would call to place orders, the more he'd be interrupted and have to start from scratch in creating a watch. The phone would only keep ringing more and more often, and he'd find it harder and harder to carve out an uninterrupted chunk of time to build a complete watch. Eventually, no such chunk of time existed, and David was ruined.

The watches John made were of exactly the same quality and complexity as those of David. But he designed them in a different way from the ground up. John would create subassemblies, each of which only had ten little pieces inside. Then he'd combine ten of those subassemblies to create a larger piece, and he'd combine ten of those larger pieces to make a complete 1,000-piece watch. This sounds like a trivial difference until you consider the practical realities. When John would receive phone calls, he would only lose the progress from putting together his most recent ten pieces. He wouldn't lose his progress on the entire 1,000-piece project like David. Therefore, despite both of them creating watches that were identical on the outside, one prospered as he grew in popularity, while that same popularity ironically drove the other out of business. 

I know what you're thinking: why didn't David just get a secretary? Well it's a parable, okay? But it hits closer to home than you might think. Most Twitch streamers build their careers like David. Their brand becomes solidified around completely rigid ideas of what it means to stream on a given day, but as their responsibilities increase with size they find it harder to carve out the time for their actual streams. The usual all-or-nothing streamer mindset goes something like this: "My show is always three hours long, and if it weren't three hours long then it just wouldn't feel like a complete show. Whoops, today I have a plan to do something that won't leave me enough time to do a three hour show. I guess I'll have to cancel." If you think this way, you're at risk of getting hooked on the most addictive substance in the world: the excuse. 


➢ SCALING TO FIT


There is no rule about how long you need to stream, which pieces need to be set up, how you have to look, what you need to play, where your stream needs to take place, or any other aspect of the craft. As long as you're not breaking the terms of service, there really are a lot more possibilities than you probably expect. Feeling sick or don't like how you look? Stream with no camera. Don't feel like playing the game you usually play? Play something else. Away from home? Make an IRL stream, or some other kind of show entirely. Don't have three hours to do your normal amount of streaming today? Stream for 2 hours. Or for 1. Or for 30 minutes. Or 1 minute. Honestly, there are very few legitimate excuses not to stream. Most of the roadblocks are simply detritus built up in your mind from how you think a stream has to be.

Be more flexible. 
The important thing about sticking with streaming is to do it every time, not to do it the same way every time. If your stream is completely inflexible, then it will eventually break. But if you can bend to life's outside forces while still showing up and doing the stream every day, then you will form a strong habit. In the entry Just Keep Streaming, I spoke about how you need to understand where to make compromises: "You should be flexible about WHEN and HOW you stream, but never about WHETHER you stream. There's nothing more destructive to a growing streamer than finding excuses to miss their scheduled days." 


➢ THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX


When everything else is stripped away, Twitch streaming is about forming a habit and then fighting like hell to keep that habit alive. It doesn't matter how or when you do your show. You could be in a great mood or a terrible mood. Your video feed might look beautiful or atrocious. But you get out there and you do it every time. Even when my internet is out, the classic problem to stop all Twitch streamers, I still don't let that stop me from doing my streams. In such a scenario, I record my show locally and upload it to my Twitch channel upon the signal returning. Yes, there may be no opportunity for chat interaction during that one episode, but I still made my content. The habit is intact, and someone who wants to watch my playthrough is still able to be entertained. The next time you feel you need to cancel your show, consider whether you really have a worthwhile reason. In most cases I can tell you now: you don't. Try making your streams more flexible: your shows will do the bending to prevent your channel from breaking.