Friday, November 15, 2019

Help New Viewers Enjoy Your Stream




Have you ever noticed viewers joining your streams and seeming confused about what's happening? Depending on the type of shows you make, someone may be unclear about the game you're playing, what you're trying to do in the game, what artwork you're creating, why you're wearing a funny costume, or any number of other possible factors. Even if you've never seen anyone bring up concerns like this in your chat, someone watching without commenting may leave before even saying a word. Confusion about a stream's main themes is a major reason for viewers to tune out- after all, it's no fun to watch a show when you can't even understand what's going on.

Here's an example of what I mean: Let's say you're doing a Dark Souls stream with specific challenge rules- you can't use recovery items, you're not allowed to roll at all, and you're restricted to the most basic weapons. You announce these details about your challenge run at the beginning, and then proceed to play for the next several hours without mentioning it again. This may seem fine on the surface, but you're not taking into account one of the most major aspects of the Twitch viewing experience: most viewers don't join at the beginning of your stream.

In order to truly engage new viewers, think of your stream as having no beginning or end. Time, as it exists on Twitch, isn't a straight line.


➢ PLANNING FOR ANYTHING


Time works differently on Twitch.
Before you start worrying that I've finally gone off the deep end, allow me to explain: when making a YouTube video, it's safe to assume that most viewers will see at least the first few seconds of your video, no matter what. That's because, whether they click on the video the moment it's uploaded, two hours after it's uploaded, or five hours after, it will always start playing from the beginning. Time, as it exists for a YouTube video, can be thought of as a straight line, which always starts at the start. On YouTube, if you convey important information within the first few seconds, almost everyone will be shown that information, guaranteed.

When making a Twitch stream, you have to assume that almost no one will watch from the beginning. And that means someone joining the moment you went live will have a completely different introduction to your stream than someone who joins two hours after, or five hours after you started. So instead of only conveying the information your audience needs to know at the beginning, like on a YouTube video, a Twitch stream should be conveying that introductory information at all times, from the beginning to the end of the show. The passage of time, as it exists on a Twitch stream, is more like taking slices from a birthday cake. If you only convey important info at one point during your stream, similar to placing a single chocolate chip on top of the cake, then almost no one will get a slice of the cake that has chocolate on it. But if you convey that information throughout the stream, similar to spreading a chocolate frosting over the entire top layer of the cake, then everyone, no matter when they join, will get the same thing.


➢ THE VERTICAL SLICE


There are all sorts of things you might want to convey about your stream to incoming viewers, which you can stack on top of each other like the layers of a cake. In addition to your challenge run info, you might have a chat rule about keeping language family-friendly, and you might also have a signature comedy bit you like to do using your Stream Deck, which you think would win over newcomers. When these layers are stacked on top of each other, it ensures that each viewer who takes a slice will be getting all the best parts of your stream, no matter where that slice comes from. Here are a few strategies you can employ in order to ensure this happens:

Your Twitch stream works like a cake. Mmm, cake.
For the challenge run info, you might leave a line of text in the corner of the game screen at all times, laying out the particulars of your Dark Souls run. Since this is pretty critical to someone understanding what's going on, it's worth making it the most visible of all the things you want to convey. To keep the chat PG, you might have a chatbot timer set to let people know at regular intervals about that restriction. And for the comedic interludes you like to do with your Stream Deck, it might be as simple as making sure you do it regularly and often, to ensure that any newcomers who join will see the most entertaining part of your channel.

Every streamer has their own top-tier bits of information they want to convey. You can find more of my thoughts on different ways to specifically convey this information in the previous entry titled Make the Most of Your Streaming Setup. I personally like to communicate the core concepts of my channel verbally, periodically repeating a short three-sentence introductory speech at various points through the stream. You can find more info about how to craft an efficient description in the entry, Your Twitch Channel Needs an Elevator Pitch. Whatever you end up doing on your own streams, I recommend you take a step back every 30 minutes or so and ask yourself, "If someone only saw the last half hour of my stream, did they get the best possible experience from my channel?"


➢ IT'S ABOUT EMPATHY


The main thing you want for incoming viewers before all else is for them to be able to empathize with what's happening on your stream. Empathy is the basis of all entertainment. Someone can't be scared, excited or nervous for you during intense parts of your Dark Souls challenge run if they don't understand what's scary, exciting or nerve-racking about it. You may have explained at the beginning of your stream that you won't allow yourself to use items, but the viewer joining two hours later will simply be confused why you're so nervous despite having 20 healing gems. We've all been conditioned to understand that videos should have a beginning, middle and end, but if you want to truly engage new viewers on Twitch, start thinking of your streams in terms of 'slices' that all come out of the middle. To most newcomers, this short slice is all your stream will be, so make your shows more accessible to those people who might join at various points. If you can be entertaining enough within those slices, you might find those new viewers coming back for more helpings in the future!

Friday, November 8, 2019

It's Okay Not to Grow Your Channel




When building your Twitch channel, there will be lulls when it feels like a good time to expand. You might reach some big round number of followers, maybe you'll finish the game you've been working on for a while, or maybe you'll just have a long spell of unchanging sameness on your streams. There are all sorts of ways to to go about growing your stream in either its quality or scope: celebrating one major milestone with a 24-hour marathon, doing game key giveaways, upgrading equipment, or opening brand new social channels. It's easy to get blinded by 'progress' without realizing which upgrades are actually helping. If left unchecked, this kind of rampant growth can bloat your channel enough to start impeding your actual streams, or worse- sap your will to stream.

There's a strange kind of peer pressure that occurs for Twitch streamers- our medium is so public and there's such a stigma about what we're supposed to look like that oftentimes it feels like we're following a road map when growing our channels. Most of us have assumptions in our heads about what our channels should look like at 500, 1,000 or 10,000 followers before we've even done our first broadcast. This act of blindly following the pre-established mold is one of the largest sources of unhappiness in streamers, and you should be careful not to get caught in it. While I always support starting new things to see if they work, I'm never a fan of dogmatically sticking with something you hate just because you think you're supposed to do it. If you want to be happy on Twitch, you don't only need to know when to expand, but also when not to grow your channel.


➢ ASSESS YOUR GROWTH


If you've been streaming for any length of time, it's likely that you've already enacted some expansions on your channel. Have you ever taken a long, sober look at those new endeavors and truly assessed whether they're working for you? And I don't mean thinking about whether your community requested those additions, whether it makes sense on paper, or whether another of your favorite streamers has the same feature- I mean whether they're working for you, and you alone, in practice. You need to ask yourself one question: does this feature make me enjoy streaming more, or does it make me enjoy streaming less?

It's easy to keep accumulating features without
considering which ones you actually like.
In the growth check-in entry called Boosting Your Streams, I've touched on this subject a bit already. It's easy to get sidetracked by all the moving parts we set up for our channels, and then feel trapped by those very additions we've made. Always remember that nothing on your channel is sacred, and there's no feature on Twitch that you absolutely need to have if it doesn't make you happy. Don't like doing marathon streams? Nix them. Don't like streaming popular video games, or video games at all? Do what you love instead. Don't like talking to chat, using a camera, or speaking at all, and would rather silently capture your screen while you look up Wikipedia articles about The French Revolution? Go for it! There is no secret ingredient that every Twitch channel needs to have in common, and if you want to last then you're better off simply doing what you love from the outset.

Throughout my life I've always preferred to play singleplayer story-based games, but when I started my Twitch channel I thought nobody would ever be interested in watching someone who only specialized in that one kind of thing. So near the beginning of my channel I started playing lots of multiplayer games as well. People watched, but these games were never something I personally was passionate about. I eventually realized I was only doing this because I thought that was what you were supposed to do when you were a Twitch streamer- on some days you do the thing you actually want to do, and on some days you do the things people want to see. This is ridiculous of course, and since dropping multiplayer games as a regular feature of my channel I've been much happier for it.


➢ SUSTAINABILITY ABOVE ALL


If you want to still be streaming years from now,
make sure you aren't doing things that make
you unhappy.
Most of the expansions we add to our Twitch channels in the beginning come about because we're checking off items on an imaginary list of things it takes to be a 'real streamer'. Some of these things will quickly show themselves as being too time-consuming and we immediately have to drop them. But the biggest problem that comes from new expansions are when you do find a way to fit them into your schedule, but they covertly sap away energy and time that you don't even know you're losing. Whether you're growing a new Twitter channel, setting up community game nights each Friday, or preparing the extra variables that come with multistreaming to a second platform, these may only take you an extra five minutes each day, and therefore seem pretty harmless. But as I demonstrated in the entry Perfecting Your Stream Prep, small tasks compounded over months or years compound into huge numbers. No matter how small or innocuous something looks, never hesitate to put it on the chopping block if you find it isn't helping.

One instance where I got caught in this trap was in setting up a merch store. Because many services offer the ability to sell t-shirts and coffee mugs at no up-front cost, they can be very tempting prospects for streamers to grow their brands. Plus, it would seem to be somewhat 'fire and forget' - you post the listings for each item once, and leave them alone. In practice however, things were anything but convenient for me. First, most of these places charge high prices to the consumer and offer terrible profit margins for the seller. So I knew I wouldn't make much money, but I figured, as you probably are right now, that I wasn't in it for the money anyway. On top of this was designing and listing items, which was much more grueling than anticipated, going back and forth trying to make logos fit perfectly in the right spot on each item, which came with the intangible cost of my time and energy. Then I bought some of my own items for myself or loved ones, which most streamers end up wanting to do, especially during the holidays. This meant that I was charged the high product costs and shipping fees from my own pocket, causing me to actually lose significantly more money than I was gaining, thanks to the terrible profit margins. Sure, anyone's ego would like the idea of someone wearing a shirt with their face on it, but was that vanity really worth losing my time, money and happiness? I eventually realized that I was only selling merch because I thought it was just something streamers were supposed to do. I discontinued my merch store and have been significantly happier ever since.


➢ DON'T WAIT UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE


Expansion can destroy you just as quickly as it can help. The examples I've used in this entry apply to my personal experience alone- you might have great success with multiplayer streams and merch- but for me these things were only sources of unhappiness. It's important to keep the things we do every day in check, and not let them stand in the way of our actual ambitions. If you let something sap the joy from streaming for too long, you'll likely get fatigued or even give up on your passion altogether. So always try new things- you should be attempting changes and upgrades daily- but the keyword there is try. Don't assume that just because you've started on a new endeavor, or even if you've been doing it every day for six months, that it's completely above being reassessed.

So take a step back now and ask yourself: Is there anything you've added to your channel that you've had doubts about? Any types of streams that you've noticed yourself looking forward to less than the others? Any off-stream work brought on by channel expansion that you particularly dislike? Think about getting rid of them, even temporarily, and see if it feels better- you can always bring them back if you need to. But if you want to continue streaming for the long term, you need to know when it's okay not to grow your channel.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Stream With No Complaints





Many streamers will find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibilities of streaming. Whether they have problems making their shows, or it takes a toll on other parts of their lives, many of us turn to complaints and excuses to get us through the day. If you're thinking to yourself how inconvenient it all is, verbally venting on your broadcasts, or telling coworkers about how little time you now have, all these paths will eventually hurt your long-term streaming career. Don't create a mental association between your stream and your other problems in life- it'll only cause you to eventually resent your passion. Plus, if you're complaining on stream, it's just no fun to watch.

Complaining is a very primal defense mechanism: it's every human being's way of getting others to empathize with their problems while simultaneously doing nothing to solve them. It's also one of the most addictive activities on Earth. The more someone complains, the more likely they are to continue complaining in the future. If you're already hooked on complaining, there is hope, but you're going to have to work at fixing it.


➢ REMEMBER WHAT'S IMPORTANT


Remember what's important. You get to live your passion!
If you want to kick your complaining habit, it's important not to dwell on your problems. Instead, constantly remind yourself why you love what you're doing. The chance to play games on the internet, the ability to build something and watch it grow, or the opportunity to share your thoughts and opinions with others across the world. There are plenty of reasons to love streaming, but focus on the ones that are important to you.

Don't just keep it to yourself either- tell your community! Rather than spending five minutes venting about how much you hate your work hours, it's just as easy to talk about how lucky you feel to have a wonderful community to spend time with when you get home. Instead of going on a rant about how your streaming tech gives you all sorts of problems, thank people for always being patient with you while you fix those issues. Any negative thought can be spun into a positive talking point, and when all you're thinking and talking about are the positive sides of things, you'd be surprised how much less frustrated you are overall. Scientific studies say that smiling actually tricks your brain into making you happier, and the same is true of smiling on the inside.

In past entries I recommended that you not aspire to quit your existing job in order to stream. This means you're going to be extra busy for a while in the months where you figure out how to balance your work life, personal life, and new streaming lifestyle. And while it's important not to complain on stream, it's just as important not to let your stream cause you to complain in other aspects of your life. This can only lead to resenting your stream in the future, and it's an important step toward accepting streaming as a fact of life in the long run. We all have lots of things to be upset with each day, but it's how you project these feelings that leave an impact on yourself and your audience.


➢ SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVITY


Break down negativity one step at a time.
Here's one thing that sounds simple but isn't: you don't have to follow all your friends on social media just because they're your friends in real life. One of the biggest sources of strife for me was seeing people around me complain and bicker with each other constantly on various online platforms. I didn't even realize it was affecting my own daily personal mood either, until I stopped using the platform or slashed my follower list. We all think these things don't have an impact on us, but ask yourself: what if it does? Are you willing to bet your happiness on it? Because that's what you're doing right now if you're unwilling to make a change- you don't know whether these influences are truly affecting you until you try removing them.

If you don't want to outright delete your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media account, then try unfollowing anyone who gives off negative vibes in your feeds. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, make a self-righteous post about when or why you're going to unfollow people, just do it without a word. In my experience with this, I found it very difficult to remove many of my friends or internet acquaintances from my lists. Ridiculous as it might seem, it almost felt as if I were striking them a personal blow by unfollowing their account. What helped me was writing down their usernames in a text document so I could re-follow them later if I wanted to. It made the removals feel less permanent, even though over a year later I still haven't added a single one of them back onto my lists. Now for example, I can scroll through my entire day's Instagram newsfeed in less than ten seconds, because I follow so few people that there is nothing to either cast bad vibes on me, or distract me from accomplishing my goals. It's a great feeling.


➢ DON'T TAKE THE EASY WAY OUT


In the entry Build Your Twitch Channel Like You're a Secret Agent, I described how telling others of your plans releases the same chemicals in your brain as actually executing those plans. The same is true of complaining- it makes you feel like you've accomplished something when in reality you've done nothing productive at all. Complaining to your audience on stream can dredge up a few cheap conversations in some cases, but at what cost? As a viewer I personally leave most streams when they start complaining for more than thirty seconds, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. It's just not a fun environment to be around. Plus, complaining outside your stream will only create more mental baggage and make it harder to sit down and go live the next day. Complaining is easy to do in the moment, but if you take the harder route and kick your habit now, you'll be making an investment in your future. Streaming is much sweeter when you do it with no complaints.

Friday, October 25, 2019

How to Speak Better on Stream




Do you ever have problems speaking on your streams? It's okay to admit it. I've never met someone who is completely comfortable talking on camera, myself included. Even the ones who seem confident have only gotten to that point because they spent hundreds of hours refining their craft. If you're starting out with livestreaming, it's almost guaranteed that you will be pretty awkward when trying to talk on your shows. Plus, streamers of all skill levels can fall into certain traps, painting themselves into a corner or saying the wrong things. In my experience, most of the problems streamers have with speaking on camera can be broken down into two major categories: talking too quickly, or being too afraid to talk at all. Both of these are dangerous, and both can hurt your overall stream quality. Whether you suffer from one or both of these afflictions, I'm going to give you my own strategies for breaking free from their grip.


➢ SLOWING DOWN


When many streamers get nervous, they'll try to overcompensate by talking very quickly on their shows. This might happen when they're feeling self-conscious about doing badly in a game, if they want to seem more professional in general, or if they're afraid that slowing their pace will 'drop the ball' entertainment-wise, causing viewers to lose interest. It's very dangerous to conduct your streams this way, however. You might say something you'll regret, and wish you could take it back. You might accidentally insult someone in your chat, or spoil the newest movie or game. You might even have words put into your mouth.

Don't rush through things, or something might
come by and spoil your fun
It might sound far-fetched, but a common problem for newer streamers is being so eager to read chat that they accidentally let manipulative chatters say hurtful or offensive messages through them. Maybe it's a slur written in such a way that it looks inoffensive until you read it out loud, or maybe it's a long-winded story with spoilers hidden somewhere in the center. Maybe the person brings up a taboo topic for your streams, without even knowing they were breaking the rules. Whichever subject, you definitely don't want to go so fast that you can't screen the things you're saying on stream. For info on preventing the kinds of comments you'd rather not read, see the entry Setting Limits For Your Streams.

Always speak 30% slower than your mind is able to think. It's important to able to process thoughts further ahead than whatever you're currently saying. This sounds like simple no-brainer stuff, but it can be very difficult in the moment. I know, because I used to fall into this category a lot and I've seen it happen to many other streamers as well. You get halfway into reading a toxic comment, and have to shamefully change the subject. Get better at quickly and silently reading chat messages to yourself, before you read them on stream. It'll help you stay in control of what you're saying on your show.


➢ SPEEDING UP


The other most common problem for streamers is shyness on camera. For this, it's useful to take a different approach. When you're afraid to speak on your shows, it's usually because you're thinking too much about what you might say, and how it might come across. If you generally have a problem saying anything at all on your streams, upgrade your ability to screen your thoughts less.

Sometimes you just have to jump right in
One thing that helps me when I'm in my own head is to use the 'leap without looking' approach. While I strongly advise against this strategy when it comes to reading chat, it's extremely useful when you're speaking from your own mind. Simply start saying something- anything- that comes to your head. Once the words are out there, your mind will work harder to try and construct the rest of the sentence. It's a natural human response not to want to leave a conversation dangling, so by forcing out the first part of your thought, you'll start coming up with more things to say overall.

One example when I'm playing story-based games would be,"What do you think this character would do if [blank]?" This could be filled with anything, but I usually use it to connect characters and ideas from different game playthroughs of ours. "What do you think Geralt from The Witcher would do if he was in the Yakuza games?" From there, it sparks all kinds of ideas about further topics. Which card games he'd play, what yakuza gang he'd join, what his look would be. It's a great way to start conversations with chat, but even if no one responds there are all sorts of topics to ponder out loud, all of which provide entertainment value to your audience. People want to know what you're thinking, and this technique can help to remove your self-imposed filter.


➢ CONNECTING THE DOTS


Another great way for anyone who has trouble maintaining a flow of commentary on their streams is to do what I call 'connecting the dots.' Simply take any subject happening in the game or chat and add the phrase 'That reminds me' to the end of it. This is especially useful when you feel your talking points starting to dry up. "Speaking of the waffles vs. pancakes debate, that reminds me of a fantastic breakfast place I discovered the other day." "On the subject of movie musicals, that reminds me- hey [person in chat] how did your dance recital go this past weekend?" "Oh man, this game crashing reminds me of when I first started streaming, before I understood how PCs worked." Whether it's a chat discussion leading into a personal story, a story prompting a discussion, a stream moment leading to a story, or any other combination, using connective language like this makes everything on your show feel more comprehensive. Having multiple threads in what you're talking about will keep people interested in what you're saying.

Speaking on stream is one of the largest sticking points for so many new streamers because it's difficult to compare their performance to anything else. Any other streamer they might watch has likely been doing it longer, and therefore sounds so much more confident and composed on camera. This makes these new streamers too embarrassed to watch their own shows, for fear of cringing at their blunders. Eventually it can lead to not wanting to stream at all. But really all you need to do is keep practicing. If you're too fast or too slow, do your best to meet in the middle of the scale first. Before long, you'll be talking with ease!

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Streamer's Guide to Focus





You've been streaming for a while, slowly improving your consistency. But when it comes to things around the edges- fixing issues, designing graphics, updating social media, or tracking channel metrics to name a few- you simply can't seem to maintain your attention. Whether you're unable to sit down at all, or you start to wander away from your goal while in the middle of working, this fleeting focus is a very common problem that all of us face at one point or another. Of course as I've mentioned in previous entries, streaming should always come first, but maintaining and upgrading the shows during your off-stream hours is also crucial. In this entry, I'm going to share with you how I'm able to focus completely on each stream task I work on, completing it faster and with more accuracy than I had ever thought possible through my previous methods.


➢ THE SECRET TO MULTITASKING


When we're busy, most of us begin searching for a way to spend less time on our mountains of incoming work. "I want to get these two hours' worth of stream improvements done in a single hour," you might say to yourself. "But how can I achieve that?" Enter the multitasking workflow. You're now not only upgrading your stream graphics, but you're tweaking OBS settings as well. Two objectives complete in half the time! Or so you tell yourself.

There's a secret most people don't know about multitasking: it doesn't work. 

Unless you're this guy, you shouldn't try it.
As it turns out, the human brain simply isn't built to handle two disparate tasks at the same time. Instead of taking on two workloads concurrently, the mind simply imitates this objective by switching quickly between two tasks of primary focus. This ultimately causes you to not only do a worse job at both tasks, but to actually take longer in the end than it would have taken to complete each task separately.

So get rid of multitasking altogether. Set aside chunks of time to sit down and work only on a single problem regarding your stream. Whether that's designing a graphic, changing PC hardware, tweaking your sound mix, or even engaging with social media, don't do anything else but the one thing you're trying to do. Get used to switching your phone to silent mode, laying it face-down on the table and never picking it up during these times. Turn off all music, Netflix, and other sounds or visuals around you. This all sounds like a no-brainer, but it's harder to do than you might expect. For more details about blocking out time, see the entry Get in the Habit of Streaming. Once you can master the challenge of simplicity, you'll be ready to move on.


➢ BREAK DOWN YOUR PROCESS


One thing that helps me immensely is tailoring tasks to a specific environment. If I'm about to stream, I have everything set up in a specific way- even down to the tabs and windows open on my PC. I actually have an app that opens the exact same configuration of custom-shaped tabs on my two monitors every time I stream. This creates a familiarity with my environment when it's time to go live. When I'm working on graphics, I close everything except what I'm working on. This creates a different environment.

Break stuff down like you're in Red Faction
However, at the beginning of The Twitch Playbook's run, I found it very difficult to concentrate while I was at my PC. So for this task, I took my laptop and relocated to the dining room. And it works wonders. I get an incredible amount of work done on these entries every day, because I'm in a larger open space free of distractions. I'm also physically separated from the space I associate with having to solve other stream-related things, so I don't feel the weight of my mountain of other stream tasks bearing down on me. I never even feel the pull to check social media while I'm in this new location. I've successfully trained my brain to know that when I'm working in the dining room, that time is only for writing. I've never written a single word of The Twitch Playbook from my streaming PC since. If you have a hard time concentrating on a certain stream task on your own, try changing your environment when working on that one thing- see if it works for you.

If you didn't do it during the past entry titled How to Free Up Time for Twitch, you could also try cutting out one of your other, less productive habits. Everything you do in life is competing for not only your time, but your focus as well. Condensing my Facebook usage from dozens of check-ins per day to roughly one check-in per month has done wonders in clearing the fog from my mind. The sinister thing about social media is that it chips away at our focus so gradually that we don't even realize what happened. If you often check in on Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, YouTube, Reddit, or anything else, consider slashing your usage time in order to increase your daily focus.


➢ STAY IN THE ZONE


The nice thing about retraining your brain to focus on streaming is that you'll not only have an easier time getting into the zone, but staying there. Focus isn't something that can be regained so easily when it's broken, so making sure it doesn't slip through your fingers is crucial if you want to get things done quickly and effectively. By removing multitasking, changing my environments, and cutting down on distractions I've been able to massively increase my quality of work in a fraction of the time. When you do the same, the only question that will remain is, what amazing things can you build with all the extra time you've saved?

Friday, October 11, 2019

Create Your Own Stream Graphics





Creating graphics for your stream can be a harrowing process. There are so many things to consider that most people simply don't know where to start. This leads many new streamers to hurry toward commissioned work, or simply discount the idea of having graphics altogether. It's true- making transitions, layouts, alerts and other visual designs on your stream can be pretty daunting, especially if you have no prior graphic design experience. Despite all this however, I think being able to create your channel's graphics is an important step for a growing Twitch stream. It allows you to quickly come up with ideas for your channel, change them fast, and not pay a dime for it. They can go on to define your channel's identity, or lay the groundwork for future commissioned upgrades. And you don't need to be a master artist to create them, you just need to approach the challenge with the right mindset.



➢ WORKING AT ANY SKILL LEVEL

Even with no experience, you'd be surprised how
well you can do if you only try.

The two biggest reasons people shy away from making their own graphics are actually the same two reasons many people don't start their Twitch channels in the first place- a perceived lack of experience, and a perceived lack of equipment. We know you don't need either of those in order to start streaming, and the same is actually true when making graphics. You don't need to spend any money at all to wield powerful design software, and experience is not necessary if you're willing to put your mind to the task. In this entry, I'll refer to all image-editing software as Photoshop, as it's become a household name, but there are dozens of great free Photoshop-like solutions out there that you can use to great effect as well.

Experience in graphic design is nice to have, but if you're completely new to the process you still have many options. You can simply learn as you go, drawing inspiration from other channels or designs out in the world, or even lean into your lack of experience. One channel I enjoy has graphics made with intentionally hideous MS Paint spray can brushes. That streamer used their lack of design experience to their advantage to craft a really memorable and funny visual identity for their shows. There are many avenues you can use, as long as you're actually putting your mind to it. The only wrong answer is assuming you can't do it before you even try. There are two top-level concepts I keep in mind when making graphics: communication and iteration. Stick to these precepts and you'll go far.



➢ COMMUNICATION


This is the most important thing about any on-stream graphics: how well it communicates information. If you've been following along with The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you may be noticing a pattern. Communication is the most important point about every category of streaming, in one way or another. For your graphics, this is extra important, because most people will form their impression of your channel in the first few seconds of seeing what's on-screen.
Communication is important.


So where do you start? The big things come first. Things like 'can the viewer see the game?' It might sound like a no-brainer, but many graphical layouts can get overly complex, shrinking the game needlessly or covering important areas with pictures, text and other stream elements. Make sure you're always taking a step back and confirming that the game (or other main subject of the stream) will be clearly visible before moving on. Another huge point is whether someone can read what you're writing on screen. This is not always a given either- try looking at your graphics in different contexts. Maybe the text color you chose looked fine in Photoshop, but against various colored backgrounds it's illegible. Maybe you chose a font that's hard to decipher without really concentrating on it. It's important to be sure that the subject of your stream, and the text of your graphics are both clearly visible to the viewer.

Another big point to take into consideration is the size of the viewer's screen. Try to optimize your graphics for the smallest size screen that a viewer will be watching from. You might be able to see your facecam clearly in the 22" monitor on your desk, but how will it look to someone on a 5" phone screen, or someone who has your stream open in a small window on their computer? After seeing my shows on a phone, I ended up having to enlarge my facecam a few different times for this reason. Break your visual concepts down into an order of importance. Make sure the most important things, like your game, facecam and any text that you want the viewer to definitely see, are very visible on all size screens. Then any other stuff, like event lists, tickers, leaderboards and such, can be smaller.



➢ ITERATION


Be willing to iterate when needed.
This next piece of advice is hard for many people to take to heart: just because your graphic is done, doesn't mean it's done. You should always assume you'll have to go back to the drawing board and tweak things several times before you're truly ready to leave a graphic alone. On my channel I've done this for layouts, panels, emotes, transitions, filters, anything and everything I've designed.

Be open to iteration at all points of your graphic's implementation, not just while Photoshop is open. Let's say you're making a new layout for your game Scene. Yes, you'll be shifting ideas plenty while you're editing your images- that's a given. But once the files are saved and ready to import, you may notice that the thumbnail doesn't look good, now that you see it at a smaller size. So you need to go back in and change it. Later, you're in OBS and you've added the new graphic to your Scene. But you see now that, combined with your camera, game or other graphics, the colors are clashing or the translucent background behind your text isn't opaque enough. So you have to go back in and change it again. Even after you've started streaming with this twice-revised overlay, you may be watching your broadcast after it's over and notice that certain parts of the game look bad with the overlay for one reason or another. So now, even after implementing the graphic fully, you have to go back and change it a third time. And so on. And so on. This is a natural part of creating graphics for your channel. Just like setting up any other part of your stream, you simply need to have patience. Don't be discouraged when you constantly have to go back and fix things- iteration is good for your overall level of production value.



➢ THE TWO BASIC PRINCIPLES


As long as you keep the mindset of communication and iteration at the forefront when making your graphics, you'll do very well. The graphics you make now don't have to be perfect, because you can change them any time. That's what's so great about designing everything yourself- you didn't pay any money to have them commissioned, so there is no sense of loss when you get rid of them to create new ones. And you're able to pivot your channel on a dime, without waiting on turnaround times from any third party. In the beginning of your channel's life, flexibility and speed are huge commodities, and having total control like this will give you a big advantage.

You may even find you love the look of the channel designs you've made. I've created all my own stream graphics, emotes, panels, alerts and banners from the outset, and they've since become a major part of my channel's identity. I've iterated on each of them several times since I began my channel, but the overall concepts are still there, and newcomers still comment on how much they enjoy the designs. Yes these graphics could probably be a lot better, but I can take pride in having created them, and I know that I could change them at a moment's notice completely free of charge if needed. Even if I did want to commission a professional design, I'd now have a solid blueprint on which they could base their artwork. So give it a shot- try designing your channel's graphics yourself. You may just fall in love with the look you create!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Stream Before You're Ready




Have you started doing streams on your channel yet? If not, what have you been doing? Have you been looking up tutorials and equipment specs instead? Have you been asking your favorite streamers in their chats for tips on getting started? Have you been through every Twitch Playbook entry, but still haven't started streaming? It's understandable. We all naturally want to acquire as much information as possible before fully embarking on any new endeavor. Our schooling has conditioned us to behave this way since we were small children. However, gaining too much knowledge without putting it into practice can bury you. If you're waiting until you're 'ready' to start your channel, understand this:

You will never be ready. 

You simply have to start doing it.

Information is important, but only when obtained in the right way. Good advice for one person can be detrimental to another- it's all a matter of perspective. The educational foundations on which you build your project are very important, and in my experience I've found that there are really only two ways a person can learn. I call them 'stockpiling' and 'stacking'. Stockpiling is the act of hoarding as much knowledge as you can before starting a project. Stacking is the act of alternating between real-world experience and short bursts of knowledge acquisition. I truly believe that many new streamers' chances of success hinge on how well they can stack their learning, rather than stockpiling it.


➢ ANALYSIS PARALYSIS


It's common in RPG games to get overwhelmed
by the sheer amount of options
There are very real dangers with learning too much before taking action. Think of the black hole many of us get sucked into when trying to decide what to watch on Netflix. We load up the app without any specific intention of what to watch, we only know that we vaguely want to watch something. We then end up scrolling through endless lists of movies and series, trying to find the perfect one. By the time we've decided, we've either wasted a considerable chunk of time doing so, or we've started our 50th watchthrough of The Office. The same thing would happen to me with video games as well. I'd spend minutes or hours some days just looking through my Steam backlog, sometimes never even playing a game at all because I couldn't find the 'perfect' one to suit my mood. Analysis Paralysis is a very real phenomenon- real enough that it has a hefty Wikipedia article associated with it- and it can happen to anyone, faced with any decision.

Watching Netflix, playing video games, and other decisions like choosing a restaurant are all relatively self-contained tasks though. They really only affect you or the group you're with. Starting a major project however, can multiply your analysis paralysis exponentially, because now other people will eventually be able to see (and judge) the work that you're putting out. This typically means you'll simply continue stockpiling knowledge until you feel you're an expert, then give up without having ever taken more steps toward your dream. Make no mistake- the acquisition of knowledge, without regularly putting it to practical use, is just another form of procrastination.

I've tried to make all the anecdotes and advice in The Twitch Playbook completely authentic, but I also try to force you into action as often as I can. That's because you can't truly understand what I'm talking about in many of these entries if you don't actually start streaming. If you try to stream after absorbing all 40 entries, the sheer weight of trying to take all my insights and tips into account could cripple you. This is because you have no foundation on which to base them. In short, if you've been listening to all these entries but still haven't started streaming regularly on your channel, here's the best advice I can give: Do a stream right now, and forget everything I've taught you. Only after you've streamed several times will you start to truly understand which advice in this playbook might be useful to you, and your specific style.


➢ THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD


Before they ever appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show,
The Beatles had performed for thousands of combined
hours on stage.
Did you know that all four members of The Beatles, the most influential rock band in music history, didn't know how to write or even read musical notation? How is it possible that so much genre-defining art could come from a group of people who didn't even know one of the basic prerequisites of their craft?

There's a famous story about how John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who had already been performing together, took a bus across Liverpool only because they heard about a guy who could teach them the "B7" chord on guitar. After seeing it, playing it a few times, and memorizing it, they went back home with one more piece of the puzzle figured out. This is the ultimate example of stacking knowledge- they didn't wait until they had learned everything about their subject before they started working hard at it. They loved their craft so much that they didn't mind getting on stage and being uninformed, or even downright bad. They just wanted to play music, and extra bits of knowledge were welcome only when they could help with that singular goal.

The Beatles would play at nightclubs on stage for 5-6 hours per night, seven days per week, for hundreds and hundreds of underground performances. Malcolm Gladwell famously estimates that they had clocked 10,000 hours of live performance before they ever recorded their first album in 1963. Experience is always what matters, and you'll never accomplish your dreams if you never start putting them into action.


➢ STACK KNOWLEDGE BETWEEN EXPERIENCES


If you're at home right now, please... do yourself a favor and start streaming. If you're at work, or out of the house, commit to doing your first show when you get home. If you feel yourself coming up with an excuse about not owning the necessary equipment, see the entry Start Your Twitch Channel with NO MONEY. There is no acceptable excuse. Your first stream will be scary, you won't be able to do the exact show you'd like to do, and it will probably turn out badly, but don't let that stop you. Keep going, pay attention to what can be improved, and you'll start to enjoy the upward climb.

The reason you should stream before you're ready is that you'll never actually be 'ready' to stream. There's always one more thing you could know about, one more piece of equipment you could buy, one more piece of inspiration to get you motivated. Gaining knowledge is important, but stockpiling insights without taking action only makes you feel productive while getting nothing tangible done. When you stack bricks of knowledge between bricks of experience, you'll be surprised how quickly you're able to build something amazing.