Friday, May 14, 2021

How to Flesh Out Stream Ideas

Throughout this resource, I’ve advised that you should never wait to start streaming, whether that involves beginning your channel altogether, or revising your streams in some way. If you want to make a change, it’s better to do it in small increments, and iterate on that idea over time than to make one big overhaul. In the entry Grow Your Channel in Public, I even talked about how it's actually a disadvantage to create something perfect from the beginning. Being able to notice a tangible growth trajectory over time is one of the great joys of a longtime Twitch channel viewer, and you shouldn't rob your fans of that opportunity. But how can you make sure your ideas are good ones, and prevent yourself from looking like a fool in front of your people? The answer to this lies in your mindset: What environment are you creating for yourself when you flesh out stream ideas? 


In the entry I mentioned above, I talked about how growing your channel in small, visible steps is more engaging than making sweeping overhauls. But even aside from the benefits such a public growth process gives to your audience, this workflow will help you make better decisions for your channel in general. Taking small steps is how a person keeps hold of their creative energy, and allows them more wiggle room when they want to improve. There’s a great piece of advice from the literary world, which states that you should never rewrite while you’re writing. The writer should simply put down all their ideas, no matter how terrible they seem, and leave them on the page until the end. Then when their whole draft is done, they can go back and change things. 

Pictured: Starkiller from The Force Unleashed,
surrounded by my early Twitch Playbook drafts.

This is how I try to write The Twitch Playbook every week. When I start writing, I merely jot down a few vaguely related sentences. Then I typically go into a state of mild panic, because it looks like that week’s entry will be completely terrible, and I spend a little stretch of time having no idea how those disparate thoughts will fit together. But throughout it all, I force myself to write freely about each of these three or four points, without judgment of any kind, until I have a few paragraphs on each subject. Then, before I know it, I have roughly a dozen terribly written paragraphs which make some kind of sense, but don’t really feel cohesive. But it’s this free writing stage which has laid the path for everything. From that point, once all that garbage has been dumped onto the page, all I have to do is sift through it- a.k.a. rewrite what I already have into a shorter, more concise version of itself- and I’ll have a finished entry. I always think the entry is going to be terrible, right up until the end, because the polish doesn’t come in until the absolute final stage. 

And this is the only way that works for me. The reverse never gets me results. Trying to change my ideas before I’ve spent some time writing a bunch of absolute trash typically traps me in a never ending loop. I sit there trying to find the ‘perfect’ one or two sentences, and don’t get anything else written. The way I see it, putting down the big mass of badly written thoughts is like being a sculptor and gathering a big lump of clay. You should only start sculpting once all the clay is on the table. And just like with writing, when I’m coming up with ways to improve my channel behind the scenes, this is the best way I’ve found to do it. There are no wrong answers at the beginning stage of the process. I simply spew a dozen or more terrible, half-baked concepts onto the page, then flesh them all out and sift through what I have for nuggets of inspiration that I can refine into something better. 


Now, all these iteration ideas are great for behind-the-scenes work, but that’s not the only way you should be utilizing these principles. You can apply this same thought process to a live broadcast as well. Improv comedians use a guideline called “Yes, and...” Through this line of thinking, when a comedian is performing on stage with other comedians, and someone sets up a joke, the comedian responding will never shut that joke down, or say, “No.” They will always build on that joke by saying, “Yes, and...” Even if the setup is for a joke they think is completely abysmal, the comedian will only ever try to find ways to keep the bit going and make it funny. Essentially, they’re taking the writer’s principle of never rewriting while you write, and applying it to a live performance setting. 

Ricky could tell you all about "Yes, and..."

And as you might imagine, this “Yes, and...” idea comes in very handy while you’re Twitch streaming live on the air. It makes you more open to unexpected situations, letting you take technical problems, chat messages, and other surprises in stride. Thinking this way allows you to create entertainment and value out of things that might have caused another streamer to lock up or cancel their show. In the entry Up Your Showmanship on Stream, I mentioned that I like to use chat messages as springboards to make more interesting responses. So instead of simply giving a one word answer to a yes-or-no question, I say, “Here’s my answer, and here’s a story about that.” So even when engaging with comments that aren’t problematic or surprising, you can utilize the “Yes, and...” philosophy to make your responses even more compelling.

And on top of that, if you combine the “never rewrite while you write” principle with “Yes, and...” for your streams, you can get big results. Consider these two philosophies for a minute. In the first, you are throwing ideas at the wall, knowing they’re only half thought-out. And in the second, you’re training yourself to be better at creating entertainment from any possible situation in a live scenario. So when you put them together, it means you will actually be able to start trying any idea on your live broadcasts, even if it’s completely terrible, and always be able to make it work. I’ve often spoken in Twitch Playbook entries about how you should attempt your worst ideas, and stream your passions even if nobody else on Twitch is doing it. If you’ve had trouble believing me before, the mindset I'm describing in this entry will be the key you need to unlock that true creative potential. I constantly try things on and around my own channel that are totally antithetical to everything else I’ve done. You’ve heard me describe several of my weirdest ideas in the past two years’ worth of entries. And whether I continue doing them, build upon them, or change them into new things entirely, I never regret having done them in the first place. I always allow them to play out by taking the ideas and saying, “Yes, and...” 


Many Twitch streamers can feel trapped, because they get in their own heads about changes they want to make, and because of this, they never end up actually making those changes. Other people are so afraid that they never even start streaming in the first place. Both of these problems are due to a fear of uncertainty. The streamers and prospective streamers who fall into these deadly traps want everything to be planned out and perfect before they start on their new endeavors, not realizing that uncertainty and surprise is a natural part of the process. So if you suffer from this problem yourself, work on your ability to throw all sorts of things out there, and then try your best to make them work. You’ll be surprised how many of those quick sketches of stream ideas can turn into full-blown masterpieces, if you only take the time to flesh them out. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Why You Should Change Your Streams (Even When There’s Nothing Wrong)

If you’ve been following this resource for a while, you’ll know that problem solving is very important to me. There have been several entries in which I’ve explored the process of fixing all kinds of problems that might arise on a Twitch stream, from large-scale overhauls and little visual glitches to interpersonal communication issues and channel branding. Staying on top of all these things will really raise the level of professionalism on a Twitch broadcast over time. Then in entries like Revising Your Streams From the Ground Up, I explored another concept: it’s just as important to change things when problems don’t present themselves. Sometimes things are going fine, but you want to try something new. Maybe there’s an issue that you never would have considered an issue, without hearing from someone else. Either way, just because there are no technical or logistical problems that you can see, doesn’t mean your channel is as good as it can possibly be. When you stay inquisitive, you’ll discover all sorts of things that can improve.


Personally, when I play video games, I’m mostly interested in the stories they tell. I’ve often mentioned in this resource how my channel started out in such a way that I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the storylines in the games I played on stream. Then as I went forward, I slowly transitioned my content in the direction I wanted it to go. The first iteration of my channel was growing like wildfire- if you asked anyone, they would say that it was already ‘working.’ But it wasn’t what I personally wanted from my passion- I wanted to be able to play the kinds of games I like to play, in the way I like to play them. So I took something that others would tell you wasn’t ‘broke,’ and I fixed it anyway. And by doing that a few times throughout the lifespan of my channel, I’ve achieved the exact balance I was looking for. 

On another note, sometimes a feature may seem to be working perfectly for me, but it isn’t working for others. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the way your community interacts with the streams. As I outlined in the entry Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself, you can reverse-engineer the mistakes and rule violations of your chat, into actionable changes that need to be made in your content.  Oftentimes, I’ll also directly ask viewers in private messages whether they think there’s something that could improve about a certain aspect of my shows. Just because something seems to me to make perfect sense, that doesn’t mean it makes perfect sense to others. If that turns out to be the case, I try to swallow my pride and accept the suggestion gracefully. 

There are two major instances I can think of where I didn’t see anything wrong, until I asked my community: 


The God of War games were already great, but
changing them anyway made them even better.

The first of these involved my ‘away’ screen. As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, a selection of my channel clips plays while I’m away from my computer, so there’s something to watch while the show is on a break. When I first introduced the feature, I’d cut to a break, where those clips would play inside a little television on screen, next to text that said, “Stay Tuned!” To me, there were more than enough visual cues within this scene to communicate to viewers that I was away from the computer, and the show would be right back. But after a while, I started to notice that people in chat would talk to the clips, thinking that they were watching me live. This phenomenon was totally confusing to me, because every 20-30 seconds, the clip would change, where I was playing a different game, wearing a different shirt, talking about something totally different. However, all those context clues didn’t stop people from getting confused. 

Eventually I asked around, and found out that many people didn’t understand the ‘Stay Tuned’ choice of words. It’s not necessarily that common for a Twitch streamer to play clips while they’re away. Usually they show a static screen, or they show their empty chair while they’re not at their desk. So it’s conceivable that the words ‘Stay Tuned,’ especially to a new viewer, may simply have seemed like something I showed on screen while I played games so they wouldn’t leave. So I changed the message on screen to instead say in larger letters, “NICK IS AWAY - Enjoy some clips!” And since enacting that change, the problem has become much less abundant. As simple as it seems now, I never would have imagined that the wording was the issue. It just made so much sense to me. And that’s why it’s so important to ask for feedback in cases like this. 


I’ve spoken before in this resource about how I stream my daily language learning sessions. And this was an instance where I not only ‘fixed what wasn’t broke’ to great effect, but also had help from a viewer to identify another issue I couldn’t see. When I began streaming my Japanese Duolingo sessions, I was an absolute beginner in the language. I knew a few very basic phrases, and a few letters of the alphabet, and that was it. On day one, I was essentially right there in the same boat as anyone else watching. For this reason, the earliest version of these Japanese shows were essentially Just Chatting streams, where I would struggle through my Duolingo practice each day while explaining whatever I could about how the language works. But it’s funny- if you study something for enough days in a row, you start to actually get better at it. Who knew? A few hundred days into my streak, I realized that my learning was starting to get held back by the stream itself. The shows were doing fine stats-wise, and viewers thought they were fun, but the ultimate objective of these streams was for me to learn the language, and that was being stunted. So I changed the shows to present myself with a real challenge: I began doing every one of these Duolingo streams in Japanese, limiting the things I said to chatters only to what I could string together in-language on the spot. And over another hundred or so days, my vocabulary, as well as my ability to string thoughts together in-language, started growing faster than they ever did before. Of course, as any language learner knows, forcing yourself to speak the language exclusively in conversation will supercharge the learning process. But for me, who never spoke a second language before, I found it quite surprising. This was an instance where I changed something that didn’t necessarily need to be changed (the Duolingo app wouldn’t have known the difference whether I conducted my streams in English or Japanese), but changing things anyway made a world of difference. 

Japanese can be fun!

After this, even though the streams were going quite well, and I was learning much faster than before, I received a message that brought those shows into a new perspective. One viewer pointed out that it would help others who weren’t at the same level as myself, if I could introduce some way to translate what I’m saying back into English. I immediately took to this idea, and after a few weeks of experimenting with different solutions, I found a bot that could hear Japanese speech, immediately write it in Japanese, and then Google Translate that Japanese writing back into English, all on its own. It wasn’t accurate all the time (both due to my Americanized dialect and the woes of Google Translate in general) but it was still shockingly effective. I then designed the Japanese streams to show both the Japanese and English transcriptions on screen while I spoke, so viewers of all levels could enjoy the shows. Even viewers who exclusively spoke English were able to interact and chat with me while I exclusively spoke in Japanese, thanks to the text translation. This feature didn’t impede the way I learned, and it made those shows much more accessible to everyone. And in this case, I hadn’t even seen the language barrier as a problem (nor did I know the live-translation technology existed) before a viewer gave me that suggestion. 


As I often say, you’re very unlikely to run into the exact same problems I’ve outlined in this entry. But hopefully by internalizing the mindset I’ve employed, you’ll be able to come up with ways to improve your own streams, no matter how different they are from mine. The important thing is to keep an open mind, and never stop experimenting. Whether you want to change something despite it already working, or you hear a perspective that you never considered before, there are all sorts of ways you can improve your streams even when nothing seems to be wrong. 

Friday, April 30, 2021

How Low-Tech Items Can Help Your Streams

All kinds of equipment can contribute to your Twitch streams. In past entries, we've talked about subjects from the realm of computers, video, lighting, audio, game systems, software and more, each with different levels of complexity to choose from. In the entry Turn Your Household Tech Into Stream Equipment, I even helped you to find and organize all the technology you may have amassed in your normal life without realizing, and harness that for your broadcasts as well. But there's another category of item that I haven't touched on explicitly, which I value very highly for streaming. What about the equipment that isn't even equipment? I'm talking about the lowest of the low-tech. Sometimes, all you need is a little creative thinking, and the right item to get the job done. 


You've probably heard the classic story about writing in space. In the 1960's NASA realized that pens weren't able to function properly in orbit, so they spent millions of taxpayer dollars developing a new kind of pen that could eject ink onto paper efficiently in zero gravity. Meanwhile, Russia simply gave their astronauts pencils. This legend is based on several fallacies, but that doesn't change the power of its message. Often, like Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot, you can solve complex problems with the absolute simplest of solutions. And if something takes too many steps to solve, you're probably exploring the wrong pathway. This is the kind of thinking we've applied in past entries like Simplify Your Streaming Problems when optimizing nebulous concepts like our streaming ideas, but it applies just as well with good old, non-nebulous hardware. 

I first learned about the WWII bicycles from the
game Heroes & Generals.

Throughout history, some of the most difficult technological problems have been solved with the simplest non-technological solutions. For example, did you know that throughout World War II, soldiers regularly rode bicycles around the battlefield? (And for anyone who skipped history class, this was at a time when cars, tanks and motorcycles had already very much been invented.) This was so prevalent that various armies actually prepared assaults using bicycle squadrons, and the British even created folding bikes that they could attach to their paratroopers as they jumped from planes. Not only could a bicycle help a soldier move faster and carry heavier loads than they could on foot, but bikes could actually traverse trickier terrain than cars, didn't require gas, and were completely silent. All the money in the world wouldn't have been able to create a better high-tech solution than this simple, human-powered vehicle, when faced with certain types of problems. I try to apply this valuable lesson to my streams wherever I can. 


One low-tech item I've mentioned in several previous entries is the notebook. This is a great way of keeping track of streaming problems so you can solve them later, and in a pinch it's faster and less intrusive than opening your phone, navigating to the notes app and tapping away. I do the same with various sticky notes, leaving them on my keyboard if I need a reminder of something before the next show begins. I've also drawn marks on my headphones' volume bar with Sharpie to indicate the various sound settings I use for my streams, so I don't have to guess. All these things allow my mind to stay clear, and operate my stream with less friction. And none of them require anything more than typical household stationery.  

The seated position in my streaming area is a major concern for me as well. I design the experience of being at my desk in the most convenient way possible, so that I minimize the need to get up during a show. Everything is within arm's reach. I keep multiple bottles of water on coasters in the corner of my desk so I won't need to replace them often during a broadcast, and I have an ultra-insulated coffee thermos, so my hot drink won't get cold until I'm finished with it. I use adhesive wall hooks to take advantage vertical space around the desk, hanging things like headphones, microphones, props and other items that I can grab at a moment's notice. I even keep a little compact mirror from the dollar store nearby, so I can check whether there's food in my teeth right before going live. As we've explored in past entries, it's a difficult enough psychological trial to go live each day. Each time you need to get up from your chair right before your stream starts, it can chip away at that willpower. So it pays to design your stream area for maximum convenience, and as you can see here, that doesn't necessarily mean you need to buy anything expensive- or anything at all. 

Every day on stream is now like a day
beside the pool!

There are other invaluable low-tech tools I've found to fix major issues, which simply improve my quality of life while streaming. A bright light used to shine around the volume dial of my computer speaker, and it always distracted me in the corner of my eye, until I cut a piece of black construction paper to block the glow. In one instance, I found that my arms would have big indentations cut into them after a long stream, and sometimes even lose circulation, because of where I typically rest them on the edge of my desk while holding a controller or using a keyboard. Instead of buying a new desk or doing anything else drastic, I found a pool noodle at the dollar store and cut it to fit over the desk's edge. It perfectly padded the area, and has stayed in place for over a year. This one fix alone has measurably improved my streaming life, and all it took was a little bit of creative thinking. 


Streaming isn't always about the things other people can see when they look at your broadcast. It's also about making sure you're comfortable and confident while you sit in a chair for several hours a day, so that you can fully enjoy what you love doing. When thinking about my stream, I value my lowest-tech solutions just as highly as the high-tech ones. In fact, when discussing streaming with friends, I often find myself talking more about the most seemingly-insignificant additions (like that pool noodle) more than any of my actual stream equipment. And my friends who are streamers often brag about their own low-tech fixes. Because when you're doing this day in and day out, anything that improves your quality of life becomes a blessing. And in this regard, low-tech items can majorly help your streams. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Sacrificing For Your Stream

Most of us are familiar with the concept 'no pain, no gain.' We're constantly taught that if we want something in life, we need to make sacrifices to get there. And this is just as true in Twitch streaming as it is everywhere else. Most of us who engage with The Twitch Playbook have ambitions for our channels. We want to be able to make the kind of content we want, every day, without worrying about a thing. But there are always obstacles getting in the way of doing our shows the way we want, and there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. Most of us realize pretty quickly that something will need to be sacrificed in order to reach our goals, but the big question is: what? 

Often, it's assumed that sacrificing means you have to dislike what you're doing for a while, until you 'get to a comfortable place' and can then finally enjoy yourself. If you've been following this resource so far however, you'll know that I don't subscribe to such a mindset. I think the key to properly sacrificing for what you want is to make sure you always enjoy the thing that furthers your ambitions, while removing all the clutter that might prevent you from working on that dream. If you can find that balance, you'll have the best of both worlds.


I died so many times in this game.

When I was a kid, I was always terrible at turn-based RPGs. When I got into combat, and my characters could only do one action that turn, I'd always choose the option to attack. I never saw the value of casting buffs or debuffs, I simply wanted to make the bad guys' health bars go down. For anyone who isn't familiar with the terms, a 'buff' is a spell you cast on an ally character in order to raise their stats. A 'debuff,' as you might imagine, is a spell you cast onto an enemy in order to lower their stats. Both of these moves require a bit of patience. When casting them, you won't do any damage this turn, but you'll be able to do more damage on the next turn. But my younger self never invested in these kinds of moves, because they didn't get tangible results right away. Of course, this strategy worked in the beginning, but as soon as battles began to require actual tactics, I would always get all my party members killed. And at the time, I simply couldn't figure out why. It never occurred to me back then that I was constantly losing because of my unwillingness to cast these support spells. 

Many of us treat our lives in this exact same way- we go for instant gratification over long term happiness. And just like in my RPGs, while this may seem fine in the beginning, we eventually realize that such an approach gets us nowhere. James Clear, the author of the excellent book Atomic Habits, says, “Growth is trading discomfort in the moment for satisfaction in the future. Decline is trading satisfaction in the moment for discomfort in the future.” We need to facilitate this satisfaction by effectively casting buffs on ourselves every once in a while, and casting debuffs on all the wasteful activities that get in our way. 


In this context, buffs would be any things that aren't related to your stream, but help you to be a complete person. That might include spending time with family, engaging in your favorite (non-streaming) hobby, or learning new (non-streaming) things. While you may not see how these relate to your Twitch channel in the moment, they boost your overall happiness and ultimately, that helps you to be a better streamer. And then of course, you're going to want to debuff your enemies every once in a while. Those enemies are all the activities that drain your time and energy from what you actually care about. These two steps, buffs and debuffs, are extremely important. But in order to make sure this RPG party we call Your Twitch Career is actually effective, you need one other move in your arsenal. You have to make sure you're focusing all your attention on attacking the proper target. Namely, you have to make sure whatever you do on your Twitch channel is always leading you in the direction you want it to go. 

Keep your eyes on the target.

Many assume that, if they want to really prove that they're 'serious' about their Twitch careers, another kind of sacrifice is necessary. They assume that they need to put off their full enjoyment of streaming now, in order to gain a full reward from it later. So they go for growth hacks and other schemes that they think will bring results, in the hopes that they can have a solid base of followers for the day they might want to start doing what they really want to do on stream. This is very dangerous, not just because you might lose your taste for streaming before you ever reach that goal, but because you will be building your channel in a way that's not even compatible with your future plans. When I began my channel, I used to speak essentially at all times. Even though I knew on some level that I wanted my channel to be about enjoying the storylines of video games and I didn't like speaking or reading during cutscenes, I would often talk or scan the chat window during these moments anyway, because I couldn't resist. I was compromising on my channel's values in order to make it grow faster. And this got the results I was looking for at the time- it did gain followers more quickly- but as they say, you reap what you sow. Once I worked up the courage to start playing games the way I actually liked playing them, I had to rebuild much of my community from the ground up. By subduing my vision, I had been climbing the wrong ladder.

Looking back, it's easy to see that I had been putting off my true enjoyment of streaming until reaching some arbitrary height, not realizing that the 'height' I was reaching wasn't applicable progress towards what I wanted to build in the first place. What's the moral here? The process of streaming should be fun from the beginning. If there's ever a long enough time that you don't find your own channel fun, that means it's time to change. You should be sacrificing things around your stream in order to make more room for what you love, but you shouldn't be sacrificing from your stream and putting off enjoyment from the thing you're supposed to enjoy most. 


By casting buffs and debuffs in an RPG, you're sacrificing fighting ability in the moment for the promise of better fighting ability in the future. It's important to do the same with your streams. But these support spells can only help your streaming career if you keep the right targets in view. Streaming should be fun throughout your channel's journey, not just at some vague point in the future. Steve Jobs once said, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” So take a look at your own stream and see if there are any sacrifices you might need to make in order to improve the whole. And most importantly, make sure you're not sacrificing your enjoyment in the process. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Your Content Should Make You Happy

What does it mean to stay true to your values as a streamer? Have there been any trials in your personal journey, which have tested your resolve in this sense? In past entries, I've talked about the dangers of chasing followers and streaming things you don't enjoy to get there. I've also talked about pursuing side projects, merch setups, sponsorship deals, and other things outside of your streams that may take a toll on your streaming stamina. But what about when you do like what you're creating, and it simply happens to get bigger? Often just because a brand increases in size, others begin to expect more of you, and the sheer weight of your project's own popularity begins increasing the pressure to change. This is when it gets really hard to continue doing what you love in the way you love to do it. You may experience this in various ways on your own channel, but here I'll use a very personal example of building The Twitch Playbook brand to communicate it. In essence, as you grow it's important to ensure that your content makes you happy above all else. 


Ask anyone what the next steps for someone who makes a popular self-help podcast should be, and they will likely assume you're interested in pursuing a particular trajectory. They'll probably tell you that if you make something like this, it's smart to leverage it to turn yourself into some kind of 'motivational influencer.' One would expect that your Twitch streams, which used to be (in my case) about playing story-based games, would now become a bastion for new podcast listeners who want to further their educations, tell stories of their own channels and get one-on-one advice. Cross-promotion with other similar influencers is typically considered a great idea as well, sharing stories on other podcasts and featuring guest hosts on this one. Once all that has been going for a while, you could offer personal channel consultations, and finally, once you're really big, go into speaking engagements so you can help others to build their brands on a larger scale. This is what most other people making self-help content are either doing, or are working towards, and it's a great way of building a media empire. 

When something gets larger, it becomes harder
and harder to steer.

But what if the things I'm interested in doing haven't changed? On my Twitch channel, I've always liked to play video games and pursue my creative passions. I've never had any interest in becoming a 'self-help guru' by making this podcast, and that hasn't changed just because the show has reached a wider and wider audience. Lots of people who know the podcast assume that joining my streams should be the beginning of a new chapter in their learning experience- a natural extension of The Twitch Playbook's content. Now that they've heard the tips, they feel they can get even more knowledge directly from the source. This is a totally understandable mindset, because it's how most creators run their brands. But that doesn't mean I have to do the same. I write about my experiences, and it's helped a lot of people. But that doesn't mean the streams- which have always been my main interest- have to get consumed by this side project, no matter how big the side project gets. For the past several months, The Twitch Playbook has reached more people weekly than my Twitch channel ever has. Someone new comes into my chat almost every day to tell me how much they love the podcast, and strangers follow my channel every few hours even when it's not live (a clear sign that they sought the channel out after hearing about me from outside the streams). Many people I know think I'm crazy for not pivoting my brand to focus more on self-help content and less on streaming. Or at least, if I'm going to stream, why not make the streams into something where I offer live advice, give consultations on other channels, and leverage that into massive growth opportunities for myself? It's really Social Media Management 101, and I'm essentially leaving value on the table by not doing it. Unless you reconsider what I define as value. 


This all comes back to the story I shared in the entry Twitch Streaming is About the Journey, about the village fisherman and the Harvard MBA. You can hear the full story in that entry, but the gist is that the Harvard man wonders why the fisherman doesn't work harder for the next few decades, in order to build an empire out of his fishing. The ultimate goal would be that the fisherman can eventually retire, and settle down in a small village to relax and do all the things he's already been doing. This story exemplifies the American Dream, and the way we might skew our ability to see what we really want in a blind rush toward some perception of status, wealth or power. The fisherman liked fishing, and he was able do it every day sustainably. He had already attained the reward, but because there was no fame or money associated with it, the Harvard man couldn't see the point. Similarly, I'm already able to do what I love each day- I stream the games I like, meet people in chat who are interested in talking about games and movies, and I pursue my creative passions. I like writing about the process of building my channel in a passive way, but that doesn't mean I enjoy actively telling people one-on-one how to run their own brands. Often, Twitch Playbook listeners who make the pilgrimage to my streams become confused. While I always love meeting people who were helped by this resource, and I appreciate their compliments, I don't ask them to open up about their own brands, or whether they have any questions about what they've learned. It's because The Twitch Playbook is separate from my streams. The podcast is about making the streams, but the streams aren't about the podcast. 

Like the fisherman, make sure to keep in mind
what you actually want from your journey.

I'm aware this is not a 'well-rounded approach' to building a personal brand. It essentially creates a dead end in the experience. Once someone has listened to every podcast episode, there's no opportunity to get tips one-on-one from me on a stream- they simply have to wait until the next episode is released. This stunts the potential growth of both my channel and the podcast. And I'm fine with that. Because I'm staying true to the things I actually like about making the content. First, the podcast clearly does what I hoped it would do: it helps people learn from my personal mistakes and experiences. And second, I just like writing and producing it. Those are the only aspects of the podcast I like doing. Therefore, those are the only aspects I actually do. Pauline Kael, one of the greatest film critics of all time, once said, "The main thing is fighting off the successes that trap you." This is hard for many to understand, though if you recall my origin story, you'll know I've lived through that process already. Previously in my career, I helped run a streaming brand with multiple millions of fans, so I've been in the position where I simply need to get bigger and bigger results, without really about thinking whether I like doing what gets me there. On my personal channel, I have no interest in pursuing this kind of growth for growth's sake. I do exactly what I like, and I don't worry whether that fits within anyone else's perception of success. The side project has happened to become bigger than my main project in a public sense, but that doesn't mean I have to change anything about what makes me enjoy creating it. 


In several previous entries, I've talked about finding your own happiness in Twitch streaming and not pursuing attention if it means compromising what you like. This growth of The Twitch Playbook brand, and the pressure to let it consume my primary streaming passion, has been the latest (and largest) challenge in that department within my own personal journey. I've had to really look within myself and exhibit a lot of restraint to keep everything in perspective. In fact, if you've been reading between the lines in all those entries within the past year, most of those 'stay true to yourself' style episodes have been veiled ways of writing about this Playbook challenge without mentioning it overtly. But I think it's an interesting example to use within this resource specifically, because many of you have been watching it grow from the beginning. And it shows how even something that's helpful and fun to make can threaten to compromise your creative vision as it gets larger. So as your own channel grows, make sure you're paying attention to what you really care about. Pivoting your brand, shuffling things around, and introducing new facets are all perfectly valid options, and of course I always recommend experimentation. But when going in any direction for the long haul, make sure that your content always makes you happy. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Building Your Own PC

Twitch streaming comes in many forms. Throughout these past entries, I’ve talked about how you can go live from your phone, directly from your console, or other portable devices like laptops and tablets. The one piece of equipment many Twitch streamers aspire to use however, is the PC. Using a PC, you’re not only given much more computing power than any of the other options, but you have more versatility in the graphics, effects and other aspects of your streams. And while I don’t think it’s necessary by any means to buy a PC just for streaming, I think it’ll be useful to give a few tips when it comes to pricing out and building your own computer, should you find yourself in the market for one. These lessons I’ve learned over the years can come in handy whether you’re assembling an entirely new machine, or you just want to add parts to an existing one. 

It should go without saying, but there’s no way this single entry could cover every possible topic and piece of equipment related to whatever specific buying decisions you’re making. Hopefully you’ll find this useful as more of a blueprint for where to look, and how to approach the process itself. With that said, let's put together a PC! 


Silent Hill 3? Now that's scary.

If you’ve never built your own PC before, it's probably a really intimidating process. And if the whole prospect makes you super uncomfortable, you can buy a pre-built machine. But these will cost you significantly more than assembling one yourself, and they don't have as much versatility when it comes to taking them apart and changing them. So in my opinion the service of putting a PC together isn’t worth the inflated price. Because when you get into it, you’ll realize there are only really a handful of important points to keep in mind, and the rest essentially what I call ‘adult LEGO building.’ Even in the last 15 years since I assembled my first machine, manufacturers have streamlined their parts so there’s nearly nothing to it but to plug the parts in and connect the cables, like you would with any piece of hardware in your home. 

The other big fear is buying the wrong parts. There are so many things to choose from that you probably don’t even know where to start, and you don’t want to buy something that doesn’t even fit in your rig. But in recent times, it’s actually become incredibly easy to find not only what works best for your price point, but ensure that the parts are compatible with each other. And it's all thanks to a few incredible resources that I swear by when buying parts for my own PC: Logical Increments and PC Parts Picker


Don’t know a good graphics card from a bad one? Don’t know what kind of CPU would work for you? Don’t even know what kinds of parts comprise a PC at all? Welcome to Logical Increments. This is a website that gives carefully curated parts recommendations for a huge range of price points in every category, from graphics cards and RAM to hard drives and the cases you put everything into. Possibly even more importantly, when you scroll down past their chart of parts (and links to the best places to buy), there are fields explaining what’s important about each piece of hardware you might look into. This makes it very easy to be informed when purchasing your parts. In fact, it’s so useful that for the past several years, I haven't kept up with any PC-related news at all. I never know what the latest series of card is, or even what brands are out there in general, until sitting down to make a purchase. Then, using this one website, I learn everything I need to know in a few minutes. That's right: if you use it correctly, this site will essentially turn you into the PC building equivalent of Neo from the Matrix learning kung-fu. 

You don't have to be Otacon to assemble a
computer these days.

When getting into a resource like this, it’s important to utilize restraint. You may be tempted to scroll all the way down to the most high-tech parts, but these are not only ruinously expensive, but also not that much better than the cheaper ones when playing games. PC equipment doesn’t operate like a linear graph- the next best graphics card might only be 1% better, not necessarily justifying the price difference. And it doesn’t take as much power as you think to match the visuals you might have gotten on consoles. Many new PC users get upset if they can’t crank everything to max settings in their new game, but they don’t realize that the console version typically runs at the PC’s equivalent of medium or low settings. Even if your PC isn’t top of the line, it’s still in the upper echelon of what’s possible graphically. So you don't need to worry quite so much. For reference, my machine is comprised wholly of parts that are over three years old, and would probably align roughly to what’s considered a ‘Fair’ or ‘Good’ build on the Logical Increments site (not even reaching the middle of the graph), but still can run most games between high and max settings at 60fps, without ever dropping a frame. And as you can see by checking the website, a machine like that doesn’t cost much more than a new game console. So don’t get carried away with the shiniest, newest parts- it’s not always necessary. 


Once you’ve gone through the Logical Increments site and you’ve decided on which parts to go with, write all the names down. You now want to double check that everything will work together without issues. This is where the System Builder tool from PC Parts Picker comes in. On this page, you select each piece of hardware you plan on buying for your PC. When these are all in place, the tool will warn you if there are any problems. It can estimate whether your power supply will provide enough watts to keep everything running, detect if you’re missing any necessary components, make sure the CPU you chose is compatible with the motherboard, and all sorts of other factors. It can’t find 100% of the possible issues of course, so it’s still useful to read the customer reviews for your parts to find any weird quirks, but I’m constantly surprised at how well this tool does work. This step is important no matter your skill level, and every veteran PC builder I know uses this website to make that final check before committing to a purchase. 


You can even use your favorite controllers
on the PC.

Okay, so you bought everything it’s all been showing up at your door for the past few days. It’s finally time to build your PC! There’s a really important step to keep in mind at this stage: do not expect to use your PC on the same day you start putting it together. This isn’t because the build process takes a long time- it’s because you should expect the unexpected. Maybe a part was dead or broken when it got to your house. Maybe there’s some incompatibility that somehow got past both you and the PC Parts Picker. It’s not necessary to know what will go wrong, but it’s useful not to get too upset when something goes wrong on that first attempt. I’ve never put together a PC that was I was able to use on the same day I started to assemble it. Luckily, Amazon and Newegg have great return and replacement policies if you need to send things back. For more about tempering your expectations, see the entry Tips for Setting Up Your Stream Equipment

When it comes to actually assembling things, this is where it becomes important to seek resources related to the specific hardware you bought. There’s no way I can tell you how to build your exact PC. But just about everything at this stage is plug-and-play. There are just a few key points to keep in mind that I wish I knew when starting, however: 
  1. Use bowls or dishes to keep all the various screws and small parts organized. You don’t want to lose them on your floor.
  2. Before screwing your motherboard onto your case, do not forget to attach the I/O port cover. This is a very common mistake for beginners (and even sometimes experts), and can take a lot of time to fix.
  3. Look up how to properly apply thermal paste to your CPU, install the CPU fan, and plug the CPU in, before attempting to handle this aspect of the process. This is probably the hardest part, though even this step is easy once you get the hang of it. 
  4. Don’t put everything away and perfectly set the PC up in your room before you find out if it can boot up. 
  5. Don't throw away the boxes or cash in any rebates before you know that everything has been working properly for several weeks. 

Those are five specific points I wish I knew before getting into the game. In addition, watching any YouTube tutorial on PC building can show any other techniques you need to know, and I’d of course recommend reading the instruction manuals of whichever parts you’re installing. Other than that, have fun! I’ve always found the process of building or tweaking a PC to be a very zen activity. It’s a good chance to just stretch out on your floor with a bunch of building blocks and make something really cool. And by taking a little bit of time to assemble your own machine, you’ll have a skill that can help you in so many ways going forward. Swapping out parts will be easy, and you’ll be saving a huge amount of money over the ensuing years by not paying for the labor. Hopefully you’ll find these insights from my journey useful, when building your own PC. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Become a Solution-Oriented Streamer

Throughout this resource, I’ve shared my personal stories and experiences with solving all sorts of problems. In the entry Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day, I talked about how to keep track of all your channel’s issues, and how to approach various challenges. In the entry Simplify Your Streaming Problems, I helped you to break an issue down to its simplest form, in order to better understand what you’re facing. And of course, dozens of other entries have dealt with specific streaming problems, from network settings and cameras, to the creation of graphics and how to interact with chatters. You can probably tell that I place a huge amount of importance on problem solving as a skill. As Twitch streamers, problem solving encompasses most of what we do each day. And so I think it’s worth going into a little more detail about how to face the worst kinds of problems. Not the ones that can be fixed at your leisure, but the really pressing ones that threaten to stop you from streaming altogether. In this entry, I’ll help you to become a solution-oriented streamer. 


Imagine the following: You tested your internet before going live today, and it’s only able to output one tenth its usual speed. Whether that’s caused by planned maintenance or some unknowable anomaly, the facts don’t change. The internet is way too slow to do the show you wanted to do, and even if you turned the bitrate down, the quality would be unacceptable. There wouldn’t seem to be any way to make your stream happen. 

What do you do? 

This is the ultimate problem for a Twitch streamer to face on the spot. It’s not like many of the other issues we’ve dealt with in past entries, because it stops the entire production unless you can figure out a solution. Most people would accept this as a valid excuse not to go live on their channel that day. But they’re simply accepting the easy way out. There are always solutions out there, for those willing to look for them. 

Donald tends to get frustrated by problems often.

Before I talk about the solutions I’ve used over the years, it’s first important to talk about the way to face a problem. I’ve found that in order to solve anything, it’s necessary to become the kind of person who’s willing to actually look for a solution. This may sound like a no-brainer, but in practice, most of us don’t think this way. It’s common to cultivate a small collection of unsolved problems, rather than simply solve everything that comes our way. This gives us something to complain about, which allows us to feel like the things happening to us aren’t really our fault. Though I see the psychological value in this for many, I’ve never agreed with its logic. To my eyes, complaining is only a way to replace action with inaction, publicly saving face while our habits and dreams wither in the background. In the entry Streaming With No Complaints, I likened the act of kicking a complaining habit to making a long-term investment in your future. 

You're going to be molded by the mental environment you place yourself in. If you tend to think of the things that inconvenience you as problems, you’ll feel like you're constantly beset by problems. Personally, whenever something goes wrong on my shows, or in my schedule, I force myself to take a breath before I allow myself to react. I say out loud, “I’ve seen worse,” and I think of the reasons why I’m lucky. At least factor X, Y, or Z didn’t happen on top of what’s happening now. I consider what’s truly important to my channel, or what’s important about the specific show I’m trying to make, and I think about how I can uphold those values with the more limited toolset I’ve been given. I find that by viewing the barriers in front of me as mere stumbling blocks, or even better, naturally rocky terrain to be found on the path of any streamer, then I can’t be shaken by these inconveniences. You too may find that your capacity to solve even the worst problems becomes much greater when you start to feel that they aren't problems at all. 


So your internet speed has been decimated, and your stream can’t go live. Now that we’ve internalized what it means to become a solution-oriented streamer, we can apply a more level head to the situation we’re facing. Before moving forward, do any new avenues reveal themselves to you? Study all the factors involved in the earlier example, and try to think about what’s really important to your specific stream. Condense this into a one-sentence priority statement about your show, and work up from there. Using those tools, there will always be some way to come out on top, even if it’s not 100% ideal. 

Here, I’ll give three examples of solutions I’ve come up with at different points in my streaming career, based on what was important about the stream I was making at the time. These won’t necessarily apply to your specific channel, but hopefully you can see how this style of thinking can be very effective. 

In the first example, I was getting ready to do an extremely low-intensity stream. As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I often livestream my Duolingo studies and artwork creation. These types of shows display an almost-static screen for the entire stream’s duration, which means I wouldn’t mind if the broadcast had a low bitrate or even dropped an immense amount of frames. As long as someone could hear my voice and see the image every once in a while, it was fine by me. So in this case, the priority statement was: “The stream has to go live, but doesn’t need a high bitrate.” This allowed me to do my broadcast, even with the decimated internet settings, without sacrificing the values of the show. 


In another instance, I simply changed the show I was going to do. When faced with terrible network settings, I took the opportunity to try new things. Of course, my home internet was out, but not my phone’s internet. So I drove to a section of LA with a lot of my favorite restaurants, and did an IRL stream in which I ate ramen and talked to my chat. In this case, the priority statement was, “The stream has to go live, but it doesn’t have to be the usual stream.” After this, IRL streams where I ate at restaurants actually became a favorite on my channel too, which was a nice bonus. 

Third, I was faced with an instance where I wanted to put on my planned show, and didn’t want to sacrifice its quality. In this case, I was going to play a very story-intensive game, and didn’t want any blurriness or dropped frames to hamper the dramatic impact. And especially because the game involved a lot of cutscenes (during which I personally never talk or interact with chat anyway), I found an unexpected solution. In this case, it was most important to create a show that people could watch at its best, so the value statement for this one became, “The stream has to be at full quality, but it doesn’t have to be live.” So I made an episode of my show like normal, but recorded it locally and uploaded it after the fact. My content creation habit was kept intact, people could watch the show at its full quality, and the next episode went live as planned when the internet came back. 


As long as you’re able to keep a positive outlook in the face of streaming hardships, there’s no problem you won’t be able to overcome. Again, my solutions won’t necessarily be right for you, but there are plenty of other ways to approach the same scenario. Think to yourself: What are the absolute priorities of your channel, or the specific stream you’re making? What trade-offs can you make to ensure those core values are upheld? As long as you can put yourself into this solution-oriented mindset, nothing can stop you from doing what you love.