Friday, June 21, 2019

Learn to Love the Grind of Twitch Streaming






Many people get into Twitch streaming and feel like they're immediately at a disadvantage. They look at other streamers' setups and grow dejected. "It seems like everybody else is already ahead of me," they say. "If all the other streamers have better equipment, graphics, hosting techniques, or video game skills than I do, then why should I even try?" This dark rabbit hole has been the reason that many potential streamers never even started their channels, and it's been the downfall of established streamers of all sizes. Twitch is hard, and it will never stop presenting you with challenges, no matter how large you grow. Instead of looking at what others have and measuring yourself against them, you need to enjoy the process of growing your own channel. You may not last long otherwise.


➢ CHANGING YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS


Here's something about my channel: it looks and sounds worse than many other similarly sized channels. I have fewer followers than others who started at the same time. I have fewer subscribers and donations than some others at my level. And I'm aware that this will ALWAYS be the case- someone out there will always be better than me in some specific field.

It's about the Journey. Heh. Get it?
I don't sign onto my Twitch streams every day hating what I do, just because I know I'll never truly measure up against all other Twitch channels. I've learned to love the JOURNEY, not the DESTINATION. Every second of building my channel is the exciting part. The problem solving, the sleepless nights, the thousands of combined hours logged on-camera, those are what I find fun. Overcoming those challenges isn't just a means to an end. The menial, repetitive, and frustrating tasks ARE the end unto themselves.


➢ IGNORANCE IS BLISS


Twitch streamers are constantly under a heavy amount of peer pressure, whether they recognize it or not. Many think that if they don't have the microphone, camera, capture solution, chatbot features, social media options, or games that their contemporaries have, that their streams must be inferior. They become insecure on their shows, complaining about their equipment, apologizing for something they don't do on stream, or growing frustrated with the size of their community. This thought process is obviously illogical. How one person stacks up to other streamers in some arbitrary category has nothing to do with that person's worth as a streamer, but peer pressure on Twitch is very real all the same. How do you combat this? The answer is clear, but I bet you never thought to do it:

Don't watch a lot of other Twitch streams. 

Focus on your own work.
I've never seen anyone recommend this before, but it's actually been one of the most crucial things in learning to love the grind of streaming for me. Think about it. You're watching another streamer whose shows look and sound way more professional than yours. Reaching their level would be like scaling a twenty story wall. You just can't do it. Now you get home, and you have to do your own stream, with its own walls to scale. Even though these walls are only one story high, they are still very difficult for you to climb on your own. "At this rate, I'll never be able to scale a twenty story wall like the other streamer," you say to yourself. You can't see your stream ever getting as good as theirs, and you become demotivated. Then you slowly start missing more and more of your scheduled stream days until you're no longer streaming at all. It sounds ridiculous, but this is a VERY real phenomenon. It's happened to me before I started my Twitch channel. And it can happen to anyone, at any time.

The problem in the above example isn't the fact that this person is growing too slowly, or that they can't scale their own wall. The problem is that they're being distracted by someone else's wall, completely unrelated to theirs. They have no concept of how much work this other person put in behind the scenes, and they shouldn't care either way. The reason they became demotivated was because they weren't focusing on their own work. They weren't interested in the grind itself, they were interested in the reward that comes at the end: in this case, an amazing looking stream.

Of course it's important to sometimes watch other channels- I've advised you do it in several entries before. The difference is, you shouldn't binge on their content, or you'll subconsciously start measuring your stream's worth against theirs. You should get to know other streamers, get inspired by small ideas they use on their channels, and meet their communities, but don't fall into the trap of consuming so much content that you forget how much work is required to create your own.


➢ UPGRADE YOUR CRAFT, NOT YOUR CRAFTING TABLE


Let's return to the metaphor of the twenty story wall I described earlier. What if there was a trampoline you could buy, which could bounce you SO high into the air that it would immediately get you to the top of that twenty story wall? Would you buy it? Based on the behavior I've seen on Twitch, most streamers would say, "Yes."

Here's the problem: What happens when you have to scale the NEXT wall, which is thirty stories high? As we established in the metaphor earlier, your own skillset can barely get you ONE story off the ground. Guess you'll have to get a better trampoline.

Buying things is a slippery slope.
This is the most basic way I'm able to explain why you shouldn't buy things to improve your stream. There will always be bigger problems to overcome, and more pieces of equipment to buy. You won't feel better by artificially boosting the quality of your stream, because once you buy one $200 microphone, it will feel out of place without a $200 camera, or a $200 stream deck. And then once you've gotten all of those things, there will be $500 versions with even more features that you could buy to get even bigger improvements! All the while, your personality on camera still lacks confidence, your Fortnite win/loss ratio hasn't improved, and your channel hasn't grown any faster since making all these purchases. Essentially, your tech has gotten better but YOU haven't.

I've mentioned this opinion about not buying things in almost every single entry, but I suspect it's still not enough to sway some listeners. Gear lust is one of the most pervasive and hard to shake things in the Twitch community, after all. Be honest: since following The Twitch Playbook, have you bought any equipment, software, subscriptions, or other items for the specific purpose of improving your stream? If you did, don't worry. I'm not saying you've failed or that you didn't really need it, but consider having that be the last purchase you make for your channel until you've done significantly more streams- let's say 100-200 more combined hours on-camera.


➢ THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION


Just because something is difficult doesn't mean it isn't fun. Some levels in Super Mario will be a real challenge to get through, but that only makes it more rewarding to overcome those challenges. When you're at the store, you don't think of getting a Super Mario game because you want to beat it, you think of getting that game because you want to play it. The part that happens BEFORE the ending is the fun part, not the action of filing the completed game away on your shelf. You should think of Twitch the same way- each follower, viewer or subscriber milestone you reach is like beating a game, but everything you do leading up to those milestones should be the actual fun part. There's no gratification in the number itself. If you want to truly last in the long haul, fall in love with the mundane grind, not the far-off rewards.

Friday, June 14, 2019

To Improve Your Twitch, Get Inspired By Everything




I've spoken before about being proactive in improving your Twitch channel, and fixing even the aspects that are 99% perfect. Making the smallest additions or refinements, if done consistently over time, will compound into huge improvements sooner than you think. For more about these techniques, see the entry 'Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day'. But even when you're deciding what to fix, you may be looking in the wrong places. I'm willing to bet that you aren't taking advantage of every potential piece of inspiration for your channel.

Yes, you can even learn during your morning
commute.
Do you watch other Twitch streams? How about Netflix? YouTube? Go to the movies? Do you read books, whether fiction or nonfiction? Do you go to work or school? Do you see advertisements on your morning commute, listen to the radio, or use apps on your phone that make your life easier? You are literally surrounded by content, information and potential inspiration that could help your stream to improve. Whether something is entertaining, informative, effective, communicative, or useful, it contains lessons that you could be learning. To improve your streams, you should get inspired by EVERYTHING.

The specifics here are going to be different for everyone, because your interests aren't the same as mine or anyone else's. But I'm willing to bet that there are things out there packed full of potential lessons that you've just been leaving on the table. The following are three major categories that have inspired me greatly over the years, and since joining Twitch have all made large impressions on my own channel:


1. OTHER KINDS OF STREAMERS


You should be getting inspired by other Twitch channels. Anybody could tell you this, and you probably already figured it out yourself anyway. As I continued streaming on Twitch however, I made an interesting discovery: the channels from which I'd draw my greatest inspiration were actually the ones that made content I had no interest in making. 

Do you like city-building games, but you'd never
stream them? Watch those streams for
inspiration!
I've noticed that a lot of Twitch streamers, especially smaller ones, will gravitate toward other channels that are as close to their own existing style of content as possible. Competitive Apex Legends streamers regularly watching other competitive Apex players, for example. This is understandable- you naturally want to watch, endorse, and chat with other people who are making content you're interested in. But if this is the only thing you do, you will soon become creatively deprived. There won't be much in the well to draw from, after all. Since you only watch Apex streams, your shows will likely resemble thousands of other Apex streams, each largely indistinguishable from the last.

But what else in the world of Twitch interests you? Forget whether it's something you'd be interested in streaming yourself. In my time on Twitch I've gotten to know oil painters, real-time strategy players, travel blog streamers, people who roleplay in The Sims, competitive first-person shooter players, and speedrunners, to name a few. All of these are types of streams that I don't focus on myself, some of which I have no interest in EVER doing on my own channel. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching them, and it certainly doesn't mean there's nothing about their shows to draw inspiration from. Quite the opposite, in fact: chat commands, graphic layouts, scene transitions, alerts, sound effects, on-camera personas, community interactions- anything can spark ideas in your head. It's the very fact that these streams are a world apart from mine that allows the creative juices to flow. If I were only watching channels that do the exact same thing as me, I'd rarely be coming up with concepts that felt unique to my field.


2. THE WISDOM OF OTHER PROFESSIONS


A customs agent can utilize their eye for
detail in many ways on Twitch.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that only Twitch-related wisdom can help you on Twitch. You're surrounded by thousands of years' worth of knowledge in countless fields and disciplines that could apply to your channel, if you only start to truly pay attention. One big example? If you've been following The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you've already been learning from the combined wisdom of all the various fields I've studied. I regularly pull quotes, terms and workflows from the worlds of video production, sound engineering, marketing, social media management, founding startup companies, narrative fiction, ancient philosophy, and more, to get my points across. This isn't because I Google insightful things to sprinkle on top of each Entry to make them seem fancier, it's because I either work in or study all of these fields. I've kept my mind open when learning all of this, in order to let it filter back into my work on Twitch.

What do you do for a living? Just because it doesn't involve streaming video games all day doesn't mean you can't apply its teachings to your Twitch channel. Does your job ever involve taking inventory in the back of a store? Adapt that process of meticulously verifying items into a concise pre-stream checklist that'll help you remember to send out your 'going live' Tweet, set up your camera, and change your stream title before each show. A teacher who has to regularly deal with angry parents can apply some of their conflict-defusing techniques in Twitch chat. If you're learning about economics in your studies, utilize that knowledge to craft interesting minigames and loyalty rewards in your channel's Chatbot software. It doesn't matter how seemingly unrelated to Twitch the field might be as a whole, your channel should be a sponge that soaks up ALL the knowledge and skills you have available to you, not just the things you learn on or around Twitch.


3. THE WISDOM OF LEISURE


When I say you should implement ALL the knowledge you have into your Twitch channel, I really mean it. What do you do when you're not working or learning? It's likely that you're spending a lot of your free time on your phone, your TV, your computer, or outside. These may not be part of your professional or academic life, but you're mistaken if you think there are no lessons to learn from these activities.

Sitting around and watching TV can still
inspire you, as long as you don't
shut off your brain completely.
Maybe you boot up a new app on your phone, and its concise tutorial sparks an idea about how to introduce your channel more effectively when talking about it on camera. A reality TV show might help you find a more interesting cadence for your streams, so you always leave another interesting moment coming up "after the break." A news anchor's manner of speaking might help you to talk without as many junk words such as "um" or "like." Maybe the way you organize files and folders on your computer could help you restructure your OBS layouts. Was there something you admired about how the emcee hosted trivia night at the bar when you were out with coworkers last week? Maybe that insight could help your Twitch channel's community game nights to run more smoothly.


➢ LEARN BY LIVING


Henry Ford, the inventor of the automobile, once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. It very concisely explains how innovation is reached, and the idea that sometimes the last place you should be looking is in your own field. The lessons you learn from other Twitch channels like your own, or even from Twitch in general, won't help you achieve true greatness by themselves- you'll need to take inspiration from areas where no one else even thought to look.

As long as you allow knowledge to find you, you'll be very surprised how much in life can turn into a learning experience. My suggestion: keep your phone's notepad app handy, and write down every idea that sparks in your mind as soon as it happens, even if it seems stupid at the time. Then you can sift through those notes later. There won't be as many bad ideas in there as you think. You'll soon realize that life is constantly handing you free lessons that are applicable to Twitch. All you have to decide is whether you're going to open your mind to allow those lessons to flow in.

    Friday, June 7, 2019

    The Best Microphone Setup for Streaming




    If you've been reading The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you should know two things about me: First, I think good audio is the most important technical aspect of a Twitch stream. Second, I'm vehemently against buying new equipment in order to upgrade your shows.

    In the earlier entry 'Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic,' we discussed how to make your stream sound GOOD. In this entry, arguably even more importantly, I'm going to help you prevent it from sounding BAD. A microphone set up in the wrong location, using the wrong settings, or creating harsh audio glitches gives off the impression that the streamer isn't even trying. What's more, it's just plain unpleasant to listen to- I've left streams before, only because the person's microphone was constantly peaking with shrill audio, a problem that can be solved easily with a few minutes of adjusting.

    Here we will combat a multitude of common problems with your streaming microphone. This will not only make your streams sound better, but hopefully instill a more solution-oriented attitude when approaching your shows. You're not going to come out of this entry as a professional audio engineer, but you don't need as much knowledge about the science of sound as you might think. You just need to know where to look. Or more specifically, where to listen.


    LISTEN TO YOUR OWN AUDIO


    It should go without saying, but you need to be prepared to listen to yourself. Regularly doing this will allow you to solve most audio issues, because you'll be able to identify what you don't like. Using a little common sense, you can typically trace the problem back to its source.

    If you've got one of those hangups about hearing the sound of your own voice, you're going to need to get over that real quick. You're being broadcast on the internet- you're asking everyone else to listen to your voice, so you may as well have the decency to listen to it yourself. Download a free piece of audio software called Audacity. Use this to listen to your mic's audio, separated from the rest of your stream's audio. It'll go a long way toward optimizing your microphone's potential.


    REMOVE AUTOMATED FEATURES


    Contrary to what they might tell you, the robots
    do not know what's best.
    There's an unfortunate feature on Windows called 'AGC', or 'Automatic Gain Control.' What this does is constantly and very aggressively 'equalize' your voice to make the loud moments quieter and the quiet moments louder. Sounds good right? There's a slight problem: It never works, and it almost always makes your microphone sound like crap.

    In your Windows sound settings, find the Recordings tab and go into the properties menu for the mic you use on stream. If your mic supports it, AGC will likely be enabled by default, so you're going to want to disable that immediately. But while you're in those properties, make sure to uncheck all the other automated features as well. We want a 'clean' version of your microphone's audio, without any extra processing layered on top. This means turning off everything related to boosting, enhancing, or otherwise artificially improving your sound. AGC is often the sole culprit in a case of bad audio though, so definitely don't overlook that one.

    In production audio, AGC is the devil.



    PEAKING: THE ENEMY OF GOOD AUDIO


    When your audio is peaking, the waveform will be
    cut off on the top and bottom. This means the audio
    file will be damaged, and so will your ears.
    Screenshot credit: Larry Jordan
    For anyone who's never worked in audio before, 'peaking' in the simplest terms, is when your mic sounds strangely loud even when your speaker volume is turned down. For anyone a little more audio-enlightened, peaking is what causes most audio distortion. Remember when I told you to download Audacity? Well, open it up and start a recording. Talk once at your normal speaking volume, then get as close to your microphone as possible and YELL AN ENTIRE SENTENCE AS LOUD AS YOU CAN. You'll notice that the audio's 'waveform', the squiggly line that visually represents your sound, looks like a solid block at the point where you started yelling.

    Listen to what that sounds like (but make sure to turn your speakers down first) - it's definitely not pleasant. Without getting into the technical concepts of why this phenomenon occurs, it's best to say that you want to prevent it from happening on your show. Now place your mic wherever it's normally located during a livestream. Say one sentence at your typical hosting volume, and then yell one, as if it's an intense moment, like a firefight in Apex Legends or a tough boss battle in Sekiro. Does your audio peak, or get close to peaking? There are two major factors to consider in solving this: your mic settings and your mic placement.


    ADJUST YOUR MIC SETTINGS


    Turn this bar down and it'll go a long way
    toward improving your mic. 
    Your microphone's levels are a major factor in causing the audio to peak. Navigate back to your mic's recording properties and try turning down the Microphone slider bar in the 'Levels' tab to 50%. Do not do this in your stream software, but in the sound settings of Windows. If there is an 'input volume' dial on the microphone itself, you should adjust this even before changing the Windows settings. This will ensure that you are making adjustments as close to the source as possible.

    Now, open Audacity and record the same two sentences from earlier once again. You may have to turn your speaker volume up to hear it, but has the peaking issue been removed? If so, all you have to do is find the proper middle ground in the Microphone 'Levels' tab to use for setting your audio. A little peaking in the most absolutely crazy moments is OK, but you want to make sure it's not a regular occurrence. Once your mic is no longer peaking, you can raise the mic input levels in your streaming software to make up for the lowered Windows input settings.

    Don't let Windows sell you on their own automated choices for
    your microphone.

    OPTIMIZE YOUR MICROPHONE PLACEMENT


    Give some thought to where your microphone is physically located. If your mic is close to your mouth, make sure you're not breathing directly onto it. This can produce an ugly windy sound, much more intense than your breathing sounds in real life. If it's too far from your face, this can cause an echo effect. Does your mic sit on your desk? Make sure your use of the keyboard isn't creating loud taps or thumping noises. These are all things you can't detect in real life without listening to your recorded audio, so make sure you're not skipping that step. Aside from basic technical preparations, the placement of a microphone is the single most important aspect in capturing good audio.


    MANAGE BACKGROUND NOISE


    Everyone has experienced bad background noise in audio. We've had bad phone calls with someone speaking near a busy street, with construction going on in their building, or with their little cousins shrieking in the background. Of course, there are a few basic steps you can take: don't put your fan right next to your microphone, shut the windows, and keep the door to your room closed if you aren't streaming from a common area.

    Background noise can be a killer.
    Oftentimes, communication with others in your home can be even more important than self-contained fixes. You need to set boundaries. When I had multiple roommates, making sure they understood that someone barging into my room while streaming, trying to have their voice pick up on my microphone, or even being in my room while streaming at all, were not okay with me. If your roommates or family members are reasonable human beings, they'll understand and hopefully support you. But it's up to you to set whichever limits are important to you, as well as to make it clear specifically when you're streaming. Every household is different of course, but communication and transparency are key when you plan to be streaming for the long haul.


    LISTEN TO YOUR OWN AUDIO


    It should go without saying, but you need to be prepared to listen to yourself. Wait, did I say this already? Oh yeah, that's because it's REALLY IMPORTANT. I know a lot of you probably skipped this step, but I'm not kidding- you need to be able to listen to the sound of your voice, and be willing to do it A LOT. All of the above items: Removing Automated Features, Minimizing Peaking, Mic Placement, and Managing Background Noise, require it. You can't afford to be bashful about hearing yourself speak. If you skipped this step earlier, go back and do it now. There is no acceptable excuse.


    PROFESSIONALISM ISN'T ABOUT MONEY


    All these steps mentioned above will help the audio coming from your microphone sound as crisp as possible, and you'll be moving further and further into a level of professionalism that many streamers never achieve. Your mic may still not sound as good as one that costs hundreds of dollars, but that's not what matters. Making your stream feel more professional isn't about money, it's about discipline.

    If you're taking steps like these to improve your sound quality rather than throwing dollars at the issue, you'll be setting yourself up to last longer on Twitch. There will always be another piece of equipment you can buy, but having enough work ethic to direct all your focus toward solving problems is something you could never pay for. It means you're committed to your channel, and that you actually care. So don't spend any money on a new microphone- but make sure you're getting the most out of the one you already own! 

    Friday, May 31, 2019

    Don't Be Afraid To Be Yourself on Stream




    Many new streamers, especially those who don't have a lot of on-camera experience, are terrified of allowing their true personality to show during a stream. They might be extremely quiet on their shows for fear of saying anything wrong. They could hide behind the wall of the familiar, copying the style of other streamers who are already established. Or they may allow their own self-doubts to walk all over them, constantly second-guessing their own choices for their channel. These fears lead to bland streams, either less entertaining to watch or too similar to other shows to stand out- both of these outcomes are terrible for your channel's growth.

    I know it's difficult to put yourself out there- speaking in front of crowds of strangers is terrifying to most. It terrifies me too. But here's the thing: in order to stream on Twitch we all have to do it, so you may as well show your true colors while you're at it. Let your authentic personality come out on stream. You'd be surprised how much good it does!


    ➢ NEVER STRIVE TO 'FIT IN'


    If you're aiming to fit in with all the other streamers,
    you're missing the point.
    The more unique a stream is, the more likely it is to succeed. People aren't following your channel because you act like Shroud or because your channel graphics look like Shroud's- if they wanted that, they could just follow Shroud. You want people to follow you for you. You want them to see something that they can only find on your channel, which will keep them coming back for more. What's the most unique thing about how you play games in your personal time, or just about you in general? Do you like to do crossword puzzles while waiting for Overwatch matches to start? Do you like talking in weird accents, or heatedly discussing Star Wars lore? Do you wear suits all the time? Do you like to play games in other languages and try to guess what the dialogue means? Whatever your personal unique trait, have you allowed it to show up in your streams yet?

    I've spoken a lot before about incorporating your passions into your channel- you can probably tell I consider it extremely important. I think many people have a hard time really letting themselves run free, whether they're trying to start their channel or introduce these things into an existing one. Some streamers might even say there's "nothing unique about them," which we all know isn't true. All you have to do is reach within yourself and find those things that truly fuel you. It may take time to zero in on these things, but as long as you're keeping an eye out for them, they will present themselves.

    When I started on Twitch, despite already having years of on-camera hosting experience, I wasn't truly allowing my most out-there quirks to show. Throughout the rest of this entry, you will hear three case studies. They describe instances when unleashing my passions on stream has helped my own channel in major ways. Your personal passions won't be the same, but hopefully by seeing the process and its benefits you will understand its rewards. Be aware that these changes for me didn't happen overnight, some of them took weeks or months of constant streaming to tease out, but the amount of time it takes should never deter you from doing this yourself- the benefits are enormous.


    1. THE QUEST FOR ABSOLUTE ENJOYMENT


    I've always loved the artistry and meticulous design that goes into video games. When I play the story-based games I love on my own time, I'm oftentimes more interested in looking at the posters on walls, reading the books and diaries scattered around, and searching through levels for secrets, than actually doing the main quest or any action related to the normal gameplay.

    Searching for secrets in the 2016 DOOM, a game normally
    about high-octane shooting, was the first instance
    of my passion revealing itself on stream.
    Starting out on Twitch, despite mostly focusing on story-based games from the get-go, I was terrified to actually let my true gameplay style show on stream. I thought it would make for a show so lethally boring that no one would want to watch- I was trapped by my own assumptions. I knew how to talk confidently on camera, so I would fill every moment with talking. It made for high engagement, but I would miss large pieces of the story- the aspect about games that I care about most. I also forced myself to play more to the mainline quest, passing up many of the items, secret passageways and bits of reading material that I typically loved to explore. And here's the thing- people did enjoy the shows. I did gain followers and community members, and my channel grew normally. But I didn't truly enjoy doing it.

    After hundreds of broadcasts, I started facing my fear and slowly doing more unorthodox things in games. And when these quirks eventually did show up, people found new types of entertainment in them. I'd read in-game books in different invented character voices. I'd spend time analyzing posters and bits of environmental storytelling, and many viewers who had played the game before loved discovering something they never noticed in their own playthrough. People in chat would get excited when I started finding more secret items, to the point that we now have a channel emote and chat commands dedicated to moments when we find amazing hidden things. All the quirks that I was afraid to show on stream ended up becoming some of my channel's biggest branding points. Most importantly, there's now no barrier between how I authentically enjoy video games and how I play them on stream.


    2. KEEPING THINGS INTERESTING


    After starting to read in-game books and diaries using different accents, I began creating characters that I would voice on stream, who would appear for about a minute each and respond to different things in the game I was playing. Not just impressions, but original characters off the top of my head with all different dialects, mannerisms and backstories. This became such a massive hit that one dedicated community member even created a Wiki to chronicle these appearances. Now there are hundreds of separate characters on the Wiki, and I clip and add new appearances daily. The 'Expanded Nickiverse', as we call it, has become the hallmark of my entire channel, and contributing to this larger project, or being there for moments where new voices are summoned, is a huge reason for many viewers to keep coming back to streams.


    3. PASSION IS INFECTIOUS


    Becoming a cowboy on stream was a major event
    for my channel.
    My love for accents and characters didn't stop there though. Eventually I undertook much larger scale projects using my voices. One of my favorite examples was my playthrough of the Red Dead franchise, a series of open world cowboy games made by the creators of Grand Theft Auto. I had a cowboy hat sitting around in my house, and decided to go through the whole series, from Revolver to Redemption to Redemption 2, entirely as a cowboy. This meant constantly talking in a western accent, pulling out countless Old West mannerisms or invented phrases, engaging with the chat in character as a cowboy, and generally seeing all the events in the games through the eyes of this invented gunslinger. The series playthrough ended up being around 250 hours of combined content, all without ever breaking the character of 'Cowboy Nick'. It was a huge joy to create, because I love western films and TV shows, and I was given an outlet for something that I truly loved doing on a scale that I never thought possible before.

    Many people have said that the cowboy streams were their favorites on the channel, with others specifically mentioning that they originally followed just because of these unique shows and have become major fans of all my other content ever since.


    ➢ BEING TRUE TO YOURSELF



    Allowing your passions to take root in your stream will not just make you happier, but help you to avoid every streamer's nightmare: 'burnout.' Here's the thing many people don't consider: even when you're playing video games for a living, if you have to put on a mask every time you go live, you will eventually feel trapped within your own stream. Many great streamers larger than you or I have had major falling outs, even stopped their channels entirely, because of this phenomenon. Not being able to express oneself on stream can be a major contributing factor in losing motivation and becoming burned out. Don't let this happen to you.

    As I've mentioned in many previous entries, you should never look solely for a 'gimmick'- don't take this entry to mean that you should stop everything you're doing and change all aspects of your channel, but rather that you should give your passions a way to slowly reveal themselves. You don't want to jump into a massively ambitious stream project without having tested the waters, or even worse, if you aren't truly interested in the subject matter. I only arrived at many of the concepts laid out in this entry after streaming hundreds, possibly over a thousand combined hours of content- they only grew into ideas as big as they were because they expanded naturally. When sitting around and thinking of what I wanted for my channel before I started streaming, I never would have imagined any of these things taking the center stage. But that's the great thing about allowing your passions to show: if you truly, absolutely love doing something, and you give it a chance on stream, it will plant its seed and start growing into something totally new. Don't be afraid to be yourself on stream- after all, there's nobody else out there who can do it exactly like you do!

    Friday, May 24, 2019

    3 Easy Tips to Network on Twitch




    Improving your stream is always important, but don't let that blind you from the wonderful and vibrant Twitch landscape thriving right outside the walls of your channel. Meeting other streamers and getting to know their communities is seriously important on Twitch. This can gain you new followers, but more importantly you'll be inspired by new ideas, learn different techniques, and make new friends. If you're networking properly, then in a very short time you can cultivate a tight-knit group of Twitch friends who are all willing to help out your stream.

    Don't sit around thinking of ways to get followers
    quick, just get out there and meet people!
    Unfortunately, many new streamers, either afraid to put in work or self-conscious about meeting new people, opt for short-sighted schemes and tricks which ultimately hurt their growth. Follow-for-follow programs will fill your channel with a number of bots or latent accounts, who will never actually watch or engage with your streams. Going into random channels or social media posts and shamelessly self-promoting your own stuff is a great way to get yourself banned from other communities, or possibly even reported. Don't try to cheat your way through the system- it will end up hurting you far more than it helps.

    So how do you actually network on Twitch? In the end, it's the same way you'd network in any business scenario:

    ALWAYS BRING VALUE TO OTHERS.

    It's really that simple. As long as you're keeping this core concept behind everything you do, you will go very far when meeting new people on Twitch. Now the big question: how do you actually provide that value? You don't need any extra social media accounts to do it (see the entry 'Twitch Is the Only Social Channel You Need'), and you don't need a whole lot of extra time. Here are a few ways to make sure you're always bringing value when networking on Twitch:


    1. ACTUALLY BE A PART OF OTHER CHATS


    If Spider-Man can find the time, so can you!
    Too many new streamers will enter someone's chat only to talk about their own channel. Others will post the same copy/pasted comment in every show they join. Or they'll commit the biggest streaming sin of all: unsolicited self-promotion. They think these strategies are networking, but in reality it's only self-serving. Look, I get it. You're busy. Maybe you don't think you have time to truly engage with other streams all the time without cutting to the chase. You barely have enough time to do your own streams as it is.

    But it's not as hard as you think. If you're on a lunchbreak, on the bus, in the bathroom, even getting a cup of coffee, spend a few minutes being a part of someone's show. Make it known that you're there, and provide value by being a real part of their chat. Even if you can't watch, just listening while working, and commenting occasionally based on what the streamer is saying goes a long way. They will certainly appreciate you being present, and you might even learn a thing or two by watching their stream or chat activity.


    2. ALWAYS BE RAIDING


    In my opinion, the 'raid' is the single most important tool for networking on Twitch. This is a command you use when your stream is ending to take all the viewers from your stream and bring them into someone else's channel. You can find out more info about the technical aspects here.

    Unleash your inner pirate and RAID, matey!
    You're providing an immense amount of value to the other streamer by doing this. Not only are you increasing their view count, but your viewers are coming in with your attached recommendation of that streamer's content. I've noticed that viewers coming from a raid are more likely to follow or engage than ones coming from a normal host or by browsing the Twitch categories. Why? Because they know they're likely to have a good time on this new channel if it comes with your seal of approval. Of course, this means that you're providing lots of value to your viewers too, because not only do they get to keep watching something after you go offline, but they may find another channel they love.

    When you raid another channel, it's a mutual exchange- it will help you just as much as it helps the other streamer. First, the channel you're raiding is going to be very thankful that you shared your community with them. They may even follow you or join during one of your upcoming shows. Second, they will automatically know that you are also a streamer. They'll likely ask you about your own channel, and may even post a 'shoutout' command in their chat, linking to you and recommending that their viewers check you out. Third, now that you're acquainted and they know you're willing to help them, they will likely return the favor- you may see them raiding you back in the future.

    I raid after every single stream I do, and because I do so many streams- 21 separate broadcasts every week- I've met an overwhelming amount of other streamers in the process. Many of them I've now raided dozens of times, and a good deal of them have become very close friends. Some of my viewers are now big parts of their communities, and some of their viewers are now big parts of mine. I can't recommend raiding highly enough- you should be doing this as often as possible.


    3. LOOK FOR SIMILARLY SIZED CHANNELS


    At first, you may think that aligning with significantly larger channels is the best idea, because even a small fragment of their followers joining you would make a huge difference in your own follow count. If this is the way you're thinking, your basic reasoning is flawed.

    This is because you're trying to get more value from someone than you're giving. 

    A streamer with 10x or 100x your follower count would certainly love to get to know you in chat, but they're very rarely going to be interested in joining your streams or raiding your shows. This is, in its simplest form, because you can't likely help them. They're going to want to align with other channels that are a similar size to theirs. That doesn't mean you should be mad at those larger channels, it means you should be doing the same thing.
    Looking only for relationships with massively larger
    channels is just another way for you to avoid putting
    in actual work when networking.

    When you're picking people to network with, look for channels within 20% of your follower count. These streamers are more likely to stick by your side in the ensuing months. That's because you're both facing the same challenges. The longer you stream on Twitch, the more you'll realize that everything changes as your channel grows. You will likely run into more trolls in chat at 1,000 followers than you did at 10, and your level of hosting experience at 50 followers will be totally different from your experience level at 5,000. Your follow count doesn't indicate your channel's quality, but it is a surprisingly good measure of where you are on your Twitch journey.

    Plus, if you have a similar follower count to someone else, your help will likely make a bigger impact on them. Someone whose stream normally has 10 viewers will appreciate a 10-person raid a lot more than a massively larger channel whose stream normally has 90 viewers. Make sure you're looking for people who can not only help you, but who you can help in return. This will ensure you're forming a truly two-sided bond with someone, rather than just trying to get a piece of what they have.


    ➢ HELPING OTHERS HELPS YOU TOO


    It might seem like there's no goal to shoot for with my strategy for networking- no metric by which to measure how 'valuable' a connection with another streamer is. That's a good thing! You don't want to be looking for what you get out of a relationship- only what you can give. But I can guarantee that if you truly keep this core concept of bringing value to others at the heart of your networking efforts, you will start noticing big results. People want to help someone they know they can count on. And you in turn will want to help them back. No matter what size your channel is, there are others out there going through the same trials- all you have to do is get out there and find them. So forget the tricks and schemes, and do some two-sided networking!

    Friday, May 17, 2019

    Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right




    There's a lot to think about when making a Twitch stream, but some of the most mysterious aspects are the stream output settings. These don't deal with how your stream is designed or how you as the host act on camera, but rather how the stream gets to the internet, how faithfully the image you see on your PC is conveyed to the viewer, and how reliably the audience is able to watch the stream without buffering. When doing their job right, your output settings will be completely invisible. When set up wrong however, your stream settings might cause the show to look ugly, create performance issues, or even completely crash the stream.

    Choosing a resolution is like choosing the size of
    a barrel. Choosing a bitrate is about how much
    you can pack into that barrel.
    I'm going to help you arrive at just the right settings for broadcasting your streams- not by giving you the exact numbers to punch in (everybody's games, PCs, layouts, accessories, and internet connections are too different to give one definitive configuration), but by handing you the tools to arrive there yourself.

    Please be aware though, especially if you've never read The Twitch Playbook before and you skipped to this entry first: ON CAMERA EXPERIENCE is always more valuable than a perfect stream. If you haven't done at least a dozen combined hours of streaming already, put this entry down, enable all the "auto" settings on your broadcasting software and get out there, live on the internet. If you need an extra motivational boost, read the entry Start Your Twitch Channel With NO MONEY.


    ➢ WHAT ARE THE MAIN STREAM OUTPUT SETTINGS?


    Depending on what broadcasting software you use, there may be a crazy amount of sliders and menus for you to tinker with. There are only two truly top-tier settings though, which just about every piece of streaming software will have, and these govern all other aspects of your stream. They are: RESOLUTION and BITRATE.

    If you got Da Vinci to paint your portrait, it would
    be totally lifelike. But this may not always be
    necessary.
    The interesting thing about streaming is that what you see in your game, or even on your computer's broadcasting software, is NOT what your viewers see. The nature of the internet is such that only a portion of your stream's original quality can be conveyed to viewers. There's a lot of science behind resolution and bitrate, but it all boils down to the following concept:

    Before cameras were invented, if you wanted a picture of yourself, you'd have to hire an artist to paint a portrait. The resolution and bitrate settings you choose are equivalent to choosing a better or worse artist to paint the 'portrait' of your stream. Low settings may be severely lacking in detail, and high settings may be completely identical to the source, but it's important to always remember that there is an intermediary between you and the viewers.

    Resolution denotes how many pixels of video are delivered on your stream. This is typically measured by two numbers, which represent the horizontal and vertical pixel counts. It's not necessary to get into more details for these purposes, but suffice it to say that 1920x1080 is the HD resolution commonly known as 1080p, and 1280x720 is the HD resolution commonly known as 720p. There is also the 'standard definition' resolution of 848x480. These are the most common output resolutions for Twitch streaming.

    Bitrate is trickier for many to understand. This number, measured in Kbps, or 'Kilobits Per Second', denotes how much data is packed into each second of your stream. The lower your bitrate, the less internet speed is required on your end to broadcast. The tradeoff is, the lower your bitrate, the blurrier your video will look.


    ➢ THE PROBLEM WITH GOING TO 11


    "Very interesting," you might be thinking. "But higher resolution and bitrate mean higher quality streams, right? I'll just crank everything up as high as it'll go and then my streams will look amazing!" This could work out for you, but in most cases, extremely high settings are a terrible idea. There are three main factors to be aware of: Processing Power, Your Internet, and The Viewer’s Internet.


    PROCESSING POWER

    Don't make your PC explode.
    The higher your resolution and bitrate settings, the higher the processing load on your PC. As it is, your stream software is sharing your PC's processing power with the game you’re playing, as well as all other pieces of equipment connected to your computer. How much this affects you depends on what kind of computer you have, and how much strain your game puts on your PC. Playing a pixel based sidescroller won’t likely cause your computer to bat an eye, but attempting to play a next-gen visual powerhouse game on its max graphics settings, while also outputting a stream at max settings will likely crash your computer or cause major performance issues. Playing a game while streaming isn’t the same as playing it off stream either- just because you get a solid 60fps in Metro Exodus while playing on your personal time does NOT mean you’ll get the same results while streaming. If you're running into performance problems, it's likely because of these warring juggernauts: try lowering your game's graphics settings, and if that doesn't work, lowering your stream settings the next time you go live.


    YOUR INTERNET

    Everybody knows that you can't stream without an internet connection. What most people don't know is how much internet is required to stream, and how much of your home internet is safe to allocate for streaming. If your bitrate exceeds your amount of available internet speed, even for a half second, you'll start 'dropping frames', meaning your stream will appear frozen to everyone watching, until the internet speed raises above your attempted bitrate again. Here's a simple metric to find out how much internet you should be allowing your stream software to use, so that you won't have this problem:

    Find out your internet plan's upload speed (not the more commonly advertised 'download speed'). A good bitrate to start with is roughly 30% of your upload speed.

    This accounts for the huge swings in connectivity most internet companies suffer from (though they don't advertise it much), as well as anyone else who might be using the internet in your house.

    Your internet provider may advertise their speeds in Mbps, or Megabits Per Second, which is simply the Kilobits Per Second number that your stream software uses, divided by 1,000. So for example if your internet plan has a 10 Mbps upload speed, this means you can use 3 Mbps to stream with. That's equivalent to 3,000 Kbps in your stream software.


    THE VIEWER’S INTERNET

    One other important point that many new streamers don’t consider is how the viewer RECEIVES the stream. Let’s say your PC can handle anything you throw at it, and your internet is screaming fast. If your stream outputs at 10,000 Kbps, this means your viewers need to have at least that fast of an internet connection to actually watch it. Bitrate is not only the setting that dictates whether you can stream from your end, but also the setting that dictates what whether someone can watch on their end. Have you ever watched a YouTube video that froze and started buffering, so you had to wait for it to load? This means the transmitted bitrate was higher than your internet connection could pull down at that moment. And you don’t want your viewers sitting around watching a ‘buffering’ screen all day. Otherwise they won’t likely be viewers for long. So you shouldn't just be lowering your Bitrate to the maximum that YOUR internet can handle, but one that most people can actually watch. If a lot of people complain that your stream is buffering, especially if they mention that other streams on Twitch load just fine, don't ignore these comments: lower your bitrate. You don't want to drive people away just to make your stream look better.


    ➢ THE MAGIC NUMBER


    If you're on a pretty good PC and have decent internet, try starting with a resolution of 720p and a bitrate of 2,500 Kbps. From here, you can go higher if everything is smooth, or lower things if you notice problems. But there's a reason I waited until the end to mention these two numbers. Hopefully by teaching you what these metrics actually mean, and by demystifying the numbers themselves, you'll be able to get more performance and quality out of your streams than if you simply punched in a 'one size fits all' value.

    Your ability to make an entertaining show will always be more important than how clear your stream looks. But if you've been improving your stream and are looking for another way to get better quality for no money, optimizing your output settings is a great way to do it. Always keep the 'trial and error' spirit I've mentioned in previous entries- you'll likely want to tinker until you find the sweet spot. But now, when raising or lowering these settings, you won't be shooting in the dark. Once your stream output settings are just right, you'll have one less thing to worry about when going live. So take some time behind the scenes, and make that stream shine!

    Friday, May 10, 2019

    Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream




    Let's say you've been streaming for a while and your shows are going well. Your streams may not have the fanciest equipment or newest games, but you've got your audio mixed properly and your hosting persona is getting more refined. You might have also found a comfortable groove for your channel's schedule- whether that's always going live at a specific time, or just making sure you never miss a scheduled day. All is going well.

    Do you love playing with action figures? Stream it!
    But you probably have an idea kicking around in the back of your mind- a style of stream that's outside of your comfort zone. You haven't done it before, you're not sure if you'd be able to do it well, and you may have never seen anyone else on Twitch doing it- it lives in completely uncharted waters. For these reasons, you are terrified of attempting that stream.

    This is good!

    Fear of trying something on stream is the best way to know that it's the exact kind of idea you SHOULD be implementing. You should always try your worst idea for a livestream. You never know what's going to work.


    ➣ BAD IDEAS ARE SUBJECTIVE


    It's hard to pin down what seems like a 'bad idea' to anyone out there, because anything that seems crazy to one person could be another's bread and butter. Suffice it to say that it's all relative- the kinds of streams someone typically makes are what cause a new style of show seem strange: a Fortnite streamer doing an IRL show where they repair their motorcycle, a competitive Overwatch player strapping their phone to their chest and livestreaming their morning runs in first-person, or someone known for painting miniature Warhammer figurines doing live karaoke. Think of the hobby you love most outside of livestreaming- what would it be like if you were able to incorporate that into your Twitch channel?

    If you love building or customizing your PC,
    don't assume others will find it boring.
    Try sharing it with the world!
    "But Nick!" you might complain, "My passion for LARPing would make a terrible stream! Why would I attempt something when I don't even know if it'll work?" There are many reasons. First, you can meet new kinds of viewers- if you have a passion for beatboxing, or photo editing, or sandcastle building and decide to do it on stream, there will most likely be others out there who love the same thing. You're making your channel more varied, and therefore more discoverable. Your existing fans would be able to look forward to new kinds of shows as well, having a welcome break in the typical style of stream. And most importantly, you'll be more creatively fulfilled- you'll get to do something you love and share it with everyone! Don't think of this as a permanent change- it's just a one-time thing. See how it feels to try on stream- if you like it, you might find you want to bring it back.

    There's a saying by Confucius: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." Don't let your stream be a perfectly flawless pebble- keep trying new things even if you don't know whether they'll be any good. This is how great ideas grow!


    ➣ MY PERSONAL QUEST: THE TRAVEL STREAM


    On my streams, I've implemented many of these kinds of ideas, and they have done wonders for my channel. That's not to say that I've kept every crazy idea I've tried, but rather that I have never stopped trying my worst ideas for streams, and through this constant experimentation have been able to significantly improve my channel. The following was my personal journey in arriving at one such stream idea.

    For work, I typically fly around the country about a dozen times per year. When I started on Twitch, I didn't want to let this interrupt my daily livestream schedule, so I came up with a way to still stream while away from home. Several streams ensued, some of these tried and refined multiple times, but here are the overarching concepts.

    I tried to hard to stream video games away from home, before I realized
    I could branch out into the other things I love!

    1st Attempt: The Portable Console

    When I first started, I didn't do anything except stream story-based games. And I had a hard time deviating from that rigid concept in any way. So my first thought was to bring my Nintendo Switch, laptop and a whole nest of capture equipment and cables with me. I'd plug my Switch into the computer, route it into the hotel's TV through an HDMI splitter and play Zelda while away from home. It worked (in theory) but there were too many variables: some hotel TVs weren't compatible, there was too much hardware to lug around, and most importantly: my laptop couldn't handle it.

    2nd Attempt: The Less Intensive Game

    On my second trip, I tried streaming Stardew Valley, a simpler pixel-art game, from my laptop. Using a camera would still cause performance issues on the stream, but it ran more smoothly than the previous, more intensive setup.

    3rd Attempt: No Camera

    Next, I tried playing Stardew Valley with no camera. This worked better than before, but I'd still be cursed with crashes and unpredictability. After a few tries at making this work, it was time to go back to the drawing board.

    4th Attempt: Video Game Novel Readthroughs

    I picked up a companion novel to one of the video games we were doing on stream and did a dramatic reading of that story during simple Just Chatting shows. Since I typically create voices for all the characters on video game streams, this fit the channel identity well, and tied into the games we played. But I wasn't passionate about this idea, so I ended up scrapping it too.

    5th Attempt: Walking Around IRL

    I then tried doing streams where I would walk around outside the hotel where I was staying. Sometimes I would be in really cool places and could do virtual tours of the area. But the schedule of my work while traveling made this unsustainable: if my plane landed at 11:00pm, it would throw a wrench in any plans to walk around on camera.

    6th Attempt: Coloring Book Stream

    Getting to rekindle my love of art was a major source of
    happiness in my life, and it's all thanks
    to my Twitch streaming career!
    One day I found a Harry Potter coloring book at a used book store. I thought it would be fun to try a coloring book stream, and after attempting this once I knew it was a huge hit. Everyone loved watching, and enjoyed the relaxed tone. I quickly realized this could be my idea for travel streams: all I'd need was my phone, a set of colored pencils, and this coloring book. It was easy to carry, fun to watch, and I was given an outlet for a major passion of mine. One that I never thought I'd have time to do anymore, before incorporating it into my Twitch channel. For the first 20 years of my life, I had been studying the fine arts, but ever since I moved away from that in my career I haven't had time to draw, paint, or create much at all. It was amazing to regain this creative outlet!

    For the past several months, I've been doing an ongoing 'playthrough series' for the entire coloring book. Just like a story-based game, we are aiming to finish the entire thing from cover to cover. WHEN that task gets done doesn't matter, because it's a fun thing to look forward to every time I go away on business. I don't dread the extra work of setting up a stream away from home, or avoid streaming while out of town and then stress about how I'm missing  potential opportunities. I've met all sorts of new people who are interested in watching artwork-focused streams, who have then joined my normal video game shows after enjoying my personality while coloring. I now know there's a thriving art community on Twitch, but at the time I had never seen an artwork stream before. I didn't even know whether anyone would be interested in watching my coloring book show. All I knew was that I would enjoy doing it. And that's what fueled me. Even though the coloring stream concept seemed craziest to me out of all the ideas I tried, it ended up being not only the one I liked the most, but the one people enjoyed watching the most too. Who would have guessed?


    ➣ UTILIZE YOUR PASSIONS


    I'm not suggesting you find some gimmick for your Twitch channel, or attempt streams you know won't work. I want you to try the streams that you WISH would work- the ones that would make you so happy to be able to create, even if right now you don't know who would want to watch them. Don't mistake this for me advising you to buy better tech either, to make a 'dream version' of your existing streams- I'm talking about trying your completely outside-the-box ideas that incorporate the passions that you haven't ever shown on your Twitch channel.

    Do you love cooking? Video editing? Talking about sports? ASMR? Archery? Woodworking? Watching YouTube videos? Petting your cat? Learning new languages? It doesn't matter what the idea is, as long as you're passionate about it. Imagine if there were a way that could be incorporated into your Twitch channel. How pumped would you be to go live on Twitch when you were making one of those shows? Look at my example- every idea isn't guaranteed to work for you, but once you find the one you love doing, you'll be glad you chose to 'color outside the lines'. So get out there and try your worst idea for a Twitch stream. You might find that it was actually your best!