Friday, January 24, 2020

The Cost of Doing Nothing

It's easy to get distracted. Not just when you're a Twitch streamer, of course, but in all aspects of life. There are so many ways in which time or energy can simply slip away, without us even knowing where it all went. Do you know how many times you check your phone per day? How about when your work gets interrupted by some idle task around the house? What about the amount of times per week or month that you go down the rabbit hole, researching some subject that isn't immediately relevant to your goals? Little pleasures like social media, tidying up, information binges, and countless other activities can be vastly therapeutic. But what happens when we have too many of these little pleasures? As I've outlined in previous entries, this clutter can cause us to accidentally push away our most important long-term plans.

But what if there was a way to quantify the exact moment that some small, insignificant task breaks the camel's back and stops us from doing what's really important? There's a very simple metric that every ultra-productive person is aware of, whether they have a name for it or not. Mastering this will further your efforts not only to find time to stream, but the mental energy and willingness to stream. You need to learn the cost of doing nothing. 


Let's say you have two hours on a given night, and you choose to go out and see a movie. What does this cost? Probably the price of gas, plus the price of the ticket, plus the price of popcorn or other concessions. But there's another hidden cost- one associated with what you chose not to do. Let's say you're a student, and you have an unfinished paper due tomorrow, which would have taken two hours to write. Since you spent that time on the movie, your choice didn't only cost money- it also cost you your grade.

Everything creates ripples.
This concept is called opportunity cost. In its most basic form, opportunity cost is a measurement used by economists to figure out how much money it costs to not do something. Most of us want to believe that our time is free- that if we aren't directly under a deadline to do something, we can do whatever we want. This is only partially true- we can do whatever we want, but our time is most certainly not free- we are paying for every moment.

The previous example about going to a movie vs doing homework is pretty easy for most of us to understand, because it's an equivalent exchange- trading this two-hour task for that one. But if you look deeper, things get a lot trickier. Tiny, seemingly unrelated things we do can topple massive ambitions, if we're not paying attention to their cost. Habitually scrolling through Instagram could cost you your streaming career, for example. This is trickier to explain, but think of it this way: Let's say a restaurant offers only two fixed options: a $2 bag of potato chips or a $30 steak. (we'll assume tax and tip are included, and don't think too hard why a restaurant sells bags of potato chips- just go with it). You have exactly $30 in your pocket. You're only a little hungry so you buy the $2 snack instead of the $30 steak. It's pretty clear that you can afford this. But when the food comes, you realize you're hungrier than you originally thought. There's a problem though: you now only have $28 left. Buying the $2 snack cost you the opportunity to also buy the $30 meal, even though the $2 snack was well within your price range at the time. So what do you do? You buy more $2 snacks to fill yourself up, but no matter how many bags of chips you eat, they won't be as nourishing as eating an actual meal.

Imagine scrolling through Instagram, binging on Netflix, aimlessly shopping, or anything else that doesn't accomplish your immediate goal as the snack, and your dream of Twitch streaming as the dinner. One indulgence won't kill your dream, but too many of these put together will. If you haven't started streaming yet, or if you've lapsed out of streaming for any reason at any time, you've probably already fallen victim to this, without even realizing. It's easy to waste time without thinking about what it really costs you, until it's too late.


It's clear that we need to measure the opportunity cost of the things we do. As I've mentioned in previous entries, even time that you're simply killing while at work or school shouldn't be wasted on low-value activities. Everything you do has a consequence, and your time is more valuable than you think.

The smallest idle tasks can topple your biggest
Our phones are major timekillers- social media, group chats, rummaging through cluttered email inboxes, these devices are packed with all sorts of things that sap our attention throughout the day. This can create a general lethargy by the time you arrive home, so you feel like you were busy all day, not because you did any work toward your goals, but because you constantly responded to the pings in your pocket. The average American checks their phone more than 50 times per day. That's a lot. To put some real-world weight to this, that means if you put as little as a quarter in a jar every time you checked your phone, you'd have more than $80 in a single week, $375 in a month and $4,500 collected in a year! Now, nobody is taking a quarter from you every time you check your phone, but maybe they should be. Consider how much productive work or thought could have happened each time you idly raised your phone to scroll through Instagram or Facebook yesterday. Even at work or school, time spent cramming your brain with useless stuff could instead have been filled with problem solving. I get some of my best ideas when I'm not streaming- if I wasn't allowing my mind time to think, I never would have come up with them at all.

Everything you do in life has an opportunity cost. If you're doing something regularly that isn't streaming, you need to assess whether that thing is more important to you than your dream. Laying around the house, waking up late, exercising at the gym, taking long lunches, compulsively checking Twitter or Reddit, even cooking dinner- anything and everything you could do. Not every action is bad for you, but every action does have a cost, and therefore should be measured. Getting sucked into a protracted Twitter argument one day might sap not only your time, but also enough energy that you don't want to stream. If you're starting from the beginning, binging Netflix or scrolling through your Instagram last night may have prevented you from creating your channel altogether. For advice on how to remove low-value activities from your day, see the entry How to Easily Free Up Time for Twitch. Limit the number of unproductive things you allow yourself to do in a day, and don't let yourself get tired out by busywork. It's easy to spend time doing mindless tasks, because it feels like that time doesn't cost anything. But in reality, those indulgences could cost you everything.


Once we leave school or work and arrive home, we feel like all our time is free again. But this is when it's more important than ever that you attempt to actually do something with that time. Any weeks, months, years that most of us spend just existing without working toward our dreams is time directly being removed from our creative lifespan. If you're dreaming of being a Twitch streamer (or anything for that matter) and you still haven't started taking action and building something, do it right now. Don't wait any longer. Stop paying the opportunity cost and start reaching for the actual opportunity!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Different Kinds of Viewer Engagement

In my time on Twitch, I've met all kinds of people, and eventually I noticed patterns about viewers- the things they're looking for when watching, their engagement levels based on what they say they're doing while watching, and so on. Everyone is on Twitch for a different reason after all (for more info on this concept, see the entry Who is Watching Your Streams, And Why?) But despite knowing that there are all kinds of viewers out there, many streamers only focus on the viewers who are loudest in chat. This can exclude, and even sometimes drive away, other viewers who don't fit the same mold. There are huge swaths of audience members on every channel that will either chat very seldom, or never chat at all. What are you doing to engage this portion of your audience?


Not everyone is as talkative
as Sam & Max.
Being engaging on stream isn't only about constantly pinging your viewers with questions in order to get them chatting. It's also about creating situations on stream which get them excited, laughing or thinking, without ever even needing to chat. In order to understand more easily what viewers want, I've broken down the most prevalent archetypes into four groups: Type A, B, C and D Viewers. 

Type A Viewer: This is the classic kind of Twitch viewer, which most streamers focus on exclusively when trying to be engaging in their streams. This viewer is actively watching and actively chatting on your shows, giving your stream more attention than any other thing they're currently doing. 

Type B Viewer: There's another kind of viewer however, who will watch your show, and might be interested in chatting, but at their own pace. This person might be doing some other primary task while your stream is playing, like washing the dishes or organizing their desk. They may see and hear almost everything, but not be interested in constantly being pulled away from what they're doing by having you ask them questions directly. 

Type C Viewer: This is a viewer who will primarily watch your show without talking- an action on Twitch known as 'lurking'. They may say hello when they enter, and respond once or twice, but will almost immediately leave chat for the rest of the show. They won't likely respond to more questions, but that doesn't mean they aren't still watching.

Type D Viewer: This is someone who watches your shows, but never makes it known and never chats at all. This also includes the portion of your audience who follow along with the shows after your streams by watching VODs. All of these people comprise a completely invisible 'lurking' portion of your audience.


Type A viewers are easy to identify, because they'll be itching to be engaged. They may be actively chatting up other community members, closely commenting on what's going on in your game, or consistently asking you questions to keep the conversation going. These viewers are primarily interested in being a part of a very interactive experience, and it's worth trying to meet their needs. If you leave a Type A viewer hanging for too long, they will often either leave, or recede into the background to lurk while they chat in someone else's stream. You don't have to jump up every time they say something, but you should at least make sure you're conversing with them. Ask them questions and bring up subjects that require a direct response from them individually- that's the kind of engagement they're looking for.

Different people want different things.
On the other end, Type B viewers often don't want to be actively engaged. Someone who is doing something else while watching doesn't want to be asked a bunch of questions directly, because that means they have to keep switching back to your stream to write their answers. Make sure you're able to tell the difference between Type A and B viewers, because what works for one will drive away the other: Type A viewers will often leave if they're not being asked enough questions, but Type B viewers will often leave because they're being asked too many questions. Keeping a Type B viewer engaged involves more open-ended questions, like asking the whole chat how their days went or what they thought of a movie- things that anyone can answer at any time. It also involves learning not to rely only on conversation, but to be passively engaging on your streams.

You may have noticed that constant conversation only really works for 1 of the 4 viewer types I mentioned: Type A viewers. The key to engaging your Type C and D, as well as many Type B viewers, is to make sure you're more entertaining in general, without needing the conversation to be interesting. This ensures that everyone who watches the show is given a baseline of engagement, whether or not they actually chat. To do this, focus on doing interesting things, making people laugh, or bringing up theories and ideas to get everyone thinking. Many people would rather watch Twitch like they're watching TV- they want to be passively engaged. Think about when you yourself watch a TV show- it can excite, entertain, scare you, or make you think. You don't need to talk back to the characters on your TV screen in order for the show itself to be engaging. Embrace this concept of passive engagement to become better at entertaining all of your audience members, not just the slim portion of people in the forefront who want to talk in chat.


A viewer who wants to talk and feels ignored will leave, but a viewer who wants to watch passively and is forced to talk might leave too. Plus, huge portions of your viewers won't respond to your conversation no matter what you do. It can be confusing and frustrating, but just remember that all your viewers are there to enjoy your content. There's no one kind of viewer that's more valuable than the others, and even the most invisible viewers who never talk on your streams at all may be the loudest behind-the-scenes, recommending your channel to all their friends and family. So don't simply go for one style of engagement, alienating all your other audience members- when you embrace different kinds of viewer engagement, you'll be creating more ways for everyone to have fun on your streams!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Tying Twitch to Your Life Goals

Being a Twitch streamer takes a lot of time. In several previous entires, I spoke about having to give up other less important things in your life in order to let your Twitch streaming dream grow. No matter what kinds of streams you do, or how long they are, you might begin to think you no longer have time for the other goals in life that are important to you. Maybe you've always dreamed of writing a book, or taking up painting, or even just reading more in general, and feel like those dreams are slipping away. But if you're creative enough, you can have your cake and eat it too- having a Twitch channel can actually help you achieve your other life goals as well.

I'm going to share with you three major life goals that Twitch has helped me to achieve so far, all in different ways. In the first example, Twitch streaming accelerated something I had been doing slowly for years. In the second, Twitch enhanced a life goal I was about to go through with, making it better than it would have been if I had never streamed. And in the third, Twitch enabled me to learn a completely new skill, changing my whole life in the process. In the following case studies, pay attention to how including something in my Twitch streams helped me to achieve these goals, and think about how you might be able to do something similar with your own bucket list items. If I was able to do it, there's no reason Twitch can't accelerate, enhance or enable your life goals just as easily.


The first goal is the easiest to imagine a Twitch streamer achieving: I wanted to work through the ever-growing catalog of story-based video games I owned. I've had a Steam account since the platform launched in 2003, and that means over a decade and a half of amassing hundreds of summer and winter sale deals on games I wanted to play, but never got around to. When I first started on Twitch, I did so with the intention of working through what I called my 'neverending backlog' of games, and through the lifespan of my channel so far, I've been doing just that. I've been able to experience so many amazing stories in games I never thought I'd get the chance to play, and I've gotten countless hours of enjoyment from them.

Twitch can help you achieve goals faster.
Playing video games was something I had already been doing before ever streaming on Twitch of course, but at a much slower rate. I may have binged on weekends or free evenings, but I didn't force myself to play for hours every single day without exception. Because Twitch gave me such a regimented lifestyle, I've been able to dedicate many more hours to playing video games in general. Having a Twitch channel helped me take a goal that I was chipping away at, and accelerate it greatly.


The next goal is a little more unorthodox for a streamer: Twitch helped me travel to Japan. I don't mean that I flew across the country on proceeds from my streams (that would require an astronomically larger channel than mine) but that there are several things about being a Twitch streamer which made this experience better than it would have been if I hadn't streamed.

Twitch helped me go here.
This wasn't my first time in Japan, but it was my first time traveling while not working at a salary job. Anyone who has been a freelancer knows how difficult it can be to commit to large trips like this, without paid vacation or job security to come back to. This is where the discipline I've gained from Twitch streaming has been invaluable. Streaming on Twitch without a salary job forced me to adopt extremely rigid time management skills, so I could commit the necessary hours toward creating the content I wanted, without preventing me from putting food on the table by turning down hourly work. This same lifestyle has also helped me become a lot smarter about saving money. Using many of the principles described in the entry How to Easily Free Up Time For Twitch where I'd remove low-value activities from my day, I also became very smart about removing needless expenses. These skills allowed me to save up enough over time to fund a trip, and gave me confidence that I wouldn't be ruined upon my return home.

In addition to this, a Twitch community can greatly enhance any trip. I got a pile of incredible recommendations from viewers. They not only found cool places to visit, but knew me well enough by watching my streams to know very closely what I would enjoy, and were able to give much more personalized suggestions. A big portion of the memories made on that trip to Tokyo were only possible thanks to my Twitch community. In all these ways- gaining better time management skills, improving my money saving habits, and having an amazing community- Twitch majorly enhanced one of my lifelong goals.


Lastly and most importantly: Thanks to Twitch, I learned an entirely new language. While I was playing one of the Yakuza games on my channel and using some of my limited knowledge of Japanese to read street signs, one viewer was excited by this educational aspect of my shows, and suggested to me that I teach 'Japanese classes' on stream. I had always wanted to truly learn the language, but had never really put in the time. So I took this inspiration to start a new account with Duolingo, a free language learning web app, and began streaming my progress in learning Japanese every day.

The game that started it all.
At first, these Duolingo shows were fun extra features on my channel- I called them 'bonus streams' and still did three other video game shows in addition to those Duolingo shows every day, so I wouldn't interrupt the normal flow of content. But I immediately found that I enjoyed these streams greatly- I was able to talk to viewers who started studying with me, and swap bits of knowledge. And then something strange happened: as the days turned to weeks, and those weeks turned to months, people started finding my channel specifically because of the Duolingo shows. I met other Japanese learners who joined only for my daily language streams rather than video games, and I met native Japanese speakers who watched in order to improve their English. Japanese language learning quickly became another of my channel's signature features. As the episodes soared into the hundreds I made huge strides, speaking in unbroken Japanese sentences and paragraphs for longer and longer sections of my shows. Now, over 250 episodes in, I conduct the entire daily Duolingo stream while only ever speaking Japanese, using live-translation subtitles on screen so English speaking viewers can follow along.

Flying around the country on business trips, and even while I was in Japan, I kept my streak going, waking up each morning to point my phone at my laptop screen while doing my studies. In Tokyo, though I was far from fluent, I was able to speak confidently and hold pretty decently long conversations with bartenders, wait staff and shop owners entirely in Japanese. My brother, who I was traveling with, joked that I was his personal translator, able to navigate menus, accurately ask for what we wanted at shops, and get us into places that wouldn't normally allow Americans because of the language barrier. I can say with certainty that because of Twitch, I can speak a second language. And that's a priceless gift.


Since joining Twitch, I've met so many people who are making their dreams come true thanks to the platform. I know a streamer who owns a restaurant and streams from the kitchen every day, I've met someone who broadcasts while making the crafts that people commission from her online store, and I've followed someone developing his own video game, who has streamed every part of the process for hundreds of days in a row. Even if you have more than one goal like me, you can work them into your streams if you're creative enough. And if I was able to make something as boring as studying into a watchable show, I'm certain your life goal can be turned into a great piece of content too. Not only will you be making your streaming career more fulfilling for yourself and more unique to your viewers by doing this, but streaming your progress might even push you into sticking with your aspirations more strongly. So don't think of Twitch as something that saps your time- let it help you achieve your most sought-after ambitions!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Monitoring Your Streams

Streaming on Twitch usually means doing a lot of things by yourself. The average streamer sets up their graphics, tweaks output settings, keys their greenscreen, creates a title and then talks on-camera for hours, all without anyone else in the room to check the show for errors. It's a lot to think about, and because there are so many moving parts, small mistakes can end up causing you to lose major portions of your streams.

You might accidentally turn off your microphone at the start of the show, so that everything you say for the whole rest of the stream is lost. If you’re playing a singleplayer game or other offline activity, your internet might even cut out without you noticing. Smaller issues can go unnoticed as well, like an OBS scene not working, capture card framerates being incorrect, or sound being too loud or quiet. In an ideal world, every potential issue would be caught before you go live. But things happen, and that isn’t always the case. So for our imperfect world, we need to keep careful watch of our streams while we're streaming, to make sure anything that does break isn't broken for long.


Monitoring can be a balancing act.
We all know we should be engaging with Twitch chat to get closer to our audiences, but did you know that your channel's chat is also one of the most accurate detectors of major stream problems you could possibly have? Let's say your internet upload speed drops, and the whole stream is no longer working. Don't forget- in the entry Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right, I laid out the difference between upload and download speeds. This means your stream output can be completely disconnected from the internet while you notice no drop in internet connectivity during your Fortnite match. It also means that, should your stream fail due to poor upload speeds, you'll still be able to read your channel's chat messages as they happen, and the complaints about the stream going dark will quickly start flooding in.

Chat will not hesitate to tell you about things that prevent them from watching the show- the stream cutting out, your microphone being muted, your camera dying, things like that- and you can count on them reporting it quickly as well. This means that, in addition to engaging with chat often, you can also use your chat as an alarm system for major stream issues. As a human element, they can also be much more reliable than software at recognizing particular stream problems- your computer isn't likely going to warn you that your microphone is turned off for example, but chat will notice instantly. You can't rely on chat to report all problems, however. First, if there's a more subtle issue, your viewers either won't notice or won't bother telling you. Nobody wants to feel like they're crying wolf, so people will generally save their warnings for when it's really important. Second, and this is extra crucial if you're a new streamer, this method assumes that you have people chatting in your streams in the first place. 


It's necessary that you have at least one method of checking on your stream from your side as well. This of course is the best way to know about an issue as soon as it happens, provided you notice it. Keeping OBS visible on your computer is the best way to catch problems at their source- you can see a preview of all the stream's visuals to ensure everything looks right, and monitor volume levels to see whether your mic and other sounds are turned on. OBS has the added benefit of reporting when your stream has dropped frames as well, so you'll be able to tell when a viewer's connectivity issues are because of your internet or theirs. 

Sometimes I'll listen to the stream audio through
my phone, so I know I'm hearing the final output.
However, if you don't have a second computer screen through which to keep OBS visible, your OBS window will probably stay hidden behind the game you're playing while you stream. If this is the case, you do have another monitor available though- your phone. Leave your phone propped up somewhere you can see, with your stream open and the sound turned off. This will still serve most of the same functions as watching OBS, like being able to see any visual glitches on your shows, or detecting certain internet problems. Your phone also sports the bonus of showing your stream's final output- something even OBS doesn't necessarily do. For example, certain framerate, bitrate, color depth settings, and more, won't appear for you in your OBS preview, but if you watch through your phone you could see all these things happening. During my own streams, I'll regularly turn up my phone volume for a few seconds to check my final output audio- something I can't easily do through OBS when I'm in the middle of a show.


You shouldn't only be monitoring for problems on your streams though. There are many actions people can take on your Twitch channel that you should be watching for, all of which deserve your attention. Follows, hosts, raids, subscribers, cheers, and all sorts of other alerts will show through your Twitch chat window, but it's important to keep these organized and separated from your chat as well. If you're having a particular lively chat day, you wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to thank someone for following, just because their message got buried behind other comments.

You can use dedicated (and free) pieces of software like Streamlabels, which will show lists of any major stream actions you want to keep track of, separated from your chat window. Even better, if you're using Streamlabs' version of OBS to broadcast your shows, they have Streamlabels and other such tools built right into the software, so you can do most of your monitoring all in one place. If you want to go without extra software, your Twitch channel's dashboard screen has many tools as well, though they aren't as complete as third party solutions. 


There are all kinds of monitoring solutions you can use for your streams, but it's not about simply having every tool available. Think about which things you have a hard time detecting on your shows, and use the tools which will best help you to locate those issues when they happen. In addition to the theoretical, part of the process is going to involve running into new problems and going through this process again. If you can't prevent something from happening on your stream, the next best thing is being able to stop that problem quickly, once it starts. The more efficiently you monitor your shows, the more confidently you'll be able to broadcast. With all kinds of software, as well as your own chat backing you up, no technical problem can stand in your way for long!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Why Viewers Stop Watching

Why do people join your Twitch streams? What causes them to tune out? What can you do to put as much time as possible between those two actions? Everyone who streams has thoughts about what attracts viewers to their channel, and what keeps them around, but in my opinion, the most important piece of the viewer retention puzzle is knowing what commonly causes viewers to stop watching. In this entry, we'll attempt to understand more about why viewers watch your shows by exploring what causes them to leave. We'll go into what you can do (or stop doing) to avoid driving people away, and learn to accept when viewers will naturally want to leave your show no matter what you do. Empathizing with your audience is always an important step in becoming a better streamer, but by demystifying the reasons your numbers sometimes drop, you'll be helping yourself stay sane in the process. 


Let's say you're playing a competitive first-person shooter. You're doing well and there are a lot of people watching- more than your usual average. Then the next time you see an enemy, you completely miss a few shots and get yourself killed in return. You've lost the match, and this isn't only frustrating for its own sake, but because letting yourself lose has also caused you to lose viewers.

But is this really the case?

Is losing really the reason viewers tune out?
Many streamers certainly assume so. A simple math equation: more headshots equals more views, more deaths equals more people leaving. I think this is a short-sighted and dangerous viewpoint, however. Yes, your view count during a multiplayer match or boss battle will go down when you lose, that's true. But what you may not realize is that your view count will go down when you win just as quickly.

If this phenomenon sounds confusing to you, then consider the main reason why people watch a Twitch stream: they want to be entertained. Whether you win or lose, once your game goes back to the menu in PUBG, there's a guaranteed downtime of a few minutes before anything interesting really starts happening again. In Dark Souls, losing against a boss means a minute or two where you run back to the boss room, but even if you win there will still be a few minutes of downtime while you look over your new items and search for a bonfire. Someone at work, school, or simply watching at home will take these moments of downtime as natural chances to tune out, because they may not think they'll have time to wait for the next big event. In short, viewers don't necessarily leave in response to poor performance, they leave as a side effect of high adrenaline.

Rather than wrapping all your hopes in your ability to win every single day, you'd be better off finding a way to keep the stream entertaining no matter the result. Take these moments after a victory or defeat to engage more with your chat, show entertaining things from your Discord, or excite people with little side-games on stream. If you're doing challenge runs for example, giving people after a match the opportunity to submit ideas for your next run is a great way to have them actually look forward to the downtime on stream, because that's when they might get picked to submit the next challenge.


One of my biggest pet peeves on streams is when the broadcaster is cruel to others, whether those are people present in the room or in Twitch chat. As a viewer this kind of behavior immediately sours my experience, and it's unlikely that I'll stick around. It's kind of like how they say you can tell a lot about a person based on how they treat their waiter at a restaurant. If the streamer is being mean to one chatter today, every other chatter is subconsciously thinking the same thought: "It's only a matter of time until I'm next."

You might be getting mad about the wrong thing.
The most common time for streamers to get angry and lash out is immediately after losing a match, not only because of naturally high tension, but because they know in the back of their mind that they're going to pay by losing views as well. For anyone who has a problem with outbursts on stream, it would be ridiculous for me to simply say, "Don't get angry." This isn't something you can control so easily, and if it were, you would have done something about it already. But hopefully, by understanding that losing isn't quite so different from winning when it comes to viewership dropoff, you might be able to clear your mind of some of the subconscious view-count pressure that builds every time you think you might lose a match. I've seen people who are terrible at video games who have lots of viewers, and I've seen people who are extremely skilled at games who have few. It's true that with no other variables, skill at the game itself plays a part in whether people stick around. But we're not dealing with the game in a vacuum- on Twitch, you are the most significant variable. More important than skill at a game is your skill as a streamer. If you're good enough at that, people will keep watching, regardless of your kill/death ratio.


Unless a viewer is pulled away by urgent business, they're going to choose low-adrenaline moments to tune out. If you're interested in keeping people from leaving when these moments occur, consider changing the cadence of your streams. By making the show more consistently entertaining, rather than pinning everything on whether you perform well on a given day, you'll be able to keep viewers watching for longer. More importantly however, you will remove much of the stream-related anxiety that many streamers feel in intense moments, because you'll know that the outcome of your match won't be the end of the world. So get out there and make great content, without sweating all the ups and downs!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Grow Your Channel in Public

People often wait to start their Twitch channels because they want to make sure everything's perfect before their first stream. I've spoken a lot in previous entries about how you should start sooner rather than later, before you're ready, because otherwise you'll never start. But aside from this motivational factor, here's what many prospective streamers don't understand about waiting until everything's perfect:

Perfection is actually an undesirable trait.

How is this possible? Let's say that hypothetically you did take a whole year to prepare behind the scenes, and your channel starts out 100% perfectly, with no room to improve in any department. Your stream looks great, but now you have nowhere else to go. You can still certainly have a community, but you will have robbed them of one of the most engaging aspects of following a Twitch streamer: you took away their ability to watch you grow.


Nathan Drake definitely doesn't make every
right decision along the way.
Think about the Twitch streamers you've followed longest. Not the huge ones with over 100,000 fans, but someone who hasn't reached partner, or hadn't yet when you started following. If you've been watching for one or more years, talking in chat, experiencing all the most exciting moments in their gameplay, checking in every day or week or month, you'll likely remember different 'eras' in the history of their channel. Times when their graphics had an uglier layout, or they had a cheaper camera, or when they weren't as personable when talking with chat. As a viewer, there's a certain pride in knowing that you've been with this person since before their channel was completely polished. You've been able to watch them improve in each streaming category slowly over time, until they became the person you know today.

I know you probably see your lack of tech, or lack of fancy graphical layouts, or lack of confidence on camera as a negative, but it's actually one of your biggest advantages. Because any low-tech, ugly, or un-polished aspect of your stream pays dividends over time. All you have to do is stay in the game. Imagine how powerful it'll be when someone tells you how much your stream has improved since they started watching a year ago. People will be able to compare their experiences on your channel based on its different eras, saying to each other, "I've been watching since the no-camera days," or "Remember when we were a Minecraft channel?" So if you're waiting until everything's perfect before you start your channel, don't. Start broadcasting RIGHT NOW!


RPGs are more fun when you're unlocking
skills regularly over time.
It's not just new streamers who can benefit from this mindset either- even if you've already been streaming for years, giving your channel more visible growth can benefit you as well. Do you want to add a bunch of funny new OBS layouts that you can cut to at different moments? Instead of waiting weeks until you have time to create and test all 20 of these scenes, just make the first one and then roll it out immediately. Let people notice the new feature, and give them a chance to get excited about the addition. Once this has settled in, you can start working on and implementing the second one. Then people can get excited all over again for this second layout. And so on, and so on.

In the best video games, they give you a steady drip of new powers and abilities over the entire length of the game. If all 100 powers were unlocked from the beginning and nothing ever changed from beginning to end, the game would get boring. Take this mindset to heart and let your stream's new features roll out in small pieces rather than huge chunks.


Most people don't want to look vulnerable in front of others. That's why they hide behind the excuse of 'making everything perfect' before they start something new. Deep down, they're scared to look like they made a mistake in public. But Twitch is a much more accepting place than you might expect, and the longer people get to know you, the more excited they'll be when you improve. If you haven't started streaming yet, jump in! Don't deny your potential fans the ability to see you grow! And if you've been streaming already, then forget about generating one single moment of hype with a comprehensive update- instead, spread the excitement around with a rollout of smaller updates, letting your channel improve in front of everyone's eyes. When you grow your channel in public, you'll be sharing the Twitch experience with your whole audience. What's more fun than that?

Friday, December 13, 2019

How to Take Stream Criticism

One day you open Twitch and notice a whisper from someone who watches your streams. This person has been watching your shows for a long time, and you know they always want the best for the community. But instead of chatting with you about life, or complimenting you about your shows, they're telling you that they've thought for a while that your camera setup looks strange. Or that your audio is hard to hear. Or that on a recent episode, you may have offended another chatter without realizing it. This blindsides you- how could this person, who you've always trusted, be joining all those other negative people who say you aren't good enough? So you get offended. You explain why the issue wasn't an issue at all, despite knowing full well that it needs to be fixed. You compare your stream to others, saying, "at least I don't do this or that." You might even lash out at that person for bringing it up. On paper this all sounds ridiculous, but it's unfortunately how most creative people respond when put on the spot. Graciously accepting criticism is one of the hardest disciplines to master in any field. But learning to properly accept the negatives with the positives will help you to be a better streamer, and bring your community closer together in the process.

Don't put on blinders.
Most people on Earth would rather be 'right' than be successful. It's just the way our brains are wired. I spoke in the previous entry On Twitch, Failure is Your Friend, about how failing actually makes you more likely to succeed. And receiving criticism from viewers is one of the surest ways to find out which things about your shows are failing. But despite how useful it is, most of us would rather never hear that feedback in the first place. If we can only put on blinders, tune out the warning signs, and explain to this viewer why their problem actually wasn't a problem after all, then we can keep on living in the failure-free fantasy world we've created. This mindset shields us from getting hurt, but it also shields us from becoming truly great at what we do. Criticism is necessary if you're going to improve.


The number one reason most people have so much trouble with this kind of feedback is they mistake 'receiving criticism' for 'being criticized.' On paper, these two terms mean the exact same thing. But in practice, the connotations are very different. Criticism involves being constructive- someone tells you about a problem they've been having with your content, in the hopes that it will help you to get better. Criticizing is not constructive- someone tells you that you're stupid, or that your content is bad, with no intention of helping. We all hate being criticized, but most of us are so guarded against being criticized that we overcorrect, and can't stand genuine criticism either.

In Dark Souls you never know. Someone might be
trying to help.
When someone gives you criticism or offers a suggestion, don't start explaining, or firing back, or offering any counter at all. If that person had criticism, that means they had an issue with their viewing experience on your streams. This is an objective fact. There's no explaining away their feelings or experiences while watching. Your place is in deciding whether or not you're going to fix whatever problem they're describing. You certainly can't and shouldn't implement every change someone suggests, nor should you be attempting to cater your stream to the whim of every person who watches- but despite this, the criticism brought up was still real from this person's perspective. Whether or not you plan to do anything about their problem, it's definitely not your place to explain to them why their experience wasn't valid in the first place.

This person is offering you a golden opportunity to hear a firsthand account of a problem on your stream. As the streamer, it can be very difficult to understand what the moment-to-moment experience is like for the viewer. But by identifying a problem, this person is essentially lighting a pathway toward what you should do to fix it. You just have to put your ego aside long enough to see that. So what do you say when someone points out that your camera angle looks strange, or that one of your alerts doesn't play correctly?

Thank them.

Ask more questions about the problem they're having. Listen to their concerns. But don't try to defend yourself. This person is your ally- they aren't attacking you. You should be immensely grateful, not only that this person is helping you see your shows from their perspective, but that they came forward with their account. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and you can safely assume that if one person had this problem with your stream, then they're only the tip of the iceberg. Others are almost certainly having the same problem, simply without mentioning it to you.


Try to encourage people to give you suggestions and criticism. Let them send you private messages or whispers with their concerns, where you can pick their brain about the issue one-on-one and learn from their experience. Making it a private conversation also creates a safe space for them to point out much more personal issues with your streams, without fear of being judged by anyone else who may not have the same concern.

Sometimes people feel they can't truly share
when they're in front of everyone.
What I DON'T recommend doing is creating a large, open forum for discussion of your stream's faults, like a 'suggestions' channel on Discord. In my community, even if people try to post stream criticism in a public place, I'll direct them toward a whisper or DM instead. When someone is posting in front of others, it taints the authenticity of their account, and makes them less likely to share personal stories or experiences. Nobody wants to post an idea that everyone on a public forum will shoot down, so this makes most people avoid sharing their more unique thoughts, or causes them to get upset and defensive when they do post those thoughts and others don't agree. Plus, having a big public place where everyone is suggesting things and building on ideas makes it harder to not implement something that won't work for your channel. If everyone has spent dozens of chat lines thinking up and refining an idea they they think could improve your stream, it becomes much more awkward for you not to go ahead with it. Even if it doesn't fit your channel at all, the community is already attached to the idea and it creates a lose-lose scenario for you.

You're the only one who knows the inner workings of your streams, and you're also the only one who knows the direction you're interested in taking them. People watching can identify what's causing them problems, but they don't always know the best way to fix those problems. Your audience would have no way of knowing about most behind-the-scenes factors, and it's not their job to know about them. If someone gives you an idea, it's more important to identify the problem they were having that caused them to come up with this idea, and build on that. Most of the time when someone sends me a suggestion, I will reverse-engineer their problem, go back to the drawing board, and completely reinvent that aspect of the stream. I don't necessarily use the idea they sent, but I use the implicit criticism behind it to come up with an idea of my own. Make sure you're thinking outside the box when you use criticism, don't just latch onto whatever ideas are provided to you.


Taking criticism well is incredibly important, but after it's all said and done, don't forget to give credit where credit is due. Whether or not someone suggested the exact idea I implement, I will always make a big event on stream to thank them for inspiring that change. This is very important in my opinion, because it not only shows that person that I appreciate them, but conveys to everyone else watching that I care enough to take criticism to heart. This creates a positive loop which encourages others to share their thoughts as well. So the next time someone sends criticism of your streams, don't immediately start explaining yourself. Just listen, learn, and ask questions. When you're inspired by your viewers' real experiences, you'll start improving faster than you could have ever expected!