Friday, March 27, 2020

Dealing with Disruptors in Twitch Chat




Twitch is amazing, and you're going to meet so many great people on the platform as you continue streaming. But as many of us know, being a streamer isn't always a pleasant experience. Many times, viewers will join your shows only to cause trouble, or even to be intentionally mean or hateful. I've seen streamers break down on camera, and I've seen even more announce hiatuses from the platform due to the stress of dealing with negative people. I've seen streamers get into arguments and lash out at chatters after being goaded for long enough, and I've seen people end their streams early because their chats were getting out of hand. If you haven't been streaming for very long and haven't run into this, it may simply sound like all these broadcasters have thin skin, but every seasoned streamer has their own stories of how their chat has wounded them. And if you do it long enough, some comment will get through to you too. In this entry, I'm going to help you deal with disruptors in your Twitch chat.


➢ KEEPING THINGS POSITIVE


When dealing with disruptive chatters, I try to remember one concept before moving forward: no matter what kind of behavior someone else is displaying, always respond with positivity. It doesn't matter how 'justified' I would be to get angry with them or to put them in their place, I am unwavering in my attitude. I spoke about this topic a lot in the entry The Power of Positive Streaming - I think this mindset not only helps keep my chat more upbeat in general, but also helps me to always see the bright side through a cloud of bad vibes. Even if someone is being outright mean on your streams, don't forget: they likely don't know anything about you. They don't speak for everyone else who watches your streams, and they don't decide your value. Don't let their comment about your looks, your voice, your stream, your gameplay, or anything else seep into your own measurement of your self-worth.

These guys always know how to keep things positive.
It's important to have rules in place laying out the values of your channel. Everyone's shows are different, and the kinds of accepted behavior can differ wildly between channels, so you'll avoid confusion by making your rules easily accessible. You can display them on your channel's 'panels', which show up in the area below your stream to anyone watching on a desktop computer, and you can also put a shortened version of the rules in the one-time message that appears when someone joins your chat. In addition to this, make sure you have a command that can bring up the rules in chat whenever you want to show them- then you'll be able to point someone to the exact rule they're breaking so there's never any confusion.

After your rules are in place, be smart about enforcing them. Many streamers will compromise their values and let a chatter continue saying negative things that make them uncomfortable, just because the streamer is afraid that standing up for themselves will cause the chat activity will dry up. I try to stick to a mindset of, 'down to the last chatter.' Meaning, if someone is saying things that go against my community's guidelines, even if they're the only person speaking in chat all stream, I'll still remove them. The moral values of your stream are never worth compromising for a bit of fleeting validation.


➢ KEEPING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE


Despite being quite firm in enforcing my own rules, I always try to keep things in perspective. Just because someone is negative in chat or breaks your rules doesn't mean they're a bad person. For example, on my streams I don't like to be given hints about how to beat the various levels in the singleplayer games I play. It's a pretty common concept on Twitch, to not allow what's called 'backseat gaming,' and most people joining story-focused streams know what this is. I have rules in place which say you'll be timed out or banned if you try to tell me how to play, but not everyone has a chance to read those rules. Sometimes someone will join and their first comment in chat will be some piece of advice about the game itself. They clearly think they're helping, and in such a scenario it's unfair to immediately ban them for doing this. So I'll usually calmly delete their comment, thank them for their enthusiasm, and tell them we don't do it that way on our streams. Then I mention the rule and I post it in the chat.

Sometimes it can be difficult to keep things in perspective.
But some people simply join a stream to flaunt what they know, or they don't care about my rules, so they'll post hints again. At this point they're becoming a disruptive influence on the chat itself, and they're compromising everyone else's enjoyment of the streams. But even after this second infraction I don't get mad at them- unless it's a major spoiler I simply execute a timeout, an action that silences them from chat for ten minutes but still lets them watch. I tell them that according to the rules I showed them earlier they are to be timed out, but that I hope they still enjoy the show, and if they choose to stick around then I hope to see them again soon. I don't say anything more on the subject or lecture them about what they did wrong. I don't let other chatters complain about the timed out viewer either. It's important not to make offenders feel like they're being ganged up on. I've had many viewers who were timed out for backseating return after ten minutes to participate in positive ways, because they saw that no one on the stream was mad at them, and they saw that the stream could still be fun without backseating being allowed.

It's important to me to empathize with the people watching my shows, even if they don't hold the same values I do. I'm aware that some people don't like to watch streams where they can't tell you how to play your games, but my streams simply aren't for those people. Many streamers will get mad when these kinds of rules are broken, and they'll go on long rants with their chat about how annoying it is that people come in and spoil or backseat their games. This might create discussion, but I feel it's a very negative way to approach the problem, and in my opinion it's not even a valuable discussion. It only breeds bad vibes. On my streams I simply communicate my values as best I can, enforce my rules, and continue making someone who broke a rule feel like they're welcome. Unless they did something really bad, they can decide for themselves whether it's a place they want to be.


➢ TAKING THE HIGH GROUND


Everyone has their reasons for being the way they are. You never know what's going on behind the scenes. Even if someone is intentionally being mean or annoying in chat, don't forget to keep everything in perspective. They could be going through a rough time in their life, they could have problems at home, there could be any number of life factors happening with them. This doesn't mean you have to keep them around, but don't get mad at them or rant about how much you disliked their behavior. It's possible to be stern but still treat everyone with respect!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Making Twitch a Part of Your Life




There are two major problems Twitch streamers run into as they grow, both of which are detrimental in their own ways. In the beginning, they have a hard time making streaming into a habit and sticking with it. Then, as they get better at being consistent, they have a hard time making a habit out of everything else. Finding that balance is a constant struggle- if you can't bring yourself to do enough streaming your creative life could suffer, and if you don't know when to stop streaming your personal life could suffer. Whether you're not yet consistent in your streams or you're having a hard time prioritizing activities outside of Twitch, I'm going to help you find a middle ground and make Twitch a part of your life.


➢ DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF STREAMING


Stay on target.
Before bothering to worry about cutting back on your streaming, you must first make sure you're actually streaming consistently. Thinking about moderation in your streams too early can cause your channel to never get off the runway, for fear of flying too close to the Sun. If you're having trouble streaming every single day you plan to stream, then becoming consistent should be your first priority. I've covered several topics in the past on how to find time, motivation, or consistency in your streaming life, and this would be a good time to revisit those entries.

It really comes down to not questioning yourself. You have a dream. You want to become a Twitch streamer. The road ahead will have its ups and downs. Some days it will be easy and some days it will be hard, but you simply have to trust your original feelings. Try all sorts of ideas within your streams and don't be opposed to altering or ditching them, but don't ever give up on being a streamer.


➢ MAKING IMPORTANT DECISIONS


If you ever find yourself lost and don't know how you'll find the time in your day to stream, there's a simple time management strategy you can turn to. It's called the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. This axiom is based on a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who remarked, "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent." For our purposes, the 'urgent' problems are the everyday trials of the real world (work deadlines, chores, anything that doesn't further our ultimate goals), and the 'important' problems are our creative aspirations like Twitch streaming. The key to properly utilizing this mantra is to always address the important problems before the urgent ones.

This may sound counter-intuitive. After all, the urgent problems have to be done right now, and as soon as those are done you'll be free to work on all the creative endeavors you want! But in reality, it never actually goes that way. If it did, no one would ever have a problem following their dreams and sticking with their life goals. In reality, most people simply spend their days addressing their most urgent problems, clocking in and out of work, getting housework done, organizing things, answering emails, shopping for supplies, and everything else that seems so important in the moment. Here's the thing: if you can carry out the things important to your life's ambitions first, you'll still find time to do the urgent things afterwards too. If they're really that urgent, you won't have a choice- you'll simply have to find time to do them, right?

This kind of prioritizing is what will help you to make sure Twitch is solidly embedded into your day-to-day. It's a matter of turning the non-urgent into the urgent by shifting around your schedule. If you use this technique, as well as many of the time-saving and distraction removing strategies I've laid out in previous entries, you should be well on your way to embedding Twitch into your lifestyle.


➢ CREATING SPACES


Try to stay balanced.
While many people struggle to make Twitch a consistent part of their lives, others who have already been streaming consistently will struggle to bring Twitch back into balance with everything else. On a platform like this, extreme effort over a long span of time is what gets you rewarded, because  success is mostly driven by who is able to keep creating content the longest. And to reach this point, we typically send ourselves into a state of overdrive. This is natural- it requires a disruption in the daily routine in order to make anything into a habit, and as long as you're honest with friends and loved ones about what you're trying to do, they are likely to support you. But when is the right time to ease away from this state of hyper-efficiency? This is where it becomes trickier.

If you do anything long enough, it will become a habit. And once Twitch takes the place of all those old habits you used to have a hard time breaking, you'll find that your streaming lifestyle can cause you to spiral out of control just as easily as Netflix binges or 3am Wikipedia deep dives. Ironically, I had more of a problem reining in my streaming habits than I did actually bringing Twitch into my life in the first place. There was a point where I was shunning so much of the outside world that I barely saw anyone important to me. I'm not proud to say that in my quest to grow as quickly as possible, I damaged some of my most important personal relationships. I realized I was experiencing something like what a gambler feels, always hoping the next stream would be 'the big one,' and not wanting to let anything jeopardize my chances. It simply wasn't sustainable, but I couldn't see that from where I was standing at the time.

Eventually I realized that I should be using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix not just for streaming, but also for my personal life. Netflix, chores, emails and other busywork tasks were still to be done last, but along with streaming I needed to also make more time for the other things that were major priorities to me, like family and friends. I also realized that I was more interested in growing my stream than in the pure act of streaming itself, and that was a problem. So I stopped focusing so intently on the rapid expansion of my brand, and instead became more at home with just doing what I wanted to do. I scheduled my streams more strictly, giving them very little wiggle room for where to end, so I wouldn't always be late to things. I'd shift start times and even shorten my streams more aggressively when I had plans to see people, so I wouldn't be cutting it close. Even during this time of re-envisioning my channel's plan I never missed a stream or took a break, but this transition was an important time for me to reflect on how I wasn't making Twitch a part of my life- Twitch was becoming my life. And that's dangerous.


➢ FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS


At the end of the day, if you want Twitch to become a part of your life, it's not just about letting it into your daily routine, but also about not letting it dominate your every waking thought. Anyone who's been following The Twitch Playbook for a while will recognize that I've been talking about not chasing followers, and not losing sight of other things important to you for a while. But I've never shared my personal story of just how dangerous it can be to leave the dial at 11 for too long. Many streamers at this point become burned out and give up. I was lucky enough to simply realize my mistake and change course. But if you can find a way to consistently stream with Twitch as a part of your life instead of letting it take over, you'll be avoiding many of the biggest hardships on the platform.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Spice Up Your Stream's Chat




On Twitch there are many options for engaging viewers. We've talked in previous entries about things you can do and say to get all the different kinds of viewers interested in your shows. In addition to your own actions as the streamer however, there are many things you can do with your chat itself to attract viewers and convince them to stick around. In this entry, I'll show you a few of the best ways I've found to spice up a stream's chat.

Keep in mind however: you'll notice me recommending a few pieces of external software you can use to improve your streams, but I'm not going to give a tutorial on all the features involved, or the technical aspects of how to implement each idea. Use this entry to decide which things you might want to use for yourself, and whenever you arrive at that decision there's plenty of documentation on the software's website to tell you specifically how to embed each feature into your channel.


➢ SHOW DON’T TELL


One simple change which can increase engagement with minimal effort is displaying your chat messages on-screen during a stream. This can be achieved using various kinds of widgets through your stream software. Having streamed with and without an on-screen chat before, I’ve noticed that people tend to do more chatting when they know their messages will be visible on the show. I imagine this is due to the fact that they feel more ‘heard’ on the broadcast, so they always know their messages are going through and becoming a part of the show itself. It may also be a way for people who have the chat hidden to notice who is chatting or what they’re chatting about, and decide whether they’d like to join in. Whatever the reason, this technique generally keeps everyone more aware of what's happening in chat and brings it to the forefront of the streams.

Show don't tell!
Having said that, on-screen chat isn’t for everyone. Depending on what kind of show you’re trying for, you may find it best to leave your chat separate from the stream itself. On my streams for example, despite having good results with on-screen chat, I ended up removing it from all sections where I was playing a game. This came down to the direction my shows were headed. The more my channel evolved into a place where we appreciate video game storylines, the more intrusive it started to look to have the chat popping up during emotional moments. If your streams are about conversation above all however, this is a great method to boost your chatting numbers.


➢  CREATING COMMANDS


I’ve spoken in previous entries about many of the commands I’ve implemented to improve various aspects of my shows. Using external streaming software called a chatbot, viewers can type commands into a stream's chat to be given a programmed response from the bot itself, and your decisions in how to set up the bot's responses can really set your channel apart. Nightbot, Moobot, Streamlabs Chatbot and other free tools can give you lots of options for activities in your chat, so it's worth checking out a few of them and seeing which you like best. The following are a few types of commands that I’ve seen work before, whether on my own streams or those of others:

Informative Commands: The most basic command is also probably the most useful to your viewers. Make sure you have some informative commands for people to learn more about your channel when they want to. Separate commands to tell people about your Twitter, YouTube, and other satellite channels are always great ways to let people joining your streams know about your other projects. Commands talking about your channel or its rules are also majorly useful. All of these commands will be your bread and butter, and if you watch enough other streams, you'll start to notice the patterns for which are the most commonly requested.

Create commands that are unpredictable.
Randomized Commands: This is my personal favorite kind of command. When you use Chatbot software, you can have the app pull randomly from a list of potential responses whenever a viewer inputs certain commands. This can be used to great effect on stream, and makes it a lot more exciting for viewers to engage with your Chatbot. The classic example of a randomized command is a Magic 8-Ball feature. It functions similar to the real-world equivalent- chatters can input a command to contact the 8-Ball and ask a question, then they will be given a random response. At this point, there's no limit to the amount of fun answers you can program into it. I've made all sorts of games and stories that come out of randomized features like this, which have hundreds of potential responses in total. Go crazy with it!

Viewer Commands: On many channels, I've seen instances where viewers have been able to create their own commands. Then when one of those viewers first joins the stream, they can use their personal command to announce themselves in chat. It's even possible to give one viewer exclusive access to a certain command, so only they can use it. You can create whatever criteria that you want in order for a viewer to earn one of these commands, like collecting enough channel points or being a subscriber for a certain length of time. These kinds of exclusive commands can make individual viewers feel much more special on stream- just make sure everything stays within your guidelines for what's appropriate!

Clip Commands: Twitch as a platform has many fun features, but the 'clipping' function is something you may be overlooking. At any time, viewers or streamers are able to immediately capture a short snippet of the stream, which will be saved for anyone to watch later. It's a great way to show off some of your channel's most fun moments, and it's very simple to do. Many channels have some of their best clips saved into commands as well, so that viewers can type in a specific command to immediately bring up that clip in the chat. This is a great conversation starter for new viewers, as they can easily see one of your favorite clips, and veteran viewers can have fun finding opportune moments to bring each clip to the forefront.

Quotes: This is a really fun feature to use on streams, because viewers can help to create a part of your channel. Anyone in chat can save quotes from your stream to your chatbot by using a 'quote add' command, which will compile a big list that others can pull from at any time. On my Discord, we have a dedicated list of hundreds of different quotes that viewers have saved since I started streaming. People can pull them up when an applicable situation occurs, and it's always a fun moment when someone notices and saves something I didn't even realize I said.

Minigames: I've spoken about minigames in previous entries for a bit, but these shouldn't be overlooked. On many pieces of chatbot software, you can add cooperative, competitive or free-for-all activities for your viewers to participate in while you might be busy doing something on your shows. On my channel I've even written custom storylines for each one. This is another opportunity to get really creative!


➢  A FUN PLACE TO BE


All in all, you want your chat to feel welcoming, and you want to make sure people are having fun. Of course if you yourself are entertaining and your other viewers are friendly it's easy for chatters to have a good time, but keeping your chat visible and entertaining is always a great way to give your streams an extra edge. The above shortlist featured a few chat ideas I've enjoyed implementing or participating in, whether on my streams or others, but these are far from the only options out there. Some streams use special widgets to make emotes posted in chat explode onto the screen during a broadcast, some implement chat commands that play funny or scary sounds on the stream, and some have automated text-to-speech voices to read messages as soon as they come in. There are limitless possibilities out there for seeing and interacting with chat on a stream, so experiment with as many as you can find, and see which ones you like best. It's all going to come down to what kind of stream you're trying to make. So try spicing up your stream's chat! 

Friday, March 6, 2020

Hyper-Specialize Your Channel




Why do some streamers grow faster than others? What makes viewers want to watch someone else's channel instead of yours? There are many factors which affect these outcomes, but one of the most important is how intelligently the streamer's channel is branded. Many new streamers want to appeal to the largest possible audience out of the gate, and in doing so they ironically sabotage their chances of being seen by many people at all. Common sense makes you want to cast a wide net with your streams, but the key to strategically branding a Twitch channel is actually the opposite. In this entry, I'm going to show you how to hyper-specialize your channel.

Let me ask you a question: How did you find The Twitch Playbook? Without hearing your response, I think it's a safe bet that 9 out of every 10 of you found it because you were looking for some way to improve your Twitch channels. Then you stumbled on the podcast, found the blog, or got a recommendation by a friend. In other words, most of you found it because you were looking for a very specific answer to a very specific question. But with almost no changes to the content, on branding alone, this podcast could have been very different, and you may never have found it.

I'll demonstrate how hyper-specializing your brand can help you to grow your Twitch channel, by taking you back through my process of creating The Twitch Playbook itself. As you follow this account, pay attention to the moments where the choices I made defined not only the scope, but the overall effectiveness of this resource. When you think about the alternatives, consider whether you would have found this content as easily (or found it at all) if I hadn't chosen the path I'm on now.


➢ BURDEN OF CHOICE


Zero in.
When I was starting The Twitch Playbook I was faced with a fundamental issue: how wide should I cast my net? I had all my notes written down, but if you think back to the past entries, they don't have to apply only to Twitch. Most of the entries are really about being a video creator: explaining how to frame a camera shot, how best to show a game on screen, and how to select what kinds of shows you want to make. Most of the time I don't even talk about Twitch specifically, or even about video games- it could really apply to any type of video you'd want to make, not only on other livestream platforms like Mixer, YouTube Live or Facebook Live, but also non-live platforms like posting  YouTube videos or Instagram clips. And it doesn't stop there either. If I was willing to go even broader with my classification, the podcast isn't really only about video creation, but content creation in general: subjects like how to stay consistent, motivated, disciplined and sustainable are all major overarching themes. If I had changed a few Twitch-specific terms to more general phrases, 80% of these entries could just as easily help someone stay on track as they manage a blog, write a book, record an album, or follow just about any passion that involves creating media for public consumption. And as you may imagine, there are millions more people out there trying to create content in general, than just the ones trying to create content on Twitch. That means a massively larger potential audience.

So why didn't I follow that path and call it 'The Content Creation Playbook' instead of The Twitch Playbook?


➢ THE BURDEN OF POTENTIAL


There's an issue with appealing to more people, and it's a pretty simple one. Shooting for a larger potential audience means you also have more competition, and will therefore be less visible. And the more competition you have, the closer your content gets to looking like a needle in a haystack. Therefore, despite the fact that I've done a lot on Facebook Live, Instagram, and both the live and non-live sides of YouTube in my past, I decided I would focus only on Twitch, the thing I was most interested in building in my own life. This meant that I was able to get much more personal with the stories I've told so far and go more in-depth about the challenges I've faced.

Don't get distracted by the vastness of it all.
Aside from the fact that I knew I'd be happier writing about Twitch rather than acting as a jack-of-all-trades, it acted as a lighthouse for others in need of help with their own content. When I was starting out and looking for help with my channel, I didn't search for things that could help with content creation, I looked specifically for things that could give advice on Twitch streaming. To my surprise, there weren't that many to be found. Then, when I started this project, I knew that others in need of help would be looking for the same thing. Many of you who listen to this podcast may never have found it, even if the content inside was exactly the same, if it didn't have Twitch in the name. The fact that the branding takes a stand about one specific thing it can help with, rather than saying it'll get to everyone's media platforms in time, means that the people who need this content most will be able to find it. It's hyper-targeted in order to reach the people who are most likely to enjoy it, and most likely to need it. By not focusing on general content creation I shrunk my potential audience by a huge percentage, but by focusing only on Twitch I also massively shrunk my competition. Because now I was only one of a handful of resources specifically focusing on Twitch, rather than one of hundreds about video creation or thousands about content creation in general.


➢ ZERO IN ON YOUR STREAMS


In previous entries like If You Can't Describe Your Channel, Who Can? and Your Channel is Not a One-Stop Shop, I've spoken before about the value of branding your streams. But hopefully by seeing how I created a piece of content you're already familiar with will help you to understand how just how important this mindset can be. You won't be alienating everyone outside of your branding's scope (for example, despite being a Twitch resource, I've met many aspiring YouTubers who love these entries) but in hyper-specializing you will be making sure that the people most likely to enjoy your content will be able to actually see it. On the internet, there is infinite space in which to create content but limited attention from those who can actually consume it. If you want to stand out from the crowd, don't do it by being what a massive audience might want. Instead, become exactly what a small portion of people truly need.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Growth Check-In: Simplifying Your Streams




What does your channel look like today? How many features have you added since you began streaming? Whether hardware, software, or ideas, these additions could be anything that improve the look, sound, feel, or growth metrics of your streams. In previous entries, we've gone over many ideas for new improvements that you could add to your shows. But let's look at something different this time. Since beginning your channel, how many features have you removed?

I'm willing to bet that the list of features added dwarfs the list of features taken away. It's understandable- we all want to feel like our channels are marching ever forward, and removing features feels too much like taking steps back. But here's the issue: whether by bleeding you financially, sapping away time, or draining precious energy, taking steps forward without ever looking back will eventually cause you to feel burned out.

It's time to check in on your channel's growth once again. The previous Growth Check-In entry, called Boosting Your Streams, was about measuring your success in various fields as your channel became ever larger. In this entry, I'm going to give you actionable steps to cut back in certain areas, which will allow you to excel in others. One step back, three steps forward. Today we're going to simplify your streams.


➢ INVENTORY MANAGEMENT


When most people grow their Twitch channels, they look forward to certain milestones. These might be their first community game night, opening their merch store, creating their stream's Twitter account, or upgrading to a more complicated but prettier camera. These moments and countless others like them are all seen as checkpoints on the path to greatness- definitive ways to make the channel feel more legitimate as it grows. Once they've passed these checkpoints, they never feel the need to think about those old milestones anymore- instead, they can move onto the next items on their list of things to add. What's the problem here? Most streamers confuse 'growing their channels' with 'bloating their channels.'

Don't get over-encumbered.
To use a video game analogy, adding new features to a stream is typically considered akin to 'leveling up' in an RPG- an event which moves you indisputably into a higher tier, and able to take on tougher challenges from that point forward without ever needing to worry about lower-level hardships again. But this analogy doesn't hold up when you scale it over time. After all, there are only so many things you can do well on a Twitch channel before the quality starts to suffer, and beyond that, there are only so many things that you can do at all. How long will it take before you hit one or both of those breaking points? Instead of thinking of everything you add to your stream as a 'level up,' think of your stream's feature list as an RPG game's inventory screen. In games like Skyrim, Fallout, and The Witcher, simply picking up every item you find will cause your character to run out of carrying space. The same thing happens when adding features to a Twitch channel- eventually the streamer or the stream itself will become over-encumbered, and it'll be hard to keep everything moving at the pace you'd hoped for.

In these games however, filling your inventory isn't a cause for concern- you simply go to the nearest town and rid yourself of all the junk you've been carrying around. What many of us streamers don't realize is that we should be doing the same thing with the countless features we acquire on our channels. In order to fill up our inventories with things we really want, like cool new ideas or bigger improvements, it's necessary to remove some of the old ones which aren't proving as valuable as we'd hoped.


➢ SORTING YOUR ITEMS


When you think about your channel right now, can you honestly say that every single addition you've made is working perfectly? Maybe you have a YouTube on the side where you can't quite find the time to post clip compilations, or a Twitter account you've been struggling to fill with content day after day. Maybe it's a special type of weekly stream which eats up a lot of your time, or meetups you organize with your community outside the streams which are causing you stress. As I've mentioned in several entries before, just because you get high viewer numbers from a change, or because your audience wants it, doesn't mean it's necessarily working. The most important thing will always be: does it make you happy? Could you see yourself doing this extra thing for the rest of your life?

Alan Wake can own up to his mistakes,
and you can too!
It's time to quantify all of your channel's features, and put everything out in the open. Get a piece of paper and write down every single feature you've added to your streams which takes any amount of time for you to enact. Sometimes, things become so ingrained that we forget that they aren't necessary, and we tell ourselves that a feature can't be removed without breaking the channel. Let's put all those preconceptions aside for a second and really honestly assess everything you've added to your streams. Whether it's a 1-minute process of setting up your lights, or a 4-hour weekly community event, make sure you include everything that happens before, during or after your shows, including each piece of hardware, software, new concepts, plugins, raid responses, time-consuming OBS Scenes, satellite social channels, video editing processes, and every other individual feature you've added to your shows since you started. If it isn't 'play the game on camera,' you add it to the list.

Now some of you might be sweating bullets right now, getting ready to put down this entry and run as far from your computer or phone as you possibly can. You might be thinking, "This is ridiculous! This list is going to be massive. There's no way I could write all this down!" And to those people I say: Congratulations! You're the one who needs this entry the most! You've added so many features that you don't even want to think about how many features you've added.

Taking inventory of all your stream's features might take you two minutes or two hours, but as long as you very truthfully lay bare your channel's baggage, you'll gain the kind of clarity that many others may never achieve in years of streaming without looking back. Once you have your list ready, try assigning a rank to each item individually. Base this rank only on how much you enjoy doing it, and how important you think it is to your stream. Don't think of things as apples & oranges, simply assign a single ranking number to every item on the list, from most to least important. Now, what would it look like if you removed the entire bottom 25% of those items? Based on your channel's size, that could be one thing, ten things, or more, but whichever features are the least mission-critical and worst for your personal happiness levels have little business being there. You may have to change things around to make up for these features going away, but there's really nothing that can't be removed from a Twitch channel if you apply some creative thinking. Even if you only remove the bottom 10%, you'll be freeing up a huge chunk of your channel's inventory space in order to make room for more valuable new ideas that work better and make you happier.


➢ MAKING THE TOUGH CHOICES


Everyone likes to add things to their channels, but no one really likes to look back at the things they've added and assess whether they've been working. For most streamers, doing this would mean swallowing their pride, and accepting the fact that they made one or two mistakes along the way. And as I've mentioned in a previous entry, most people on Earth would rather be 'right' than be successful. But removing sub-optimal features is arguably even more important than adding good ones. As the French writer Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry put it, "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." So don't be afraid to add new features to your channel (I will always support trying new ideas!), but make sure you're also not afraid to assess those same features and remove the ones that don't work. Embrace the art of simplifying your streams.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Three Useful Scenes for Your Stream




With streaming software like OBS, you'll typically find the ability to create 'Scenes' which you can switch between during your show. These are layouts you set up before your broadcast, which allow you to easily display important or entertaining things on your streams. In the two most common examples, you could have one Scene to show your game in fullscreen with a small facecam in the corner, and another Scene to show your facecam in fullscreen with your game window small in the corner. Then, during your streams you'd switch to the fullscreen facecam to talk more directly to your audience, and switch back to the fullscreen game when you're going to start playing. You can set up keyboard shortcuts to cut between various Scenes, use external hardware like a Stream Deck if you have one, or simply click on the different scenes with your mouse. Scenes are very useful tools when you want to make your streams more dynamic.

But aside from helping with a show's entertainment value, I've found a few other Scenes which help make my shows run smoother. These useful layouts have helped me to make my shows look and feel more professional, as well as prevent myself from making embarrassing mistakes on camera or on microphone. The following three examples are from my personal experience and may not work for you in the exact form described, but try to understand the underlying logic behind my decisions and see if there's something in them which can help your shows.

Please note that, while I have found these to be incredibly useful, I advise you not to set them up too early. If you're still starting out, especially if you haven't done ten full broadcasts on your channel yet, do not attempt to add these kinds of extra Scenes. (See the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams for more details on this matter.) If you're starting out, just do your streams and get the experience. Trying to improve the shows before becoming consistent is nothing but sugar-coated procrastination. Now, let's explore these useful Scenes for your streams.


➢ OFF TO A GOOD START


Early into the lifetime of my channel, I found it necessary to begin my streams in a new way. Originally, I would press the 'Go Live' button and immediately I'd be on camera, introducing my show and then playing the game. A few months in however, I started noticing that some of the more dedicated people in my community would be saddened to always miss the beginning of my shows. I wanted to see if there was a good way to change the beginning of my shows to help people see the whole thing without compromising the quality of the stream. As I've mentioned in previous entries, even if a problem like this doesn't seem like it's your 'fault,' seeing multiple people have the same issue on your streams is usually a sign there's something you should look into. So I did.

Sometimes you don't want to immediately hit the
ground running.
I started thinking about it from the viewer's perspective: short of camping out on my Twitch page and waiting for a show to start, there would be no way for them to see the beginning of any of my shows. The streams simply started too quickly. I needed something that would let people get notified about me going live, and give the most dedicated fans time to join the show before it started. To do this, I created a Scene in OBS which would show up as soon as the stream started broadcasting, one which simply played calm elevator music and said 'The Show Will Be Starting Soon.' This solved the problem immediately, and reaped a few unexpected benefits as well. During the few minutes when this Scene was playing, viewers now had a chance to join for the beginning of the show, and could say hello to their fellow chatters before the stream proper began. In addition to this, I was given a few extra minutes to do some simple tasks while that opening screen was displayed, like sending my 'Going Live' Tweet or setting up the game client. Adding a Start Screen to my streams was a very simple change, but one that took a lot of pressure off myself and the community.


➢ TAKING BREAKS


Sometimes you might find it necessary to take a break during your streams. Whether answering an important phone call, going to the bathroom, or the ever-important quest for a new cup of coffee, various real-world things might require the streamer to walk away from their computer area. At the beginning of my channel, I stubbornly tried to simply avoid taking breaks during my streams at all. I originally thought it was 'unprofessional' to do so, and I was afraid to lose viewers during the interim. But over time, I realized that was a ridiculous uphill battle not worth fighting.

Give yourself a chance to take breaks
every once in a while.
I then created a Scene in OBS similar to the openings of my shows, in which elevator music would play and say 'Stay Tuned.' It would give people in chat a moment to talk to each other, get themselves a snack, or just take a break from the action of whatever was happening on screen. I also created commands in my chatbot, like "coffeebreak" and "laundrystream," which could explain some of the more common things I might do while away, and these became favorites for viewers to plug into the chat as I was leaving. Yes, sometimes my view numbers would go down during these moments, but I was surprised to see how quickly they'd raise back up after I returned. (Don't forget- this was early in my channel, before I learned not to be so neurotic about things like view count.) Adding a standby Scene created a major benefit to my psyche as the streamer as well, because there was no longer this insane pressure to do the whole show without stopping. It actually made it easier for me to get motivated to go live every day, because I didn't need to take care of so many things before starting the show. It was now okay for me to stop mid-stream and get more coffee, and to someone like me that's a priceless gift.


➢ A GRACEFUL FINISH


Finally, I found that ending shows on my channel felt a bit abrupt. I'd thank everyone for being there, speak my outro, and then the stream would jarringly just cut out. I then used the principles outlined before to add a simple outro screen. It had the same elevator music, and a different message saying 'Thanks For Watching,' and this allowed me to cut gracefully away from my camera shot to this other screen before ending the show, where people could wind down for a minute and say goodbye to each other in chat. It was also a place where we could organize raids at the end of a stream, without me having to talk the whole time. Ending screens like this are also a great place to display your other social channels, remind people to follow, and show any other info you want to convey to viewers as they're leaving.


➢ MOMENTS TO YOURSELF


As you can see, all three of these Scenes aren't the usual entertainment-boosting things you'd quickly switch to in order to hype up your shows. But by taking pressure off yourself during your shows, they're arguably even more important. During all three of these Scenes, my camera and mic audio are completely disabled- it's simply a clean break from being the stream's host for a few minutes. And this is important if you want to clear your mind and increase your general stream stamina. You don't have to do these Scenes the same way I do- I've seen streams do all sorts of creative audiovisual displays on their standby screens, using videos, graphics, visualizers, all sorts of bells and whistles. But whatever you do, I think you'll find that giving your streams these moments to breathe will work wonders for your channel as a whole.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Would You Still Stream If No One Ever Watched?




You can see it on so many streamers' faces: the hopeful glances at their chat windows, demure looks at their view counts after they've lost a match, or mounting anxiety when they think whatever they're doing isn't entertaining enough. The crippling need to feel validated. To feel like people are watching. To feel like someone, anyone, cares about their shows.

Most people who get into Twitch streaming do so in the hopes that they'll become famous. And in harboring such a mindset, they set themselves up for failure from the moment they first press the Go Live button. Having a community dedicated to your channel is amazing, and people can humble you with their kindness toward yourself and their fellow members. But like a house, these things are only what you can see above the ground. Truly loving the craft, without the need for validation from anyone else in the world, is the foundation upon which you must build- otherwise your Twitch channel, and everything in it, will come tumbling down.

Ask yourself one question: Would I still stream if I were the last person on Earth? 


➢ BUILDING ON UNSTABLE GROUND


Most streamers follow what they think 'works.' Talking faster, louder or more obnoxiously, if you know how to please a crowd, can get more people watching. Setting up giveaways might boost the viewer numbers for a time. And playing the newest game releases is typically a sure way to bring new faces. But it all begs the question: what does it mean for something to 'work'? If a stream decision attracts larger crowds, does that mean it's more valuable than another option that brings in a smaller audience? Most streamers would say yes- the value of a stream is directly correlated to how many people watch relative to the follower count. But with this definition of success, what happens when your viewership falls, despite your best efforts?

Everyone tries to speed toward higher numbers
without thinking about why.
I've spoken before on this topic, but it's easy for many new Twitch streamers to chase this rabbit of viewership, because they think it'll lead them to fame and fortune. Their definition of success becomes only about reaching for higher numbers. And in the process, these streamers become mere puppets, strung along by their own channels' quests for rapid expansion. Eventually, whether after a week, a month or a year, they typically realize they can't keep up the pace- doing giveaways, playing so many new games, or acting artificially energetic, all take their financial or physical tolls and these practices come to a halt. Then a strange thing happens: as soon as the stream changes, the audience starts to dwindle. Dedicated fans drop away, active chatters dry up, and the streamer is left with a fraction of their original viewership. After about a week of this. burnout sets in, weepy Tweets are composed, the channel goes dark, and another streamer slips into obscurity. They might start the cycle over again a few weeks later, claiming they're refreshed after a much-needed break, or they may never go live again. These streamers don't realize that 'putting on a show' for the sake of an audience was all a mere gimmick. They were artificially boosting their results until they started fooling even themselves, relying on these fake metrics to measure their self-worth.

Every channel has its peaks and valleys. there are weeks or months when everyone will be watching and chatting during every stream, and then just as soon as they all come, whether due to life events, going back to school, changing jobs, or a million other reasons, viewers will drop off. You'll reach the doldrums of your viewership, when no one is around and the needle doesn't move at all. Even if you don't make major changes like I outlined above, these dark times will still come. They're the truly defining moments for every Twitch channel- when you're forced to look in the mirror and decide whether you actually like what you're doing for its own sake, when there isn't anyone else around to bring you validation. This span of frozen growth is when most streamers decide to quit. They may not be able to put their finger on the real reason why, but ultimately it's because they enjoyed the attention they got from streaming more than the act of streaming itself. They had built their channels on a bad foundation.


➢ LAYING THE GROUNDWORK


When you're building a channel, the momentum of gaining followers, viewers, and chat activity isn't constant. You don't just keep climbing at an equal or higher rate week over week. Things tend to move in fits and starts- one week there's nothing, and the next brings a surge. If you want to truly last on Twitch, your morale can't depend on any of these factors, or you'll be depressed every time your numbers fluctuate. But if you're in love with creating the content, rather than the sharing of it, your perspective will change. This is the strong foundation on which your channel should be built, because if you're happy with your stream from within, no external factors can affect you in the slightest.

Don't think too much about the practical realities
about being the last person on Earth.
It's just an expression.
Every day I wake up and I'm excited to stream. I happily put in grueling hours to study, create and improve, not because I hope those changes will be 'a hit' with the viewers, but because making and improving my show is the end goal unto itself. I could have 100 viewers, 10 viewers or 0 viewers and I'll still be equally as enthusiastic, equally content, equally unfazed. I can honestly say that, if no one ever watched my stream again from this moment onward, I'd still do it with the same vigor that I do now.

This doesn't mean that I discount the value of community- quite the contrary! In several past entries I've detailed the importance of growing and cultivating your community, and the people I've come to know through streaming have become incredibly important to me. But if you're going to last on Twitch, you need to build that community on top of a rock-solid foundation of self-contentment.


➢ BECOME UNSHAKEABLE


You are not measured by your viewership. Until you realize that, you're prone to debilitating breakdowns and constant self-doubt. You might think your content is good or bad, people might watch it or they might not, but the work and its rewards don't define who you are or how valuable you should perceive yourself as a streamer. What's the real reason any of us want to have outward success like high viewership numbers or follow counts? It's because we want the validation of knowing that we're making something worth watching. Cut out the middle man- if you (and you alone) are happy with your content, as well as the process of making it, and you could do it happily for the rest of your days, that's all that matters. Viewers will come and go, but when all the dust settles and the slumps set in, the only thing about your channel that will stay in place is you. So that's the one person you should try to please before all others. If you were the last person on Earth and you love what you do enough that you'd still stream, there's no challenge in the world that you can't overcome.