Thursday, July 11, 2019

Easy Ways to Make Your Streams More Watchable

Every game you might play on stream has its own visual identity. It might be a top-down adventure or a close-up action game. It could have bright, cartoony graphics or a dark and dreary look. It might be covered in menus, or have no HUD elements at all. Most of you by now may have noticed that certain games, or even certain genres, perform better on stream. What you may not know is that there are elements of how you display the game, as well as how you actually control it, which could be holding you back.

In this entry, I want to share with you my three favorite methods for attracting more people with your gameplay, allowing them to engage more actively with what they're seeing, and keeping them around longer. Some of these may require changes to your hosting style, screen filters, or even the way you play games in general, but they all contribute to the same goal: making the stream more watchable for the viewer at home. 


No matter what you're doing on stream, viewers who are watching for entertainment purposes will always prefer when the subject is as large as possible in the frame. This could be the main character in a third person action game, the model kit you're building at your craft table, or your face during a Just Chatting show. Whatever is the "main event" should be as large as you can make it. The reason for this is deceptively simple: it's just easier to see what's going on. Having large, visible subjects on screen will improve everyone's viewing experience, but one very specific portion of your audience will benefit from these efforts most of all: mobile viewers.

A subject that's large on screen will be
easier to see, and more visually interesting.
Someone watching your stream on their phone will have a hard time seeing your show even under the best of circumstances. While you're playing your game, imagine if your screen were 10x smaller. That's what they're seeing at all times. Anything you can do to make the stream easier for a mobile viewer to see won't go unappreciated. This one simple trick can go a long way: if the game allows it, zoom the camera in closer.

You may say that there are instances when this strategy would ruin your ability to play, and you'd be right. In some games, you can't be zoomed in 100% of the time. But these roadblocks may not be as frequent as you think. If you're in an MMO game for example, it's tactically advantageous to zoom out as far as possible. But much of the time, you're simply grinding basic quests or traveling from place to place- why not zoom in for these moments, and zoom back out when you need to fight an actual tough battle? In a city building game, you can zoom in close to streets or characters while adjusting your economy settings, hiring people or setting a price for the hot dog stands, and zoom back out when it's time to build roads and offices. If you're playing a game that can't zoom in, it could be as simple as making your facecam bigger, or switching to your fullscreen facecam layout during any off-moment, like a loading screen or menu. Don't forget- YOU can be the subject on screen as well. These deceptively simple changes really help. Take advantage of moments where you don't need as much tactical thinking in your game, and use those moments to let viewers enjoy the stream even more.


Flashlights are a great way to brighten
things up, with the added bonus of not
ruining the scare-factor of horror games.
Here's something unexpected that I've noticed in my time as a streamer: the game will almost always look darker to the viewer than it looks to you while you're playing it. This applies to all kinds of games, but darkness can be especially problematic in the horror genre. If YOU'RE barely able to see what's happening on screen, it's likely that the VIEWER is seeing near-pitch blackness. This will then have crossed the line from being scary to simply being boring. No one is going to be invested in your stream if they can't even see what's happening, and you may notice people tuning out. There's a very simple rule I've discovered through streaming, and I try to keep it in mind at all times:

More viewers will watch your stream when it's daytime in a game, rather than night time.

This may sound completely ridiculous, but over thousands of streams I've simply noticed it to be true time and again. There are two main reasons why I believe this is the case:

1. Lighting effects, shadows, and environments look more interesting in the daytime, meaning the graphics actually look better overall during the day.

2. It's generally just easier to see what's going on.

If you play open world games, there is usually a cycle between day and night. But at the same time, there is almost never a need to complete your objectives in the moonlit hours. This means that simply 'resting' until daytime in these games more often, rather than playing 50% in the day and 50% in the night, could boost your viewership with almost no added effort.

Even if you're not playing a game with a day/night cycle, generally trying to make things brighter will always help. Turn on the lights in a room when you enter, if the game lets you do that. If not, you could always raise the overall brightness by a few pips in the settings. One of my favorite things to do is use a flashlight or torch whenever given the opportunity- this will light up the scene, and create lots of interesting lighting effects. It's also a great way to brighten up horror games, while still keeping them scary.

I've watched many streams where the person controlling the game has plenty of options to create more visible lighting for their viewers without any detriment to their performance in the game, but doing so simply doesn't cross their mind. There's nothing less engaging than watching a jumble of black blobs while hearing the streamer respond to things you can't even see. It's always worth going the extra mile to ensure your viewers can actually see what's going on.


At the end of the day, you want the viewer to understand what you're reacting to on screen at all times, which makes it easier to become interested in the show. There might be a funny glitch happening in your game, a scary hallway, an interesting piece of architecture, any number of things that you might want to compliment, make jokes about, or just generally point out to viewers. Many streamers assume it's obvious what they're talking about when they comment on some visual element in a game, but this is really not the case. There's usually a lot happening on screen, from the game's HUD elements, to background scenery to the expression on your facecam, not to mention what your character is actually doing at any given time. Any of these might have drawn the viewer's attention to a different area than where you happen to be looking. You need to be able to direct the viewer's eye to whatever you're talking about.

Focus your camera, and empathize with
the viewer.
Focus your camera on the item you're pointing out as clearly as possible. If you're playing a first-person shooter and you want to make a joke about an AI character you see, focus them in the center of the screen and leave your view fixed on them while you're talking. Don't whip the camera over to them, and then immediately whip it away to continue exploring while you commentate. In games with a mouse cursor like The Sims, you have a nice advantage- make sure to clearly point at things with your cursor. I even like to repeatedly circle the object in question with my cursor while I'm discussing it. In a game with a fixed camera, like a 2D platformer, or an IRL oil painting stream, it's more difficult to focus on individual things. But on these shows, communicating verbally and telling people exactly where the object is located on screen is key.

Using simple call to actions like "Look at this," or "What is happening here?" are great ways to let viewers know beforehand that you're about to be discussing something on screen. Many people can only half-watch your show, whether they're sitting at work, waiting for a bus, or doing chores. You may think that your entire audience should be focusing with rapt attention during 100% of your stream, but let's be honest: just hearing the commentary alone is fine for most viewers, most of the time. If you're going to point out something they have to SEE, clearly warning the audience that they should look at the screen gives them a chance to stop what they're doing and reopen your web browser tab, look down at their phone, or turn off the sink for a second. Then you can commentate on the item on screen while still having it clearly in the center of your camera's focus. This guarantees that everyone can join in on the fun, by knowing exactly what you're talking about.


If you're an entertaining person, people will be naturally drawn to you. But there may be portions of your audience missing out on valuable content, because they can't see what's happening. The important thing in all of this is to understand the viewer's perspective, and try to make your stream cater to all the different audience members who might be watching. Big, clear subjects on screen help to retain mobile viewers, brighter images allow everyone to get more invested in the action, and clearly pointing things out (both visibly and audibly) will make sure people can understand the context of your commentary. So don't let your hard work go to waste- get out there and make your streams more watchable!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Up Your Showmanship on Stream

Responding to messages in chat and engaging with your viewers is very important on Twitch. Many streamers pride themselves on being available to answer questions and comments as quickly as possible, no matter what they're doing on their stream. In my opinion, much more important than the QUANTITY of chat messages you can address on stream though, is the QUALITY of interactions you can have with each person. For me, this breaks down to three important fields:

Don't just read a comment. Make that viewer feel heard.

Don't just respond to a question. Truly engage.

Don't let a question die with your answer. Build on it.

Practicing these three basic disciplines can help a good streamer to become great. You'll have more interesting conversations on stream, and make your viewers feel more appreciated in the process. It all comes down to the underappreciated art of showmanship.


Before you even think about responding to a comment, you should first be aware of how to take that comment. Many streamers will look over at their chat monitor, read a chat message silently to themselves, and then speak their answer. This creates a very one-sided conversation, because the comment itself isn't given voice or weight on the show- only the streamer's response to that comment is featured prominently. If you fall into this category, here are a few of my favorite techniques to make your conversations more two-sided:

Don't just read comments. Read them OUT LOUD.
Read the comment out loud. You don't have to do this blindly, you can scan it silently to yourself beforehand just so you know it isn't inappropriate (see the previous entry about Setting Limits For Your Streams for info about this) but giving voice to a comment on stream works wonders. It will help the commenter feel appreciated because you're truly giving their message its moment to appear on your show. Don't mumble the comment under your breath like you're scanning a legal contract either, make sure to emphasize the main points, get as excited it sounds like the viewer was when they wrote the message.

By doing this, you'll also create much more accessibility for others in the stream. If you respond to chat messages without reading the comment out loud, someone who is half-watching-half-listening to the show while they wash dishes likely wouldn't know what you're responding to. But if you read the comment and THEN respond to it, everyone is on the same page. The same goes for people watching the stream later in video form, or anyone on another platform if you're simulcasting to Twitch and YouTube. For me, always making my viewers feel truly heard by energetically reading their comments out loud is critically important. It's how I'd want to be treated if I was a viewer on my show.


Sometimes streamers, especially new ones, are very utilitarian about their answers to questions in chat. Do I like this game? Yes it's fun. What's my favorite game? It's Halo 3. What's my favorite color? Blue. If your 'engagements' with chat are similar to these, consider making a change.

Be able to open up with viewers.
You may say the question is to blame in many cases; "Do you like this game?" isn't giving you much to work with, after all. It implies a 'yes or no' answer. But you should always be capable of unfolding a question, reading between the lines or just plain transmuting it into a more interesting topic, in order to give more personalized answers. Learn to truly engage with comments.

When I take a question, I always try to add some unexpected piece of value to my answer. I add a simple unspoken phrase to every response I give: "Here's my answer. And here's a story about that." The following are a few examples of how I might respond to the previous questions using that framework:

Do I like this game? Yes I'm having a great time. When I was going in, here's what I expected. Here's how I was surprised. Here's an aspect I had a difficult time with.

What's my favorite game? It's Metal Gear Solid 4. Here's a story of how I went to the worldwide launch party in New York City as a teenager and waited for five hours for the director, Hideo Kojima, to sign my copy of the game, only for the line to get cut off right before it was my turn.

What's my favorite color? Green. Speaking of which, let's see if I can equip any green items in the game. What's everyone else's favorite color in chat? Let's make a character decorated with everyone's favorite hues!

These three examples should show how you can use even basic questions as a jumping off point to share opinions, personal anecdotes, or even completely change the conversation to something more interesting. When you're truly engaging with comments, you're not simply reading and answering the words put in front of you, but rather using those words to inspire even bigger discussions.


Being able to tell stories and entertain on your own is certainly important. and it will greatly heighten the level of showmanship on your streams. Just as important however, is being able to bring others into the conversation.

Build on comments and make them into
conversations for everyone!
In the example above about favorite colors, I asked the rest of the chat about their own favorite colors and invited everyone to join in, which then helped to customize an aspect of the game we were playing. This makes it not a one-sided conversation (by answering the question without reading it aloud) or even a two-sided conversation (by talking back and forth with one chatter on that subject) but a completely open conversation. You're building on what was originally a basic question, and getting everyone involved in the interactive process of answering it.

From the previous section, you could follow up your answer about whether you liked the game by asking others if they have it themselves or plan on getting it. What are their play styles? Who's their favorite character? Or if they don't have the game, what do they think of what they've seen so far? The same can be done with the conversation about your favorite game- asking others to share their favorite video games can start all sorts of larger discussions. Always remember that any question YOU can answer on stream could also be answered by others in chat, though they won't always chime in without provocation. Sometimes, people are just waiting for you to include them.


The major differentiating factor on a livestreaming platform like Twitch is the ability for someone watching at home to directly interact with the person on screen. You should always try to capitalize on this feature, and make everyone who chooses to speak up feel like they're measurably improving the show by doing so. In the entry, 'When Streaming On Twitch, "We" is Better Than "Me"' I spoke about how important it is to realize that you aren't the only one making your show great. So don't rush through your response to a message in chat- the comment itself, as well as its answer, should be a valuable and entertaining part of your show. When you're making the viewer feel heard, truly engaging while answering, and then building on their question afterward, you'll be doing exactly that. Get ready to up your showmanship on stream!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Setting Limits For Your Streams

I've spoken before about always cultivating the kind of community you'd want to be a part of. Creating certain rules and enforcing them with varying levels of strictness can drastically change the way your community acts toward you, toward each other, or just acts in general. Having a strong set of limits for what you are and aren't willing to allow on your channel will strengthen your brand, allow your community to feel more comfortable, and make you less susceptible to trolls or other manipulative chatters.

In the entry 'Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself', I gave you some insight into how I like to implement various rules, and the amount of flexibility I give any new rules I'm trying out. But what if you've been trying many things and nothing seems to work, or if you don't even know where to start? This entry will cover some of the specific kinds of limits I set for my own channel, and which aspects of them are important to me.

Before we begin, remember that the exact guidelines that work for my channel won't necessarily work for yours. Everyone's Twitch streams are completely different, and I was only able to arrive at my own limits through trying, failing, and constantly refining based on the kinds of situations I've encountered. What you should pay attention to instead, are the logic and reasoning behind the decisions I've made, and apply that process to your own style of streams if you think it might help.


Just because the games you play have profanity
doesn't mean your community has to follow suit.
Many people have different stances on swearing in their chats. Personally, I like to keep swearing, sexual references and other inappropriate language to a minimum. Many of the games we play on my channel are rated 'Mature' and involve heavy use of foul language, but we've always made sure to draw a distinction between what is said in the games on screen and how our viewers actually interact with each other. This may just seem like a personal preference, but I think it does help cultivate more positive vibes within the community. You never know who is made uncomfortable by rude language or certain kinds of jokes. You may find that staying within the bounds of a PG-13 rating helps to keep people around overall.


Pay attention to the subtext of comments and interactions in your chat. It's obvious that you shouldn't have any overtly racist, sexist, or homophobic comments (or at least, I hope it's obvious) but that doesn't mean that people won't still say things that are charged in certain directions. Stand up for the things that matter to you, even if they're limits not typically enforced by other streams on Twitch. Is there some stereotype you particularly dislike? Make sure you're not letting it slide just because it's used commonly or allowed in other channels. I personally have been shocked by the amount of harmful stereotypes people throw around other Twitch chats without anyone batting an eye.

Always take time to actually read things BEFORE you read them out loud. Many new streamers will take a 'leap without looking' approach to reading comments, simply repeating back whatever's put in front of them before they actually comprehend it. You don't want to accidentally end up saying something that violates your personal values on stream just because someone put words in your mouth.


If you can't bring it up at a party, it's probably
not okay for people to bring up in your chat.
There are three things you're never supposed to discuss in mixed company: religion, politics and sex. Unless your channel is centered around your identity as a minister, or arguing politics is the only thing you want your channel to be about, I strongly recommend you stay away from these topics. These are what I call 'bad conversation starters' - once you get going with these, it's only a matter of time until the discussion turns ugly. Not only will you be potentially alienating MAJOR portions of your audience faster than Thanos can snap his fingers, but you will notice a huge shift in your community's disposition. People will be more argumentative, negative and divided. Plus, you will oftentimes wish you didn't hear the answer. Make sure you're thinking two steps ahead, and look for the red flags signaling a bad conversation. The way I look at it, we all get enough of the real world in the actual real world. Let your Twitch streams be neutral territory.


A major part of Twitch streaming is sharing thoughts and experiences with everyone in the community, and hearing their own stories in return. But how much about your personal life are you comfortable sharing? Do you talk about what you do for a living? Do you talk about your love life or relationship issues? How specific are you about where you live? Some streamers are completely transparent about all of these topics, and others would be mortified to go near them. Just because there is no wrong answer doesn't mean you shouldn't have a plan for how many answers you're willing to give.

You don't have to share everything on your Twitch streams, solely in the name of building a closer community. One streamer I watch does live broadcasts from a small restaurant he owns. He openly discusses all sorts of topics, but has a rule about never revealing the location or name of the shop itself- you could imagine the kinds of issues that could crop up if he didn't have this limit in place.

So make sure to take a few minutes and think about how much you're willing to divulge about different aspects of your life. People will understand- they know that you're a real person, and you have things that you're not comfortable talking about. The only truly wrong thing to do here is to not have a plan for when some of these topics appear.


Twitch's AutoMod is great for many common
taboo topics.
Now that you have limits for some of these major categories set in your head, it's time to put them into action. Make sure you have chat commands that explain some of the rules you would like people to know about. In the entry 'Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself', we covered how to communicate the intricacies of these rules, and how best to implement them. For many topics, Twitch's expanded AutoMod settings can detect red flags, offering slider bars for profanity, sexual content, discrimination and hostility that you can adjust behind the scenes. If your channel is large enough, having trusted users to whom you can grant 'moderator' status will help immensely as well.

In addition to all of this, sometimes the best way to discourage a certain topic is to just ignore it. There might be personal things that you don't want to make overt rules about, but also likely don't want to discuss. Telling one person out loud that you don't want to talk about your breakup, your job search, or your upcoming final exam for example, will inadvertently cause others to inquire about it because they're concerned for you. This will then become its own 'Bad Conversation Starter' like we talked about earlier. You're not obligated to respond to 100% of the comments in your stream after all. If something makes you uncomfortable, it's your right not to have to put it in the spotlight. You can even silently delete that comment to make extra sure others don't start asking as well.


Don't forget, it's also important how you conduct yourself on stream. You're not likely to be able to uphold a 'no swearing' policy if you yourself are speaking like a sailor the whole time. Chatters will take their cues from how you are acting in addition to how the community itself is acting. People want to be a part of the larger group after all- most of us don't want to enter someone else's Twitch channel and start causing trouble.

It might sound like setting rules and limits on your channel will create less interesting conversations or make your channel feel too strict. Just know that it's something that everyone on Twitch has to do eventually as they grow. Your community will turn into whatever you allow it to be, so make sure that the edges of the mold are in place before anyone actually crosses the line. Having strong values isn't about being completely wholesome. It's about knowing exactly what you are and aren't willing to bring to the forefront of your streams. No matter what kind of channel you have, storms of challenging, toxic and inappropriate topics are waiting over the horizon. If you've established limits beforehand, you'll already be equipped to weather those storms whenever they appear.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Learn to Love the Grind of Twitch Streaming

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


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

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


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

Don't watch a lot of other Twitch streams. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Friday, June 14, 2019

To Improve Your Twitch, Get Inspired By Everything

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

    Friday, June 7, 2019

    The Best Microphone Setup for Streaming

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

    In production audio, AGC is the devil.


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

    Friday, May 31, 2019

    Don't Be Afraid To Be Yourself on Stream

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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