Friday, December 13, 2019

How to Take Stream Criticism




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

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


➢ CRITICISM VS CRITICIZING


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

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

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

Thank them.

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


➢ WHERE TO TAKE CRITICISM


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

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

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


➢ PUTTING THOUGHTS INTO ACTION


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

Friday, December 6, 2019

Do More Streaming




You've been streaming consistently, but you wish you were getting better results. Whether you're not seeing follower growth as fast as you'd like, you're still stumbling while talking to the camera, or the flow of your broadcasts feels stilted and unnatural, there's something about your streams that you hoped would be better by now. But here's the other problem- you don't have any more time you can spend on streaming. You feel stuck, like your Twitch channel is never going to get better because of the rate at which it has to grow. You'll be glad to know that there is a solution here, and it's very simple: Do more streaming. 

"But Nick," you might be saying, "I just said I don't have any more time to commit to streaming!" Yes, you did say that you don't have more time for streaming. I just don't believe you.


➢ TAKING ACTION


Let's do an exercise: No matter how much streaming you do right now, what would it look like if you DOUBLED your output? Whether you're going from one stream per week to two, or one stream per day to two, this probably seems like an unreasonable challenge. But do you know it's unreasonable? What if you had to make this change? Work out the logistics of how your day would have to look in order to make it a reality. Which things would you have to rearrange about your days? Which would you have to give up? Take a while and really think this over.

Your output might be fine right now, but it could be
Double Fine! ...I'll see myself out.
Before we move on, know that you're not alone in thinking this exercise is ridiculous. But also know that there are people out there who do a tiny fraction of the amount of streaming you do, who sweat while thinking of matching even half of your current output. What's their excuse? And at the same time, there are people who produce two, three, four times as much content as you make, who have figured out how to double or triple their output overnight. Don't dismiss this exercise as complete futility. Everything is relative.

One easy way to find more time for streaming is to remove other stream support activities, and replace them with actual on-air hours. Get rid of your channel's Twitter, Discord, YouTube, and anything else stream-related that takes your time, reorganize your schedule, and lump all that extra time you saved onto the end of your streams. The perfect thing about this is, you were already committing that time to stream-related activities, so you can't claim you're losing precious family time or much-needed sleep by streaming more. The time was already accounted for, but now it's just being reassigned. Think outside the box like this, and remove or reorganize other less important things as well, to make way for your new schedule.

So now that you've figured out a plan to double your streaming output, you can put it into action. For two weeks. It doesn't matter what you've got going on this week, or how busy you are compared to normal. As I mentioned in the entry How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, you'll never have more time than you do right now. So spend two weeks with this new streaming schedule implemented, and allow it to settle into your life. Only then, after two weeks of having streamed at twice the efficiency, are you allowed to decide whether this new output level is too much. You'd be surprised at the results.


➢ DESTROYING OUR ASSUMPTIONS


We all have a baseline- the default amount of work that we're able to do per day. But in my experience, this is never a good way to judge what you're capable of- it's merely a fraction of your true potential. As human beings, we think we're smart enough to know our limits, but the problem is: our brains are more often put to work to convince us that we've already reached our limits. I've done this entry's exercise several times in my streaming career, thinking it would be completely ludicrous to double my output at the time, only to later find that the extra time could easily be slotted into my days all along. Your output will always be low if your expectations are low.

Break out of the ordinary. Forget the rules!
Don't stick to a preconceived notion of what's possible. Become completely ignorant about what's possible, and just do as much as you can with nothing against which to measure. See from experience whether it's detrimental to your life, don't just assume. As I've mentioned in previous entries, little insignificant things will always find ways to take up your time if you let them. So just put out as much content as you can. It doesn't matter if people like it, and it doesn't matter if it's even any good. What matters is that you're publishing content to the internet, getting better each time. And you will get better each time. You may not be able to notice the change as it's happening, but it'll be there. You'll be taking control of your own fate, not allowing any excuse to put an asterisk on what you create.

I've now started doing this exercise with all important things in my life, jamming new creative ideas and daily projects into my schedule, or extending existing ones to take more time per day. This kind of thing can make you an incredibly productive person, because even if you only get to do 75% of a certain day's hours, your overall output will still be significantly higher than it was when you had lower standards. Raising your expectations for yourself is dangerous when completely unchecked. But if you back those expectations up with proven experience- being able to point to the last two weeks and say, "I already found a way to pull this off"- then you'll have no excuse to tell yourself later when you feel you can't do it.


➢ CONVINCING YOURSELF 


If you're concerned about how slow you're growing, either as a channel or as a streamer in general, there are only two things you can do about it: nothing, or something. I've spoken in the past about why It's Okay Not to Grow Your Channel in the fields you don't enjoy, but you can take all that extra time you get from ditching the things you dislike, and put it into doing more of the actual streaming you love! If you want to get results, you need to put in work, and most people miss out on incredible opportunities, simply because they've convinced themselves that there's nothing more they can do. You could always do more, and as long as you're planning properly, you can do it safely and without ruining the other important things in your life. But until you prove this to yourself, you'll be your own biggest naysayer. So convince yourself that you're capable of doing greater things, and you'll be able to shatter the ceiling of what you previously thought possible!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Fear is Great for Streaming




What's one change you could make to your Twitch channel that terrifies you? Maybe you're starting out and you're afraid of speaking on stream or sharing your honest opinion. Or you've been streaming for a while and you feel you can't change the kind of game you play, your on-screen graphics, or your channel's branding. It could be you've been streaming every day for years, but now you feel completely trapped- like you can't alter the core of your channel at all, because everyone knows and loves it the way it is. What I've found on Twitch, just as in life, is that the decision you're most scared of making is usually the one you have to try. 



➢ FEAR AS A TOOL


Face your fears!
Fear is usually seen as something evil, something to be avoided. If you're afraid of something, common sense dictates that you shouldn't do that thing. But if you truly pay attention to your fears, if you recognize them for what they are and allow them to guide you, they can act as a beacon towards the things you want most. Nobody is scared of a decision they don't care about making. For example, which makes you more nervous: writing a letter or writing a cover letter? On an objective level, these two actions are exactly the same. But it's the opportunity in the second that causes anxiety. The cover letter leads to something you want- whether the job at the other end has more fulfilling work, better conditions, or you just need the money, the reason you're antsy about writing it is because you don't want to mess up the opportunity put in front of you. So if you can harness the ideas for your Twitch channel that scare you most, you'll be able to use them as a compass to point you in the direction you should go next.


In this entry, I'll take you through one of the changes I was most afraid of making on my channel, how I conquered those fears, and what the benefits have been. You will most likely not be planning to make the exact same change for your own channel, but you should try to recognize the signs in my story of when fear pointed me toward the right path, and what I gained from calling its bluff. Not every fear will magically guide you to the right answer, but they will usually lead you to things you'll be glad you tried.


➢ MY BIGGEST FEAR


My entire channel is now built around playing story-based games in the way I'd authentically play them off-stream. This involves never speaking during cutscenes, reading every little flavor text entry I can find, and carefully exploring the environments for secrets. But when I was starting out on Twitch, I was afraid to embrace this aspect of my love for games. As I discussed in the entry Don't Be Afraid to Be Yourself on Stream, I knew from the beginning of my channel how to speak confidently on camera, so I filled the whole stream with lots of talking- even during all the narrative moments. It brought people to the streams and kept them there, but I was missing out on the stories that I wanted to experience. I also strategically chose games I thought would 'work best' on Twitch- the ones with lots of fast-paced action and not a lot of cutscenes. This meant I could play shooters and action games, but none of the 100-hour RPGs or slow-paced indie games I loved.

I was afraid no one would want to watch my shows if I played all the games I truly enjoyed. Worse still, I thought all my existing viewers would complain if I tried to introduce those games into my lineup, and I'd have to shamefully go back to playing the kinds of things that had been proven to work already. I assumed the Twitch streaming experience would always involve me putting games into two categories: 'on-stream games' and 'off-stream games'. If I wanted to play something that I didn't really need to think about, I'd do it on stream, and if I wanted to play something that required me to pay attention to the narrative and slowly analyze things, all without a single explosion, I'd have to save those for my 'me time'. I had become limited by my fears and assumptions about what would work, allowing them to get in the way of what made me truly happy.


➢ FACING MY FEARS


If you're in the zombie apocalypse, then you might
want to think twice about facing your fears.
Otherwise, get out there!
Despite the fact that my channel was flourishing and I was excited to stream every day, I would catch myself thinking back to that point often. Why couldn't Twitch be my 'me time'? Was it really impossible for me to create a successful Twitch channel where I played games that weren't always conventionally entertaining? I began to realize that if I was thinking this much about making the change, it must have been important to me. So I started altering my channel. Using the techniques I laid out in the entry Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day, I took baby steps toward my goal. I first started playing action RPGs, then turn-based RPGs, then tactical and indie games. I was testing the limits of what my channel could handle, and each time I found encouraging results- the world didn't end.

Of course some people didn't like the change as it was happening, and they slowly drifted away. I lost followers, but I had no reason to complain about this, because I had been cultivating a different audience until that point. I had been making content for action game fans, and not every action game fan will enjoy turn-based RPGs. I was now starting the process of building the fanbase back up, but with people who liked the new kinds of games I was playing. And as the saying goes, I'd rather be at the bottom of a ladder that I want to climb, than halfway up a ladder I don't. By sticking to what I knew would work, my fear was helping me grow the channel, but it wasn't helping me grow the kind of channel I wanted to make. A year later, I don't even have any 'off-stream games' - I can play games on-stream the exact same way I'd play them off-stream, and this means I can do a lot more streaming overall. I can still point back to this tough decision as the best I've ever made for my Twitch channel, and the whole thing was born completely out of fear. In the moment, I was only able to recognize how important the change was to me, because of how scared I felt about making it.


➢ FEAR AS A GUIDE


So think again about your own channel. Are there any changes that have been in the back of your mind- ones that terrify you to think about making, but that you can't stop thinking about nonetheless? For me, it was embracing the less entertaining games I like to play. For you it could be anything. Sit down and think why that thing scares you at all. It's not likely to be scary if it's not important to you. If you can see a way to take baby steps toward that path, give it a shot. Whether or not you ultimately go with the idea, you'll likely be glad you tried it. Don't let fear stop you from doing the things you want to do- let it guide you toward the things you were meant to do.

Friday, November 22, 2019

How to Stream While Traveling Anywhere




If you're like me and have to travel often, you may find it hard to keep your streaming habit intact. I’ve mentioned a few times in previous entries about how I travel to about a dozen US states per year on business, and through creative problem solving, have managed to set up a style of show which allows me to never miss one of my streams, no matter where I am or what my schedule looks like. Through proper planning, any logistical hurdle can be scaled and still allow for consistent streaming. In this entry, I’m going to share how I orchestrated my most ambitious travel streaming regimen yet: spending two weeks in Tokyo, Japan while still streaming three times daily, never missing a single broadcast. And the most challenging part about this? It wasn't work- it was a vacation.


➢ CHALLENGES OF TRAVEL STREAMING


There's a lot going on in Tokyo, and considerably
more people than in this image.
What are the challenges associated with streaming on a vacation to Tokyo? I’ll leave all the concerns about finding consistent internet upload speeds in another country, and everything about equipment, for another entry. The main issue we want to deal with is how to even get motivated enough to stream on a trip like this at all. Think of how much pressure people usually feel on vacation, trying to make sure they have a good time. Add three separate, hours-long broadcasts to the mix, and you can see the challenge. If you’ve ever attempted to go on vacation while being a Twitch streamer before, you understand the most common outcome: Before leaving, you imagine how much fun it would be for yourself and your audience if you could go live from your destination, but almost as soon as you arrive, you give up. You decide you’d rather not interrupt the fun of your vacation for the drama and hardship of solving stream problems. It’s like bringing work with you to your place of relaxation, and you'd rather take a break from all that.

Plus, if you mostly stream video games and you want to do IRL shows while walking around at your destination, you almost certainly won’t be ready for the particular kind of humiliation that comes with being in public, talking out loud to nobody, while everyone around you stares. For me, the time lost on an international flight was a major concern as well. Flying 12 hours from Los Angeles to Tokyo, when adding the 17-hour time difference, meant I'd lose and entire DAY in transit. So I'd arrive, and already be a whole day behind on streams, which could compound the feeling of futility in trying to keep to my schedule. These are some of the issues that lead most streamers to do one or two broadcasts from their vacation if they’re lucky, and then write the rest off, counting their non-streaming time as a much-needed break until they return.

But wait, what’s wrong with taking a break if you’re going on vacation? You probably think I’m insane, that I work hard enough, maybe even that I deserve a break. Why would I spoil my ‘time off’ by trying to stream it? Everyone is different, and there's nothing wrong with taking a break if you need one. But for me, I want Twitch to be a completely natural part of my life. Despite it taking a lot of effort and work, I don’t want ‘streaming’ and ‘relaxation time’ to be relegated to separate categories in my mind. I’m trying to manufacture a style of living in which Twitch can be integrated into everything I do, and create as little of a burden on myself and those around me as possible. Meaning, I don’t just want to live a lifestyle in which I can take a vacation to Tokyo, I've created a lifestyle in which I can stream my vacation to Tokyo, while still having it feel like a vacation.


➢ CRAFTING YOUR CONTENT


When undertaking something like this, you should think first and foremost about the people who will be with you. For my trip to Tokyo, it would be my brother and I, and I didn't want to ruin the way the two of us would authentically enjoy the city by talking to my stream the whole time, or by dragging him into some sort of guest star role on my show. I went to him before anything else and established boundaries- we talked it over and I found out what he was and wasn't comfortable with in relation to my stream, then I built my shows around those hard limits.

I decided that the best way to do this would be to create a new kind of stream for my channel- one in which I engage very minimally with chat, even to the point of completely ignoring chat, sometimes even having full conversations with other people off-camera during the show. I wouldn't do intros and outros, I wouldn't fuss about the best camera angles, and most of all, I wouldn't worry if the internet cut out while we were going somewhere. I didn't want the stream to create an artificial barrier for us and our enjoyment of such an amazing city. This had the effect of creating an extremely natural feeling for the both of us while I was streaming. Plus, viewers were able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Tokyo, which is of course always entertaining, whether or not someone is 'hosting' the video and talking to them about it the whole time. All of this was only possible however, by going to the person I would be traveling with and establishing limits beforehand. I didn't leave it to chance, which would have likely caused a major burden on our vacation.


➢ PREPARE FOR DEPARTURE


It's not all theoretical, however. There will always be practical aspects that you can't foresee until you get in the field. If you've been following along with The Twitch Playbook so far, you know how big I am on getting as much experience as possible.

Get your tools in order before going.
In the months before leaving for Tokyo, I did several streams in which my brother and I got dinner at various restaurants, working on my ability to be less engaging on-camera than I normally would be, and simply letting myself enjoy the moment without always worrying about what to say or do to keep the stream alive. This is one of the most immensely difficult things you can do as a streamer, but it's necessary if you don't want to be projecting obnoxiously into your camera and getting kicked out of every place you go. All this preparation allowed my brother to get comfortable with the type of show I was making as well, and he was able to give suggestions and feedback afterwards about which things made him uncomfortable, and what he thought would work better. It also allowed me to encounter several logistical problems before arriving in Tokyo, like how to deal with internet issues, when to point the camera away while talking to someone, and how to not accidentally show my credit card info on stream when paying the check at dinner. Solving these kinds of problems can be overwhelming if you have to encounter them for the first time while on your vacation. I wanted everything to be natural before I arrived, so I didn't have to worry about anything while I was there.

Like all vacations and work trips, there will always be some tasks you simply have to cram before getting on the plane. To account for the loss of time while flying out there, I pre-empted two extra streams while still in the US, doing five streams in a day instead of three. To keep The Twitch Playbook consistent, I wrote, recorded and scheduled three separate entries to release on the three upcoming Fridays which coincided with trip preparations and the trip itself. I set up an auto-Tweet system because I knew I wouldn't be able to write custom 'going live' Tweets while away, and loaded my chatbot with commands which could explain various things about the Tokyo trip and its differences from normal streams, knowing that I wouldn't be able to answer questions verbally as often. No matter what you do for a living, this kind of preparation will always be necessary before traveling, so don't neglect these steps as a Twitch streamer either. Doing all this allowed everything to go off without a hitch while on vacation- I didn't miss any daily streams, The Twitch Playbook came out every Friday like normal, Tweets notified people without me sending them, and my chatbot could explain things to viewers for me. And the best part was, I never had to think about any of it while I was having fun in Japan.


➢ THE DREAM JOB


It's important for me to be able to integrate Twitch into my life as deeply as possible. Thanks to preparation and communication, my stream wasn't a burden while I was on vacation. Twitch streaming was simply something I did, in the same way someone might bring a camera to take lots of photos, a sketchpad, or any other hobby activity. I don't need a 'well-deserved break' from Twitch, because for me, Twitch is the break. It's a both hobby that I treat like a job, and a job that I treat like a hobby.

This entry was the account of how I solved specific problems for my trip, and because everyone and their streams are different, you won't necessarily find success doing the exact same things I did. But if you keep the same underlying problem-solving concepts in mind, there's no reason you can't also travel while Twitch streaming, without ever missing a beat!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Help New Viewers Enjoy Your Stream




Have you ever noticed viewers joining your streams and seeming confused about what's happening? Depending on the type of shows you make, someone may be unclear about the game you're playing, what you're trying to do in the game, what artwork you're creating, why you're wearing a funny costume, or any number of other possible factors. Even if you've never seen anyone bring up concerns like this in your chat, someone watching without commenting may leave before even saying a word. Confusion about a stream's main themes is a major reason for viewers to tune out- after all, it's no fun to watch a show when you can't even understand what's going on.

Here's an example of what I mean: Let's say you're doing a Dark Souls stream with specific challenge rules- you can't use recovery items, you're not allowed to roll at all, and you're restricted to the most basic weapons. You announce these details about your challenge run at the beginning, and then proceed to play for the next several hours without mentioning it again. This may seem fine on the surface, but you're not taking into account one of the most major aspects of the Twitch viewing experience: most viewers don't join at the beginning of your stream.

In order to truly engage new viewers, think of your stream as having no beginning or end. Time, as it exists on Twitch, isn't a straight line.


➢ PLANNING FOR ANYTHING


Time works differently on Twitch.
Before you start worrying that I've finally gone off the deep end, allow me to explain: when making a YouTube video, it's safe to assume that most viewers will see at least the first few seconds of your video, no matter what. That's because, whether they click on the video the moment it's uploaded, two hours after it's uploaded, or five hours after, it will always start playing from the beginning. Time, as it exists for a YouTube video, can be thought of as a straight line, which always starts at the start. On YouTube, if you convey important information within the first few seconds, almost everyone will be shown that information, guaranteed.

When making a Twitch stream, you have to assume that almost no one will watch from the beginning. And that means someone joining the moment you went live will have a completely different introduction to your stream than someone who joins two hours after, or five hours after you started. So instead of only conveying the information your audience needs to know at the beginning, like on a YouTube video, a Twitch stream should be conveying that introductory information at all times, from the beginning to the end of the show. The passage of time, as it exists on a Twitch stream, is more like taking slices from a birthday cake. If you only convey important info at one point during your stream, similar to placing a single chocolate chip on top of the cake, then almost no one will get a slice of the cake that has chocolate on it. But if you convey that information throughout the stream, similar to spreading a chocolate frosting over the entire top layer of the cake, then everyone, no matter when they join, will get the same thing.


➢ THE VERTICAL SLICE


There are all sorts of things you might want to convey about your stream to incoming viewers, which you can stack on top of each other like the layers of a cake. In addition to your challenge run info, you might have a chat rule about keeping language family-friendly, and you might also have a signature comedy bit you like to do using your Stream Deck, which you think would win over newcomers. When these layers are stacked on top of each other, it ensures that each viewer who takes a slice will be getting all the best parts of your stream, no matter where that slice comes from. Here are a few strategies you can employ in order to ensure this happens:

Your Twitch stream works like a cake. Mmm, cake.
For the challenge run info, you might leave a line of text in the corner of the game screen at all times, laying out the particulars of your Dark Souls run. Since this is pretty critical to someone understanding what's going on, it's worth making it the most visible of all the things you want to convey. To keep the chat PG, you might have a chatbot timer set to let people know at regular intervals about that restriction. And for the comedic interludes you like to do with your Stream Deck, it might be as simple as making sure you do it regularly and often, to ensure that any newcomers who join will see the most entertaining part of your channel.

Every streamer has their own top-tier bits of information they want to convey. You can find more of my thoughts on different ways to specifically convey this information in the previous entry titled Make the Most of Your Streaming Setup. I personally like to communicate the core concepts of my channel verbally, periodically repeating a short three-sentence introductory speech at various points through the stream. You can find more info about how to craft an efficient description in the entry, Your Twitch Channel Needs an Elevator Pitch. Whatever you end up doing on your own streams, I recommend you take a step back every 30 minutes or so and ask yourself, "If someone only saw the last half hour of my stream, did they get the best possible experience from my channel?"


➢ IT'S ABOUT EMPATHY


The main thing you want for incoming viewers before all else is for them to be able to empathize with what's happening on your stream. Empathy is the basis of all entertainment. Someone can't be scared, excited or nervous for you during intense parts of your Dark Souls challenge run if they don't understand what's scary, exciting or nerve-racking about it. You may have explained at the beginning of your stream that you won't allow yourself to use items, but the viewer joining two hours later will simply be confused why you're so nervous despite having 20 healing gems. We've all been conditioned to understand that videos should have a beginning, middle and end, but if you want to truly engage new viewers on Twitch, start thinking of your streams in terms of 'slices' that all come out of the middle. To most newcomers, this short slice is all your stream will be, so make your shows more accessible to those people who might join at various points. If you can be entertaining enough within those slices, you might find those new viewers coming back for more helpings in the future!

Friday, November 8, 2019

It's Okay Not to Grow Your Channel




When building your Twitch channel, there will be lulls when it feels like a good time to expand. You might reach some big round number of followers, maybe you'll finish the game you've been working on for a while, or maybe you'll just have a long spell of unchanging sameness on your streams. There are all sorts of ways to to go about growing your stream in either its quality or scope: celebrating one major milestone with a 24-hour marathon, doing game key giveaways, upgrading equipment, or opening brand new social channels. It's easy to get blinded by 'progress' without realizing which upgrades are actually helping. If left unchecked, this kind of rampant growth can bloat your channel enough to start impeding your actual streams, or worse- sap your will to stream.

There's a strange kind of peer pressure that occurs for Twitch streamers- our medium is so public and there's such a stigma about what we're supposed to look like that oftentimes it feels like we're following a road map when growing our channels. Most of us have assumptions in our heads about what our channels should look like at 500, 1,000 or 10,000 followers before we've even done our first broadcast. This act of blindly following the pre-established mold is one of the largest sources of unhappiness in streamers, and you should be careful not to get caught in it. While I always support starting new things to see if they work, I'm never a fan of dogmatically sticking with something you hate just because you think you're supposed to do it. If you want to be happy on Twitch, you don't only need to know when to expand, but also when not to grow your channel.


➢ ASSESS YOUR GROWTH


If you've been streaming for any length of time, it's likely that you've already enacted some expansions on your channel. Have you ever taken a long, sober look at those new endeavors and truly assessed whether they're working for you? And I don't mean thinking about whether your community requested those additions, whether it makes sense on paper, or whether another of your favorite streamers has the same feature- I mean whether they're working for you, and you alone, in practice. You need to ask yourself one question: does this feature make me enjoy streaming more, or does it make me enjoy streaming less?

It's easy to keep accumulating features without
considering which ones you actually like.
In the growth check-in entry called Boosting Your Streams, I've touched on this subject a bit already. It's easy to get sidetracked by all the moving parts we set up for our channels, and then feel trapped by those very additions we've made. Always remember that nothing on your channel is sacred, and there's no feature on Twitch that you absolutely need to have if it doesn't make you happy. Don't like doing marathon streams? Nix them. Don't like streaming popular video games, or video games at all? Do what you love instead. Don't like talking to chat, using a camera, or speaking at all, and would rather silently capture your screen while you look up Wikipedia articles about The French Revolution? Go for it! There is no secret ingredient that every Twitch channel needs to have in common, and if you want to last then you're better off simply doing what you love from the outset.

Throughout my life I've always preferred to play singleplayer story-based games, but when I started my Twitch channel I thought nobody would ever be interested in watching someone who only specialized in that one kind of thing. So near the beginning of my channel I started playing lots of multiplayer games as well. People watched, but these games were never something I personally was passionate about. I eventually realized I was only doing this because I thought that was what you were supposed to do when you were a Twitch streamer- on some days you do the thing you actually want to do, and on some days you do the things people want to see. This is ridiculous of course, and since dropping multiplayer games as a regular feature of my channel I've been much happier for it.


➢ SUSTAINABILITY ABOVE ALL


If you want to still be streaming years from now,
make sure you aren't doing things that make
you unhappy.
Most of the expansions we add to our Twitch channels in the beginning come about because we're checking off items on an imaginary list of things it takes to be a 'real streamer'. Some of these things will quickly show themselves as being too time-consuming and we immediately have to drop them. But the biggest problem that comes from new expansions are when you do find a way to fit them into your schedule, but they covertly sap away energy and time that you don't even know you're losing. Whether you're growing a new Twitter channel, setting up community game nights each Friday, or preparing the extra variables that come with multistreaming to a second platform, these may only take you an extra five minutes each day, and therefore seem pretty harmless. But as I demonstrated in the entry Perfecting Your Stream Prep, small tasks compounded over months or years compound into huge numbers. No matter how small or innocuous something looks, never hesitate to put it on the chopping block if you find it isn't helping.

One instance where I got caught in this trap was in setting up a merch store. Because many services offer the ability to sell t-shirts and coffee mugs at no up-front cost, they can be very tempting prospects for streamers to grow their brands. Plus, it would seem to be somewhat 'fire and forget' - you post the listings for each item once, and leave them alone. In practice however, things were anything but convenient for me. First, most of these places charge high prices to the consumer and offer terrible profit margins for the seller. So I knew I wouldn't make much money, but I figured, as you probably are right now, that I wasn't in it for the money anyway. On top of this was designing and listing items, which was much more grueling than anticipated, going back and forth trying to make logos fit perfectly in the right spot on each item, which came with the intangible cost of my time and energy. Then I bought some of my own items for myself or loved ones, which most streamers end up wanting to do, especially during the holidays. This meant that I was charged the high product costs and shipping fees from my own pocket, causing me to actually lose significantly more money than I was gaining, thanks to the terrible profit margins. Sure, anyone's ego would like the idea of someone wearing a shirt with their face on it, but was that vanity really worth losing my time, money and happiness? I eventually realized that I was only selling merch because I thought it was just something streamers were supposed to do. I discontinued my merch store and have been significantly happier ever since.


➢ DON'T WAIT UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE


Expansion can destroy you just as quickly as it can help. The examples I've used in this entry apply to my personal experience alone- you might have great success with multiplayer streams and merch- but for me these things were only sources of unhappiness. It's important to keep the things we do every day in check, and not let them stand in the way of our actual ambitions. If you let something sap the joy from streaming for too long, you'll likely get fatigued or even give up on your passion altogether. So always try new things- you should be attempting changes and upgrades daily- but the keyword there is try. Don't assume that just because you've started on a new endeavor, or even if you've been doing it every day for six months, that it's completely above being reassessed.

So take a step back now and ask yourself: Is there anything you've added to your channel that you've had doubts about? Any types of streams that you've noticed yourself looking forward to less than the others? Any off-stream work brought on by channel expansion that you particularly dislike? Think about getting rid of them, even temporarily, and see if it feels better- you can always bring them back if you need to. But if you want to continue streaming for the long term, you need to know when it's okay not to grow your channel.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Stream With No Complaints





Many streamers will find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibilities of streaming. Whether they have problems making their shows, or it takes a toll on other parts of their lives, many of us turn to complaints and excuses to get us through the day. If you're thinking to yourself how inconvenient it all is, verbally venting on your broadcasts, or telling coworkers about how little time you now have, all these paths will eventually hurt your long-term streaming career. Don't create a mental association between your stream and your other problems in life- it'll only cause you to eventually resent your passion. Plus, if you're complaining on stream, it's just no fun to watch.

Complaining is a very primal defense mechanism: it's every human being's way of getting others to empathize with their problems while simultaneously doing nothing to solve them. It's also one of the most addictive activities on Earth. The more someone complains, the more likely they are to continue complaining in the future. If you're already hooked on complaining, there is hope, but you're going to have to work at fixing it.


➢ REMEMBER WHAT'S IMPORTANT


Remember what's important. You get to live your passion!
If you want to kick your complaining habit, it's important not to dwell on your problems. Instead, constantly remind yourself why you love what you're doing. The chance to play games on the internet, the ability to build something and watch it grow, or the opportunity to share your thoughts and opinions with others across the world. There are plenty of reasons to love streaming, but focus on the ones that are important to you.

Don't just keep it to yourself either- tell your community! Rather than spending five minutes venting about how much you hate your work hours, it's just as easy to talk about how lucky you feel to have a wonderful community to spend time with when you get home. Instead of going on a rant about how your streaming tech gives you all sorts of problems, thank people for always being patient with you while you fix those issues. Any negative thought can be spun into a positive talking point, and when all you're thinking and talking about are the positive sides of things, you'd be surprised how much less frustrated you are overall. Scientific studies say that smiling actually tricks your brain into making you happier, and the same is true of smiling on the inside.

In past entries I recommended that you not aspire to quit your existing job in order to stream. This means you're going to be extra busy for a while in the months where you figure out how to balance your work life, personal life, and new streaming lifestyle. And while it's important not to complain on stream, it's just as important not to let your stream cause you to complain in other aspects of your life. This can only lead to resenting your stream in the future, and it's an important step toward accepting streaming as a fact of life in the long run. We all have lots of things to be upset with each day, but it's how you project these feelings that leave an impact on yourself and your audience.


➢ SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVITY


Break down negativity one step at a time.
Here's one thing that sounds simple but isn't: you don't have to follow all your friends on social media just because they're your friends in real life. One of the biggest sources of strife for me was seeing people around me complain and bicker with each other constantly on various online platforms. I didn't even realize it was affecting my own daily personal mood either, until I stopped using the platform or slashed my follower list. We all think these things don't have an impact on us, but ask yourself: what if it does? Are you willing to bet your happiness on it? Because that's what you're doing right now if you're unwilling to make a change- you don't know whether these influences are truly affecting you until you try removing them.

If you don't want to outright delete your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media account, then try unfollowing anyone who gives off negative vibes in your feeds. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, make a self-righteous post about when or why you're going to unfollow people, just do it without a word. In my experience with this, I found it very difficult to remove many of my friends or internet acquaintances from my lists. Ridiculous as it might seem, it almost felt as if I were striking them a personal blow by unfollowing their account. What helped me was writing down their usernames in a text document so I could re-follow them later if I wanted to. It made the removals feel less permanent, even though over a year later I still haven't added a single one of them back onto my lists. Now for example, I can scroll through my entire day's Instagram newsfeed in less than ten seconds, because I follow so few people that there is nothing to either cast bad vibes on me, or distract me from accomplishing my goals. It's a great feeling.


➢ DON'T TAKE THE EASY WAY OUT


In the entry Build Your Twitch Channel Like You're a Secret Agent, I described how telling others of your plans releases the same chemicals in your brain as actually executing those plans. The same is true of complaining- it makes you feel like you've accomplished something when in reality you've done nothing productive at all. Complaining to your audience on stream can dredge up a few cheap conversations in some cases, but at what cost? As a viewer I personally leave most streams when they start complaining for more than thirty seconds, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. It's just not a fun environment to be around. Plus, complaining outside your stream will only create more mental baggage and make it harder to sit down and go live the next day. Complaining is easy to do in the moment, but if you take the harder route and kick your habit now, you'll be making an investment in your future. Streaming is much sweeter when you do it with no complaints.