Friday, August 16, 2019

The Power of Positive Streaming




There are all kinds of streams out there, but whatever your channel's identity, there will always be a top-level trait that permeates everything: how you conduct yourself toward others.

For my streams, cultivating an atmosphere of positivity is extremely important. No matter what's happening in my game or in the chat, I try to make it always known that the stream itself is a welcoming place. I think this makes followers feel more at home on the channel, and newcomers are struck by this often. You might think that your streams are too far in another direction to support a tone like this, but I personally think that anyone's streams, no matter their basic theme, would benefit from a blanket of positivity draped overhead.


➢ A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION


Radiating good vibes from the first moment someone joins a stream is important to me, and for this I set up on-stream actions that allow the whole community to join in. I have a whole network of commands for various greetings, responses and gameplay reactions that chatters can use to make people feel welcome.

This guy outside Megaton knows how to give a
good welcome.
When someone joins a stream, everyone currently in the chat is encouraged to send them a greeting command, which pays out with a "hello" message and a random assortment of emotes from a list I've cultivated. The only thing I personally do is announce excitedly that the new person has joined, and ask the chat to send the command. Everything else is up to the community, who can then each send their own greeting to the newcomer. This creates a flood of positive messages for the new person joining, and many people who have never been on my channel before have remarked how much they appreciate the warm welcome. It's very important to me that people feel they are noticed on my channel, and this kind of greeting from the whole chat is a great way to make sure that everyone is acquainted with each other.

It doesn't stop there though- there are commands to wish someone well upon leaving a stream, a command to give someone a randomized 'good night' message if they're going to bed, and commands for people to express their love, sadness or excitement for things that happen in the game and the chat. There are also ways for viewers to 'high five' each other for their achievements, or hug each other in greeting or support, and for both of these I've written dozens and dozens of different possible custom results so that each person's interaction is different.

All of this helps to further enhance the sense of togetherness between followers, while adding my channel's own personality at the same time. It creates a recurring theme for returning viewers, because everyone knows that these moments of interaction will appear, and can be on the lookout for them. It's a chance to be a part of the group and join in the fun, and it creates a whole new level of interaction aside from normal chat conversation. There's almost a separate language when watching my channel, and chatters very much enjoy taking part in the rituals and activities that come with this. Because people enjoy receiving the messages, and it's always fun to send them, this creates a forward momentum of positivity for future interactions.


➢ BE NICE, YOU'RE ON CAMERA!


When you're playing a game, it's easy to get caught up in the intense moments. Whether it stems from a lost competitive match, defeat from a tough boss, or a botched puzzle, I've seen many streamers become enraged on their streams and fly off the handle toward chatters, teammates on voice chat, or even other people in the room with them. I know it's difficult to stay cool when everything is going wrong and you just can't catch a break- we've all had our moments like this. But while it's okay (and even entertaining) to get mad at your game, you should never take your anger out on other people.

Don't forget, you're on camera.
Aside from just generally being a bad thing to do, acting mean toward others while streaming will cause members of your chat to lose interest in your stream, or sometimes give up on your channel altogether. In many cases, you won't know this has happened- they won't likely announce anything, they will simply stop watching. Acting cruelly toward others, even in a fit of rage, shows people your true colors, and viewers won't easily forget things like this. I've personally left plenty of streams when the caster suddenly started lashing out at everyone in a fury- it's just no fun to be around.

You need to understand your priorities on stream in this case. Sometimes our frustration with a game can make us see red, but this is only part of the problem- the bigger issue for many inexperienced streamers is an anxiety about people tuning out because of their poor performance in a game. This is a short-sighted viewpoint. The people who truly care about your shows won't leave because you're losing. Only the fairweather viewers will take off in these moments, but they wouldn't likely have stuck around anyway. Try to keep a cool head and remember that, whether you're winning or losing, people are watching your show to see you, not the game. They'll be entertained whether you win or lose, so enjoy the ride no matter where the roller coaster takes you.


➢ DIPLOMACY FIRST


It bothers me when Twitch streamers give their 'hot takes' on some subject in an angry, alienating way that's likely to demean, belittle, or discourage other opinions. I've left streams for this reason before as well, when it's clear the person is going to spend the next ten minutes railing on some movie, game or other subject that I happen to love. I'm not saying you shouldn't express your true thoughts for fear that others might disagree. But you should pay attention to how you're expressing those thoughts.

Let's say the new Star Wars movie just came out and a chatter asks whether you've seen it. If you seriously hated the movie, you might say something like this:

"Ugh, I hated this new Star Wars movie. It made no sense, it completely ruined the canon, and I can't believe anyone with an IQ higher than a child actually enjoyed it. All the critics who gave it high scores must have been paid off."

This is certainly honest, and some people may appreciate your candor. But even if I despised the new Star Wars movie more than life itself, I'd try to take a deep breath and say something more like this:

"I did see the new Star Wars movie! This one wasn't my favorite, but I'm interested to see where they take it from here. How about you, did you get a chance to check it out yet?"

Keep your rage in check.
This second one still expresses the fact that I didn't love the movie, but in a much more diplomatic way. It also takes into account the fact that this person is likely asking whether I saw the movie because they also just saw it, and therefore has a 50% chance of having enjoyed it. I'm not violently attacking the thing they wanted to talk about, but instead establishing my perspective while inviting actual discussion.

You may say that hot takes invite people to chat, but you'll notice I have nothing against hot takes themselves, only the way some people express them. No one wants to watch someone completely hate on their favorite subject, and will likely tune out when you start doing it. If they don't, and they start arguing in chat, consider the quality of discussion you've just invited. Inflammatory remarks are like junk food- even when they get results in the moment, they're bad for you in the long run. Maybe one vocal chatter got up to bat and argued, but 3 silent lurking viewers have been offended and stopped watching because they couldn't put up with your bickering and negativity. Do your best to keep things in perspective.


➢ KEEP OTHERS IN MIND


I personally think any community is better off with a healthy dose of positivity. At the end of the day, you just need to remember that these are real people you're dealing with. Try to act like you would in public- you wouldn't want to make someone feel unwelcome when they meet you, nor would you want to be openly mean, or consciously try to kill the mood at parties by going on angry rants. Then why would you do these things on your stream? Your actions always build toward a conclusion- constantly being negative will only encourage more negative people to stick around and more positive people to leave. But radiating positivity will cause the trolls and bad vibes to drop away, making your channel a much more pleasant place to be. By always keeping others in mind when conducting your shows, you'll soon understand the power of positive streaming!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Just Keep Streaming




You may have been streaming for a while now, and might be thinking to yourself, "Hey, why haven't I made it on Twitch yet?" After all, another streamer you know might be growing faster, maybe you've been losing followers, maybe your shows just aren't as professional as you want them to be. Should you call it quits? You've been making as many changes as you could think of to improve your channel, and nothing seems to be working. What else could you possibly try?

The answer is simple: take a page from Pixar's Finding Nemo and 'just keep streaming'.

No matter what happens, no matter how many people have unfollowed, no matter how big of a hill you still have to climb, don't give up. Nobody has ever accomplished anything by doing nothing, and you're only going to get better if you keep putting in the effort. Every day you'll gain valuable experience, making the things that are difficult now become second nature later, eventually freeing up your mind to tackle even tougher challenges going forward. You just have to keep streaming.


➢ LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING


You may be lamenting the fact that you have no talent for streaming. You are awkward on camera, your chat gets out of hand often (if you have a chat at all), and there are always technical problems during your shows. Another streamer, who started their channel around the same time you did, seems so much more put together. Their stream is everything yours isn't. How are they so much more naturally talented than you are?

You never know what's lurking under the surface
of another streamer's success.
It's very likely that they aren't. Do you know how many hours they stream per day, how many days they've done it in the last year and how many breaks from streaming they've taken along the way? How about the time they've labored over their channel behind the scenes, the sweat poured into perfecting their tech, or the personal pleasures they sacrificed to get to where they are? There's no way for you to know all of this, and there's no point trying to figure it out either.

There's an easy solution to cut through all this confusion: Assume that anyone with a better stream is simply putting in more hours than you are. As a content creator, there's only one thing about your channel that actually matters: the content. If you can carve out more on-camera or behind-the-scenes hours to get better faster, then go for it! If not, that's fine too, but you'll have to accept the fact that you won't improve as quickly. Nobody deserves to have their cake and eat it too- you either put in the time, or you don't get results.

Trying to measure ourselves against our neighbors is a natural human reaction, but it's ultimately a lose-lose scenario. You either end up proving they put in more work (which you should have assumed anyway), or you prove that they're more talented. But even if you could truly, unequivocally prove that someone was more talented than you are, how would that help? It would only give you a better excuse to feel sorry for yourself and quit. Don't bother. Keep making content, and only measure the quality of your streams against the quality of YOUR previous streams- no one else's. If you are continually getting better, that's all that matters.


➢ MORE FOLLOWERS, MORE PROBLEMS


Most new Twitch streamers measure success by their follower counts. This is useful when you're trying to reach your first 50 fans so you can claim Affiliate status, but after that there really isn't any benchmark to shoot for. Even still, because new streamers have been conditioned to strive for a higher follower count already, they will continue coveting this meaningless number, even to the detriment of their channel and community.

In SimCity, the larger your city gets, the more
problems it causes.
Often, an inexperienced streamer will notice a few people unfollowing in a row and assume it's because of something they did. They will then enact wild, kneejerk changes in order to 'correct' this issue, adjusting which games they play, the days they go live, or the way they cultivate their communities. Changes of this kind usually result in a streamer doing shows that they are less happy with, because they are now making streams only to appease their fickle follower number, not ones they actually enjoy. This road of turning streaming into a chore leads to burnout, and eventually, giving up on streaming altogether.

If you validate yourself by your follower count, beware: The higher your total follower count, the more followers you will lose each day. 

There's no way to calculate exactly how many followers your channel will lose, but on my own channel I've noticed that on average I lose roughly 1% of my total follower count EVERY WEEK. Of course, my channel puts out an insane amount of content and I gain significantly more followers than I lose, but the amount of people jumping ship at these higher scales is still shocking. When I had 10 followers I may not have lost anyone, or if I did it was very seldom. But soon, when I reached 250 followers I was losing 2-3 people each week, at 500 I was losing 5, and at 1,000 I was losing 10. That's 40 followers GONE every month. Wherever you are in your Twitch journey, consider how long it's taken you to gain your last 40 followers. Losing that many people in a mere 30 days is a scary prospect!

If you're starting out, you may not notice the consistency of dropoff. But as you grow you WILL see that followers leave, no matter what you do. You can't prevent this, and it really doesn't have anything to do with the quality of your channel. It's just a normal aspect of Twitch streaming. Try to keep in mind the difference between your followers and your follow count. For our purposes, think of 'followers' as people who watch and engage with your shows often- dedicated fans who care about your content and your own personal happiness. Your 'follow count' is a lifeless, soulless number that could be comprised of bots, people who joined only to win a giveaway contest, or by accident- you'd have no way of knowing where most of them came from. Unless you're seeing an actual decline in your dedicated followers' happiness on your streams, don't make drastic changes just because the anonymous number has gone down on a given week.


➢ WHEN TO BE FLEXIBLE


Stick to your guns.
"Okay," you might be saying. "So you're telling me I should keep streaming no matter what. It sounds like a good plan in theory. But what if my average stream length is 3 hours and I only have 90 minutes of free time before I have to start getting ready for a night out? In that scenario, there's simply nothing to be done. I'd have to miss my scheduled stream because there just isn't enough time today. Right?"

This is a very common thought process among new streamers, but ultimately it's just another excuse. You should be flexible about WHEN and HOW you stream, but never about WHETHER you stream. There's nothing more destructive to a growing streamer than finding excuses to miss their scheduled days.

If you're trying to grow your channel, if you're trying to gain on-camera experience, if you're trying to create a habit, all of these things can be disproportionately damaged by missing even a single day for arbitrary reasons like your streaming schedule. When you know you'll only have 90 minutes to stream, then stream for 90 minutes. If you get home after a late night and missed your showtime, go live afterwards. If you know you'll have personal plans all day the next day, stream twice the night before. There's no stream length too short, no time too late or early, no scheduling excuse that should ever prevent you from streaming. All you should care about is not letting your habit lapse. Anyone can stream when it's easy for them- it's how you face a challenge that defines you.


➢ BET ON YOURSELF


When you're streaming day in and day out without much noticeable change, it's hard to see the eventual payoff. This is because you're living in the moment, and aren't able to see the bigger picture. How can you tell whether you're likely to eventually make it, or if your streaming career is taking off at all? Since you can't see into the future, you'll just have to have faith. Do you want to be a streamer? Do you love doing it? If you were in Vegas, would you bet on your own eventual success on Twitch? If the answer to all three of these questions was, "yes," then act like it. It'll take longer than you think, and it'll take more work than you think, but as long as you keep applying yourself every single day, you will get to where you want to be. Just keep streaming, and you'll be fine.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Make the Most of Your Streaming Setup




Whatever equipment you may acquire for streaming, there comes a time when you need to stop purchasing new things and instead optimize what you have. And whether you stream from a top-notch studio, a no-frills laptop, or a home console's built in Twitch app, the things that matter about your stream itself stay exactly the same. In this entry, I'm going to help you to make the most of your streaming setup, no matter the scope of your tech.


➢ WORKING WITHIN LIMITS


Not these kinds of limits...
In order to begin, we need to make sure your head is in the right place. Many streamers will assume that once they've acquired a new piece of hardware or software, their stream has mostly plateaued, and it won't improve in any real way until another major purchase has been made. This is, in my opinion, the worst mindset you could have about streaming, and you'll never do any real problem solving with this attitude. Always think in terms of what you have, rather than what you don't have.

You may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of factors facing you, and not really know how to attack any given problem. This is normal, and it happens to everyone at times. But you can easily solve any stream issue by using only the tools available to you if you think in terms of these three top-tier concepts: clarity, setup, and style.


➢ CLARITY


The most important factor of a Twitch stream is also the most deceptively simple. You want to make your stream, in all its aspects, as clearly understandable to the viewer as possible. Make sure the main subject of the stream, whether it be the game, your craft table, or your face, is large on screen and clearly visible. For more specific details on general visual clarity, see the entry Easy Ways to Make Your Stream More Watchable, but this doesn't just apply to visuals. It's also true when you want to communicate concepts to the viewer. Consider this example scenario:

Creating clarity will typically cost you nothing,
so make it a priority.
You're doing a challenge run in the new God of War game, trying to complete it on the hardest difficulty without ever upgrading your character. The problem is, people continuously join your show and wonder why you're having such a hard time with many of the bosses. New people keep asking why you don't just use a skill you would have gotten when your character upgraded early in the game. These people aren't aware of your stream's base concept, and in this scenario you need to more effectively communicate the details of your challenge run to viewers.

How would you solve this problem? Take a second before moving forward to come up with your own idea for a solution.

If it were me, I might place a graphic on-screen explaining the challenge run's rules, but I'd also create a chatbot command that people can call up to learn more, change the stream title to explain the run itself, and put a description of the run in the info panels at the bottom of my channel. Plus, word of mouth is always helpful: I'd make sure to explain the challenge run out loud more often on stream, and ask mods in chat to explain the run to newcomers.

There are countless ways to solve the same problem, and the point is not to know which of these was correct, but to ultimately communicate your stream's goal clearly, even if it means creating multiple options for different viewers. Some people only listen, and some watch without sound; some viewers read the title, others don't. There will never be one single type of communication that clearly conveys information to every type of viewer, so make sure you cover as many bases as you can.


➢ SETUP


Your stream setup will define many things about how your shows operate. I've spoken a lot already about both network and computer performance in the entry, Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right. But if you don't have stream from a PC or use a capture card, you may think your show can't get much better, that it's a console or phone stream's lot in life to look a certain way. Some of this is true- you can't implement many of the fancy graphical options or on-screen widgets that PC users have. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take these same concepts to heart, adapted to fit the scope of your tech. In fact, learning to think in terms of what you have rather than what you don't have is even MORE important for you, as you don't have many things to work with in the first place.

Even if you don't stream from a computer, you likely have a PC or laptop available somewhere, from which you can host chatbot software. If not, there are cloud-based chatbots out there as well. Load these up with commands and fun minigames for your community to play during streams. Get creative- invent a personality for your bot, come up with fun responses for it to give, and have it do unique things during your streams. If you stream from a console, the audio mix is tweakable as well- make sure to use the concepts laid out in the entry Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic to get your vocal mix on point.

Always make sure your camera is optimally placed too- get it as close to you as possible to give a clear image of yourself without having to zoom in. You might even have to move the camera or phone from its usual perch to achieve this, but your viewers will thank you. Use everything around you to make your stream shine- oftentimes with these kinds of non-PC streams I will take some time before my show and stack books to place the camera, rearrange lamps to create better lighting, or scotch tape my microphone or charger cables to hide them behind various objects. There's no excuse for a bad looking stream, only a lack of creativity in the streamer.


➢ STYLE


STYLE!
An important aspect of anyone's stream is its style. This is what will differentiate you from the crowd, and it will be the most easily recognizable thing about your shows. There are lots of things you can implement to create interesting concepts on your streams, all available to anyone clever enough to utilize them.

Someone who streams from a computer can add different kinds of channel graphics, transitions, effects, and on-screen chat minigames. All of these things, if implemented correctly, can enhance your channel's persona. Less is typically more here, but a few well-chosen widgets and graphics can go a long way, so try all kinds and refine them down to a select few that you really like.

If you're streaming from a console, phone or other device that can't use effects or graphics, you aren't out of luck either. There are all sorts of things you can do to enhance your stream's sense of style, as long as you're thinking about what you have rather than what you don't have. Maybe you wear costumes, speak in different voices or read passages from a book during loading screens. Maybe you ask your chat to place bets on multiplayer matches or influence your in-game decisions in singleplayer games. Maybe you hold tournaments with your community, chat with them through the console's built-in chat software, or decorate the wall in your room behind you with the names of community members. Of course, someone streaming from a PC would do well to use these kinds of non-technical strategies as well, but these will be most important to someone who has no other tech options available.


➢ SEEK CREATIVE SOLUTIONS


Some of the ideas I've mentioned above, like stacking your camera on a bunch of books, might be stopgap solutions, but you'd be surprised how many PERMANENT fixtures I came up with purely by thinking in terms of what I had rather than what I didn't have. I became so good at placing household lamps to light my stream that I never had to buy anything better. Over 1,000 stream-hours in, I still only use a $20 Amazon Basics desk light and an IKEA standing lamp. I use a $15 external number pad on my PC to switch OBS scenes instead of a $100 Stream Deck, and it works perfectly. Plus, always announcing my show's intro verbally instead of commissioning a high-quality intro video has forced me to become significantly better at speaking on camera. In the end, it's not about saving money (though that's always a good thing), it's about always keeping your mind sharp.

There will always be new things to buy for your stream, if you allow yourself to keep coming up with excuses to buy them. Not only will this burn a hole in your pocket, it'll cause your overall problem solving skills to atrophy. If you truly believe in the back of your mind that your channel won't get much better until you buy that next wishlist item, you'll never come up with any really creative ideas for your stream's clarity, setup or style. So before you take out your credit card, make the most of the streaming setup you already have!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Surviving Your First Ten Streams




Let's say you're ready to do your first ever Twitch stream. You spent hours laboring over the graphical treatment, camera settings, microphone, and game volume levels. Now, feeling completely prepared, you finally press that Go Live button for the first time. And the stream is a disaster. Unforeseen technical problems crop up almost as soon as your show starts, and you wrestle with them throughout your broadcast. Watching back, you realize your audio sounded weird the whole time and nobody in chat told you. Plus, you look so self-conscious on-camera that it makes you want to cringe. What went wrong here?

Nothing.

You should expect your first several official streams to be terrible, no matter what you do or how much you prepare. This is normal. Learn from each cringe-worthy mistake, but don't let it affect your drive to keep pursuing your passion. No one is immune to having bad first streams. Even if you think your first stream went well, a year from now you'll find things about it to be embarrassed about. This is why I always advocate streaming before you think you're ready.

Just jump right into streaming.
Most people define being 'ready' to stream as having good looking tech, graphics, sound and camera layouts. But what actually matters in the beginning- really the only thing that matters about streaming at all- is your experience gained by being on-camera, and you can only get that by being super awkward for hours on end. You want to improve your ABILITY to stream, not necessarily the stream itself. Since bad streams are unavoidable in the beginning, you should get yours out of the way as quickly as possible.


➢ THE PLACEMENT STREAMS


When you want to play Competitive Matches in Overwatch, you first have to go through a series of placement matches to determine your rank. I've noticed that a very similar concept holds true in Twitch streaming as well.

You need to have made 10 complete streams before you're officially a streamer.

Thinking this way will allow you to become more experienced faster in the fields that actually count. If you force yourself to power through 10 cringey, disaster-riddled 'Placement Streams', it guarantees that you'll be better at a few key categories right out of the gate:

  1. TRACKING DATA: You'll have several days' experience, likely over multiple weeks. This means you'll be better at tracking trends, such as which days of the week, times of day, and categories work best for your chosen stream type. 
  2. CHAT INTERACTION: Since you'll be doing multiple broadcasts and not just one big one, this ensures that different kinds of chatters will come through your shows, ensuring that your experience talking to chatters isn't skewed by one fluke stream where all your friends show up or a big raid comes in. 
  3. SETUP/TECH SNAGS: Since you have to go live on 10 separate occasions, you'll notice which things in your pre-stream routine are more difficult or time consuming, and which one you regularly forget to do. This will help you to iron out potential problems for future streams more quickly.
  4. ON-CAMERA CONFIDENCE: When you spend a bunch of time trying to make everything perfect before your first stream, each little misstep feels like it's tarnishing your own self-worth. You'd be surprised how much more confident you can be when you're doing a stream that you know will have problems. And you WILL have problems, whether or not you take my advice. Now, when those problems arise, you won't be hung up on how stupid you were for allowing them appear.

Clear your placement streams before thinking
about anything else.
All of these traits will help you become a better streamer more quickly, but they'll also carry over to all your future streams. The ability to track trends, interact with more diverse chats, fix setup issues, and have confidence on-camera will only compound as you do more and more shows. But by taking your first ten streams off their pedestal, you will be free to quickly gain many skills that other streamers take much longer to acquire.


➢ THE PROGRESS BAR


When starting out streaming, there are so many factors to consider. Keeping track of what is or isn't working is extremely difficult to do, because everything is so new. On top of all that, there are dozens of little mistakes (and a few really big ones) you'll make in the beginning that will fill you with self-doubt, and make you wonder whether you're even cut out for streaming at all. But when you think of your first ten streams as Placement Streams, you won't fret about the issues in these first shows- you'll have a definitive goal to strive toward. You can even keep a tally of the streams you've done so far, filling up a video game-style 'progress bar' until you reach your goal.

It's the same as any 'kill 10 enemies' quest in
an RPG. Just get those streams done.
When trying stream types that I've never done before on my channel, I still use the Placement Streams concept to accept my mistakes even to this day. For one IRL stream, my directional mic had come unplugged at the beginning and stayed that way for 90 straight minutes, having gotten low-quality in-camera audio for the entirety of what I had thought was a much more professional broadcast. I was crestfallen, realizing live on stream that so much of my hard work had been wasted. But then I thought back to the fact that I hadn't done ten IRL streams yet, and thus didn't deserve to make a perfect stream- I simply didn't have the experience. Even for seasoned streaming veterans, the idea of Placement Streams can help you to continue expanding outside your comfort zone, and stay humble about each of your new endeavors.

Make sure you aren't actually calling your early shows 'Placement Streams' out loud on camera either, or titling your broadcast that way. This might change the way viewers chat during your show, creating interactions that aren't indicative of what you'll really get out in the field. In order for a stream to count as one of the ten streams in your progress bar, it has to be an authentic attempt at an 'official' one of your broadcasts.

Once your progress bar is full, take a look back at your past ten streams. Look at how much you've improved since the first show! Even in this relatively small amount of time, you will likely have made lots of discoveries, found tech optimizations, and learned new ways to interact with chat. Many of these things likely couldn't be caught beforehand, no matter how much prep time you had- they're lessons that could only have been gleaned through experience. Of course, you won't be the greatest streamer of all time after only 10 shows, but you'll have enough knowledge and experience to know what works, what needs improving, and what needs to be removed from your future broadcasts. This method will force you not to make kneejerk reactions, and allow things to fall into place naturally. Plus, if you ever want to try a new type of stream in the future, just remember the Placement Streams concept and you'll have a much easier time!


➢ EARN SUCCESS, DON'T EXPECT IT


In one of the earliest entries, Build Your Twitch Channel Like You're a Secret Agent, I advised you not to tell anyone about your Twitch channel when you're starting out. You may have been confused by this directive at the time, but this entry should have made the logic behind that suggestion even more clear.

Your first stream will be garbage, and the ensuing nine won't be much better. So don't bother telling anyone about your streams until you're confident and competent enough to actually put on a good show. Armed with the knowledge that you won't be perfect at first, you should be less surprised when everything goes wrong. Using the Placement Streams concept, and having a timeline for when improvement might appear, should help you to avoid the major dejection that causes most streamers to quit before they finish their first week. Malcolm Gladwell famously posited that true mastery of any subject can be attained after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are dedicated to its craft, but we can worry about mastery later. First, you just need to get in the game. And for Twitch, all that takes is 10 full livestreams. Your first ten streams WILL be bad, so you might as well make those bad streams now, in order to start making good ones as quickly as possible!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

How to Get in the Habit of Streaming




You're excited about streaming on Twitch, and you spend a bunch of energy setting up your channel. You go live for a few days, but before the week is out, something comes up and you've missed one of your scheduled broadcasts. The next week you're busy at work and you miss two or three streams. The week after that, family is in town and you miss even more. Eventually you decide that you just don't have the time to stream, and put it all on hold for a while.

Has this happened to you? It's sure happened to me on previous projects. If you swap out the Twitch stuff, you could apply this same story to working out, dieting, painting, writing, learning a new language, any new skill you might try to learn in any field. In previous entries, I've discussed How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, and How to Stay Motivated About Twitch Streaming, but what if you've carved out time and feel motivated to start your streaming career, but simply can't stick with it? I'm going to talk about how I got into the habit of Twitch streaming.

Making your Twitch streaming into a habit is an immense help. It's perhaps the only important thing about streaming- that you're able to do it every time, without fail, until it's as natural as breathing. When streaming is a habit, you won't have to battle with yourself to actually sit down at your computer. You'll be able to keep yourself in check, control your day no matter how crazy it becomes, and never miss a scheduled broadcast.


➢ THE BATTLE YOU'RE FACING


There are all sorts of distractions out there.
Anyone reading this who has never actually tried to sit down and stream for weeks on end probably doesn't know why I'm making such a big deal out of nothing. If you're still trying to perfect all the equipment or graphics you need in order to START streaming, you may think that what you're going through is the hard part- that once you've finished putting all the pieces together, it'll be smooth sailing. This is the miscalculation that dashes the dreams of so many hopeful streamers. Every time a Twitch streamer wants to go live, they must first fight a pitched battle against themselves.

There's a force inside all of us, which actively tries to stop us from doing whatever it is we truly want most in life. I've referred to it in past entries as ego, I've referred to it as self-doubt, I've referred to it as Gear Lust; its names are numerous. I will refer to it here as The Enemy, because that's exactly what it is. It's a malevolent force that takes many forms, each trickier and more seductive than the last. It will fight the prospective streamer every chance it gets.

Let's get one thing out of the way first: You will never stop having to fight this battle. 

The fear, the self-doubt, the desire to be anywhere but in your computer chair will come back every single time you want to stream, no matter what you do or how experienced you are. I've streamed a minimum of 3 times daily for the past 12 months, over 1,000 individual broadcasts, and I still encounter it. Don't expect to ever be rid of this enemy, but you CAN make it easier to fight. Like leveling up in a role playing game, every time you're able to stream without missing your scheduled days will increase your ability to resist its offensive. You're still battling the same monster, but your attack, defense and hit points have increased. Just don't count out The Enemy's ability to summon allies: busy days, tech issues, lack of sleep, feeling sick, and any other real-world problems. These are The Enemy's best friends, and they're all understandable excuses not to stream. But whether something is a good excuse or a bad one, missing a stream is missing a stream at the end of the day.


➢ TAKE UP ARMS


The Enemy will trick you. It will cloud your memory so you forget an important engagement. It will coerce you into doing any other 'productive' task EXCEPT streaming. It will keep you from having a handle on your day so that you feel overwhelmed and tired out, constantly swimming upstream against the current of its lies. But there's something I've discovered that has helped me to consistently defeat my Enemy each day. This high-level weapon has not only helped me to stream more consistently, it's helped me to improve several aspects of my daily life:

I keep a very organized calendar.

Be ever vigilant. The Enemy is within us all.
Everything I do on a given day has been laid out on my Google calendar the night before. I consult my calendar constantly, to make sure everything I'm doing that day is on track. This habit increased my efficiency, which was to be expected. But what I didn't expect was how much more lucid I became throughout the day. Knowing exactly what I can AND CAN'T do on a given day helps me to get more things done, while still keeping my eye on the prize and doing what's important.

Oftentimes The Enemy will try to trick us into thinking we're being productive. Yes, creating channel graphics or updating social feeds will improve or help our channels, but sometimes the energy all these actions take will sap our future energy for streaming. With a well-organized calendar I can schedule blocks of time for these improvements, but they have to compete with the blocks of time set aside for streaming, family time, food, personal commitments, and other top-tier things that are non-negotiable.

I thought this rigidity might make me into a robot, or detract from my personal life, but it actually helped in that department as well. How many of us have been late for dinner or a movie because we were too engrossed in our stream to end the show? This is The Enemy up to another of its tricks: allowing our streaming habit to slowly chip away at our personal lives. It could takes months or years, but if you miss out on enough family or relationship time because of your streams, you'll eventually be forced to make the tough choice to give it up altogether. Breaking down your day into chunks will make your streams start and end punctually, leaving more time that you can dedicate fully to the people most important to you. For anyone who works crazy amounts of hours per week, you know that every extra moment spent with loved ones is a very precious commodity.


➢ WIELDING YOUR STRONGEST WEAPON


The calendar in itself is an effective weapon against your inner Enemy, but you'll find that it becomes even more effective as you learn to follow it more rigidly.

The Enemy hates clarity. It hates when you have a
handle on your day.
If you're planning to stream at 8pm for example, know that you will absolutely start preparing your show at 7:30pm, or whatever gives you enough time to prepare. It doesn't matter what else you're doing, that time is already pre-booked, pre-determined, and non-negotiable. 7:30 is when you start doing ONLY the things that are required to make the stream go live. If you were updating channel graphics or changing your chatbot at the time, save your work and add it to your calendar for the next day, or for after your stream. There are no exceptions. The Enemy loves when you're pulled in so many directions that you forget to turn on your camera, set up your greenscreen or install an important game patch before your show, because feeling self-conscious after one of these slip-ups could prevent you from going live tomorrow. Setting aside time before your stream will help you to have designated 'breathing room' beforehand. You'll be surprised how much this cuts down absentminded mistakes.

If you're planning to meet a friend for dinner, celebrate an event, go to a concert, or any other one-off activity during a scheduled stream time, that goes on your calendar as well. Being able to see this block of time in your day, you can then plan for your show to be pushed back to a later hour or pulled forward so you stream before going out. Don't simply cancel your show because your plans would clash with your regularly scheduled stream, do the show anyway at an unscheduled time. Life isn't the same every single day. Be willing to shift your schedule, but realize that aside from a family emergency or the end of the world, there are no excuses not to go live.

Then, when it's time to start streaming, it doesn't matter if you haven't figured out which game to play yet or perfected your description. You go live. Once again, there's no arguing, no time extension, it's simply a done deal. This has helped me root out the crippling indecision that would come right when my finger was on the 'Go Live' button. Anyone who has streamed before knows the sensation I mean. Indecision about games, laboring about descriptions, perfecting the copy in your 'going live' Tweet- these are all last-ditch efforts by The Enemy to stop you from doing what you love. If you can press that single, decisive button, you will have won the battle- at least for now.


➢ KEEP FIGHTING EVERY DAY


Just be aware that this same Enemy will come back tomorrow. And the next day, and the day after that. Each time, it might bring new friends. Surprise engagements, overtime at work, waking up sick, self-doubt, bad weather. As long as you're equipped with the knowledge that this force will never stop hunting you, you'll always be ready for it. And now you have an arsenal with which to conquer The Enemy in whatever form it appears. Turn streaming into such an unwavering habit that no one- not even you- can stop you from pursuing your dream!

    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. 


    ➢ THINK BIG


    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.


    ➢ THINK BRIGHT


    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.


    ➢ THINK CLEAR


    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.


    ➢ EMPATHY IS KEY


    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.


    ➢ MAKING YOUR VIEWERS FEEL HEARD


    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.


    ➢ TRULY ENGAGING WITH COMMENTS


    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.


    ➢ BUILDING ON QUESTIONS


    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.


    ➢ WHAT MAKES TWITCH AMAZING


    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!