Friday, May 29, 2020

How Distractions Hurt Your Twitch Channel



In several previous entries, I've spoken about how to remove low-value activities from your life in order to make room for your Twitch streaming dream. Facebook, Netflix binges, aimless web browsing, anything that eats away at the time you could be using to make progress. But I get it- ditching something so deeply ingrained into our daily routines is difficult. Plus, if there doesn't seem to be good enough reason to go to the trouble, namely if removing such activities doesn't seem all that connected to building a Twitch channel, then it's easy to find yourself glazing over these steps altogether. In this entry I'll show you exactly how distractions can prevent you from starting a new channel, stifle progress on an existing one, and sometimes stop you from streaming altogether. In short, I'll prove to you why you should be paying more attention to what distracts you, and work harder to remove those things from your path.


➢ THE PHANTOM TIME SINK


Now, how does a distraction really damage your ability to stream on Twitch? The obvious answer would be that ten minutes where you aimlessly scroll through Instagram while working on stream graphics is ten minutes you could have spent making graphics for your stream. Two minutes reading and responding to a Twitter thread is two minutes you could have spent engaging with your Discord. Thirty seconds spent responding to a text could have been spent... I don't know, downloading game updates or something? On their own, these incidents would seem to be so trivial in scope compared to your larger day as to not merit thinking about them all. I mean come on, adding an extra thirty seconds to your stream is sort of a drop in the bucket in the scheme of things, right? 

Kaz, I'm already distracted.
But what if I told you that each individual distraction is taking more time away from your life goals than it seems? According to a study from the University of California-Irvine, it takes over 23 minutes to return to full focus after being distracted by any activity. Let me say that again: TWENTY THREE... MINUTES. That means that pausing your work for 30 seconds to check Twitter isn't actually taking 30 seconds, but robs you of almost half an hour of operating at your full potential. And because the average person can't go 23 full minutes without being distracted again (in fact, according to another study, the median is about 40 seconds) that means that habit of checking Twitter, or chiming into the group chat, or scrolling Instagram for a few seconds here and there, is actually preventing you from ever putting your full effort into building your dream. For many, this phantom time sink blocks them from starting their channels in the first place, and it causes others to slip from their streaming habits until those habits are no more. Ask yourself, which of your idle activities and check-ins are worth more to you than your streaming dream? 


➢ DISTRACTIONS IN PRACTICE


Despite the empirical research data, this 23-minute figure might seem farfetched when you look at it on the surface. But there's one example I think we've all experienced which exemplifies this phenomenon very well. Imagine you're reading a book while sitting in a room with a friend of yours, who is also reading a book. That friend looks up from their book in order to tell you a joke, and you laugh. Now you go back to reading your book. But upon looking back at your book, you probably can't get right back into your former groove of reading. You may have been blazing through pages before, but now you're stumbling over words or paragraphs, having to go back and read them again, or simply reading slower. It takes time to actually get back into that pure flow once your attention has been severed from your task. This is the same with anything you try to do, including working on your Twitch channel.

Sully, let me read this map!
What's even more interesting is that the threat of distraction can be a distraction in itself. Think back to that same example of the friend telling a joke while you're reading. Now imagine that this friend is one of those people who simply can't sit quietly for long stretches, and they've looked up from their book to tell ten more jokes while you've been sitting there, despite you asking them not to. At this point, it's not only the distractions which cause you to lose your focus, but also the pure possibility that you might be distracted again. Some of your concentration while reading actually gets partitioned off toward thinking about them making the next joke, and trying to keep an eye out for them peeking their head out over their own book so you can stop them. The moral of the story? You probably shouldn't read books in the same room as that friend. And just like that friend who might distract you at any time, your phone is sitting nearby, constantly threatening to take you away from the passion project you're trying to build. Don't let it. Disable notifications for all but the most important things, or simply leave your phone on silent more often. Your ability to look at someone's Facebook comment within 30 seconds of them tagging you won't likely change your life for the better, but it could be changing your Twitch career for the worse.


➢ ENCOURAGING GOOD WORK HABITS


There are all sorts of other things you can do to prevent distractions from reaching you. Silencing the phone is one, sticking to a schedule is another, sometimes it's as simple as locking your door or communicating boundaries with your roommates. In plenty of previous entries I've spoken about how to go about attacking your distraction problem. The entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming focused on combating the mental enemy that tries to get you to perform low-value tasks rather than build your dream. In The Cost of Doing Nothing I talked more about how small things can topple your large ambitions. And then in How to Easily Free Up Time for Twitch, I laid out actionable steps to remove these distractions which suck your creative lifeblood every day. If you can't tell, this subject is very important to me. It's hard to identify a problem when you're looking at it from the inside, but as someone who has put these steps into action I can say definitively that cutting down on distractions has improved my Twitch streaming immensely. 

A passion is the easiest thing to get distracted from, after all. Because it's what you love, your brain doesn't want it to feel like 'work,' and that means you're likely to treat it with the least discipline of any project you're a part of. Don't let your dream slip away. Take charge of your habits and stop these distractions from hurting your Twitch channel before it's too late.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Combat Negativity in Twitch Chat




In the past entry Who Is Watching Your Streams, And Why? I talked about the various reasons a chatter might join your shows. And as you keep streaming, you'll eventually get various viewers who cause trouble. Some simply misunderstand your channel rules, while others are only there to ruin everyone else's good time. In the above entry as well as many others, I've discussed how, using patience and kindness, you can sometimes help someone who is disrupting your streams to become a positive member of the community. Don't lose sight of the big picture after all: the objective isn't always to remove anyone causing a small issue, but to have everyone watching your shows able to enjoy themselves. Whether that means silencing someone problematic or guiding them toward following your rules, either strategy achieves the same end goal. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

Sometimes however, whether someone is repeatedly toxic or they come out of the gate saying something completely reprehensible, you have no choice but to get rid of them. As I've mentioned in many previous entries as well, the act of timing out or banning someone isn't the end of the process either. Even when you've removed someone problematic, you could still end up inadvertently giving them the power over your stream that they craved all along. In this entry, I'll teach you to avoid the most common mistakes in preventing negative viewers from taking control of your shows. For larger channels, these insights can apply to moderators as well as the streamer. But for anyone starting out, you'll likely be on your own without any mods to back you up, so keep these thoughts in mind in case you find yourself in a difficult situation.


➢ AVOID SNOWBALLING


The first rule when dealing with negativity is the one that most streamers can't help but break: do not get into arguments on your stream about whether or not something should be allowed on your stream. If you have a rule, it's a rule. You simply refer someone to that rule, and then enforce it. The burden doesn't fall on you to educate someone about right and wrong, only to remind them about the law of the land. After this, it's up to the viewer in question: they either play by your rules or they're removed. Arguing with someone in chat will only lead to other chatters joining in. Ironically, this snowball effect does damage regardless of whether the other chatters are trying to help or harm you, because they're prolonging the subject's time in the limelight.

Don't let a negative subject grow into a monster.
Again, even if you end up removing the problematic chatter from the stream, you're still not out of the woods. The snowball is still rolling, and you need to make sure that no one else brings up the subject you're trying to avoid. Someone in chat might make a joke about the subject in an effort to relieve the tension, another might talk about how much quieter it is in chat now that the problematic person is gone, or a third might discuss how frustrating it is when people disrupt the streams. All of these things, despite being good-intentioned, will only lead you right back into talking about the negative subject, thereby prolonging the topic of conversation even after it's been dealt with. Don't allow that specter to hang over your stream- simply change the subject, don't talk about the problematic incident, even delete comments if you have to. Just because the negative person who pushed the snowball into your stream has gone away doesn't mean the ball itself will stop rolling on its own. You have to actively work to stop it from growing.


➢ TENTH AVENUE FREEZE OUT


Then there are comments which are just wrong, and anyone posting them knows they're wrong. Whether the remarks are racist, sexist, homophobic, overtly graphic, or anything else way outside the bounds of human decency, this person isn't someone who even needs to be told your rules. They simply have to be silenced.

Walked into a...
In this case, I personally like to execute a strategy I refer to as 'The Freeze Out.' This move involves seeing their comment, deleting it, and banning the offending user, all mid-sentence while in the middle of talking about something else. It ensures that the person trying to terrorize my stream not only has absolutely no voice on the show, but even more frustrating to someone of this character type, they can see that they haven't ruffled me in the slightest. When someone posts absurdly inappropriate things on a stream out of the blue, they're not only trying to get satisfaction from disrupting your chat- they also want to see how much they can upset you. Because your face is on-screen for them to see at all times, the reactions they get from you are the main attraction in their mind. The Freeze Out is a tough move to master, but when you're able to do it effectively, it feels good to know that they weren't able to terrorize either your chat or yourself in the slightest.

There are a few considerations when going for an option like this, however. First, don't forget what I mentioned at the beginning of this section: this response should be saved only as a last resort, against someone who is completely beyond help. I don't recommend doing this to anyone except those you've never seen before and never want to see again. When encountering a person who makes a Freeze Out necessary, consider looking inwards after your show: is there anything about your channel's infrastructure you could change to prevent things like this in the future? In the entry Setting Limits for Your Streams, I laid out ways you can prepare commands and automod features to prevent hateful words and phrases from being allowed in your chat in the first place.


➢ WORDS HAVE POWER


At the end of the day, preventing negativity from taking root is on you as the streamer. Not only in what you say, but mostly in what you choose not to say. Anything spoken out loud on stream, and anything that gets said in chat, becomes fair game for conversation. So if you don't want a subject to spread, don't say anything about it. If there's a rule in place, refer someone to the rule. If it's beyond the help of your rules, remove it without even giving the person or their comment the time of day. When you keep in mind these ideas, it's possible to defeat the bulk of negativity in chat with minimal incident.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Twitch Streaming Does Not Require Talent




What is talent? When it comes to Twitch streaming, talent could mean being more confident on camera, having a better looking broadcast, or growing faster than someone else who's been on the platform for just as long. To put it simply, talent is an unfair advantage. But contrary to popular belief, talent doesn't actually give the advantage to its bearer. When it comes to talent, the advantage typically goes to everyone else.

In reality, talent is nothing more than a seductive way of making you complacent. It causes you to forget what hard work is, and what manner of effort is required to make things happen in the real world. For someone cursed with talent, their craft seems so easy until it suddenly doesn't. And by the time they realize that they've been lagging behind, it's too late to catch up. From that point, it'll take a lot of hardship to claw their way back into their old spot. In this entry, I'll teach you to avoid the pitfalls into which talent can lead, and to make up the skill difference if you feel you feel talent has left you overlooked in the first place.


➢ GETTING LEFT BEHIND


Don't get complacent.
Plenty of us have been burned by talent before, though we may not have seen this for what it was. The most common example is when someone has a natural affinity toward one of their subjects in school as a child- a whirlwind in which I was caught as well. Throughout my educational career, I was abysmal at science and barely passable at math, but a command of the English language came naturally to me from a young age. I aced every test for years without ever studying, and I was praised by parents and teachers for things I didn't even see as difficult. I was placed in advanced classes not because I sought out more challenging work- in fact, as a child I hated to read books- I simply floated through because the subject was common sense in my head. Other students in these AP classes would read for fun, trying to challenge themselves with more and more complex authors, and I was puzzled that they wasted their time in such endeavors.

Then all of a sudden, at some point late in high school, my abilities fell off a cliff. Instead of perfect scores, I started failing. No matter what English classes I took or who taught me, I wasn't able to keep up in the advanced classes anymore- the subject had simply passed me by. Because I had been gifted in this field from the start, I had assumed I would never need to think about it again. This instilled a terrible work ethic, and once turbulence appeared I was unable to pull out of the nosedive. At the same time however, those other advanced kids who were seeking out challenges at every step along the way never faltered. It was like we were running a race against the curriculum- both I and those other advanced students began with a head start, but they were smart enough to know that just because they had an initial advantage didn't mean the race was over. They kept running and working hard, while I simply stood still. And by the time I was overtaken by the curriculum, I found that my legs weren't strong enough to catch up. The talent itself wasn't the issue, but my taking it for granted was. It took me years of independently seeking out books to read and developing my own skills to reach a satisfactory point again.

If some aspect of Twitch streaming comes easily to you, then you're lucky. But don't assume it'll be easy forever. Whether by outside events, schedule changes, hardware failure, or another of life's infinitely unpredictable factors, there will come a point when that advantage of yours is tested. And the only thing which will decide whether you fall behind on your streams or keep going will be the amount of discipline you've instilled in yourself before the hard times, when it seemed like things were going well. If you've been resting on your laurels, assuming it would always be easy, you're setting yourself up for heartbreak.


➢ ENGINEER YOUR OWN SUCCESS


Ryu never stops training. Neither should you.
My advice to those who do have an innate talent for streaming, and my advice to those who don't, is exactly the same: don't stop challenging yourself. This could involve honing your speaking voice, streaming more consistently, updating things more often behind-the-scenes, or anything else that pushes you outside your comfort zone. Encourage yourself to face the hardships before they become necessary, and you'll avoid larger hardships in the future.

For most of us, going live every day requires a near-masochistic effort. Whether from shyness, lack of tech, lack of skill, or any other factor which causes self-doubt, we have to actively force ourselves to do this thing we love. Though there are some who find ease in one or two aspects of the craft, the majority of Twitch streamers begin at the beginning with no extra head starts. If you feel you fall into this more prevalent category, I hope I've helped you to dispel the romantic notion of how much easier it would be if you only had more talent for streaming. Effort will always be more valuable than talent. Being 'naturally good' at something is almost meaningless, because if you don't want the prize bad enough, that innate skill won't carry you through to the finish anyway. But if you persist through hardship, and if you seek out the difficulty before it comes looking for you, then you'll be ready for whatever lies ahead.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Twitch Streaming is About the Journey




What's the most important trait for a Twitch streamer to have? It's been the same for anyone who has tried to create anything throughout history. Not their ability to grow famous, or learn new skills, or upgrade their tools- the most important trait to cultivate when creating something is the ability to not quit.

This seems like a no-brainer, like the simplest thing in the world to accomplish... right up to the point when you actually start your project. Once you begin painting, working out, writing a book, singing, eating healthy, going on acting auditions, or streaming on Twitch, a thousand factors will immediately start pulling at you to stop doing that thing. From the word go you're fighting an uphill battle, and if you can stick with that project you'll be among a select few survivors who were able to cross the no man's land known as 'the creative process.'

As I've mentioned in previous entries like Learn to Love the Grind of Twitch Streaming and Would You Still Stream If No One Ever Watched?, sticking with Twitch streaming means learning not to be influenced by any outside factors at all. Worrying too much about viewership, follower count, how many people are chatting, or anything else that isn't directly related to your own inner contentment are all ways to make you more likely to give up your passion. Even more damaging are streamers' fixations with building their channel into something suitably large before they can truly start doing what would make them happy on the platform. For example, the most common end-goal among Twitch hopefuls is to quit their jobs and make all their money off streaming. In this entry, I'm going to further expand on why you should focus on what makes you happy right now, rather than defer that happiness until after you've 'made it.'


➢ FISHING FOR SUCCESS


In Animal Crossing, the journey is the reward.
There's no end-goal. 
There's a short story written by German author Heinrich Böll, which is used widely around business circles. It's commonly told in a modified version which begins with an American Harvard MBA visiting a Mexican fishing village and speaking with one of the fisherman there. I'll paraphrase it here for you:

The American complimented the local man on the quality of his fish and asked, "How long did it take you to catch them?"

"Only a little while," the fisherman replied.

The American had to ask, "Then why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"

"I have enough to support my family and share with friends," the local replied.

"Then what do you do with the rest of your time?" The American asked, confused.

The fisherman looked up with a serene grin. "I sleep late, fish a little, spend time with my family, and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos."

The American laughed. "I'm a Harvard MBA and I can help you," he said. "You should spend more time fishing, then use the earnings to buy a bigger boat. Soon you could buy several boats and have a fleet. You could sell directly to the consumers and control every aspect of the business. You'd move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, then New York City and have a massively successful empire."

The fisherman seemed puzzled. "But sir, how long will this all take?"

The American replied proudly, "15 to 20 years. 25 tops."

"But what then?" the local asked.

The American grinned even more broadly. "That's the best part. When the time is right, you'd announce an IPO, sell your company stock to the public and make millions!"

"Then what?" the local asked.

"Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, spend time with your family, and stroll into the village in the evenings where you could sip wine with your amigos."

This version was paraphrased from Tim Ferriss' excellent book The 4-Hour Work Week, which I recommend to anyone trying to find more time for the things they love to do. The correlation to streaming on Twitch is easy to see: if the objective is to eventually be happy in what you're doing, it's much more effective to simply find out how to be happy with what you're doing right now. On the one hand, you can spend every waking hour focusing only on the pursuit of success, damaging personal relationships and other life goal prospects in the process, only to finally be contented in your channel after years and years of work. On the other hand, you can spread out that happiness across your entire streaming career, not putting off the reward until the end, because happiness lies in the act of streaming itself.


➢ ACCOUNT FOR ANYTHING


John Lennon once wrote, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Unfortunately, most of us spend so much time with our heads in the clouds, focused on what we're building, where we'd like to go or what we'd like to eventually do, that we don't stop to truly notice the things around us right now. Most Twitch streamers are primarily working towards 'making it,' that mythical moment when they finally gain a sponsorship, become Partnered, and can make a living wage off their streaming career. Everything leading up to this future date in their minds is simply one big blur of grinding as hard as they can toward their goal- sure, they can have fun along the way, but it's ultimately all a means to an end.

Don't let your streams become an unpleasant uphill battle
every night. Enjoy them now!
Off the bat, harboring such a far-flung goal typically causes most people to quit within their first few weeks, once they realize their average rate of growth and how long it would likely take them to reach that point. Second, anyone who sticks around longer than this will constantly be looking for shortcuts, signing up for the first sponsorship offer they find, selling as many things as possible on their personal stores, joining networking teams, and playing the games they think will net them higher response rates, not because they believe in or enjoy these activities, but because they think they'll be allow them to reach their goals quicker. Once these people spend month after month hawking products they don't care about or playing games they find boring, they will quit as well.

What's the moral here? The path toward becoming self-sufficient off Twitch is not a worthwhile goal to shoot for. First, you may not realize how long this actually takes. I know Partners with tens of thousands of followers whose streams are very popular, who don't even dream of living off their channels. Second, if you've worked at a salary job your whole life, you likely aren't ready for the rising and falling monthly income and complete lack of safety net that comes with working for yourself. This means that even when you do reach the point where it's feasible to live off your channel, you likely won't find it a pleasant experience. Either way, it's such a far-off goal that you'd be better off not even thinking about it. If this is all a discouraging thought to you, then think about why you got into streaming in the first place- was it for money, or because you love to do it?


➢ WHEN IT DOESN'T FEEL LIKE WORK


Who knows what will happen in your life in the next few years? There may even be major changes which cause you to move away from streaming, or cut back your streams enough that living off them is no longer an option. Ask yourself this question: If your end goal was suddenly removed, if living off you channel was no longer an option, what would make you happiest to do on stream? Whatever it is, that's what you should do.

The nice thing about this mindset is that you aren't completely ignoring the prospect of success either. After all, Twitch streaming is largely just a game of attrition. The people whose channels grow are the ones who keep doing it. And if you're 100% happy in your own personal streaming process every day, you're much less likely to stop doing it. You'll notice that building rock-solid consistency nets you a good portion of the growth you might have gained anyway, while dramatically cutting down on the heartache and stress. That's a pretty good deal if you ask me!

Friday, May 1, 2020

How to Learn from Other Streamers (And How Not To)




There are a lot of people out there making content on Twitch, and that means there's a wealth of potential learning opportunities for you and your own channel. Everyone who streams has a different kind of show, with its own visuals, games, and methods for making things entertaining. There are so many ways to go about finding channels to learn from, and even more ways to actually learn once you've found them. For example as I mentioned in the entry To Improve Your Twitch, Get Inspired By Everything, I typically get my best inspiration from people streaming things that I personally have no interest in streaming. This broadens my horizons and allows me to think outside the box more regularly. If you're keeping your eyes open, who knows where your own best inspiration will spring from?

This whole entry comes with a giant asterisk however, and I don't want you to glaze over this part. You shouldn't be watching more content than you produce. In fact, you should be making at least two or three times more hours worth of content than the amount you consume. There are few things more dangerous to a prospective Twitch streamer than settling into a pattern of binging on other peoples' streams, tricking oneself into thinking it's for 'research' purposes. In fact, if you aren't streaming consistently, you really shouldn't be watching other streams at all.

If you see more experienced streamers doing their shows, it can cause you to focus on the gap in skill between yourself and these other people. I mentioned this in the entry Learn to Love the Grind of Twitch Streaming, but seeing that skill deficit could cause you to lose motivation. If you struggle to go a week without missing one of your scheduled shows, concentrate on yourself first. Learning a new technique isn't necessary when you can't even work with what you already have- you don't need inspiration in that situation, you need discipline. When you're able to go 50 or 100 streams without missing a single broadcast however, then it can be very useful to look outwards for more inspiration. And I'll now share with you the methods I've used to learn from other Twitch streamers, along with the methods I've learned to avoid along the way.


➢ ASKING QUESTIONS


Okay, so you've resolved to start watching other streamers with the intention of gaining inspiration for your own streams. But you're busy, and you want to get answers quickly. So you decide to ask that streamer for pointers about the craft. What's the best way to ask another streamer questions about how to make your stream better?

You don't.

Not every question is necessary.
If you're trying to improve your shows, it's not constructive for either yourself or the streamer whose channel you're watching to rattle off questions related to broadcasting. In the entry Build Your Twitch Channel Like You're a Secret Agent, I discussed how you should never tell others about your plans or projects until they're already complete. Sharing info about your incomplete projects is only a way to make yourself feel like you're getting things done, without actually doing any work at all. Ironically, talking about these things actually causes you to lose the motivation needed to complete those goals. And asking questions on someone's stream falls under this same category. The most common person you see asking for tips on a Twitch stream is someone who hasn't even started streaming yet, They ask dozens of little detailed questions about this hardware and that software, then proceed to never start streaming, or to start for a few days or weeks and quickly give up. Don't be someone who discusses work you plan to do instead of putting in actual stream hours.

From the other streamer's perspective, it's also rather rude. By asking questions for your own channel, you're taking the focus from whatever they're doing so they and the community can answer your questions. You're also indirectly self-advertising by drawing attention your own channel, which most streamers are not okay with. Some streamers will put up with this for a while and try to give a few tips, while others will immediately shut you down. Either way, rather than watching a stream only to selfishly talk about your own shows, try just genuinely enjoying this other person's streams. Engage in their chat, pay attention to the way they play the game, study how they talk on camera, and listen to how they interact with people. You'll learn a lot more by actually being a part of the person's shows than you will by disrupting things to make the conversation all about you.


➢ KNOWING ENOUGH TO BE DANGEROUS


When learning Japanese, there is one trait that everyone advises you not to embody from the outset: Don't correct native Japanese speakers on their Japanese. I laughed at this the first time I saw it, because it sounded so ridiculous. What person barely capable of speaking a language would attempt to give pointers to someone who's been speaking it their whole life? And then I encountered it in the wild. It does really happen, and there are few things on Earth more embarrassing to watch.

Don't get an inflated ego.
After seeing this for myself, I came to realize that this phenomenon occurs by someone having an over-abundance of 'book smarts.' This language learner has spent so much time in hypothetical conversations on paper that once they arrive in an actual conversation they can't keep up. It frustrates them that a real person doesn't speak in the saccharine, ultra-proper speech pattern of a textbook. Instead of adapting and learning to talk like a normal person, they instead try to correct everyone else, ostensibly as a way of proving that they do, in fact, know something about the language, even though they can't speak when under pressure. This self-conscious focus on teaching others happens among new Twitch streamers as well, for the same reason- entering someone's chat only to immediately point out what's wrong with their show. It helps no one, and it doesn't make them any friends either.

Ultimately this is a matter of consent. There are plenty of times when it's appropriate to share your thoughts and knowledge, even to teach others. For example, you're currently reading this entry of The Twitch Playbook because you're specifically seeking out ways to improve your own content. What I'm not doing is entering your stream and telling you what's good or bad about your shows without you even asking. If you notice something wrong on someone else's stream, think twice about whether it's a real problem or if you're just nitpicking. And after that, think about it a third time. If you really think this thing is worth sharing, send your thoughts politely in a private message rather than in their public chat. But realize that it's probably not necessary to share such information unless you know they want your advice. If you're not an avid member of the community or a friend of the streamer, it's better to simply watch and learn from their content rather than trying to flaunt what you know.


➢ REVERSE-ENGINEER IDEAS


Most of all, stay mentally active when viewing someone's stream. Rather than simply tuning out while watching, try to assess what makes their shows work so well. What would make one feature work technically behind the scenes? What's a trait about this person that makes them so entertaining? What would you do differently, if you were to implement something they do on your own channel?

I personally have a raid message with a nice little ASCII text flourish, which was inspired by a friend on Twitch who used a different flourish in shoutouts. I have commands with various emote sets based on another channel who would ask their chat to flood the comments section with messages when someone followed. A friend of mine on Twitch attributes a really fun dance party feature he has to another channel we both know, which did a similar thing. When seeking out inspiration, you're not looking to lift other channels' ideas wholesale, but to become inspired by different parts of the shows you watch. There's so much out there which can make your streams more exciting if you're willing to learn from other Twitch streamers.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Dangers of Attaching Yourself to One Game




As you continue streaming, you may end up discovering one of the most alluring shortcuts on the Twitch platform: by attaching yourself to the right game's community, you can double or triple your growth. It's easy to understand why if you think about it- by making yourself an authority on that one game, sharing stories about it, gossiping about future updates and listening to chatters share their own opinions on the matter, then others who love that game will know that your channel is the place to be. This typically works for games that are big, but not too big- something that isn't in the Top 20 games played on Twitch for example, but still has a large and dedicated community.

With high reward comes incredibly high risks however- if you pigeonhole yourself into the role of playing only that one game, you become more likely to feel trapped by the temporary success you create. The reason for this is simple as well: any fanbase you cultivate by obsessively playing one game won't necessarily be yours at the end of the day- their first loyalty will be to the game. And if you stop playing that game, you lose everything. I've met many people on the Twitch platform who lost their will to stream because of this phenomenon. It's not pleasant. In this entry, I'm going to teach you the dangers of attaching yourself to one game, and give you a few tips to future-proof your channel.


➢ THE SIREN'S CALL


Don't forget to build your own brand when you're
focusing on one game.
It's not a coincidence when you see many of your favorite streamers suddenly switching gears. They play a new game for a few days and notice that massive spike in viewership, then a few days later they announce that they're going to be an 'Elite Dangerous Streamer' or a 'Tarkov Streamer' or an 'Elder Scrolls Online Streamer.' They see the shortcut and they take it. Some of these people will genuinely adore the game they're playing and they'll stick with it through the end of their streaming career. There will be others however, whose Twitch careers come to an early end because of the game. If you focus on one game on your own channel, make sure you're not one of the latter.

It all sounds like an exaggeration, but I've seen it in action. I know several partnered streamers with thousands of followers, who got their check mark specifically because of the one game they focused on, but suffered severe breakdowns when they tried to leave it. Some of these people never came back to Twitch. Others still have the Partner's check mark next to their username, but are now all the way back at the beginning, bringing in viewer numbers equivalent to their first months on the platform. Devoting yourself completely to a single game puts you on an island. You either play that game forever or you pay the price. And that's an experience that you might not be ready for when you sign the deal.


➢ HYPER-SPECIALIZING VS PIGEONHOLING


If you've been following The Twitch Playbook for a while, this method of focusing in on one single subject might sound a lot like the strategy I laid out in the entry Hyper-Specialize Your Channel. Like with many aspects of life however, too much of a good thing can cause problems. If you put your channel's entire identity behind a single external brand, you run the risk of pigeonholing yourself. You'll not only create an association in viewers' minds between you and that one thing, but they will have next to no interest in seeing you do anything except that one thing.

Don't let the game seep in so much that
it would damage your channel to leave it.
The key takeaway here is scope. When I've talked about hyper-specializing in the past, I would mention using your thesis as a jumping-off point, but still allowing yourself to branch out. In one entry, I described how I built The Twitch Playbook by branding it exclusively around Twitch, but still offering knowledge that can help YouTubers, Mixer streamers and the like. It starts by being focused on one thing and radiates outwards. In the another entry, Don't Be Afraid to Be Yourself on Stream, I talked about finding my own niche of playing story-based games. But despite describing my channel wholly around that concept to this day, I still do loads of other kinds of shows, like daily language learning sessions, live artwork, IRL restaurant streams and more. I brand myself around a hyper-focused concept, but I don't let that trap me inside the bubble of my description. I describe this as 'hyper-focusing while looking outward.'

The alternative, which gets people into trouble, is hyper-focusing while only looking inward. Some streamers get so attached to the amount of viewers they get from living and breathing one game, that they become terrified of deviating even slightly from their formula. They notice that switching games one day or even steering the conversation topic away from their channel's subject for a few minutes will cause the audience numbers to drop, and they misguidedly take this as a cautionary tale: Clearly, in their minds, doing anything that isn't directly related to Tarkov or Overwatch or Final Fantasy XIV is a bad idea. And their personal brand begins dwindling until it's eventually consumed by the brand of the game itself.


➢ BUILD YOUR OWN BRAND


In reality, it's not that looking outside your designated niche is bad, but rather that you shouldn't be focusing so much on short-term attention. If you want to do something else, do it. Whatever fans are going to drop off because of it, let them drop off. Like a snake shedding its skin, you have to give your Twitch channel regular chances for its flakiest followers to fall to the wayside. This will condition your community to know that you have other interests, and ultimately make your channel more unique- if all you do is live and breathe Dead By Daylight, you're completely replaceable by any other streamer who does the same. But if you love Dead By Daylight and you also talk knowledgeably about cars, or once in a while you do cooking shows, or even play another game every now and then, your streams become unique. You start creating an actual brand for yourself, instead of simply co-opting the game's brand. And you wean yourself off of the need to chase audience numbers in the process.

If you've already been building your channel laser-focused around a single game, it's not too late to differentiate yourself. But you're going to have to brace for a shift in response from your viewership. Whether this manifests itself as loss in followers, lower view count or angry comments from chatters, you'll have to power through it. If this extra addition to your channel is something you love, it shouldn't matter what anyone else thinks anyway. Don't forget that it isn't the viewers' fault for being upset during this transition time- if this one game was the only thing anyone ever talked about or thought about on your channel, why should they expect anything else from you? So it's on you to take responsibility to make whatever changes you deem necessary, and at the same time not blame the viewers who leave.

There's nothing wrong with playing only one game on stream. But if your channel becomes so obsessed with that game that you start feeling trapped and unable to express your own interests, that's a dangerous place to be. Don't forget to give yourself some room to breathe!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Creating Twitch Emotes: The Basics




When you've been streaming for a while and you have at least fifty followers, as well as a few other checkboxes ticked, you'll be able to sign up for the Twitch Affiliate Program. This is a contract you enter into with the Twitch platform which allows you to offer subscriptions for your viewers, along with some other fun features. When a user is subscribed, they have extra privileges on your channel, many of which you're able to set and customize, but my favorite of these is the ability use custom channel emotes.

When you're a Twitch Affiliate or Partner, you can upload a certain number of custom emotes to your channel, which can be used only by your Subscribers. This gives your viewers a way to show their pride for your community, and it also gives you the ability to spread your channel's branding. When someone is subscribed to your channel, they can use your emotes anywhere on Twitch, even in other streams. I've met people who subscribe to certain channels and don't even watch the shows- they just want access to the amazing emotes! So if you make your emotes compelling enough, it could help others really take notice of your shows. In this entry, I'm going to give you some basics tips to create the best channel emotes possible.


➢ PLANNING YOUR EMOTES


Like I mentioned in the previous entry Create Your Own Stream Graphics, I highly recommend you create your channel's emotes yourself- at least at first. You can find more details in that entry about why you'd want to do this before paying for someone to do it for you, but suffice it to say that it's always worth giving something a try before you assume you can't do it. You don't need Adobe Photoshop or any expensive software- there are plenty of free alternatives out there that can serve you just as well. And you don't need to be a trained designer either- you just need to apply yourself.

Make your emotes specific to your channel!
First, remember that making an emote isn't permanent. You can delete any emote and replace it with a new one at any time with no penalty, so there's really no pressure to make it perfect at first. Just execute your idea and put it out there- don't get bogged down by constantly second guessing yourself. Many streamers will end up wasting an extraordinary amount of time just noodling with their design at the eleventh hour because they're nervous that it isn't exactly right, which usually causes them to break down and simply commission someone else to do it for them. Try to limit your emote creation time so this doesn't happen. You don't want to build this task up in your head as something more difficult than it actually is.

As I mentioned, channel emotes are a great way to let your Subscribers show their love for the community. What better way to do this than to incorporate your channel's identity into your emotes? When thinking up emotes to create, try to make them unique to your channel without being such an inside joke that no one else would understand them. Maybe it's the face of a character from your favorite game, maybe it's a funny photo of you, maybe it's a phrase you say often on stream, or maybe it's just your channel logo. Whatever the emote, I recommend choosing ideas that signify what your channel is all about, rather than checking off all the standard boxes that other channels have for emotes. Your emote catalog will be more unique that way!


➢ DESIGNING YOUR EMOTES


There are three sizes to keep in mind when designing your emotes, which are squares of 112, 56 and 28 pixels. The one you see in chat most often is the smallest of these, but when you're creating your image you should of course be working at the largest size. The reason for this is simple- if you create your emote at the size of 28 square pixels and then enlarge it to 56 and 112, those sizes will be blurry. Beginning with the biggest version and then saving smaller copies is always the way to go.

Unlike in Katamari, with emotes you want
to start big and get smaller.
What you'll notice pretty quickly about emotes is that the default size of 28x28 is small. Really small. I mean so small that whatever you design at first almost certainly won't be visible. You'll look at other Twitch emotes and wonder how they're so easy to recognize within such tiny screen real estate. This is a major challenge, but not one that you can't overcome. The first order of business is to ensure that your emote design is filling as much of the canvas as possible. It should be touching all four sides of the square bounding box somewhere, or as close as you can make it. Size is going to be your enemy, so make things as large as you can. Similarly, try cutting down on complexity- if there is too much detail at such a small size, things can start to look muddy.

Many emotes include text as well, which is even trickier to make visible in such a small format. There are many factors which dictate whether you can read what an emote has to say. In addition to the text size, things like color, font and positioning of words can also have a significant impact on legibility. Ensure that you're displaying words as simply as possible, and in very high contrast compared to whatever is behind them. Grey words on a black background are going to be much more difficult to read than white words on a black background, for example.


➢ ENHANCING YOUR COMMUNITY


When your channel has its own emotes, it's a good way to bring your most dedicated fans together. There are even some features recently added to Twitch which can allow non-Subscribers to temporarily use your emotes in chat as well! You'll be able to show your brand's personality, while providing a fun feature for people to use whenever they want to, even when they aren't watching your shows. Don't feel pressured to join the Affiliate program just to access the channel emotes feature though- deciding whether to join should be a measured decision and only you will know if it's right for you. But if you do, I hope these tips will help you to create great emotes for your channel!