Friday, October 30, 2020

Revising Your Streams from the Ground Up

Sometimes when making your streams, it can feel like you've hit your creative limit. You may assess the shows, with their current level of graphics, audio and interactivity, and not see much else that can be done. You start thinking that you've finally reached the point where if you want to improve, the only place to go from here is buy better tech. But before you go out and grab some gadget to boost your streams, consider taking a step backwards. What if you re-made your existing stream? 

I know this sounds drastic, but let the idea sink in for a second. By taking your stream apart and rebuilding it from the ground up, you'd be approaching each problem with a fresh perspective. You might find completely new avenues to take, and measurably improve the entire show. This works when updating the whole channel, or even just changing one aspect of your content. Think about it- each component of your existing stream has been comprised of countless smaller decisions and implementations. As you've continuously built upon those ideas to add new things to the channel, the older ones may no longer be the best solutions to your modern problems. Much like the 'First Principles' concept I described in the entry Simplify Your Streaming Problems, by reapproaching your situation from its absolute basic form you'll be opening your mind to potential paradigm shifts. In this entry, I'll help you to better revise your streams by taking advantage of this idea. 


One great example of effective revision took place on the Universal Studios Lot in California, almost 100 years ago. When silent films went away and sound became the norm, big movie studios had a very hard time creating international versions of their films. Because technological limitations prevented subtitling and dubbing from being implemented easily, studios couldn't put out their new movies in other territories, and were losing a huge portion of their revenue. So they came up with an interesting stopgap solution, which bred a quite unexpected result. 

Followed closely by this version of Dracula.

Even if you haven't seen the film, you're probably familiar with the classic 1931 adaptation of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. It kickstarted an entire era of monster movies, and his embodiment of that famous vampire is the image most of us imagine when we think of the character. But what you probably don't know is that there was another version of Dracula produced by the same studio, at the exact same time, for Spanish-speaking audiences. These productions featured two separate crews and two separate casts, but had the same screenplay and were so closely mirrored that they were actually shot on the same sets, and even on the same days! The English language crew would come in and film from morning to evening, then they'd clear out and the Spanish crew would arrive two hours later to shoot the same scenes from evening all the way until morning. 

This meant there were two near-identical versions of the film produced, and it meant that Universal could release Dracula for Spanish-speaking audiences as well as English-speaking ones. This alternate Spanish incarnation of the movie, along with most every other film's foreign language versions, got destroyed or lost in the ensuing years, and this curious film production practice became largely forgotten. That is, until the 1990's, when a copy of the Spanish version of Dracula was discovered, restored, and recirculated on home video. And then a very interesting thing happened. Critics began to point out that the Spanish Dracula, produced as a cheap alternative to the American monster classic, was actually a superior film! And it all came down to a simple detail: because the Spanish crew arrived on set after the English speaking crew was done filming, they were encouraged to watch the daily playbacks of everything shot that day, so they could recreate it as closely as possible. But when the Spanish director and cinematographer would watch the scenes back, they'd say to themselves, "Oh, I could improve on that shot," or, "I think we could do better than that performance." What resulted is a film in which almost every shot is more dynamic, the storyline is more coherent, and even the editing is better. It just goes to show how anything, even a film that would go on to become a masterpiece and define its genre like Dracula, can be improved upon if only approached with an inquisitive mind. 


The movies can all teach us a thing or two 
about production.

Most of us only ever re-do something on our streams if it's causing us tangible problems- visual glitches, botched audio, or performance hitches are the main culprits. But this purely reactive mindset doesn't usually lead to true innovation. It's important to also be proactive about updating your content. Even if something has been working perfectly on your channel, that's no reason not to reassess the idea from the ground up. In fact, it's usually the things that work perfectly that you should be most aggressive about changing after a while, because if they never stop working, they'll start to stagnate without you even noticing. There have been several aspects of my own streams that I thought were already perfect, but after tinkering with them myself, getting suggestions from viewers, or just blindly stumbling onto some alternate idea, I'd measurably improve upon the entire feature. Sometimes when it comes to streaming, the old saying is wrong: if it ain't broke, do fix it. And by revising your content from the ground up, you may just pave the way to a whole new level of production value.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Displaying Twitch Highlights in Collections

Throughout The Twitch Playbook, you've heard me talk a lot about different ways to create, organize and utilize your clips and highlights. I genuinely think that these two tools are some of the most powerful on the entire platform. They allow you to take the best moments from larger shows and spin them off into small videos of their own, without the use of any external editing software. And the number of possibilities this opens up for your brand is staggering. I've already covered many facets of clipping in the entries Using Twitch Clips to Their FullestClipping and Highlighting Your Streams, and Organizing Your Twitch Clips. In this entry we'll focus more specifically on highlights which, unlike clips, can be added to special playlists and displayed more prominently on your channel itself.  


As I've described in previous entries, clips and highlights ultimately have the same end goal: they both permanently preserve a section of your stream as a separate video. But on Twitch, there's a platform-level distinction between clips and highlights. You may have already noticed that the front page of your Twitch channel on mobile features a tab titled 'Clips.' But even though highlights serve essentially the same purpose, the 'Clips' tab does not feature your channel's highlights as well. The highlights live under the 'Videos' tab. You'll notice that they even fall under different managers inside your channel's dashboard- clips have their own 'Clips Manager' section, while highlights are managed from the general 'Video Producer' that you'd also use to handle past broadcasts and uploads. 

Show off!

You can see the distinction pretty clearly when looking at how a viewer is able to interact with your clips and highlights. There's no way to organize clips when looking at your channel, other than showing a list of recently captured, or most popular clips. Highlights however, are able to be arranged by the streamer into specific collections, complete with descriptions and even custom thumbnail images. It seems that the intention is for clips to be more short-lived, like viral videos showing up on a newsfeed. And highlights are there to be displayed for the long term, more akin to playlists on a YouTube channel. In short, clips are best for bringing new people to the channel, while highlights are best suited for keeping them entertained after they've arrived. 


To get the most out of your highlights, consider placing them into themed 'collections.' You can put any of your highlights or uploads into these playlists. This will make it easier for viewers to find some of your best content, as well as make your channel more attractive to look at. I have several collections on my own channel which feature my 'Voice of Nick Voices' - the custom characters I make up on stream. Viewers who enjoy these moments on the shows are able to go back through these collections at any time, which now feature over a thousand highlighted character appearances to choose from. There are also collections for funny moments that were too long to be saved as clips, as well as exciting moments like first-try Dark Souls boss wins. As I mentioned in previous entries, highlights can be as long as you choose- they can even preserve an entire broadcast from beginning to end. When I streamed from my vacation in Tokyo, I highlighted every one of the 19 broadcasts in its entirety and put those into their own collection. 

There's no limit to the amount of full episodes you can permanently save as highlights. Many variety streamers, especially those who play story-based games from beginning to end like I do, will save every stream in its entirety as a series of highlights, then save those highlights into collections so viewers can easily go back and see all the episodes in one place. Collections have a convenient 'Play All' button, so someone trying to catch up on everything that's happened so far can easily binge with a single click. 

Your highlights can be as long as you want. 
They can even be full streams!

Like with clips, it's important to make sure your highlights and collections look good to the outside observer. The default title for a highlight will be the exact title from that stream, but it's usually not best to leave this as the highlight's name, even if you're saving the broadcast in its entirety. Many aspects of the average stream title, like suggestions for commands, posing a question to chat, or telling viewers about a timed giveaway, will become irrelevant after the show is no longer live. It's best to think of your highlights like YouTube videos- make an eye-catching name that gets straight to the point. If you want to go even further, highlights have the added advantage of allowing you to choose one of three thumbnails from your video, or even uploading your own. You can really go all-out, if you're so inclined! 


In addition to organizing your highlights into collections, you can actually have some of those playlists featured among your channel's videos. By entering the 'Videos' tab while looking at your Twitch profile, you can click 'Customize Layout.' This allows you to show off some of your favorite collections for viewers to easily find while looking at your channel's other videos. Make sure these have interesting content, and give an extra bit of attention to the naming and look of the videos in these more outward-facing collections. 

Because you can set a custom thumbnail for any highlight you've saved, the collections you show in your Videos tab layout should definitely get this treatment. If you don't like the three auto-generated thumbnail choices Twitch gives you for these videos, and if you don't want to design your own thumbnails, then there's a nice workaround you can use instead. Simply watch the video in question in fullscreen, then grab a screenshot using your computer. If you're on Mac, screenshot tools are built into the operating system. If you're on Windows, you can use free software like ShareX to easily get what you need. Or worst case scenario, you can watch the video on your phone, screenshot what you want and then email the image to yourself. After this, you can simply upload the image you captured as the thumbnail for your highlight. You can then choose the best thumbnail from the entire collection to be the master thumbnail for the collection itself. All this is a great way to really up the presentation value to viewers looking at your channel, and it'll make it much easier for them to quickly find your best content. 

On top of that, whichever collection you choose to feature at the top will not only appear in your custom Videos tab layout, but will also show up on your channel's homepage! This only applies to one collection, so make sure whichever you place in that spot is your most important content- this is what almost everyone looking at your channel will see first. On my channel, I use a collection featuring my trailer and updates about new content I'm making. If you do nothing else with collections, I suggest you at least create and feature one set of highlights in this coveted spot. 


Of course, you don't have to only use highlights and collections in the ways I've suggested. You can get as creative with it as you want! You can feature clip compilations you've edited, highlights of the best (or worst) dad jokes you've done on stream, or even upload little status update vlogs to let viewers know what you're doing each day. When you use collections with your highlights, your channel will become much more personalized. So show your viewers what you've got! 

Friday, October 16, 2020

How to Avoid Streamer's Block

Have you ever been in a situation like this? It's time to stream, and you're excited to go live. The only problem is, you're not really in the mood for the game you're supposed to be playing on today's show. Maybe your schedule says that it's 'Spooky Sunday,' but you don't feel like getting scared. Or you might have been working through a massive JRPG for the past few weeks, but think you need a little break from all the dice rolls and anime hairstyles. It could be that you're exclusively a Fall Guys streamer, but for whatever reason you just want a change of scenery for the day. So you find yourself scrolling through your Steam catalog, looking intently for something else you could do on today's show. Some of the games stick out to you, but none of them seems perfect, so you keep scrolling. Maybe you could do a Just Chatting stream? But no, you decide against that too. You know you want to play something, you just don't know what it is you want to play. This process goes on for so long that you've already passed your scheduled show's start and lost a major chunk of potential broadcasting time. Eventually you decide that you just don't feel like going live today. 

If you've been in this situation before, you understand what it is to be struck by streamer's block. No matter how experienced you are as a streamer, and no matter how willing you are to stream, this endless loop of indecision can strike at any time and bring you to your knees. Of course, you're not alone in feeling the block's deadly effect. Ask any writer who spent the whole day in front of a blank page, or an artist who can't put brush to canvas. But while you might be in good company, this isn't somewhere you'll want to stay for long. In this entry, I'll help you to avoid streamer's block. 


It's not just creative people who experience block, either. I'm willing to bet you've been caught in its grip more than a few times throughout your life, no matter your past experience. Have you ever tried to choose a brand of toilet paper, or dishwasher detergent, or toothpaste at the grocery store for example? It's not uncommon to suddenly find oneself over-analyzing all the various brands' boxes, unable to just pick one and move on. How about when looking online for new electronics? I've certainly found myself swimming in comparisons, features and pricing charts when looking for a new television or graphics card, to the point that it becomes hard to make a purchase at all. And then there's the infamous Netflix scroll. You know you want to watch something new on Netflix, you just don't know what it is yet. There are a million good options, but no perfect one for the moment. This leads to endlessly looking through titles, oftentimes for so long that we've wasted a good chunk of our potential watch time just by browsing. 

Watch out.

All this can be traced back to a concept I've described in the entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming. There, I referred to it as The Enemy, a force inside all of us which actively tries to stop us from doing whatever it is we truly want most in life. It takes many forms, each trickier and more seductive than the last, and it will fight against productivity every chance it gets. We might not care that much about wasting time choosing toothpaste, but this only represents the seed being planted in preparation for a much darker reaping. By not letting us decide during little moments like this, The Enemy is cultivating that habit within us, so that it can flip the switch to sabotage us when we're trying to do something we truly care about. Something like streaming. 


The reason we fall into this trap is because we over-estimate the consequences of making the wrong choice. What if I get the wrong TV and I'm stuck with a dud for the next several years? Will I choose a bad movie and have to sit through two hours of drivel? Mostly, this is all just an illusion. At the end of the day, picking the toothpaste with MaxFresh technology over the one with 360 Degree Whole Mouth Clean isn't going to have much impact on your life. In fact, it's not likely to impact your life at all. The only reason we spend time making the decision is because a decision is there to be made. If there was only one brand of toothpaste on the shelf, we'd pick it up and move on without a second thought. If there was only one available model of the GTX 3090 rather than the dozens of little incrementally different options, we'd have no problem buying it.

Always a banger, whether you're 
choosing the game or the movie.

I used to get caught in this bind all the time when choosing things to watch on Netflix. I'm a huge movie fan. I'm a member at a few of the historic theaters in Los Angeles, I seek out interesting film events whenever I can, and I watch at least one movie every day. At some point, I realized it didn't really matter to me what movie I watched on Netflix on a given day, it just mattered that I watched it. Whether a movie is good or bad, I end up finding something to enjoy either way, so why stress about the quality of my choice? Now, when browsing Netflix, I improve my ability to choose by removing most of the potential choices. I created a system that I call 'The 20-Second Movie.' Under these guidelines, from the moment I open the Netflix movies page, I have only 20 seconds to find a movie to watch. If I can't decide on something in that time, then I have to watch whatever the cursor lands on when the second hand strikes twenty. This has led me to find a huge amount of amazing movies, either that I regularly passed up on the menu or never would have discovered in the first place. I've done this for dozens and dozens of films in the past year, and I've never regretted a single choice. As I expected, the fun was in watching a movie, no matter what it is. Not sitting on the couch thinking about watching a movie, which is what I was doing when scrolling through the Netflix menus.

Whenever I've been struck by streamer's block, I've employed the same type of strategy. If I'm choosing between multiple games, I go with my first gut thought and stick with it. What's the worst that can happen? I play something I don't love for a few hours? Much like watching movies, it's not the game that typically brings me joy but the act of streaming itself. Being live on camera, playing or doing something different, getting to have new kinds of conversations with viewers- these are the things that are most exciting about streaming a new game. So the next time you're hit by streamer's block, try choosing a '20 Second Game.' Even if your choice isn't the perfect one for that moment, you'll still have a good time. And more importantly, you won't have wasted your time.


Remember that force we talked about earlier in this entry, The Enemy? It wants you to slow down. It wants you to pause and mull over some small decision. The more insignificant the better. Every moment you take to second-guess yourself increases this dark hold over your psyche. So give up on perfection. Go with your gut. Buy the first toothpaste you see. Get off that Netflix Browse screen. And just pick a game to play. Twitch streaming is fun. Don't think yourself out of doing it. If you want to avoid streamer's block, all you have to do is make a decision. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Your Stream is Your Own

Getting into Twitch streaming can be a very scary process. The biggest reason many people never start is because they're afraid their content won't measure up to whatever standard they've set for themselves. In reality, this standard is an illusion. It isn't really set by the prospective streamer, but instead constructed out of hundreds or thousands of other influences they've accumulated throughout their lifetime: whether those are different streamers, other video content, TV shows, movies or anything else. We're constantly collecting influences to compare ourselves to in one category or another throughout our days, whether we want to or not. And as I've mentioned in previous entries, comparing your content to other peoples' content can be very harmful. 


How is it possible to tell whether you've been influenced or not? That's not too difficult to do. Answer the following question truthfully, and in as much detail as you can: What elements comprise a Twitch stream?

The typical answer is that a Twitch stream involves someone playing one or multiple video games live on the Twitch platform for the entertainment of others, while viewers are able to chat with the show's host and possibly play along. That's not all though. Most of you who answered this question have a minimum length for your streams in mind too, whether you explicitly thought about it or not. (For example, would one hour be too short for a Twitch stream? How about one minute? What about one second? There's clearly a cutoff somewhere.) Many see a picture in their head of typical 'video game aesthetics' like light-up keyboards, or branded headphones. Possibly a hanging microphone, or even a certain cadence to a broadcaster's speech pattern. Almost all of us imagine some basic paradigm for how a stream is laid out. (For example, I'm guessing you imagine some variation where the game is large on-screen, and there's a box in the corner which shows a video of the streamer.) 

Don't be afraid to let go of your preconceptions.

Everyone has different visions and mental associations when imagining what a Twitch stream 'looks like.' But all of those are constructed from our past influences and inspirations. For many streamers, certain elements like the light-up keyboard are optional, while other aspects are non-negotiable. It's pretty typical for instance, to see a streamer talk about how their stream 'could never' be under a certain length- one hour, two hours, four hours, whatever. That element is simply essential for streaming in their minds. Other things, like chatting with viewers, are pretty much globally accepted as facts of life when making a Twitch stream. 

But which of these elements are actually necessary, and which are optional? Surely if you knew, you could expand your creative horizons without upsetting the 'status quo,' right? Here's the thing: there are only two concepts in that earlier description which actually comprise a Twitch stream: 

1. It's live
2. It's on Twitch

That's it. Everything after those two components is just based on your own preconceptions, influences and personal ego. Every other restriction you put on yourself may not necessarily be hurting your channel, but it is limiting your perspective. With each element you allow yourself to believe that a Twitch stream needs, your list of possible creative options shrinks. 


Usually, we build these creative walls around our Twitch channels because of what we think makes a 'successful' Twitch stream. This is the classic algorithm-chasing mentality that has produced so many successful-yet-miserable influencers over the past decade of social media. The problem here is two-fold: First, as I've discussed in many entries before, if you achieve success but don't enjoy what you're doing, there really isn't as much fulfillment in it as you think. And second, algorithms have a curious habit of changing. Like, all the time. So even if you do play the system perfectly, your ascent isn't likely to continue on a steady trajectory for long. So instead of working within a set of rigid limits that in reality can guarantee neither success nor enjoyment, why not begin by defining what you actually want to accomplish, and working up from there? 

Even the smallest stream can change the course
of your channel.

I'll communicate this idea by using an example I've mentioned a few times before in The Twitch Playbook. Once I had established my streaming habit, a new aspiration with streaming started to form. I wanted to use the strong work ethic I had instilled through broadcasting to achieve my life goal of learning another language. I knew that by streaming my progress live every day, I'd have a set routine for when learning takes place, and I'd have the added bonus of being able to go back and see how much I'd improved over time. Notice that this objective had nothing to do with introducing new viewership, or trying to gamify the show for the benefit of others- this stream had a higher purpose. It wasn't traditional entertainment, as much as it was a way to facilitate one of my life goals. And in breaking myself free of the bondage of every preconception I had known, I was able to build this stream from the ground up in the exact way which would suit my learning needs. I smashed my idea of minimum show length- where my normal streams were a few hours long, these lasted less than 15 minutes each day. This certainly meant that I'd have fewer viewers on these shows, and little to no engagement, but I was also able to set a realistic and manageable daily learning goal. The results speak for themselves- by not biting off more than I can chew, I've been able to stick with the habit now for more than 500 consecutive days, and can have roughly a 30-minute conversation in the language without ever reverting back to English. If I had committed to each Japanese stream being two hours just to satisfy my preconceptions about how long a show 'has to be,' it would be very easy to miss study days whenever I didn't feel like I could carve out the time among all my other livestream content.  

These shows may be short and have very small viewer interaction compared to all the other streams I do, but don't be too quick to judge my choice to make this a livestream rather than a pre-recorded video either. Over time, other Japanese-learning viewers of my channel have not only followed along but used them as inspiration to continue their own journeys. Even viewers who are learning other languages have told me that watching my Japanese streams and the learning techniques I use has helped them with German, Welsh and other totally different languages than the one I was studying. Prospective language-learners of all kinds have looked to my dedication in the past year to keep pushing themselves and not give up. That's a pretty gratifying feeling. And it all came from a stream that sometimes lasts as few as five minutes a day.  


The language stream is just one example of an extremely unconventional show that has worked for me only because I set aside every preconception I had about what a Twitch stream is. And to return to the other point, even if these streams had no distinguishing factors to differentiate them from YouTube videos, I would still choose to broadcast them live rather than posting them as pre-recorded videos. Because I like making livestreams. And the same can apply to you as well- do what's best for you. It's always your choice what you do on your channel- it doesn't matter if it nets viewers, it doesn't matter if it's helpful to anyone, it doesn't even matter if it's entertaining. As I've mentioned in many other entries before, the only thing that matters about a Twitch stream is if you enjoy making it. So think about what you want to accomplish with your Twitch streams, and then you can truly make them your own! 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Make Sure to Rest from Streaming

It's hard to form a habit like Twitch streaming, and when life gets tough it can be even harder to keep that habit going. Once you've been doing it consistently for a long time, the memories of how difficult that habit was to establish can help keep you chugging along. But sometimes we can lose ourselves in the process of building our channels. We may find ourselves putting in more and more work, but not getting as much return for our efforts. Sometimes as we commit increased hours to our streams, the results don't just plateau- they actually get worse. And of course, once you've made a habit out of committing huge parts of your day to streaming, you might find it hard to spend time doing other things outside of your channel. It's easy to write all this off as natural speed bumps in the road to success. You may feel that you'll be able to iron out all the kinks once you've reached some goal, so you don't need to worry about your other commitments now. But it's important to maintain a larger perspective about what you're doing. If you don't take care of yourself every once in a while, you'll begin dropping the ball, both on stream and off. Let this entry be a reminder that you need to schedule time to rest from streaming. 


If you're trying to build your channel and keep habits going, it might be hard to see how resting is a valuable thing to do at all. If you aren't live, and you aren't working on your channel, then how does that help your stream? If your ultimate dream is to broadcast on Twitch, then shouldn't you be doing that as often as humanly possible? To an extent yes, but without some level of moderation you'll end up hurting yourself more than helping. Allow me to explain this concept by taking us over a century back in time.
Don't let history repeat itself.

After the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the opportunities for manufacturing increased exponentially. Suddenly, factories in the 1800s could produce in a day the amount of products that used to take them weeks or months by previous methods. These businesses only required one thing in common: able-bodied workers able to operate the machinery. And in exploring these new technologies, factory owners weren't satisfied with merely leaping past their old production figures, they wanted to push those numbers as far as they could possibly go. This meant that workers were typically on the job anywhere from 12 to 14 hours, six days a week, with many putting in as many as 100 hours in a seven-day span. Not only did this mean they couldn't spend much time with their families, but it led to major problems with drinking on their one day off. Because workers would get so incredibly drunk on those work-free Sundays, it led to coining the concept of "Saint Monday," a day in which employees would regularly skip work entirely so they could recover from their epic binges. They were being worked so hard that any time they were given for themselves sent them into overdrive, wrecking their family lives and eventually their work lives in the process. 

This brutal schedule went on for decades, until in 1926, business titan Henry Ford made an unprecedented move. He changed his auto company's schedule to five 8-hour working days, without altering employees' pay. This gave workers more time to spend with their families, and more time to enjoy themselves safely, without feeling like they had to cram all their debauchery into one single night. The Ford Motor Company clearly won a lot of good will with its employees, who were able to turn in better results by being less sleep-deprived and stressed, despite being on the clock for fewer hours. The move even helped the economy, because workers with more free time on their hands ended up buying more products. This counter-intuitive decision rocked the American labor force, and soon other businesses were adopting the practice. Today, almost a century later, the 40-hour work week is still an established paradigm. 

We can all learn a thing of two from Henry Ford's groundbreaking move- more work doesn't always mean better results. Sometimes you need to take a step back, recharge, and approach your challenges with a fresh perspective to be truly efficient. Plus, by giving yourself time to rest you'll be able to spend more time doing the other things you care about, and keeping your life in balance. 


Now I don't know what you do on your Twitch streams, but it's unlikely that it's as intensive as working in an automotive factory. But no matter what you're spending your energy on, you still need some time to yourself. Many streamers find it useful to schedule one or two rest days every week. If going live every day is important to you, it can even be as simple as making sure there's ample time each day dedicated to non-Twitch activities. As I mentioned in the entry Making Twitch a Part of Your Life, many new streamers struggle to make Twitch a consistent part of their days, while others who have already been streaming consistently will struggle to bring Twitch back into balance with everything else. With the momentum of a pair of tipping scales, experienced streamers start to face the exact same problem that new streamers encounter, but in reverse. They're so used to making a stream happen at all costs that it becomes hard to schedule leisure time around all the streaming, community engaging, and behind-the-scenes adjusting. 

You can't be at 100% forever. Nobody can.

New or prospective streamers might think this sounds like a nice problem to have. But having been in this situation before, I can say from experience that it's not pleasant when you know you're hurting yourself and your relationships but also can't rein in the habit. For people who are stuck in the deep end now, I suggest taking advantage of the extreme discipline you've created by streaming, and redirecting it. Take out your calendar and literally schedule chunks of time where you have to do something that isn't stream-related. This could involve spending time with loved ones, watching a movie, going out for a walk, or cooking a nice dinner. It may sound completely ridiculous to be so rigid about it, but when you've caught the bug and can't stop yourself from thinking about streaming, you'll find that any 'down-time' in your day begins to get taken over by creeping stream-related activities. If you're not preventing against this phenomenon, you might only be halfway paying attention at dinner because you're thinking about new channel ideas, or you'll take the few hours you have before bed to tinker with stream graphics and layouts. Maybe you fill the gaps in your day looking at new equipment, watching other streamers, or talking with your Discord. Even if these things aren't actually streaming, they're still related to your stream, and they represent an unwillingness to completely detach yourself from the craft for a while. Finding a stream-life balance means making a clean break from Twitch. Not just being off the air, but removing your channel from your mind entirely while you mentally recuperate. 


You might feel that resting is only going to slow you down, but if you do so responsibly, you'll find that it does anything but. Like with Henry Ford's employees when given regulated working hours and another day off, you'll see that your performance while on the clock actually improves, and you get to strengthen your personal life while you're at it. So try marking out scheduled days, or even scheduled hours for yourself. See how much you can gain by giving yourself a rest from streaming.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Beware Chasing Follower Counts

When trying to build your channel on Twitch, what's the easiest way to measure progress? Most people use the same metric they'd use on any content platform: the follower count. After all, this is one handy number which essentially boils down the popularity of all your efforts. Convenient, right? 

Sort of. 

The issue with a follower count is that it only reflects a very slim portion of an otherwise balanced channel. Chasing that number, only for the sake of making it grow faster, is a very dangerous practice, because it will leave you unsatisfied with the actual content you have to make each day. And the last thing we all want is for a Twitch channel to be just another place where we clock in and out, not loving what we do. In this entry we'll cover why you should beware chasing follower counts, and what you can do instead to love streaming even more.


Consider the choices you make every day when eating food. Whenever you go with junk food over something substantial, it might taste good but it doesn't really nourish you. And because you enjoy the taste, eating junk food can begin a vicious cycle. It's easy to fall into a habit of eating more and more junk food, because you want to chase that feeling of intense flavor. Even though you know it's bad for you, it slowly starts to phase out healthier options from your diet until every meal leaves you simultaneously full and malnourished. This exact same phenomenon happens with Twitch streaming as well. There are things that you may want to do on your channel because they're the core of your being, they reflect who you are as a person, and they're what you would love to do every day in a perfect world. These might be your favorite obscure games, your life's passion to paint, or your desire to study ancient history. But similar to how the healthiest foods usually don't taste as good as the junk food, the streams which truly nourish your life's deepest passions usually don't attract as much audience attention. So most streamers just opt for the junk food by chasing their follower count, concurrent viewers, chat activity, and other ego-boosting metrics, rather than feeding their creative passions.

There's a difference between 'eating' and 
'being nourished.'

And once you've started chasing a follower count, it can become difficult to stop. It creates the same kind of vicious cycle as eating unhealthy foods. If all you want to do is make the number go up, you're going to keep doing everything you can to force that number to go up faster and faster. You'll slash more of the things you might actually enjoy doing, in favor of the things that get what you consider to be 'results.' Of course, these results are inherently skewed. The follower number is going up, so they're fulfilling their objective, but that blinds you to the bigger picture. What we all really want when Twitch streaming is to be happy in what we do. And if you do a song and dance every time you go live, putting on an artificial facade, being unable to express yourself in your truest form, where does that leave you in the end? If you suddenly had no more viewers, would you still be doing the same thing on your channel? 

Of course, most streamers don't even reach the stage where they start removing things they enjoy, because they begin their channels from the opposite direction. Twitch streaming is intimidating, and at the beginning most of us just want to fit in. So we file all the things we really love away, without ever having actually tried them on stream in the first place. The amount of streamers I hear talking about how much they love JRPGs, or indie platformers, or adventure games, but would never broadcast them because, "they wouldn't make good stream games," is staggering and heartbreaking. When I started, I fell into this category too. Many of the streams I do currently, I would never have dreamed of doing at the beginning. But now when I stream, I'm doing what I truly love every single day- never again do I want to be chained to an idea of what can or can't work. 


Here's the thing about people saying X or Y won't make a good stream game: They're right. Those games probably won't work on their channel. But only because they've cultivated an audience that doesn't want to watch these games. 

Some games can get you results quick, but those results
won't scale once you stop playing those games.

When you worry too much about your follower count, you reap exactly what you sow. If all you play is Jackbox Games because they bring in lots of people, you're not magically going to attract a viewerbase that wants to watch Subnautica, or Madden, or oil painting. You're going to attract a community that wants to watch Jackbox Games. So of course when you try doing a different kind of stream, your viewers are going to get upset, tune out, possibly even unfollow. The issue isn't that nobody wants to watch the thing you want to play, it's that nobody in the community you built wants to watch the thing you want to play. Do you see the difference? You have the power to change what kind of community you cultivate- all you have to do is stick to your guns by doing what you love and let the new viewerbase come in.


If you want to stream the content that nourishes you creatively, then stop chasing a follower count. It's important to stream what you actually want to stream. And even that's a tricky thing to find. You might have streamed some game that gets you followers for so long that you've confused wanting to play that game with needing to play it. Saying, "I want to play Tarkov because it's the only game where I can get over 50 concurrent viewers," isn't the same thing as, "I want to play Tarkov because I live and breathe this game, and I'd be streaming it even if I had zero concurrent viewers for 30 days straight." That's how you can identify what you truly love doing: Which activity would you continue to stream, even if you got absolutely zero viewers while doing it? The nice part is, you won't actually have zero viewers, no matter what you do. If you stay consistent long enough, anything can attract a community. So why not attract a community of people who want to watch what you actually want to play? 

Of course, it's fine to build a following. I'm not saying you should actively try not to grow. But if you're only growing for growing's sake, when do you actually get to enjoy what you're doing? As many rich people have learned throughout history, success doesn't mean much if you don't actually like what you do each day once you get there. So beware chasing your follower count, and let it chase you instead. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

How to Stick to Your Streaming Plans

Have you been struggling to follow through with plans on your Twitch streams? Maybe you committed to doing a daily morning show, but couldn't keep it consistent for more than a few weeks. Or you wanted to make compilation videos from your streams, but stopped uploading after the second entry. It could be as simple as saying you were going to start streaming in the first place, but quickly finding you couldn't follow through. Don't worry if you've been in this situation, it's happened to all of us at one point or another. The problem however, might lie deeper than motivation or time commitments- often the root cause of our failed plans is the fact that we announced them in the first place. 

I went pretty deep into the philosophy and science behind this concept in the entry Build Your Twitch Channel Like You're a Secret Agent, but suffice it to say that telling others about your goals releases the same chemical in your brain as actually achieving that goal. And for most of us who are constantly pressured by stressful lives and generally starved for time, it becomes easy to give up on the goal itself once we've received the initial boost of gratification from announcing it. This ultimate irony is one of the greatest dream killers on Earth. From the moment that idea leaves your lips, it's immediately placed on the executioner's block. If you're not already able to consistently make good on a plan by the time you announce it, then its days are numbered. In this entry, I'll teach you how to avoid announcing your projects too early, so you can more easily stick to your streaming goals. 


When it comes to announcing things prematurely, there are varying degrees of damage which might be caused to our channels. Of course, the most lethal is when someone tells people about a plan before they've even started working it. This ensures that they not only feel accomplishment before actually being accomplished (once again, see the 'Secret Agent' entry for more on this), but they also have no concept of the real-world logistics of putting this plan into action. Think of all the times you or someone you know has announced that they're going to begin working out, build a new business, or write a novel before ever starting to work at it. Now think about how many of those plans ever led to anything concrete. The results are likely pretty grim. The concept of the New Year's Resolution is probably the most common version of this 'announcing before doing' practice, and everyone knows how rarely those are kept up. To attach an actual number to it, 92% of Americans fail to keep their resolutions for a full year, and 80% will give up within the first month. Essentially, if you announce a plan before starting to work on it, you've already signed its death warrant.

Announcing too early can cause
a lot of trouble.

The next logical step here would be to announce something after you've started doing it a few times. At least this ensures that you have a basic understanding of what it takes to put your plan into action. This however, will still typically lead to failure. That's because you're publicly identifying as something you haven't yet proven yourself to be. Doing two streams doesn't necessarily make you a Twitch streamer, it makes you someone who has started Twitch streaming. But if you start to identify as the former before you've proven that you can stick with it, you might just find yourself slacking. After all, everyone already knows you're a Twitch streamer- you told them so, didn't you? You've possibly even received their encouragement about it. Why then, is it so necessary to keep doing the actual streams? After two weeks or a month, when life gets really busy, why not go on an indefinite break from streaming until things calm down? 'Everyone already knows you're a streamer,' your brain tells you. There's no need to work so hard anymore- you've already 'made it.' 

As you can see from this example, the mind is a tricky thing. From the moment you start to identify as someone dedicated to a certain goal or career, the brain no longer cares much about whether or not you actually achieve that goal or land that career. Because it already knows that others see you the way that you want to be seen. Even among established streamers, this deadly principle comes into play all the time. They try some new idea, like a different show format or game to play, and then immediately tell their chat that they're thinking of turning this into a regularly scheduled thing. They make it into a big discussion and ask for feedback about the idea. They draw up beautiful looking schedules and post them to their social media, and they excitedly talk about all the possibilities every chance they get. Then, a month later, this new idea has slowed or even sputtered out completely. Most people on Earth underestimate just how dangerous it can be to overshare. 


So how do you actually tell people about big plans, then? Surely those plans must be announced at some point! It varies based based on your personality and what you're trying to accomplish, but the best way I've found has been to wait until you've been executing on that plan for so long that it's no longer exciting. Then you can announce.

Don't get tricked by the 'honeymoon phase.'

The reason we all feel we need to announce things as soon as the ideas pop into our heads is that we're excited for them. Like with the 'honeymoon phase' in a relationship, we tend to get so blinded by the good qualities and infinite possibilities of our new content ideas, that we completely overlook their flaws and logistical hurdles. None of us are really qualified to know whether we'll be able to stick with some new stream idea until it's passed out of the honeymoon phase. On my streams, I wait until I've done something every day for months before I lock it in as a new addition to the schedule. In previous entries, I've mentioned the Duolingo streams I do, in which I've catalogued my daily journey in learning Japanese. Even when publicly producing these shows, I never promised to my viewers that they would be a regularly scheduled thing. Those streams were just something I happened to do every day. Going even further, I didn't even say when those shows would be going live, and did them quietly in addition to all my other regularly scheduled content. Eventually, after they had been going for 50-100 days without fail, I graduated the language shows from unscheduled 'secret streams' to a mainstay of the channel. 


If you've already announced your idea publicly and are now fearing for its life, don't worry. The best remedy is to simply stop talking about it. Maybe even act as if you don't plan to do it anymore. But behind the scenes, quietly execute on that idea until you know you can deliver results every time without fail. Make your goals into personal quests, not merely things you're doing to impress others. If you want to stick to your streaming plans, don't get your assumptions or dreams mixed up with the practical realities of actual creation. Make something consistently first, and only then should you announce it.