Thursday, July 11, 2019

Easy Ways to Make Your Streams More Watchable




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

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


➢ THINK BIG


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

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

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


➢ THINK BRIGHT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


➢ THINK CLEAR


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

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

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


➢ EMPATHY IS KEY


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

Friday, July 5, 2019

Up Your Showmanship on Stream




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

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

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

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

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


➢ MAKING YOUR VIEWERS FEEL HEARD


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

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

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


➢ TRULY ENGAGING WITH COMMENTS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


➢ BUILDING ON QUESTIONS


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

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

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


➢ WHAT MAKES TWITCH AMAZING


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