Friday, August 16, 2019

The Power of Positive Streaming




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

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


➢ A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION


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

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

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

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


➢ BE NICE, YOU'RE ON CAMERA!


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

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

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


➢ DIPLOMACY FIRST


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


➢ KEEP OTHERS IN MIND


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

Friday, August 9, 2019

Just Keep Streaming




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

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

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


➢ LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING


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

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

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

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


➢ MORE FOLLOWERS, MORE PROBLEMS


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

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

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

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

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


➢ WHEN TO BE FLEXIBLE


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

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

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


➢ BET ON YOURSELF


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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Make the Most of Your Streaming Setup




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


➢ WORKING WITHIN LIMITS


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

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


➢ CLARITY


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

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

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

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

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


➢ SETUP


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

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

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


➢ STYLE


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

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

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


➢ SEEK CREATIVE SOLUTIONS


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

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