Friday, February 26, 2021

Stream Smarter, Not Harder



When creating and refining a Twitch channel, there are a million areas on which you could spend your time. In many past entries, I’ve helped you to remove wasteful activities from your day, optimize the amount of time you dedicate to streaming, and better organize the tasks you take on. But even with all this polish, it might always feel like there’s more you could be doing- like there will simply never be enough time to do everything you want to do on your Twitch channel. 

And actually, this is true. 

There will never be enough time in the world to do everything you want to do, on Twitch just as in life. So the really important skill comes down to finding which activities, improvements or other ideas will move you in the right direction. Until you know what you’re aiming for, all the optimization in the world won’t help you fully achieve your Twitch goals. It’s only once you’ve cracked that code that you can truly be efficient with your time. And once you’ve found that nugget of inspiration, you can continue refining it- not only by doing more, but also by strategically doing less. In this entry, I’ll help you to stream smarter, not harder. 


➢ DISCOVER THROUGH EXPERIENCE


Let me get one thing out of the way first. If you haven’t started streaming yet, this entry isn’t for you. The objective when using a technique like this is to discover things through experience. Your goal, if you haven’t been streaming consistently for a long time, is to first get good at simply going live every time you plan on doing so. By attempting to implement the technique I'm about to teach too early, you’ll end up merely planning a Twitch channel, but never actually streaming on that Twitch channel. And in that case, optimization will be the least of your livestreaming problems.

There are always many ways to 
approach the same task.

For everyone else who has been streaming for a while, try lots of ideas to see what you like most. In several previous entries, I talked about discovering what I wanted from my content not by thinking, but by doing. And doing a lot. I’m talking about finding new stream concepts after hundreds, sometimes thousands of individual broadcasts. The time spent before discovering those things is still valuable, as it strengthens the ability to stream, and of course isn’t completely without enjoyment. Streaming itself, after all, is the passion. New ideas are just ways to enhance and supplement that passion. For me, these ideas were things like art streams, live language learning, and focusing more on story in the games I play. For you, the passions will be completely different, but the process will be very similar. The only way to find these new ideas is to stumble upon them through the act of streaming. Keep trying things. If you get too set in your ways, you’ll have a very hard time discovering anything new. 

I’m not saying everyone has to become an ultra-experimental variety streamer either. Even if you only play one game, there are a million ways you could play that game, and a million more ways you could present it in a stream format. How will you know you’ve found the one you like most until you’ve tried all the other possible options? No matter what kind of stream you produce, there are always new pathways to explore. Don’t lose the curiosity to follow them. 


➢ OPTIMIZING IDEAS


Once you’ve found an idea you like for a stream and have tried it enough times to know it’ll stick, you can start chipping away. That’s right, we’re actually going to begin scaling things back in controlled ways, which will allow you to get the most return out of what you put in. There’s a principle that highly effective people apply in several personal and professional fields, which I’ve touched on briefly in various entries, but never mentioned by name. It’s called ‘The 80/20 Rule.’ This baffling-but-true law states that in any endeavor, 80% of the efficiency actually comes from only 20% of the effort you put in. In business, this means that a small group of one’s clients typically account for the majority of the overall profits. In an example from the world of computers, Microsoft found that by fixing the top 20% of major bugs, it solved 80% of computer crashes across the board. And in Twitch streaming, it means that some small sub-section of what you’re doing right now makes up 80% of your overall happiness with the content you make. 

Games are cool. Yoga is cool too. If you find you like one 
much more than the other, you don't have to do both.

So the objective, once you’ve found a good thing, is not to simply add that thing to your routine, but to shave away all the stuff that gets in the way of you fully enjoying that thing you want to do. Try to identify specifically what makes you happy about this thing you’ve discovered within your streams. Which activities related to your Twitch channel enhance that feeling, and which are inhibiting it? These might come from any stage in the process. It could be that once you’ve found that you really love live-streaming your morning yoga, you decide that video games, and all the headache and prep that goes with setting them up, can be removed from the schedule entirely. Maybe you’ve found that you’re happier streaming games but with no camera, which would then remove the endless setup and tweaking of webcam, lights, OBS layouts, syncing, forgetting to enable certain video tools, and so on. Each piece of your stream is like an iceberg. The action itself is just what you see on the outside, but in every feature we add to our channels, there’s a massive infrastructure of setup, tweaking, and other tasks connected just under the surface. Cutting one feature typically removes a lot more headache than you’d expect. 

This rule can certainly come into play when making informed decisions about viewer optimization on your shows. In the entry Three Easy Ways to Stand Out on Twitch, I proved mathematically why choosing one less popular version of Dark Souls II as your game category over another version of the same game, was 5x more likely to attract an audience than the one with more potential viewers. This same concept could even apply to cutting back ideas outside the streams. For example, as I mentioned in a previous entry, I found that creating, maintaining and selling merch was taking more time and energy than I wanted, so I removed that feature entirely. By excising that one thing I didn’t enjoy (along with all its hidden time sinks), I was able to create several times more pieces of Instagram, YouTube and other content outside the streams that I actually liked. 


➢ ASSESS YOUR HABITS


This principle doesn’t always break down to an exact 80/20 split of course, but simply represents any instance where something of low value takes significantly more time or effort than something of high value. By cutting that thing of low value, you’re not only freeing up time, but allowing yourself to potentially do several times more of that high value activity. When you cut back from your routine, don’t just leave that blank space alone. Continue reinvesting in yourself. Add more of the things you actually like doing on your streams, and your satisfaction with your content will start increasing exponentially. Hopefully by utilizing these concepts, you’ll see why it’s important to stream smarter, not harder. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Repurposing Your Streams for Social Media


 
Creating a social media presence for your Twitch brand is a big undertaking for any streamer. Usually, the stream itself is more than enough to keep you busy, and the work involved in making social media content is so different from going live that it can distract you from making the actual shows. I’ve spoken before about the downsides of getting sucked into long Twitter discussions, endlessly scrolling on Instagram, and wasting too much time coming up with the perfect description for a new video. I’ve also spoken about certain social media strategies which I think are misguided. Self-promoting posts, follow-for-follow programs and other sketchy ‘game the system’ style ideas will typically not get the results you’re looking for. So what’s a good beginner strategy for social media that can be kept up consistently?

Of course, I will begin this entry the same way I do with all the ones dealing with endeavors only remotely related to streaming. If you haven’t done at least a dozen full broadcasts on your channel already, this advice is not for you. Do not let the process of making social content become another way for you to procrastinate from streaming. 


➢ CONTENT OPTIONS


There are two main types of content which I’ve found most useful when posting on my Twitch channel’s social media. I call them Platform Content and Stream Content. The first, Platform Content, is a post which you’ve created specifically for each platform itself, taking advantage of the tools, techniques and paradigms available through that platform’s toolset. This might involve a TikTok video which natively uses the sounds, camera effects and graphics which TikTok provides, or an IGTV video made specifically to fit the video and thumbnail style of that Instagram format. These typically take longer to conceive and execute, but have a higher chance of gaining attention because they’re more likely to be favored by the app’s algorithm. The other option is to create content which comes directly from your streams. Whether it’s a short clip, an edited montage, or a complete episode, this typically has a lower chance of being seen, but also tends to require less effort. I call this Stream Content

Don't get distracted from what's important.

Both options can bring you fulfillment and both are valid ways to create content, but despite its seeming disadvantage, I personally believe Stream Content to be more valuable than Platform Content. And to avoid explaining a concept I’ve outlined in multiple entries before, suffice it to say that it’s better to attract the kind of audience you want, instead of an audience of just anyone. While Platform Content may show off your personality or humor, Stream Content will more accurately convey the tone of your actual broadcasts. You’re more likely to see reactions from people who like the same games you do, or who may even be interested in watching your shows on Twitch. And of course, there’s that other major advantage of making Stream Content: most of the work has been done already. The footage was created when you did the stream. Why not use it? As I’ve outlined in many entries before, the paramount concern when making social media channels, or doing any support task outside your streams, is to not let it get in the way of streaming. The easier you can make the process of posting, the more time and energy you can put into your true passion. This makes Stream Content a great way for beginners and experts alike to post consistently and easily on social media platforms. 


➢ THE VALUE OF REPURPOSING


Of course, it’s not just the ease that makes Stream Content a valuable tool. Think of the massive amount of people out there who haven’t yet been introduced to your streams. Even among those who enjoy video games, not everyone watches Twitch. And out of those who do watch Twitch, only a small fraction have been exposed to your specific channel. But most people today have an Instagram, or TikTok, or YouTube account in addition to their Twitch account. You might be able to expose that person to your streams outside of the Twitch platform, simply by repurposing the content you already created on your broadcasts. 

Don't panic.

A good example of this concept outside of streaming is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. When I mention this franchise, most of you will think of the massively popular Douglas Adams novel, which spawned a movie and TV series, and has inspired generations of ensuing science fiction franchises. But did you know that the novel ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is actually not the original version of this story? It was first written and released by Adams as a radio play for the BBC, with acting, sound effects, and of course, that amazing theme song. The book, which came out a year later, is so near-identical that it’s essentially a novelization of the radio broadcasts. Almost all the dialogue, narration and stage direction is exactly the same as the original BBC production- it didn’t require much work to adapt the story from one format to another. But by making the jump to a new style of media, a massive new fan base was introduced to the franchise, to the point that this second version of the material has since eclipsed the original by orders of magnitude. The radio version enjoyed its own success within England, but the release of the book turned ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’ into a global sensation. And this was achieved simply by taking the content and lifting it, near-verbatim, from one platform to another. 

Now I’m not saying that you’ll become an international superstar overnight just by putting your Twitch clips on TikTok, but ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’ is certainly a great example of how this strategy of reposting the same content on multiple platforms can be very valuable. You don’t always need to totally rethink what you’re doing when making a social media post. Sometimes it just comes down to bringing your existing offering to a different audience. 


➢ EXTENDING THE LIFESPAN


By posting your stream content elsewhere and spreading it out, you’re extending the lifespan of the things you create. Every show becomes a fountain of potential posts, automatically generating free material that you can utilize elsewhere. But of course, whether you choose to create content specific to a platform or repost selections from your streams, there is no wrong answer. As I say in many Twitch Playbook entries, it all comes down to what you want from your overall content offering. Just like with streaming, find whatever kind of post makes you happiest to create (not just the one that gets the most likes), and once you know what that looks like, work on refining the process of creating those posts to be as unobtrusive as possible within your day. In past entries like Clipping and Highlighting Your Streams, I helped you to autonomously create clips. And in other similar entries, I helped you to organize and use those clips more effectively. Should you choose to post Stream Content on your own social channels, these entries can help a great deal. Hopefully by taking advantage of this mindset, you too will see the benefits of repurposing your streams for social media. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Run Your Twitch Channel Without Limits



What is a Twitch channel? Whatever you want it to be. I’ve explored this concept in the past, and in the entry Your Stream is Your Own, I dove even deeper into this idea. There, I stated that there are only two objective criteria which make up a Twitch stream: First, it's live. And second, it's on Twitch. Anything else you think a stream 'has to' include is either simply based on your own thoughts, or ideas implanted in your head by the influences around you. These preconceptions have been growing in our minds since far before any of us even started streaming- they're based on things we've heard and seen from other content creators for our entire lives. And as with any old habit, it's very hard to break free from these ingrained ideas for our channels as well. 


➢ ENGAGEMENT AT YOUR OWN PACE


One of the hallmark aspects of Twitch is its level of interactivity. What most people see as the factor setting a stream apart from an uploaded video is the ability for those in chat to offer their thoughts in realtime, and receive a direct response from the broadcaster moments later. But this kind of engagement can come in many forms, and it doesn’t have to look the same between any two streams. The concept of interactivity is simply a tool available to the streamer, which can be used in whatever way the creator sees fit. I’ve often seen a form of elitist gatekeeping among Twitch streamers, spoken either during a broadcast, or in soapboxing tweets, where someone compares certain types of streams to YouTube videos. It’s always meant as a cutting insult, claiming that if someone doesn’t incorporate some chat feature, or doesn’t respond to questions in a certain way, their stream ‘might as well be a YouTube video.’ I feel that this type of negative reinforcement not only serves to limit the accuser’s perspective, but also hurtfully shames anyone who thinks differently from them. 

Don't let anyone tell you what you have to
talk about on stream.

Luckily, Twitch itself doesn’t harbor any such judgments. You can do whatever you want on your streams. If you choose to never speak to your chat, that’s your choice. If you only want to let people chat using emotes, that works too. Even if there are certain arbitrary types of comments you don’t like to respond to, you don’t have to respond to them. Of course, most chatters understand that hot button or offensive issues are globally off-limits, but maybe you’re sensitive about how you look, or some aspect of your streams. Even if it doesn’t make sense to the chatter at all, you still don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. Maybe you don’t like to talk about the color red, or the planet Saturn. Then they’re off the table! These may feel like extreme cases (or maybe not- I don’t know your preferences) but don’t ever feel like you have to talk about things you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s your stream, your space. Anyone who enters is responsible for upholding the guidelines you put in place. You're not beholden to anyone else's values. 

Conversely, maybe viewer interaction is your favorite thing in the world. Maybe you’re passionate about giving one-on-one advice, or trading pop culture gossip, or maybe you just like having a steady flow of discussion while you play games. In that case, you might be looking for an experience that’s even more interactive than the normal Twitch infrastructure can provide. Other platforms can supplement these kinds of shows in powerful ways. Many streamers incorporate their Discord servers, keeping open chat channels active so that all members can join, and viewers can hear their realtime conversations with the community. To go even further, some allow viewers to call or text them through a Google Voice number, whether on the show or off, for a completely transparent interaction style. This is a concept that would make many streamers uncomfortable (myself included) but it comes down to individual tastes. The important thing is to capitalize on what you actually want from streaming. Whether you prefer to keep the normal amount of chat interaction, limit it to create a more chill vibe, or ramp things up to open a direct line into your life, there is no wrong answer. As long as you make sure you’re taking proper safety precautions, there’s no limit to what you can choose to do with your own brand. 


➢ THERE ARE ALWAYS OPTIONS


This mantra doesn’t only apply to interactivity either. Every aspect of a stream is yours to customize as you see fit. There’s no particular way a Twitch stream needs to look, for example. If you don’t want to show your face, ditch the camera. Don’t have a capture card? It could be as simple as pointing your phone at the TV screen. Maybe you don’t even want to show the game at all for whatever reason, and would rather hold up drawings you made of the game while you narrate what’s happening. Or you could just make an audio-only stream. Video, like interactivity, is just another tool available to you. It’s up to you how to use it, and that doesn’t need to be constrained to the kinds of ideas you’ve already seen. Just do whatever excites you, or whatever your budget and tools will allow. There’s no rule for how your stream has to look, only the rules you choose to impose upon yourself. 

Not gonna lie, that 'drawings' idea actually sounds
like a pretty awesome stream.

To take this even further, you can even create content on a Twitch channel without ever doing a livestream. Maybe you do non-live videos and upload them to your channel. Maybe you write little choose-your-own adventure stories utilizing the info panels in your channel’s about screen. Maybe you just love catching great clips of other streamers and creating compilation videos of their work. If that’s what makes you happy, then that’s what you should do. Should it live on Twitch, rather than some other platform? Who cares? If you choose to do it on Twitch, then yes, it should live on Twitch! The advice given in Twitch Playbook wouldn't always necessarily apply to someone who doesn't go live, but if that's the kind of content you're passionate about then do what feels right. Let go of your preconceptions and just allow your creativity to run wild. 


➢ UNLOCKING POSSIBILITIES


Asking what a Twitch channel ‘is’ is like asking, "How long is a piece of string?" Your channel can be whatever you want it to be. There’s no point thinking any further about whether what you’re doing will ‘fit in’ with the other content creators, or whether anyone will want to watch it. As I’ve mentioned in other entries before, aiming to ‘fit in’ is the worst thing you can do for your content, both creatively and for growth purposes. And over time, any kind of stream, no matter how outlandish, will attract a dedicated audience as long as the person creating it is passionate enough. So forget all the peer pressure and preconceptions, and just run your Twitch channel without limits! 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Tips for Setting Up Your Stream Equipment



When setting up equipment for your stream, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. There’s typically so much to think about: hardware compatibility, interconnecting cables, software, patches, and a thousand other little things in between. Because of this, we often end up becoming frustrated and dejected when everything doesn’t go as planned. What we thought would be simple fixes or upgrades end up taking hours, and more complex tasks like building a PC can leave us stranded with a half-finished machine while we wait for replacement parts to arrive. Over the years, I’ve found a few general guidelines and shortcuts when trying to implement new equipment into any setup I’m working with, and these have helped me greatly when getting into streaming. 


➢ EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED


What’s the biggest enemy of the average person trying to set up equipment of any kind? Expectations. Our own hopes and ideas often get in the way of being effective planners and problem solvers. We’re typically so excited about the thing we just unboxed that we leave all good practices behind and simply want to start using our new toy as soon as possible. The psychology here is understandable- we’ve been thinking this way since we were children, receiving gifts on holidays or birthdays and immediately playing with them. But when doing something complex like creating a stream, there are a lot of moving parts. You’ll run into numerous technical and artistic challenges when dealing with cameras, lights, microphones, various software or any number of other items. You probably won’t get it right on the first try, if the item even functions at all. To avoid being disappointed, expect every equipment alteration, improvement, or replacement process to take longer than expected.

You don't have to know what's going to happen, 
you just have to know that something will happen.

Don’t let your stream get cancelled because you tried to set up a new camera ten minutes before planning to go live. Don’t be late for a dinner plan because you’re stuck troubleshooting a microphone. In my own experience, I can’t think of any piece of equipment whose setup process didn’t have hidden time sinks. Something always needs to get redone, altered, replaced, patched, or otherwise worked on. With your own setup, plan for equipment changes to take two or three times longer than whatever you think is a reasonable amount of time. That way, you won’t always be disappointed when things either go wrong, cause delays or require extra work. For big projects like building a PC, you should assume an even longer wait. Expect you’ll have at least one dead part in the initial build, and won’t be able to use that machine at all on the day you start putting it together.


➢ MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE


The physicist Arthur Leonard Schawlow once said, “ Anything worth doing is worth doing twice, the first time quick and dirty and the second time the best way you can.” This certainly holds true when setting up stream equipment. If you want to avoid frustration, put things together in stages, testing them out in an ugly, imperfect way before properly arranging them. 

Here’s an example of what I mean: Imagine you just bought a new webcam. You take off the plastic, admiring its beauty. You uncoil the cable, carefully routing it to fit neatly into the crevice behind your desk, binding everything together with cable ties so the wire is completely hidden. You set up the camera, adjusting the placement so it’s in exactly the right spot on your monitor. You throw away the box and clean away all the packing materials. Everything is tidy and perfectly integrated into your stream setup. Then you turn on the camera and it doesn’t work. 

Test things properly before implementing them.

Now you have to take the camera back down, cut those cable ties, un-thread the cable from behind your desk, fish the box and packing materials from the garbage can, and send it all back to Amazon for a replacement. But what was the problem here? Sure, the camera’s defective status is partly to blame. Mostly however, the problem was your mindset. You should never assume the first time-setup for any piece of equipment is going to be the final setup. Like I’ve mentioned in several other entries, you should always begin with the most important things before moving onto making it look good. Here, that would involve making sure the camera works and has all the parts it needs. You can test that just as easily by plugging it into the front port of your PC, with the cable bulging in an ugly arc, and pointing it at a speck of dust on the table. The act of setting everything up before you had made such an essential check was only because you had allowed your expectations to get in the way of good critical thinking. Of course, this thought process doesn’t only work for cameras. You can use the same mindset with any piece of equipment. Do a quick and dirty setup process first, so you can check everything required, before you do all the extra work to make it look good. You’ll often be thankful you did. 


➢ KEEP A LEVEL HEAD


One major place where I’ve made just about every mistake imaginable is in building the various iterations of my PC, and upgrading it throughout the years. Expecting the process to take longer than anticipated, as well as using a first principles testing method, has helped me enormously in preventing those time-consuming mistakes that would otherwise require me to take everything apart again for one reason or another. Frustration causes the most problems when setting up tech, and by taking these steps I hope that you too will be able to sidestep this issue when working on your stream equipment. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Strengthen Your Twitch Habits



In several past entries, I’ve spoken about the importance of building and following systems if you want to become a highly effective person. On Twitch, this could involve setting up a pre-stream checklist, crafting an elevator pitch to introduce your shows, or keeping a calendar to become more focused on your various behind-the-scenes tasks. It’s amazing how much more reliable you can be when you plan out your actions in advance and stick to them. But maybe you’re still having trouble keeping your habits in check. You may have heard heard me talk about these systems I’ve implemented, but figured they just weren’t for you. Or maybe you did try to put them into action, but couldn’t get them to work properly. In this entry, I’ll help you to utilize systems more effectively in order to strengthen your streaming habits. 


➢ THE FORGETFUL STUDENT


Systems are most effective at targeting very specific problems and eliminating them. By using a process like this, you’re essentially retraining your brain from the ground up. The best way I can explain the use and ultimate effectiveness of this method would be to turn back time and explore the first major system I ever implemented in my personal life. 

I didn't have a good excuse for being forgetful either,
like this guy.

When I was in college, I used to lock myself out of my dorm room a lot. I couldn’t tell you why- I had never been a particularly forgetful person in other respects, and I had never locked myself out of any other places I lived. But for some reason, despite trying to make sure I remembered whether I brought my key with me upon leaving the room, I regularly had to make trips to the RA or kill time until my roommate got back because I had left my key behind. I knew something had to change. So I decided to see what would happen if I implemented a really strict routine for myself when going out. From that point onward, any time I was about to leave my room, I would put my foot out to stop the door from closing. Then, I had to be physically holding onto my key and looking directly at it, before I’d let the door click shut. It didn’t matter if I could feel the key in my pocket, or even if I remembered having just picked it up. I had to be holding the key in my hand and looking at it, no matter what. 

It sounds silly and overly rigid, but in the ten years since implementing that system into my daily routine, I’ve never once forgotten the key to my dorm, my apartment, or any hotel room where I’ve stayed on business. This one simple change solved a very tangible problem for me, and it’s all because I put my trust into building and following a system. Since then, I’ve solved other problems in the same way. After identifying something wrong with me that I couldn’t figure out how to fix, I removed my own memory or skill set from the equation, and simply trained myself to follow a script. And when building a Twitch channel, this has helped me to maximize my efficiency in several fields. 


➢ REPROGRAM YOURSELF


So if you’re having trouble remembering to turn on your camera before a stream, or can’t get your spoken introduction down properly, how can you use systems to improve your consistency? What makes a system work instead of just trying to remember? It’s because systems take a shortcut to your unconscious brain. Instead of having to think about doing something, you simply do it because that’s what you do. Think of when you learned to drive a car. When you started out, you had to think about each action you executed, and this probably made you very nervous. I know that for me, merging onto the highway felt like a life-or-death experience every single time. But years later, it’s as simple as can be. I know where I’m supposed to look, how quickly to accelerate, and all sorts of other things, without having to think about them at all. That's because it’s become a part of my unconscious brain- I’m doing something with almost no need for analytical thought. It’s simply a mindless task that gets done the same way every time. 

Fast-track the internalization process.

I’ve found that we can fast-track other tasks to become unconscious in this way, if we only change the context in which they’re executed. For example, the reason I never forgot my keys after implementing that system wasn’t because the tasks improved my memory, but because I specifically setup a system in which I couldn’t allow myself to leave without the keys, even if I did forget them. When they weren’t in my hand, I had to go back inside and grab them before leaving. The reason it worked is because I put absolutely zero faith in my own ability to remember whether I had my keys, and put all my trust in the system I had created to make up for my deficiency. Like programming a piece of computer software, it’s just a matter of picking the right actions in placing them in the correct order. 

You can do the same with your Twitch habits. Any action which doesn’t require critical thinking can be mentally automated, as long as you create a solid system, and then learn to trust that system implicitly. Similar to the ‘Architect and Builder’ concept I described in the entry Separate Your Two Streaming Selves, as long as you’ve planned out what you’re going to do, you just need to execute on those plans in the moment. I talked in the entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming about using a calendar rigidly and effectively, so you don’t allow yourself to let other plans strong-arm streaming out of your days. In Your Twitch Channel Needs an Elevator Pitch, I helped you to pre-plan your channel introduction, so you can speak more coherently when describing your content. These systems aren’t always perfect from the first iteration either- in the entry Perfecting Your Pre-Stream Checklist, I went through a few methods of how you can revise your workflow in order to optimize results. As long as you keep planning and revising, you’ll be able to eliminate some of the mistakes that most frequently haunt your content. 


➢ CRAFTING BETTER RESULTS


Of course, I’m not suggesting you obsessively create ritualistic actions for every single stream-related task. But when you have a serious issue- either trying to break a certain bad habit, or form a good one- it’s time to focus less on thinking and more on following orders. By building a strong enough system, it will prevent you from making that mistake ever again. As the Greek philosopher Archilochus said, "We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training." When we’re distracted or under pressure is when we’re most at risk of making mistakes, but by implementing a foolproof system beforehand, we’ll be prepared for anything. This technique has been immensely helpful for me, and I hope you’ll find just as much success in strengthening your Twitch habits!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Turn Your Household Tech into Stream Equipment



If you’ve been following The Twitch Playbook for a while, you’ve heard me talk several times about how easy it should be to go live. I often suggest using things you have lying around the house, so you can start broadcasting without zero preparation required, as well as zero pressure. This is a great way to save money and make quick course-correcting decisions. Even more importantly, it’s a great mental workout that can help you think outside the box when setting up and improving your channel. Whether you’re getting ready to start streaming right now, or you want to add onto a channel that’s been going strong for years, don’t discount the benefit of turning household tech into stream equipment.


➢ THE MAGIC DRAWER


The first step when taking advantage of your household tech is to avoid throwing it away. The amount of valuable parts which get trashed, lost or otherwise overlooked in the average person’s home is astounding. Old PC parts, controllers, adapters, cables, keyboards, headphones- the list goes on and on. And there are a few good habits you can start right now, in order to remedy this under your own roof. 

Accumulate useful items and keep them organized.

Anyone who’s worked in IT services, PC repair, video editing, or any other behind-the-scenes computer job probably knows to keep a well-stocked drawer full of computer cables. And if you don’t, I highly suggest you begin your collection today. Each piece of technology you buy will come with some new cable or other, and all these extra USB, lightning, eSATA, HDMI, 3.5mm audio, Ethernet and other cables can be interchanged with any device that uses the same ports. All you have to do is hold onto them when you get them, and keep track of where they are. I can’t tell you the amount of times that keeping a drawer full of cables has saved me from a tough situation. Not just when cables go dead either. When switching around tech, adding pieces to my PC, or coming up with some new stream idea, this saves me a trip to the store and allows me to make fast, versatile updates to my shows. 

It doesn’t have to be cables either- as I mentioned earlier, any technology can make a difference. When I switched from a single PC to a dual PC setup, I was able to repurpose all sorts of items for use on my second machine. Since this computer only handled the stream itself, and didn’t have to run any games or other taxing software, I was able to connect my 10-year-old iMac keyboard. Its keys didn’t press so well for everyday use, but it works fine when I only need to hit a few buttons to make the stream go live. It was the same with the out-of date monitor I had replaced, the headphones with a broken volume knob, and the mouse that couldn’t hold a left click. I even plugged in old sticks of RAM when I upgraded to better ones on my main PC. This second machine may sound like The Island of Misfit Toys from Rankin Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon, but it didn’t need anything fancy. I knew exactly what I was going to use it for, and wherever I could, I simply plugged in anything that would get the job done. At the time I thought I would use those old parts as a temporary solution, but to this day they’re all still in use on that streaming PC. Unless one of them completely breaks, there’s no need to change them out. 

Try going around your house and looking for any spare cables, old obsolete tech, or anything else you may not have thrown out yet. You might be surprised how many things you accumulate. Check old phone, computer part, and other boxes in the back of your closet- the spare cables inside will probably give you a good head start on your collection. Keep them organized neatly in an easy-to-find place, and you’ll be surprised how often they come in handy. From there, you can continue to build this emergency reserve as you go through your normal life. 


➢ REPURPOSING MUNDANE ITEMS


I’ve spoken before in Twitch Playbook entries about how you can also utilize normal, non-technological items you have around the house. I use all sorts of things to hold cameras, improve lighting, decorate the background of my shots, and create ease of use during my shows. This is a category where all of us are even more likely to be well-stocked without even realizing, because everybody has random things around their house which can be useful if they only look at them differently. 

In earlier entries, I spoke about how I turned cheap IKEA desk and standing lamps into my stream lighting by using a few simple film school fundamentals. Look around your house- are there any superfluous lamps you could put into your streaming area? Even in the room you already stream from, there might be better placement options if you consider the overall shot. You may find that you don’t need any professional lighting solutions at all. For more on this, I covered the actual lighting techniques to use in the entry How to Make Your Camera Look Better.

Creative camera solutions are my specialty.

I’ve also spoken in previous entries about using every method imaginable to position cameras when needed. I’ve stacked up books to raise them up, propped them against boxes, even taped them to various surfaces. When I’m traveling for work, no two hotel streaming scenarios are the same, so I’ve gotten really good at improvising. Most recently, I used a car phone holster to clamp my phone to my desk. I’ve also gotten creative with items that can improve my quality of life while streaming. Using picture hanging hooks to hold my headphones on the wall and free up desk space worked wonders. Bringing in a little side table next to my desk to hold my coffee and water saved even more room near my keyboard. Utilizing sticky notes and legal notepads helped me organize thoughts and stream improvements without getting up or stopping a show. Think if there’s any way you could improve your general quality of life while streaming by using household items- you might be surprised how much even the smallest improvement helps your mental clarity! 


➢ ALTERNATE OPPORTUNITIES


You own so many useful items, even if you don’t realize it. As I’ve often mentioned, a perceived lack of necessary equipment is one of the biggest excuses preventing hopeful streamers from embarking on their journeys. But if you get better at recognizing those things you overlook every day, you’ll find that you’re more equipped than you thought. You might not be able to make the exact kind of show you’ve envisioned in your head, but that’s usually for the best. Scale back your ambitions and make the show you’re able to make right now. The same applies to anyone trying to upgrade their existing streams. Those tech upgrades may have been sitting under your nose all along. As I mentioned in the entry Make the Most of Your Streaming Setup, always think in terms of what you have, rather than what you don’t have

So hold onto the small pieces of tech you accumulate when buying something new, and avoid throwing away the items you think are obsolete. These things may have a whole new life waiting for them, if you keep them around for a rainy day. And don’t discount the things around your house that aren’t computer-related. Lights, furniture and other fixtures can all contribute to a more polished stream, even if they’re not made for streaming, and weren’t purchased with streaming in mind. I’d bet that each of our homes holds at least five new and interesting ways to stream, which we haven’t previously considered. We just have to open our minds to the possibilities. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Understanding Network Settings for Streaming



We all use the internet in our daily lives, and once we start streaming the internet becomes even more important in what we do. But most of us don't understand much about how our internet really works, what's important about our network metrics, or why certain aspects of our internet might defy our expectations. In the earlier entry Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right, I helped you to calibrate the two most important internet settings when preparing a stream: resolution and bitrate. With a solid understanding of these, you'll be able to create a good looking, smoothly running stream almost every time. Unless something changes. The signal still has to reach you from your internet service provider (ISP) of course, and that can be a more mysterious subject. Do you ever suffer from fluctuating network speeds, or seem to receive worse transfer rates than the ISP advertises? In this entry, rather than talking about how to set up the stream's internet output, we'll discuss your home's internet input. I'm going to help you better understand your network settings.

It should go without saying, but this is a topic which expands far past the scope of one single entry. Understanding the way data gets transferred is an entire career in itself, and I'm not going to make you a professional in the field overnight. But there are a few points which I think are very valuable, which many streamers don't know much about. Here, we'll focus on a few very specific anecdotes which I've either struggled with in the past personally, or seen other streamers struggle with on their own journeys. By the end of this entry, hopefully you'll be a little more confident when dealing with your network speeds, and you'll better understand when the issue is simply out of your hands. 


➢ THE NEED FOR SPEED


Don't mix up these twin speeds.

First, when you think of your internet speed, make sure you're thinking about the right one. Most of the time, when selling internet packages, a service provider will heavily advertise the 'download speed' you'll get when you sign up. This makes sense, because the download speed governs what most people use the internet for every day: visiting websites, binging videos on YouTube or watching movies on Netflix. There also exists a second speed to every internet plan however, which your internet company may or may not display front and center, called the 'upload speed.' This is still used by most people, but not on as large a scale. It governs things like sending files to the cloud, posting things on social media, and anything else that moves data from your home to the internet. But even if someone regularly uploads things, they usually don't need this stat to be as consistently reliable as their download speed- after all, if the progress bar of your photo set uploading to Instagram speeds up or slows down, it doesn't make much difference in the end. But if the download speed slows down even for a second while watching Netflix, the TV show stops and you'll be noticeably inconvenienced. For this reason, the upload speed tends to be slower than (or at most equal to) the download speed. It's simply not as necessary for most people. 

But to a streamer, the upload speed is our lifeblood. I've seen many people make the mistake of thinking that both their download and upload speeds have some impact on their broadcasting capability, but this is simply not true. The only thing that affects your ability to stream is the upload speed, specifically. Download speed will affect your gameplay in multiplayer games, and it'll influence your ability to watch your own stream on your phone to check for errors, but if your stream is dropping frames or unable to go live, this is solely because of your uploading capabilities. After all, the act of streaming means you're uploading packets of data to the internet, not the other way around. 

As I've spoken about before, make sure you pay attention to what your internet service provider advertises as your plan's upload speed. You may have to go digging for it however, as the download speed is typically the number displayed more prominently. I also suggest taking 30 seconds to test your internet speed before every stream you do. This can't ensure that the internet won't dip down during the episode, but it'll at least guarantee there's nothing wrong with your connection when you start the show. And when testing speed, be careful of the big-name sites like Speedtest, as many ISPs will whitelist them to give false results, so they show your speeds faster than they really are. I suggest Google's built-in testing platform, which you can find by searching "internet speed test" right inside Google's search bar. In the past, I've done tests where Speedtest makes my internet look significantly faster than Google's test would, even though Google's was always closer to the actual speed I got from my stream software.


➢ THE FINE PRINT


It's not enough to simply have a fast internet plan either. You need to figure out the most consistent speed within that plan. Every internet service provider has margins for error, even within their advertised speeds. For example, in my area of Los Angeles, Spectrum provides 10 megabits per second upload speeds. This is more than enough to stream with. But even though customers pay for 10, the company can only ever guarantee we'll get 7 Mbps at any given time. They reserve an entire 30% of that advertised speed as a massive error margin, in case there are fluctuations in service for various reasons. Now, this is understandable. I imagine it's really difficult to manage a massive, nationwide ecosystem of data service. I personally like to think of it like a bag of potato chips- most people get upset at the amount of blank space at the top of a bag of Lightly Salted Lay's, but don't realize that this "air" is in fact nitrogen gas which is necessary to keep the chips fresh. So don't think of this margin for error within your data plan as potential internet speeds you're paying for but not getting. Like with the chips, it's a much-needed blank space.

Make sure your connection doesn't cause problems.

If you can figure out your lowest guaranteed speed by calling your internet company or reading the fine print of your plan, you can plan for those speeds instead of being surprised by fluctuations later. When I do my streams, the output settings are tuned for a connection of 7 Mbps upload speed, not the 10 Mbps displayed on the plan I pay for. This means that unless there's a full service outage, my stream drops frames much more rarely than it would if I tuned the settings to the max speeds possible. As I suggest in most fields, it's better to scale back and get the right results every time, than it is to hope for the best and end up wildly inconsistent day after day. Don't forget either- just because I have 7 available megabits per second of upload speed to play with, doesn't mean that my stream outputs at 7 Mbps. It's necessary to plan for other factors as well, and you can see more about setting up your ideal stream speeds in the entry Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right


➢ CONSISTENCY


As a streamer, the most important thing about your internet is that it works. And for many of us, whether or not it works properly on a given day can feel totally up to chance. But most of these factors can be accounted for, as long as you know where to look. There will still be problems with your internet that you can't prevent, of course. Total network outages and blackouts are always a possibility, and planned maintenance occurs regularly, especially if you tend to stream at night. But with those events, it's easy to see the problem. Invisible service fluctuations, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of upload and download speeds, are what keep most streamers in the dark about how their shows should be set up. Hopefully by using the concepts laid out in this entry, you can better understand your network settings for streaming. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Dangers of Stream Statistics



A big problem for streamers is the question, "What if?" "What if my new game isn't a hit?" "What if nobody watches at this new show time?" "What if I try going live and something goes wrong?" Whether you're about to start streaming, or you're preparing to change your existing shows, the question "What if?" can throw a major wrench into your plans if you let it. "What if?" is actually the driving force behind many of the bad habits I've described in this resource so far. We ask all our friends to watch our first broadcast, we look for quick solutions to get new followers, and we obsess over making our shows perfect before ever starting, all because we're afraid of this single question. We don't want to see the results of our efforts go to waste. 

So many of us, especially those who are just starting to stream, are too focused on the stats which come from our work. We measure the quality and ultimate success of our shows based on these numbers, and if they come up short for too long, it's enough to cause many streamers to stop altogether. In the earlier growth check in entry Boosting Your Streams, I covered several ways of tracking stats, with the major stipulation that paying too much attention to these stats can end up doing more harm than good. In this entry, I'll help you to further understand this danger of stream statistics. 


➢ ONE VERSUS ONE HUNDRED


I've spoken before about how I built my own video game coverage brand to attend events like E3, PAX, Comic Con and others, before I ever started on Twitch. And the problem when I was starting out was that I'd spend lots of time and effort preparing and making sure these events went smoothly, but after the videos were shot, edited and released I wouldn't make any other content for weeks or months. In that entry, called Your Goals Might Be Sabotaging Your Streams, I made the point that focusing too much on the outcome of a huge plan can create a sort of vacuum of energy, which saps your ability to move onto the next step after that goal is finished. And if you dissect the mechanics behind this concept, statistics were one of the biggest contributors to this post-release lethargy. 

"I've covered video game events, you know."

As a young guy who had somehow gotten himself into the events he'd been dreaming about for his entire video game-loving life, you could imagine how much pressure I put on myself to make sure that the videos I created from these outings did as well as they could. After posting my content from one of these trips, I'd spend hours and hours watching the statistics, sharing it around on every social media platform, engaging with other communities just so I could eventually tell them about my new video, and generally doing everything I could to make sure that the video got the amount of views I thought it deserved. I'd get so lost in this process that I'd lose the drive to actually create something new for a while. And after all that, I never made that much traction with the videos anyway. Essentially, I felt entitled. I thought that the work of making one video that was important to me shouldn't be 'wasted' by not having it seen by a lot of people. This is the wrong way to build a brand, whether on YouTube, Twitch or anything else. 

In my later career I ended up doing this same thing, but while working for a big company on a much larger scale. Organizing a team effort to output dozens and dozens of E3 videos instead of just one, I realized that it was actually more important to put out a large volume of content than it is to simply make one thing you think is really good. I focused on cutting corners, shortening videos, and speeding up production time. I was able to reach a broad appeal not by making content that appealed to everyone, but by making more specialized content in greater numbers. One video, no matter how broad or specialized, has a very low chance of reaching a lot of people. Without ad spend, it's mostly a matter of chance- and it's a really slim chance at that. But 100 videos, each about a very specific niche, increase the chances of someone caring by a massive margin. Because as I've mentioned in many entries before, people care more deeply about things that touch their specific interests, rather than something broad. And suddenly we covered 100 different specialized interests. I found that I wouldn't even bother wondering how each video was doing, because I was busy just getting the videos made. And I was able to help multiply this brand's popularity by orders of magnitude. I truly believe it was the volume of content, and the mindset of not worrying so much about any single post's results, that made all the difference in how it caught on. 


➢ PUMP UP THE VOLUME


More is sometimes better.

I've kept this same mindset about high-volume content creation in most things I do. I'm now free to not only make things that I want to make, but to stop worrying about the stats while I'm making them. I suggest giving it a try yourself. When you have a new Twitch channel, it doesn't really matter how good your first video is. Or even your first dozen videos. Outside of some freak coincidence, these videos aren't going to be seen by many people, if anyone. That's just the way it works. The process of building a brand isn't about making sure that each stream gets as many views squeezed out of it as possible, it's about making content consistently and often, so that your channel is getting out there in front of people. If you really want to increase results, then double or triple your output. In the entry Do More Streaming, I help you find ways to creatively fit more stream time into your days by totally forgetting your idea of what's normal. When you think on a broader scale, you can see statistics that don't get measured by the platform itself. Many of those macro concepts I've covered in past entries, and I was only able to recognize them by seeing the trends form across thousands of streams. 

So instead of obsessing over each show's results, or focusing too much on promoting each stream before it's live in order to increase views, just try making more content. If you want to see real results, not only in your metrics but also in your skillset as a streamer, be patient about statistics while ramping up production. If you ever find yourself caring about the statistics of a single stream you've done, you're probably not doing enough streaming. When you use this strategy correctly, you'll be forgetting about the small-scale statistics in order to see a much bigger picture.  

Friday, January 1, 2021

Using a Green Screen for Streaming



One of the most popular accessories for Twitch streamers is the green screen. This is a large, flat, single-color surface which allows the background to be removed from your shot. The effect is similar to that of a TV weatherman, allowing you to cut yourself from the frame in your stream software and replace the background with any image or video of your choosing. Most of you are probably familiar with what a green screen is, but it's common to see streamers who don't entirely understand how best to take advantage of this tool. In this entry, we will go over how to properly set up a green screen to prevent many of its largest problems. 

I will however, begin this entry the way I begin every entry of this sort. Pay special attention if you've never been with The Twitch Playbook before and you skipped to this entry first: EXPERIENCE is always more valuable than a perfect looking stream. If you haven't done at least a dozen combined hours of broadcasts on your channel already, put this entry down and start streaming right now. You can come back to add or optimize your green screen later. If you still don't think you're ready to stream, see the entry Start Your Twitch Channel with No Money. This entry is meant for those who are already consistent at streaming and want to optimize their shows- if you haven't streamed yet, employing these tweaks will be just another way to procrastinate. There's no excuse not to start your journey today.


➢ WHAT MAKES A GREEN SCREEN?


You could look like you're on an alien planet!

Green screens take advantage of a concept in your stream software called 'keying,' which means the program will turn all instances of a single color invisible, wherever it sees them in your camera shot. There's nothing more fancy about it than that. There's no special equipment required if you don't own an official green screen either- the effect can actually be accomplished with anything. You can clamp a green blanket to two lamp stands so it hangs behind you, tape green construction paper to a big piece of standing cardboard, or even sit in front of a green wall. The removed color doesn't even have to be green- you can remove whatever color you choose. The reason green is the industry standard in TV and film is because out of all colors on the spectrum, bright green is the one found least often in any human skin tone. This means that, unless you want your face to become invisible, green will be your best bet. But you could also get some interesting results should you choose to experiment. I've seen some really cool psychedelic-looking visuals from streamers who intentionally key out other colors on their shows. 

When using a green screen, many streamers fundamentally misunderstand what's important. Most assume that putting up the green screen itself is the first and last step, but then wonder why there are glitches or inconsistencies in how their stream removes the green background. Merely putting up the green screen will only work in a few very specific situations. In reality, that's only the beginning of the process. 


➢ GREEN SCREEN SETUP


The real concern with green screens is not the equipment itself, but the way you hang and light it. Anyone who has worked on a film or commercial set using green screens knows this already, but the power of a green screen comes from your ability to make it look like one single unified color in the lens of your camera. This sounds simple, because the green screen itself is already one color, but the process is actually anything but. As I've mentioned in the entry Focusing a Streaming Webcam, cameras don't see the world in the same way we do. And green screens make that very clear.

If you own a green screen, have there ever been times when sections of yours start peeking through the key, and you see green splotches from your background appearing in front of your game? Or how about times when chunks of your own body start blinking out of the shot? These are common problems which occur when there is a bad key. This usually originates from the way your green screen has been set up in the first place. As I mentioned earlier, the software looks only for one exact color when keying out your green screen. And even through the green screen itself is innately one color, any darker or lighter areas within that green will make the software no longer recognize it as the specific shade of green that gets keyed out. 

A bad key can make it look like parts of your
body are disappearing.

Now, there are custom settings governing the range of green shades the software looks for, which I won't cover here, but the most fundamental thing to keep in mind is that you want to eliminate shadows in the green screen itself. On a film set, this usually means stretching the green screen tight so there are no folds, and pointing diffused lights directly at the green screen to make sure it's evenly lit. If the lighting which points at your face causes you to cast a shadow backwards onto the green screen, you would want to either move the green screen further back, or move the lights higher so those shadows fall further downwards and avoid hitting the green screen. It's also possible to go too far in the opposite direction, creating a 'hot spot' on your green screen from too much light. Keep your lights diffused when they point at the green screen by either moving them physically further away, or getting some diffusion paper for the lights to make their beams less harsh. In the entry How to Make Your Camera Look Better, I covered several of the most important aspects of properly lighting a stream, even if you own no professional lights. Understanding those concepts will come in very handy when trying to set up a green screen properly.


➢ THE 'KEY' TO A GOOD GREEN SCREEN


Even the best green screen money can buy is nothing more than an expensive piece of green cloth. Everything comes down to how you use it. Bad lighting will make the best quality green screen look terrible just as easily as good lighting can make a cheap green screen look great. If you don't have a green screen already and want to use one, I suggest trying to make one yourself. It's possible to buy the parts required for less than $10, assuming you don't have anything usable at home already. All you need is something green to fill the background of your camera shot behind you. What that thing is, is up to you. Your stream software is pretty smart, and it'll give you a lot of room for error when setting up your green screen, but it's not perfect. When you take the time to properly set things up, it will remove a lot of headache. A well-implemented green screen can add a very professional look to your shows. So put that extra time in, to make your streams look a whole lot better!