Friday, September 17, 2021

When Streaming, Plan for Reality

When creating our content, it’s easy to get caught in a mindset where we think we have everything figured out. Whether we’ve been spending a lot of time planning and setting up our channel before starting, or we’ve fallen into a groove where we’re able to stream without issues for a while, an overconfident attitude can cause problems if we’re not careful. It doesn’t matter how foolproof a plan seems, how unbreakable a habit, or how solid a rule. Problems can always creep in. In the immortal words of Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life, uh... finds a way.” Therefore, when streaming, it’s best to plan for reality. 


Anyone experienced with air travel is familiar with the law against smoking on airplanes. The cabin staff mention this rule several times throughout any flight you might take, and there’s a backlighted ‘no smoking’ sign in front of every single passenger’s seat. Violators also face strict penalties, including large fines, even arrest and detainment. In other words, it’s extremely clear to anyone who steps foot onto an aircraft that they cannot light a cigarette under any circumstances. 

And yet, despite all these rules and penalties, inflight smoking is still accounted for on airplanes. The bathroom, which is the most common place for someone to attempt to smoke on a flight, will still have a built-in ashtray on the next flight you take. And this won’t just be due to the plane being an old model. Ashtrays are actually mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. They’re so critical in fact, that takeoffs can even be delayed when a lavatory ashtray is missing or out of order. Now, this begs the question: why would this vestigial component still be considered so necessary? Not only is the airline ashtray outmoded, but you’d actually be breaking the law if you used it! 

Unless you're this guy, fire is likely going
to be a problem.

This is because the FAA is looking at the bigger picture. What happens if, despite all these warnings and punishments, someone
does smoke in the airplane bathroom? Placing cigarette butts in the garbage can along with all the paper towels and other trash will cause a cabin fire, which has been known to result in passenger deaths and plane crashes. So the ashtray is there as a way for someone to dispose of their cigarette butts safely, should they decide to break the rules. They’ll still face fines and potential detainment, but they won’t kill everyone on board. This method of planning for reality has always stuck with me, and since I found out about it a few years ago, it’s permeated everything I do. This, of course, includes my Twitch broadcasts. 


Despite being a big supporter of pre-stream checklists, careful chat rules, strong habits, and other methods of preparation, I never assume that these things will make my streams infallible. I always try to have alternate options in place, should my plans fall through. 

One of the biggest catch-alls for when problems occur is a ‘Be Right Back’ screen. Being able to cut to something that doesn’t show your camera feed or gameplay is a nice way to have some time to yourself mid-stream, should you need to fix something. I spoke more on this topic in the entry Three Useful Scenes for Your Stream. For the worst problems, there are still solutions which can be reached. In the entry Become a Solution-Oriented Streamer, I took you through a mental exercise to find three separate solutions to one of the worst issues a streamer can face: a lack of internet connectivity. It’s also important to be mentally prepared for the worst, and keep tabs on how you react in the moment. If something happens while you’re live, it can be easy to fly off the handle due to the pressure and embarrassment. In the recent entry Don’t Panic: A Guide to Facing Stream Problems, I focused specifically on staying cool in the moment when something goes wrong. 

In XCOM, backup plans are a way of life.

What about when someone gets out of hand in your chat? Though I’ve gone through several of my favorite ways to moderate chat, establish rules, and measure the reactions of viewers over time, sometimes a viewer simply cannot be reasoned with. In those instances, there’s nothing wrong with timing out or even banning them altogether. When you’ve clearly stated that what they’re doing is not okay, everyone else in chat will understand the circumstances. They’ll likely even be thankful to be rid of the disruption. Other tools like fully clearing the chat, or even setting it to ‘followers only’ mode can prevent some of the more calculated attacks like follow bots or users who create new profiles to get around your restrictions. Typically, these things will go away after a while, and you’ll be able to put things back to normal. 


The things I’ve mentioned so far have been what I’ve found useful when planning for reality on my own shows. But your streams are not the same as mine, and you will face your own problems. Take a moment to think about what you can do if something falls through. Plus, pay attention when problems do happen, and let them inform your contingency plans in the future. When you plan for reality, even your worst problems won’t seem so bad. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

When in Doubt, Stream


What do you do when you’re supposed to go live on a given day, but you just can’t muster up the will to do it? You even have a pretty good excuse lined up, which you plan to tell your community in order to get yourself off the hook. In fact, the more you think about it, why should you go live today? This reason you’ve concocted seems to make more and more sense in your mind the more you think about it, until finally, you convince yourself that there’s just no way you could do your show. These kinds of snowballing thought processes are what typically stop us from creating our content, and they can be very dangerous. The longer we entertain the idea that it might be okay not to go live on a given day, the more it starts to feel normal. And if we succumb to that weakness too many times, we begin to make a habit out of missing our scheduled broadcasts. It’s important to stay vigilant, and trust our long-term goals rather than our short-term desires. If a thought begins to form about how it might be okay to skip a day, it’s usually best to just do the show anyway. 


There’s a big misconception that goes around, which can stop many people from achieving their life goals: Most people believe that following your dreams shouldn’t feel like work. This likely stems from a ‘grass is always greener’ mentality, in which we work for our entire lives in a monotonous 9-5 grind, and imagine that if we only had the opportunity to do what we loved instead, it would be the exact opposite experience. Now, it is true that there are many benefits to following a passion like Twitch streaming: it’s much more rewarding, usually more entertaining, and it’s something you can call your own. But that doesn’t mean it is entirely without the trappings of work. In addition to the added worries of building something from the ground up, you still need to show up every day, just like you would with a normal job. 

Stay on target.

The fact that nobody is faulting you for missing a day may feel like a benefit, but taking advantage of this will only ever hurt you in the end. In fact, the rigid rules and monotony of clocking in at your workplace is one of the greatest benefits you can bring to Twitch streaming. Channels don’t spring up with huge followings out of nowhere. Streamers need to create a consistency that viewers can rely on over time. This means showing up every scheduled day, whether you feel like it or not. In the entry
How to Stay Motivated About Twitch Streaming, I helped you to stay consistent by using your work schedule as a comparative measurement. It’s okay to take a day off streaming if you really, truly need it, but these should be few and very far between. Don’t let the amount of days you take off from streaming exceed the amount of days you’re allowed to take off from your 9-5 job. By thinking about it this way, you’ll maintain the discipline necessary to keep moving forward. To paraphrase the great prophet Dusty Springfield, wishin’, and hopin’, and thinkin’, and prayin’ isn’t going to get you the results you want. You have to work for the things you really care about. 


How do you actually press through and go live on those days when it feels like you don’t have enough time or energy? Here’s the answer that most people don’t want to hear: you cut corners. As I talked about in the above-mentioned entry, on some work days you might not feel great and only put in 70% of your maximum effort. You know you’re not going to be at your best, but that doesn’t stop you from showing up. The same should hold true for streaming. Don’t get overly precious about making a perfect show every time you go live. It’s always more important to be there than to be perfect. Cut the show shorter, change the time, switch to a less intensive activity, or do anything else you need to do in order to avoid cancelling the broadcast. As I mentioned in the entry Just Keep Streaming, “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.”


There’s an excellent story which appears in James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, in which a university photography professor decides to grade two halves of his class on two possible criteria. The first half of the class would be graded solely based on the quantity of their photos, meaning he would literally just count the number of photos they took and give them an A if there were over 100 images, a B if there were 90, and so on. The other group was rated based on quality, meaning these students would only need to submit one single photo, but it was graded based on the composition, lighting, evocativeness, and all the other factors involved in making a great image. Now, based on the objectives of these two groups, you can imagine which half of the class submitted the more artistic and creatively striking work. 

Frank West takes a lot of bad photos,
but he keeps getting XP either way.

Or can you? Because at the end of the semester, the professor found that the group which focused on shoveling out as many photos as possible actually took all the best pictures. And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense. These students were out there getting their hands dirty, making mistakes and experimenting with different ideas. They were honing their photography skills every day. While the quantity group was out there taking hundreds of pictures, the quality group was merely sitting there ruminating on what makes the perfect photo, while doing no practical work. They had a lot of ideas, and only one mediocre photo to show for them at the end of the day. 

Ideas and plans are meaningless if you don’t actually put them into practice. And putting them into practice is similarly meaningless if you don’t do it regularly. If you’re having trouble deciding what game to play on a certain day, just go with whatever comes to mind. If your channel redesign isn’t exactly what you’d hoped for, use it anyway. You can always improve later. Making the wrong choice will never be as bad as making no choice. As I put it in the entry How to Avoid Streamer’s Block, “The only reason we spend time making the decision is because a decision is there to be made.” Just remove the burden of choice, go with the first thing that comes to mind, and go live. 


The more content you make, the better you will get at making it. Like with the photography students, only the content that you actually create matters. No amount of thinking or behind-the-scenes work will ever make up for real experience. So don’t let things get in the way, don’t reschedule your show, and don’t wait for perfection to strike. When in doubt, stream. 

Friday, September 3, 2021

How to Avoid Overspending on Streaming

Throughout this resource, I’ve often shared my opinion that you shouldn’t need to buy anything in order to get started with streaming. It’s highly likely that if you haven’t started yet, you already have the tools to go live in some way or another. But just because you don’t need anything in order to start your journey doesn’t mean you should never make a purchase at any point in your streaming career. Eventually, it all comes down to your mindset. Tech upgrades are often seen as fix-all solutions for streaming problems, almost as replacements for skill or experience. Many people also use the need for future purchases as an excuse not to get into Twitch broadcasting, or not to ‘get serious’ about it once they’ve started. These are limiting ways to view streaming, and they’ll make you dependent on spending your hard-earned money in order to go live. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with making stream-related purchases, as long as you’re viewing them from the right frame of mind. The difficult part, once you’ve come to terms with buying things to support your streams, is drawing the line. We’re natural consumers, and making one purchase can end up turning into several more. For many of us, making a few really big purchases or a lot of unnoticeably small ones can cause us to regret our spending habits at the end of the month. In this entry, I’m going to help you avoid overspending on streaming. 


The first thing to consider are expenses which have already been made and can’t be recovered. These are known in the business world as ‘sunk costs.’ If you already have a game console, PC, camera, or anything else used for streaming, these are part of your tool kit. If there are no future payments associated with them, then you don’t need to worry about them anymore. But sometimes, even when they’re already paid for in full, there are certain pieces of tech that almost seem to eat money. Meaning, the more you use them, the more it feels like you need to keep buying things to go with them. This happens to people with DSLR cameras quite often. They will buy the new camera, but then need to get a nicer lens. And when they have the lens, they need better lights to improve the shot. And then various adapters, and a better tripod, and so on and so on. The same thing happens when you get a VR headset and feeling like you need to keep adding accessories, or you splurge on a new microphone only to find that a bunch of other boxes and cables, along with wind screens, mounting arms and sound proofing might come in handy as well. You can see the pattern here. Certain larger purchases often continue biting us after the fact, because we keep getting nibbled on by hidden costs. These smaller supporting purchases can often double the price of the original item, if not more.


Be careful of hidden costs.

But the idea of ‘gateway purchases’ isn’t exclusive to streaming. This concept lords over every spending decision we make. As Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler point out in their excellent book Dollars and Sense, we can’t really measure the absolute value of any item on a day to day basis- we only ever perceive its relative value. Meaning, the value of one item compared to another. Car salesmen use this tactic to make us more receptive toward buying things we don’t really need while we’re on the lot. For example, we may be reluctant to spend a few hundred dollars on a stereo system if we saw it in a shop window while walking down the street, but when we’re already spending thousands on a car, that add-on feels like a drop in the bucket. It’s also why big box stores will show you the original price of an item next to its new lower cost while it’s on sale. Even when those ‘sales’ are happening almost every day of the year, and the items can be bought for that price more frequently than not, we’re still more likely to buy it when we see what it used to cost. It’s all because of how we perceive ‘relative value.’

This was never more apparent than when the department store J.C. Penney hired a new CEO in 2011, who introduced his ‘fair and square’ pricing concept. Under this new management, the stores eliminated the concept of something ‘going on sale,’ and instead just sold everything at the lowest possible sale price all year round. This seems like a nice idea, right? Everyone gets the same low price no matter what. The problem is, people didn’t want to get the same low price as everyone else. In one year, company profits dropped by a staggering 32%. The season in 2012 when those sales numbers were announced has actually been described as “the worst quarter in retail history.” The CEO was fired, and sales and coupons were quickly readopted into the usual routine. The moral of the story is that people want to feel like they’re smart or special for spotting a deal. We’ll even accept the inconvenience of coupons and timed offers, just to get that feeling. And none of us are completely immune to the siren’s call. I know I personally have an insane amount of video games accumulated over the past 15+ years of owning a Steam account that I’ll never get to play, which I only bought because they were 90% off during some sales event. I knew in the back of my mind at the time that I wanted to play those games, and bought them so they’d be available to dig into on some rainy day. Meanwhile, most of them have been collecting digital dust since I clicked the ‘Checkout’ button years ago. A similar thing happens on Black Friday and other major tech sales events. Sometimes we have a single specific thing we need to get during these sales, but most of the time we’re coerced into buying things just because we see that they’re going to cost less than they used to for a few hours. So be careful of sales, coupons and other deals. They can be useful if you’re buying something you’ve needed since before the discount, but they can be killers when you let yourself be tempted by the things you only want because of the new price. 


So again, while it’s fine to buy things you need for streaming, don’t let those purchases lead you down a rabbit hole. For those who have recently started working from home, it may be especially tempting to make a bunch of new purchases to pass the time. But ultimately, it’s best to know what you’re trying to achieve on stream, and limit yourself to only the things that will allow that to happen. You should be able to get in a few dozen (or if you’re like me, a few hundred) broadcasts between making any major channel purchases. This will not only ensure you’re getting your money’s worth from each new piece of tech, but it’ll also help you to slow down and reflect on what you need for your channel. You may find new solutions that you wouldn’t have arrived at if you merely made a bunch of quick purchases without thinking. So avoid overspending on your channel, and let yourself focus on streaming for its own sake. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Growth Check-In: What's New on Stream?


Streaming on Twitch, it’s easy to lose track of time. And I don’t just mean missing dinner because you want to play one more match. When we create routines that require as much effort and precision as Twitch streaming, the days, weeks and months can pass by in a flash. And so as we continue on our journeys, it’s important to take moments to reflect on our progress. In past growth check-in entries, I’ve covered subjects like boosting your results, simplifying your routine, getting on track, and being more efficient. This time, ask yourself one simple question: What’s new on stream? 

What have you been doing on stream lately that’s different from what you were doing several months ago? Have you switched the games you play? Is there a new way you interact with chat? Are there any new graphics or layouts being used in your streaming software? Whether you’ve just started streaming or you’ve been doing it for years, it’s always useful to take note of what’s new on your shows. 

Just pay attention and you'll be fine.

We’re not necessarily here to make snap judgments or remove features, but simply to observe. You may come up with some solutions on the spot, but for most things it’s enough just to bring them to the front of your mind. By paying attention to how your shows (and you as the streamer) have changed in the past few months, ideas will begin percolating in your head. Over the next few days or weeks, solutions or new features may begin presenting themselves in your mind without even needing to think about them. Sometimes it’s enough to shine a light on everything happening on your channel, and let your subconscious mind do the rest. 


When asked what has changed recently, many may claim that nothing at all is new. I personally think this is impossible. If you keep streaming on a Twitch channel, something new is always happening, whether you’ve brought it about, or it creeps up without you noticing. Even when you’re doing the exact same thing every day, there will still be differences from your older streams. You may not have made any visual updates, but you’re probably more confident in the way you speak on camera. Maybe you found a nice rhythm for when to pay attention to your game vs when to read the chat. Or you could simply be faster when setting up the show, because it’s become such a set routine. In other words, the stream itself may not seem to have anything new, but you yourself have become a new streamer. 

Every day we spend streaming, we get a tiny bit better at the various aspects of our craft. But it’s nearly impossible to see this growth if you’re looking at things from close range. This is a good change to watch older Past Broadcasts or Highlights to see your old self in action. Can you detect any differences in how you spoke on the shows, or how you handled certain situations? This is also a great use for the methods I laid out in the entry Chronicle Your Twitch Progress. There, I spoke about taking a quick ten minutes per week to write down your thoughts about the best, worst, and most interesting moments on your channel. When you have a diary like that and you want to zoom out and take stock over the course of months like we’re doing here, you’ll be able to look over your notes to see which old problems have since been solved, and which still need improvement. It gives you a great bird's-eye view.


Not everything new on stream will be good, either. What problems have occurred on your shows lately? This includes a broad range of possibilities too, not just your tech. You may run into issues with your capture card or a crashing game- these are easy problems to notice. But you may also be struggling with discipline, missing your scheduled shows or never finding time to work on your stream behind the scenes. Maybe your chat is constantly getting out of hand and making you uncomfortable, or you find yourself getting into arguments you’d rather not have. Everything, from the most basic hardware issue to the most esoteric interpersonal dispute can be addressed, if you come at it with a creative mind. I’ve written a lot about dealing with Twitch chat, but if you’re having a hard time with yours, you can look into entries like Combat Negativity in Twitch Chat, or Setting Limits For Your Streams. If you’re unable to keep to a schedule, you can revisit entries like How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, and How to Get in the Habit of Streaming. And for all other issues, it’s mostly about getting into a proper problem solving mindset. The entry Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day will help you to keep track of everything better, and then others like Simplify Your Streaming Problems will let you get to the heart of any issue. 

Even if you’ve done everything possible to prevent problems and solve the ones you already have, there will never be a way to plan for every single eventuality. Things will happen on stream one way or another, and it’s important to pay attention to how we deal with the problems that do arise. If something happened on your stream lately, take a moment now to consider how you responded in the moment. Did you keep your cool, or did you fly off the handle? Did you have a hard time keeping the show in check amid the chaos? Many times, after a problem occurs on my own shows, I try to take stock of what I handled well, and what I could have done better. Then I keep that assessment in mind for the next time something happens. This way, I’ll be able to work on my flaws in a very conscious manner. For more info on how I like to approach reacting to problems on stream, see the entry Don’t Panic: A Guide to Facing Stream Problems


It's all about balancing.

On top of all the streaming you’ve done, it’s good to also consider how the shows fit into your overall life. How much content are you producing these days? Are the streams longer or shorter on average than they were six months ago? Neither of these statistics is inherently good or bad of course, it’s all up to how you want streaming to fit into your life. Do you want your shows to be longer than they have been recently, or does it feel like streams are detracting from your personal life? If you’d like to fit more streaming into your days, even if you can’t see how that would be practical, check the entry called Do More Streaming. There, I helped you to rewrite your assumptions about what’s possible, and squeeze more time into an already-busy day. If you feel like streaming may be hurting other aspects of your lifestyle, you do have a few options. In the entry, Stream Smarter, Not Harder, I gave some sneaky ideas about how to spend significantly less time but still get similar results. And in the entry Make Sure to Rest From Streaming, I helped you to see the importance of taking time for yourself. 


This entry has featured some of the biggest bullet points to address when thinking about what’s changed on your channel over the past several months. But there will always be more areas to look into. Don’t worry, because whatever you focus your attention on will be productive in the end. Spending any time at all in self-reflection is better than continuing to push forward blindly. Plus, you can always revisit this exercise later to get new results. As long as you’re considering what’s new on stream, all kinds of possibilities will present themselves. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Stream-Friendly Game Settings

When streaming on Twitch, there are all sorts of things you can do to make your show more enjoyable to watch. General ‘watchability’ is a big topic for streaming, and there are a lot of angles from which you can tackle the problem. In fact, I’ve spoken about it in a few different places throughout The Twitch Playbook already. Probably the most direct was the entry Easy Ways to Make Your Streams More Watchable, in which I went over all sorts of ways to make a Twitch stream more accessible for the viewers at home- from stream software settings to how you conduct yourself as the streamer. In this entry, I want to zero in on one specific aspect of making your streams easier to follow along with, which anyone who plays video games on stream can implement. We’re going to take a second to tweak some of the settings in the games you play. 


One quick and easy setting that can help make your streams easier to follow is a simple toggle switch. Twitch viewers often appreciate when you enable subtitles in the games you play. This is true for many reasons: of course, it assists the hard of hearing, but it also helps people to understand what’s going on if you’re speaking over the characters in the game. On top of that, many Twitch viewers watch streams in public or at work (shoutout to those who risk getting in trouble with the boss to watch our shows, by the way!) These viewers have to watch at either a lowered volume, or with the sound completely disabled. In all of these cases, having subtitles makes it easier for someone to follow along. Now, subtitles are more important in certain types of games than others, but if you’re playing something with dialogue and don’t mind having words on screen, give these a shot for an easy boost to watchability! 


Another visual option that can assist viewers is put in front of you when you first boot up almost any video game: the brightness slider. As I’ve mentioned in earlier Twitch Playbook entries, broadcasts tend to appear darker for the viewer than they do on your screen while you’re playing the game. This means that in some games, when it’s night time or the lights are out in a haunted house, the action can be so dark that the viewer is completely unable to see what’s happening. In any game you play, I suggest turning up the ‘Brightness’ slider a few pips past where you think it’s meant to be. This will ensure that your viewers are able to enjoy the show along with you. Believe it or not, this one change alone has gotten me tangible increases in viewer retention, at different points in my Twitch career. 


In past entries like Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic, I explained the importance of sound mixing. In that one, I mostly focused on how you can mix audio in your streaming software. But it’s also possible to alter aspects of the sound mix in almost every video game available today! Taking a few minutes to tweak these settings can net you some extra points for viewer accessibility. 

The first sound setting you should look for is the Dynamic Range. I would say that the majority of games have this, though it’s sometimes listed under different names. You’ll know the Dynamic Range setting because it asks you to choose between sound options like ‘Large Speakers,’ ‘Small Speakers,’ ‘Headphones,’ and ‘Home Theater.’ This is a mysterious setting to most people, and some tend to opt for the larger choices like ‘Home Theater,’ assuming that they output higher quality audio. This is a misconception, and can make your game’s sound mix more difficult to understand on a Twitch broadcast. What Dynamic Range actually does is control the difference between the loudest sounds in a game and the quietest ones. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve ever tried to watch a Christopher Nolan movie like Tenet or Interstellar on headphones or a normal TV speaker, you’ve likely experienced just how much dynamic range can affect you. Nolan is notorious for using an extremely high dynamic range in his movies, and while this sounds great in a movie theater, watching these movies at home usually means that explosions are loud enough to bother your neighbors while dialogue is whisper quiet. And while your game’s settings may not be that severe, it’s still typically best to choose the ‘Headphones’ option. 

Persona 5 has a killer soundtrack, so maybe
keep the music all the way up for that one.

Then there are the individual sound settings. Most video games will give the option to tweak the volume levels of various types of sounds. The most common sliders you’ll see are for ‘Voice,’ ‘Effects’ and ‘Music,’ though some games have even more to choose from. Using these, you can optimize the audio for the kind of stream you’re trying to produce. If you want to play your own custom soundtrack during the game, turning the ‘Music’ slider all the way down will prevent the game’s own music from getting in the way of yours. If you don’t want to hear the grunts and yelps every time your character moves around or gets attacked in a multiplayer shooter, you can remove the ‘Voice’ track. I personally use these settings all the time in story-based singleplayer games by turning the ‘Effects’ and ‘Music’ sliders to about 80% while ‘Voice’ stays at 100%. This ensures that everyone can always hear what characters are saying, even when there’s a lot of action happening. One other useful setting to keep an eye out for is ‘Streamer Mode.’ This will automatically disable licensed music while you play the game, so you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble with copyrights.


There are a few settings which can help you have a smoother time in the games you play as well. Stream hiccups mean less entertainment for the viewers after all, and keeping your shows in good working order will also help with watchability. For PC players, especially those with multiple monitors, you may find a lot of use in the ‘Borderless Fullscreen’ display option, rather than normal ‘Fullscreen.’ This prevents the game from causing as many problems when you need to switch away from it to type in your chat, and can sometimes even help performance. 

Speaking of performance, it’s always good to make sure your graphics settings are appropriate. This applies to PC players, and even some console ones, as certain console games now have options like ‘Performance Mode’ and ‘Resolution Mode.’ Graphics settings will always be up to your personal preference, but sometimes you may be pulling more power from your machine than is required for the stream. For example, if your stream outputs at 720p, then it’s not necessarily as important to get every single pixel of detail from the game in the graphics settings. Even if it looks good on your 1080p monitor at home, the viewer isn’t really seeing the difference that some of these graphics settings make. But your machine may be dropping the game’s framerate due to those unnecessary settings. It’s sort of a ‘worst of both worlds’ scenario. Since streamers who aren’t Partnered often don’t get variable quality options on their streams, outputting at high resolutions like 1080p is typically only going to hurt your shows anyway. So if you want to take some pressure off your machine and your stream, try going for performance over resolution. It’ll make your games run smoother, and that definitely helps watchability. 


What I’ve described in this entry are some settings I’ve had success with at various points in my streaming career. But depending on which games you play, there will be other options available to tweak as well. Try taking some time to experiment with some of the tools at your disposal. Sometimes the simplest change can make a big difference. If you stream video games, the viewers will be seeing your game for most of the show. Why not do your best to make sure it looks and sounds as good as possible, by finding a few stream-friendly game settings? 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Don’t Panic: A Guide to Facing Stream Problems


It’s happened to all of us at some point. Everything’s set up, we’re ready to stream, and then suddenly we find out there’s an internet outage. Or we’re in the middle of a stream, and a part suddenly stops working. Or we turn on our PC before going live, only to find that it won't boot up. Problems both big and small are always going to be a part of the livestreaming experience. In past entries, I helped you to come up with solutions to various issues (including some of the ones mentioned above), and get into the mindset which will help you solve many more. But what about the exact moment when catastrophe strikes? There are so many thoughts and emotions running through your head in those few seconds when you see the screen go black, realize you’d forgotten to turn on your microphone, or accidentally corrupt your save file. It’s hard to keep yourself in check when something terrible or embarrassing happens. And that goes double if you’re in front of a live audience when it happens. So in this entry, we’re going to focus not on the solutions themselves, but on keeping a cool head when problems arise. That way, we’ll be better equipped to face any situation. 


So something bad just happened. Maybe you’re live on air, or maybe you’re sitting at your desk waiting to go live. No matter how bad it seems, just take a second and breathe. Remind yourself that it’s fixable. There’s no streaming problem that can’t be solved in some way. Maybe your broadcasts won’t immediately bounce back to 100% capacity, and maybe you’ll have to switch things up, but there will always be a way to go on with the show if you put your mind to it. In the entry Become a Solution-Oriented Streamer, I spoke about three totally different ways I’ve solved one of the worst problems a streamer can face: a lack of internet. There are all sorts of ways to attack any problem, and even though things might seem uncertain in that initial moment of catastrophe, you should remind yourself that it’s not so bad after all. 

Breathe in, and breathe out.

It’s also important to consider the people that might be around you. This includes those in your physical space, as well as the viewers in your chat. It sucks when something bad happens while you’re live, because that means everyone can see your mistake front and center. The combination of embarrassment and frustration can lead many streamers to fly off the handle. Smashing things and yelling can be entertaining when they’re done in good fun, but not when you’re genuinely upset. In such a scenario, the only people who will be entertained will be laughing at you, not with you. And after that kind of situation, you’re likely to regret whatever went down. So try to put things in perspective. Consider that your viewers want you to succeed. If they’re fans, they likely don’t mind that something went wrong, and would be willing to wait while you fix it. They’ll understand if you need to take the show down and come back later, or even change the show entirely while you come up with a solution. Keep in mind that you’re all on the same team. If fairweather viewers leave when things go wrong on the stream, there will always be others to take their place when you’re back to normal. But don't offend your fans. They're the ones who really care about you. So try not to get in your own head about what will happen to the show while you figure things out. Focus on yourself first. 

And if you are live when the problem occurs, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break while you cool your head. Send the stream to a ‘be right back’ screen if you have one, get out of your chair and just walk around for a bit. For those of us who can’t control our outbursts when problems occur, this particular technique will be especially useful. Give yourself a moment to calm down, and afterward you’ll be able to think about solutions in peace. 


When you’ve lived through a few problematic situations, you’ll start to have an easier time keeping your cool. But you’ll also have an opportunity to help your future self, by preventing repeat problems. Think about some of the things you’ve faced- even the ones that were completely out of your control at the time. Is there anything you can do to catch that issue early, or to create some new workflow which sidesteps the trouble altogether? In entries like Perfecting Your Pre-Stream Checklist, I helped you to set up a constantly improving system for your streams, which can help to further cut down on anything unexpected in the future. 

Geralt is a guy with plenty of problems to
deal with. But he takes them in stride.

Whatever issues you have, it’s good to remember that Twitch streams are fleeting. Any mistake you make today will be washed away tomorrow. And this concept compounds with experience. If you’ve only done five streams, this one botched episode may feel like a major stain on your reputation, but after your thousandth broadcast, it won’t seem like such a big deal. Just keep streaming, and keep learning. You’ll soon find that many of the biggest problems of last year don’t even register on your radar today. As I talked about in the entry Stream With No Complaints, allowing yourself to perceive every bump in the road as a major problem will only cause you to resent the act of streaming, because it'll feel like it's full of problems. But if you keep things in perspective, your worries will melt away. 


Ironically, while writing this very entry, I was preparing for a broadcast and my streaming PC met with the dreaded ‘blue screen of death.’ A terrible problem to have for a streamer, especially right at the moment of intending to go live. Even though I’ve used this entry’s techniques throughout the lifetime of my channel, this was a great opportunity to put everything into practice once again. And I’m glad to say that I did keep my cool. After plenty of troubleshooting, I found that I had to reinstall Windows, restore anything I could from backups, and set up all my software again. I didn’t lose hope at having a mostly-bricked computer, or lament all the time it would take to set everything back up. I simply took things in stride. So you’ll be glad to know that the anecdotes I mention in these entries aren’t all from the distant past. Nobody can completely prevent problems from occurring on their streams, no matter how prepared they are, or how much experience they’ve accumulated. All we can do is stay calm, collect ourselves, and get ready to face whatever challenges await. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Seeing Your Streams from the Outside

When you stream on Twitch for long enough, you begin to settle into a personal style. But most of us don’t stream without also watching the streams of others from time to time. And all those streams we watch are influenced by the streams their creators watch. And so on and so on. All this adds up to a certain status quo between Twitch streams. No matter how different two channels are, you’ll typically find several common points between them. And because everyone who engages with this podcast is usually deeply ingrained in the Twitch ecosystem, either as a streamer or as a viewer, it can be difficult to see our own streams with a truly objective eye. In previous entries, I’ve helped you to see your streams as a viewer might see them. But this time we’ll go even further- what does your content look like to someone who has never even watched a Twitch stream before? By breaking down some of the platform’s quirks, we’ll try to see our streams from the outside. 


On one level, the Twitch platform is a very intuitive experience. The website and its accompanying apps are all slickly produced, and anyone is able to find a game they like, choose a stream and begin watching within seconds. But there are many aspects to this experience that we often take for granted. The average Twitch stream’s visual layout is an explosion of light, color and graphics. Not even counting the game, there might be follower goals, death counters, chat messages popping up, emojis flying around the screen, and all kinds of scene changes. Much of the lingo is unfamiliar, and even sometimes unintuitive. What’s the difference between a follower and subscriber, for example? To us as streamers it’s obvious, but to a viewer who previously only watched on YouTube, these two words would seem to mean the same thing. Twitch stream titles can be almost impossible to read to the outside observer as well. What’s the exclamation point with a word after it? What are the numbers in brackets? A Twitch stream’s title often looks like a bootleg movie file you’d find on some sketchy website in the dark recesses of the internet. 

Yes, the Kappa is a real piece of Japanese
folklore. And it's kind of terrifying.

Then there’s the chat itself, where it can feel like the commenters are speaking in a completely different language. It quickly becomes clear to the new Twitch viewer that there are all sorts of connotations associated with the various emotes, but it’s not always immediately clear what those meanings are. Acronyms, abbreviations and various shorthand remarks are flying all around, and even more bafflingly, the streamer on screen might be speaking these words verbally. “Why is everyone casually mentioning a mythical Japanese river monster?” the new Twitch viewer thinks to themselves. “Or maybe they’re all in the same fraternity? Surely there must be some other ‘
kappa’ I’m not aware of. And I used to have some Pogs back in the 90’s, but why is everyone talking about them while playing Fortnite?” As you can imagine, when everyone on screen and in the chat seems to be in on some private lingo that this new viewer isn’t aware of, they’re likely to be pretty intimidated. 


“So yes,” you may be thinking to yourself, “Maybe watching Twitch streams is a bit daunting to someone who has never watched one before. But should I really be worrying about welcoming someone new onto the platform, when there are so many others out there who are already familiar with it? After all, I almost never get those kinds of uninitiated viewers in my own streams.” This may or may not be true, but you should take into consideration that you likely wouldn’t know either way. Because due to all the intimidating points mentioned above, I find that it’s common for those who have never watched Twitch streams before to avoid chatting. And because we don’t see them in chat, it’s easy to discount them. 

See your streams from the outside.

Over the years, I’ve heard from various extended family members, friends, friends of friends, and people who follow me on other platforms, that they tuned into my Twitch streams at various times, even naming the specific game I was playing or specific moments from the episodes they watched. Many of them don’t even have Twitch accounts. They were enjoying the content and showing support, but they simply weren’t chatting. I’m willing to bet that if you’ve been streaming for a while, many of the lurkers on your shows have been new to the platform as well. And then in past entries like Expanding Your Twitch Brand, I helped you to come up with interesting content for other social media platforms. But of course, any social media platform you’re cultivating to support your Twitch brand should ultimately be bringing in new viewers to your Twitch streams. If someone enjoyed your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter posts enough to come watch your stream live, it’s very possible that they’ve never actually been on Twitch before. So wouldn’t you want to make sure these viewers have a good first impression? 


In the entry Different Kinds of Viewer Engagement, I divided Twitch chatters into four categories. These ranged from the most active in chat, which I deemed Type A, through the ones who watch your show but never make it known, or Type D. Twitch newcomers will often fall into Type D or Type C. This means you’ll either never hear from them in chat, or they’ll say one or two things but quickly feel like they can’t keep up with everyone else, and recede into the background. Twitch streamers often focus most of their attention on Type A and B viewers, as they say the most in chat during a broadcast, but no one kind of viewer should be considered more important than another. Especially when you consider that even someone who never chats in your stream could still be recommending it to others. I’ve often heard from viewers who followed years earlier without ever chatting, that they’ve been avid viewers since they joined, and tell others to watch me whenever they get the chance. 

So think of your own streams. What aspects might be difficult to parse? And is there anything you can do to be more welcoming? Of course I’m not saying you need to stop doing things that cater to regular viewers, or that you need to overhaul everything about your shows just to make it work for platform newcomers. But it’s important to put yourself into the shoes of another. You might find that there are a few areas where you wouldn’t mind making the shows more approachable. Or that you’re able to respond with more patience to chatters who don’t know all the intricate steps of the Twitch chat dance. When you’re conscious of how confusing Twitch can be, you’ll be able to truly see your streams from the outside. And by doing that, you can welcome those viewers you never even knew you had.