Sunday, August 14, 2022

Changing Your Channel



If you’ve been listening to The Twitch Playbook from the beginning, you’ve probably noticed by now that a lot has changed. After all, it’s been over three and a half years since I started this podcast. Every week’s episode is bound to feature a slightly different version of me than you heard the week before. And when you juxtapose week 1 with 189, you see quite a big difference. Just as our experiences help us to grow in life, our experiences help us to grow on Twitch. We learn, we experiment, we fail at some things and we improve in others. And yet, we still keep certain core beliefs which define us. For example, despite all our adventures and misadventures in life, we all still (hopefully) hold in our hearts that it’s bad to cheat, lie, steal or kill. Now, on Twitch, you’re not going to have to contend with moral conundrums quite so grandiose (except maybe cheating- I’ll admit I had a GameShark for my PS1). You will however, need to identify which core beliefs are important to you and try to follow them. Without this kind of internal guidance, someone on Twitch, just as in life, may find themselves lost.



➢ BRINGING IN CHANGE


Looking back at some of the early episodes, there is still much about myself that I recognize. I had a rock-solid work ethic at the time, I cared deeply about finding what I wanted in streaming, and I wasn’t afraid to attempt unusual ideas, whether or not I saw immediate benefits. All of those traits have persisted to this day. But at the same time, looking back at those early podcast episodes I see a rougher version of myself- more rigid and a bit unhealthily committed to the craft. Oh, and I used to narrate the podcast really, really fast. But that’s not really related to what we’re talking about here- it just makes me cringe when listening to those old entries. 


Some of my ideas were good for a certain type of channel, but not for the one I ultimately ended up wanting to make. When I started The Twitch Playbook, I was on a path towards making Twitch my primary income source. This informed many of my decisions about the channel going forward. Because I wanted to grow my following as efficiently as I could, I would spend a lot of time raiding other channels, strategically choosing who and when to raid. I would also carefully plan out my games offering, making sure to have a variety that I could tailor to the amount of concurrent viewers watching a certain game at a certain time. Plus, I focused a lot on designing emotes, merch, and other purchasable items to support my channel. These are all great ideas, even to this day, for someone who wants to make a living off Twitch. 


I took Sonic's mantra of 'Gotta go fast!'
a little too far, and I paid for it.

I took it a bit too far in places though. In the first episode of the podcast, I proudly talked about sleeping for four hours per night in order to advance my dream. I also spent so much time streaming during that part of my life that I ruined some of my closest relationships. I would often be late to appointments, dinners, or other engagements because my stream went long, or because I lost track of time in a raid after my show. I would sometimes be like a ghost outside of my streams, distracted by thinking about what big idea I was going to try next. And though I’d never say it, I often gave the impression to many around me that time spent off Twitch was time wasted. I was not a very well-rounded person at that time, to say the least. 


I knew something had to change, but I struggled for a while to figure out what it was. I saw that the life I’d created was damaging me in some ways, but at the same time I felt I needed to keep hustling if I was going to make Twitch my sole revenue stream. Eventually, I saw the problem. Even in those early episodes I had already reached some of my realizations about where I wanted my content to go. I would speak proudly about breakthroughs where I was able to express myself more on stream, and dare to do less entertaining (but more authentic) things with the games I played. I wanted to move my streams closer to the way I really play video games, but I also wanted to make it into a job. After a while, I started to ask myself why I felt I needed streaming to be my main revenue source. I already made good enough money from the video production work I did outside of streaming, and I liked doing it. Plus, I was starting to begrudge all the time I had to spend doing monetization-related things, which didn’t really contribute to any of the aspects I enjoyed about being on Twitch.


So I turned off all monetization on my channel. I worked to figure out how I could live off of my work outside Twitch, and instead treat streaming as something that only brought me enjoyment. This was a huge burden removed from my back. I no longer had to cater to anyone, and there were no expectations about anything I did, because I didn’t accept anyone’s money. Since I didn’t focus on growth anymore, I also no longer raided other channels. I even turned off incoming raids, which allowed me to focus more on the games I was playing rather than always playing to a crowd. When removing all the constraints of money, I found I was able to be a lot more generous with my time outside my channel as well. I could take more vacations, and do more things I wanted to do with the people I wanted to do them with. It wasn’t like flipping a light switch- I still had to work to build up my new lifestyle- but this change definitely facilitated the improvement.


All of this is not to say that monetization on a Twitch channel is bad in general. It could be great for your stream. The point is that I found that my priorities on Twitch were pulling in two directions. I wanted my streams to feel less and less like work, but I was simultaneously turning them more and more into work. It just didn’t make sense for what I was trying to do. And I’m ultimately much happier for making the change. 



PROTECTING VALUES


In the entry Your Content Should Make You Happy, I focused on a particular issue that I’ve wrestled with in the recent year or so: specifically, this podcast getting bigger than I expected it to. I like to write about my own experiences in the Twitch streaming world, but my interest in the subject ends there. I don’t like the idea of offering direct one-on-one advice to others. Since I disclose my Twitch channel to podcast listeners in the outro to each episode however, that means fans of The Twitch Playbook now enter my streams almost every day. Some may be surprised to find that I don’t offer advice, or even allow viewers to talk about their own channels. I’m always delighted to hear that people find the podcast so helpful, but there’s no aspect of my actual Twitch streams which act as a ‘next chapter’ in The Twitch Playbook experience. I make livestreams, and I like to write about making livestreams. It ends there. 


Street Fighter is a great example of
managing change. There are new
things in every game, but its core
stays the same. 

What I’ve described above is an instance where I have to fight to keep the channel from changing too much from my vision. Now, that may seem completely antithetical to what I mentioned before about having to change things on a channel. But balance is key. It’s all about identifying what’s really important to you, and keeping the content close to those values. I like to appreciate the stories in video games, talk about movies, and work on art projects. Nowadays, a huge amount of people enter my streams with no interest in watching any of the things I actually stream, but know me only as someone who might be able to help them with their streams. With a new group of followers like that, one could imagine I’d start listening to the problems of other Twitch streamers, looking at their channels, and offering my advice. Would this probably help to grow my content? Yes, it’s very likely that it would. But would any of those things help me to appreciate video game stories, talk about movies, or work on art projects? No. Therefore, I don’t do them. This is an instance where it’s taken a lot of willpower to keep my channel from veering off in a direction I don’t want it to go. 



FIND WHAT’S IMPORTANT


The changes I’ve made on my channel didn’t happen overnight. The changes I’ve decided not to make on my channel didn’t happen overnight either. These are decisions which took me months, or even years in some cases, to come up with. And in that time, I went through all sorts of experiments to inch closer to the answer. What’s important on your channel? What’s important in your life? Is your stream guiding you toward those important things, or are you putting them on hold for the time being, because of your streams? Whether you need to do something new, or find the strength to keep something as it is, stay on top of changes to your channel. 


Monday, August 8, 2022

Let Twitch Further Your Goals



Throughout The Twitch Playbook, I’ve described several instances in which I improved my overall quality of life, and even achieved major life goals, because of my Twitch channel. In the recent entry Make Your Masterpiece on Stream, I described my biggest Twitch-inspired accomplishment yet: illustrating and publishing my own book, as well as narrating the audiobook version. But how did I get into this whole literary racket? Mostly, I allowed Twitch to further my life goals. 



➢ MAKING SPARKS


I should start off by setting something straight. This whole process was not planned out from the beginning. When we look back at all the small achievements and ideas from the present, it may seem obvious that my trajectory was leading toward illustrating a book and publishing audiobooks. But this always seems like the case when looking back. From within the moment, there’s no guarantee of what’s going to happen. And I didn’t have any grand designs for where I was going, either. I simply followed my passions and allowed myself to enjoy the ride. I think this is an important thing to take away from this whole process as you learn more about this part of my story. You don’t necessarily need to come up with grand plans and keep grinding until you reach your goals. All you really need is to follow your genuine interests, and maintain the ability to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. 


I streamed all the Red Dead games
as a cowboy character.

In the entry
Let Your Streaming Passions Guide You in Life, I described my process in first becoming an audiobook narrator. Having long been a fan of podcasts, and then eventually graduating to audiobooks, that love started bubbling to the surface in my content. My channel always revolved around my voice (it’s called ‘The Voice of Nick,’ after all), but that concept took many forms. In the beginning, that name was merely a reference to the fact that viewers found the sound of my voice soothing during my shows. Then, as I mentioned in the entry Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself on Stream, I created a feature on my channel where I would invent original characters to appear on the broadcasts. These became so numerous that one dedicated viewer even built a custom Wiki to chronicle them! Later, I’d go so far as to play entire games in-character. Eventually, I toned down the custom characters and instead focused on reading the books and other written material I’d find in video games while I was playing them. I would essentially do miniature audiobook narrations for tomes I’d pick up in The Witcher, or item descriptions in Bloodborne. 


I loved this aspect of my streams so much that it led me to do a whole other podcast, which I called Books in Games, in which I’d narrate the books found in video games. I would release a new snippet from a game every day which, when combined, would form into a full audiobook of that game’s written side content. And of course, there’s The Twitch Playbook, which I’ve always written, polished and narrated in the audiobook style. Whether on stream or off, I clearly had an interest in the field of narration. 



STARTING A FIRE


A few months into the Books in Games project, I started to wonder: what’s stopping me from actually just narrating audiobooks? I had a mic, I clearly knew how to narrate, and I even had experience editing. Could it be that hard to find a book on store shelves that needed narration? Turns out there’s a whole platform built for those asking the exact same question! Audible, the leading audiobook sales platform, has its own backend service which links narrators to authors and lets them create audiobooks together. On this service, called ACX, narrators create a page with sample clips, audition for projects they find interesting, and then have total power to reject or accept the offers that come their way. I didn’t know much about making a full-length audiobook, but I was confident I could do it. 


I scoured the lists of books looking for narrators, built a list of ones I liked, and decided I’d audition for one project per day. The skillset I’d cultivated in making the Books in Games podcast (and by extension, the Twitch streams that inspired that project) really allowed me to stick to this regimen. I also populated my narrator page with things I had done related to my Twitch channel: a few different character accents from Books in Games, along with a Twitch Playbook episode as an example of general narration. After a few weeks of auditions, I signed a contract to work on my first audiobook. I actually enjoyed that experience so much that I re-upped two more times with the same author to do a whole trilogy! 



THE FIRE SPREADS


My new project was all Greek mythology.

My next audiobook project was much more ambitious. I took on the role of publisher and narrator of a text edition of a book, as well as its audiobook counterpart, all myself. The process of undertaking this massive project is laid out in detail in the above-mentioned entry Make Your Masterpiece on Stream. One of the things that I find fascinating about that project though, is the way that my failed or discontinued Twitch ideas led me to eventually be able to create this new thing. In the entry Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream, I spoke about how I always try to stream whatever out-there ideas pop into my head. If it interests me, it doesn’t matter if I think anyone will watch, or if I’ve seen other streamers do it before, I just try it and see how it feels. This philosophy led me toward several quirky stream concepts, some of which I quickly abandoned, others I continued doing for a while, and a few that have survived to this day. When publishing my book, two of these more out-there ideas made contributions so large that I don’t think it would have been possible without them. 


First, my editing streams played a part in making the audiobook. A few years ago, I had a short-lived satellite YouTube project, separate from my main YouTube where I keep stream archives. On this second channel, I would create vlogs and video essays about games I liked. Then, because it’s me, I used to turn the making-of process into streams. Every day, on top of my three daily livestreams, I’d also do a fourth stream in which I edited the newest video for that YouTube channel in Adobe Premiere. Now, I’m a professional video editor, and I already knew how to edit, but I had never edited live on a broadcast before- nor had I ever seen someone else do it. Regardless, I kept doing it for about six months, until I lost interest in making those kinds of YouTube videos. I quietly moved on from that project when it ran its course, like I had with so many other ideas. 


Cut to this past year, when I was making the audiobook version of this new book I was publishing. I had all the rights, and quickly realized I could resurrect that old editing stream, but instead to livestream my audio editing. Many audiobook listeners may not realize that narrations aren’t simply recorded in one smooth take. There’s actually a huge amount of editing that happens in post-production. And that goes double for my story, full of hundreds of ancient Greek names which I had to meticulously verify while recording. So I subsidized the colossal amount of work hours by streaming the audio editing process. My old abandoned YouTube editing concept, which might have been considered a failed stream, suddenly turned into a critical piece of this new project. 


Hopefully my art didn't look like the
Harry Potter PS1 graphics.

In the previously mentioned entry Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream, I developed a show concept where I would color in a coloring book whenever I traveled away from home. As someone who studied art throughout his life until junior year of college, I enjoyed doing this stream a lot. When I got an iPad, this concept eventually evolved into learning digital art. Then, when it came time to create my book, I was able to experiment with doing my own illustrations. This bloomed into a full-fledged feature of the book, and in the published edition there are not only pieces of artwork for each individual chapter, but also access to the playlist of stream archives, which collects the 250+ episodes in which I painted those images live on my Twitch channel. My book is the first I’ve ever heard of which includes its own making-of featurettes. The art streams, a long-running, ever-evolving feature of my channel, became a critical point in publishing my book as well. 



KEEP THE FIRE BURNING


You never know where your streaming journey is going to take you. For me, I achieved many different life milestones, each bigger and more unexpected than the last, simply by experimenting, failing, and staying creative on my Twitch channel. Imagine what wonders you could be creating a few years down the line, if you take a similar approach to your content. If you let Twitch further your goals, there’s no telling what can happen. 


Friday, July 29, 2022

Streaming from Your Mobile Device



In the recent entry Travel with an IRL Streaming Backpack, I spoke about buying, renting or building an all-in-one solution for streaming on the go. But this is a very advanced piece of equipment, which I really only recommend to those who have done a good deal of IRL streaming in the past, and plan to do a lot of IRL streaming in the future. Isn’t there a way to livestream your morning walk, or your trip to a restaurant, without making such a commitment? 


Why yes, yes there is! In this entry we’re going to explore a very simple (and free!) way to stream your adventures in life, by using the smartphone or tablet you already own. And on top of IRL streaming, I have a few excellent options for beginner video game streamers using these methods as well. 



➢ THE REAL WORLD 


Any smartphone or tablet could become
your next streaming device.

Going live from your phone or tablet is a very simple process. Just like when using a PC, all you need is a piece of streaming software and an internet connection. For iOS and Android there are several good options for accomplishing this, but the one I’ve been using for the past few years is the
Streamlabs mobile app. This is the same company which makes all sorts of streaming widgets, layouts and tools, as well as the excellent Streamlabs OBS software for Windows. As one might expect from such a developer, their app for phones and tablets is similarly feature-rich. You can set up various output settings for different kinds of connections, multistream through the app itself or a custom RTMP, add custom widgets to your shows, build overlays, see your chat and view count in realtime, and monitor recent follows, hosts and raids. To be honest, using this mobile app you have almost all the same possibilities as on your stream at home. 


If you want to do IRL streaming through the app, it will harness your phone’s front or back camera, in either horizontal or vertical mode. This means you can hold the phone in front of you while walking down the street to show a POV shot, and then flip it around to your face at the touch of a button to show yourself talking to chat. I’ve done this kind of stream several times when I was in interesting locations, and it works great. It’s also perfect for when you eat at a restaurant. You can either prop the phone up against something, or get a cheap little mini-tripod on Amazon (usually around $10) to show either your food itself or your face while eating. I’ve had a lot of fun doing restaurant and cafe streams with my phone, and doing so has helped me to discover a lot of cool new places I hadn’t visited before. 


Now, using your phone for IRL streaming does have its drawbacks. Depending on your carrier plan, you’ll need to keep an eye on how much you’re streaming. Unless you’ve got unlimited data, you could find yourself facing overages if you’re not careful. Letting your phone run the stream also poses the logistical concern of not being able to use your phone for anything else. This can be tricky when traveling, as you might want to look up directions to where you’re going, or reviews for restaurants and attractions before getting there. And while I can’t speak to Android capabilities, iOS will pause the broadcast if I switch to another app. It would also flat-out end the entire show if I got a phone call during the stream. Lastly, you should keep in mind that, just like with a PC, the mobile device’s performance comes into play when streaming. Adding too many widgets or overlay elements can make the stream lag or crash, depending on your phone or tablet model. All these concerns are minor however, when you consider what you’re getting. This is an incredibly powerful resource for IRL livestreaming, and it’s likely you already own all the hardware you need to get started. It’s tough to beat a deal like that!



SCREEN TO SCREEN


On top of IRL streaming, there’s another feature I’ve personally gotten a lot of use out of on my phone and tablet. Using the Streamlabs app (as well as several of the others) you can actually broadcast whatever appears on your phone or tablet screen directly to Twitch. This has been incredibly useful for me personally. Whenever I’m out of town, I do all my non-IRL shows like this. Instead of setting up my laptop to broadcast my streams, or going live from a phone pointing at the iPad (a workaround I unfortunately had to use for a while), I can simply do all my streaming directly from my iPad. My daily Duolingo show goes live from a Google Chrome window, and the artwork I make comes straight from iPad Photoshop. Remember all the book illustrations I described creating in the entry Make Your Masterpiece on Stream? Those were all done straight from my iPad too! I’ve even streamed video games using iPad screen capture, complete with a PS4 controller that I keep in my luggage. It’s like having a miniature stream PC on vacation or business trips. 


There are lots of popular mobile games 
out there for you to stream.

This screen recording feature can also be extremely helpful for those wanting to get into streaming for the first time. It’s a great way to start broadcasting without needing a console, PC, or any other kind of equipment. Even if you have no interest in the portability aspect, you can go live straight from your phone or tablet with only a few button presses, using your home WiFi, without paying for anything at all. 


On top of that, I’ve seen other streamers use the screen recording feature in lots of creative ways. Someone with a streaming backpack for example, can use their phone’s screen as a secondary camera for an IRL broadcast. This would allow them to show themselves playing a mobile game waiting for a bus near their house or while standing in line at a ramen shop in Tokyo. 



ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES


As you can see, going live from a mobile device can be useful for all types of streamers, throughout the full range of skill levels. Whether you’re an absolute beginner, a seasoned expert or anything in between, you’re bound to find something that can come in handy. Plus, there’s no risk- it doesn’t cost anything to set up. So consider adding a new dimension to your livestreams. Take that phone or tablet and make something amazing! 


Friday, July 22, 2022

Setting Up Pre-Stream Automation



In previous entries, I’ve spoken about how I create habits and systems to facilitate the streaming process. Entries like Creating a Pre-Stream Checklist explored my method of defining what I need to get a stream started, and then following that script to the letter every time I go live. There are many items that may appear on a pre-stream checklist. Some are physical, like turning on lights or cameras. Others occur in software, like getting your scenes calibrated and opening necessary apps. Finally, you prepare and format various aspects of your show on the internet. In this entry, I’m going to detail my specific process in tackling this last step, and how I’ve improved my stream prep by a large margin by using some simple shortcuts. 


Turn your setup process into an 
assembly line.

By automating this part of the pre-stream process, I’ve been able to make my content higher quality, cut down on production prep time, and significantly reduce errors all in one stroke. If you’ve only created a handful of streams so far, the technique I’m about to describe may sound like overkill. But after your hundredth or thousandth stream, you’ll grow to appreciate anything that can get your shows onto the air faster, with fewer errors. And though my specific order of operations isn’t going to magically work for your channel’s content, I guarantee that if you take the internal logic of my decisions to heart and create your own custom automation steps, you’ll start to see better results on your channel within only a few broadcasts. 



➢ GOING LIVE


When getting ready to do a show, before setting up OBS or even opening my game, I execute my initial pre-stream setup. This all occurs on a set of Google Chrome tabs, in which I title the episode, choose its Twitch category, prepare it for multistreaming (I go live to Twitch and YouTube simultaneously), add any necessary other details, and open the two monitoring windows I use to keep an eye on the stream’s status and chat. 


This is all done in the same exact way, and in the same exact order, every single time. In Google Chrome, I have a ‘Pre-Stream’ folder in my Bookmarks Bar, with every page I’ll need to visit saved in chronological order. By simply choosing to open the entire folder at once (you can do this by middle mouse clicking the folder itself), Chrome will instantly populate my browser with every tab I need to set up my show. I can then close each tab as I finish its corresponding task, and when they’re all gone I know the show is ready. This turns pre-stream formatting, usually a swirl of things to remember and possible mistakes to make, into a simple assembly line process. It lifts a huge burden from the mind. Here are all the tabs I use when setting up my show, and what I use them for: 


  1. Twitch Video Producer - I use this screen, which shows all my previous broadcasts, to copy the name of the most recent episode of whichever game I’m going to play. A simple step, but an important one. 

  2. YouTube Studio Live Dashboard - Here, I choose the YouTube Stream Key that I’ve set up for my show (which for some reason on YouTube needs to be selected every time you go live) and paste the title of the episode into the broadcast’s info. All my episodes of a game are numbered, so I make sure to increase that number and remove any extra formatting from the previous episode title. I change the hashtag in the description, set a general ‘Going Live’ thumbnail I’ve created, choose which game-specific playlist the episode will be on, set the game title in YouTube’s category section, and paste in a set of appropriate tags. All this ensures that most of the formatting work for my YouTube archive is finished before the stream even begins. 

  3. Restream Dashboard - I use this step for a few simple yet necessary tasks. First, YouTube’s ‘Event’ (a pre-made set of show info, which contains everything we set up in the previous tab) needs to be enabled every time a stream goes live or it’ll default to a generic title, so I enable the event that I set up in the second tab. This step is also a nice way to check that I didn’t miss anything while setting up the info. Then I select the new show title I’ve created and copy it, so we can bring it to: 

  4. Twitch Stream Manager - Here I paste in the episode title I copied from the YouTube show, and I set the Twitch category. 

  5. Twitch Chat Popout Window, Twitch Stream Manager - These final two tabs are both meant to be used at once. I have three monitors on my PC, so I play the game on the center screen, open the Twitch Chat Popout Window on the left, and the Twitch Stream Manager on the right. This allows me to check various stats, along with chat messages, during the broadcast. Once these windows are placed on my two satellite monitors, I can move into opening the game and setting up OBS.


That’s the process. Those six tabs are opened automatically, in a specific sequence, every time I get ready to set up my show. I always address them in the exact order they’ve been opened, because I’ve meticulously worked out that order for maximum efficiency over the years. You’ll notice that it even opens Twitch four separate times. This is meant to discourage me from needing to think in this setup stage, to instead simply follow the plan I’ve already laid out. Each tab with a Twitch window is used for a different purpose, at a different stage of the process. I don’t leave old tabs open and go back to them, or click to different screens within the same tab. I close a tab when its specific task is complete, and move down the line. There is much less room for error when I don’t need to think about where to navigate next. 


I’m very proud of this quality of life improvement in my Twitch channel, because the time saved compounds over the many streams I’ve done. Remember, I’ve broadcast over 6,000 livestreams on my channel at this point. Any time saving method is going to make a huge difference when extrapolated to such a scale, and this particular method saves more time than most. 



STAYING INQUISITIVE


There's always room for iteration in 
any strategy. 

Having said that, I still don’t consider this configuration of pre-stream setup tabs to be perfect. There’s always room for improvement, and I try to keep an open mind. Even in the last few months, I’ve added an extra tab with the YouTube Studio Live Dashboard at the end, so I can monitor that stream along with Twitch. In the past few years, I’ve also added another set of simple tabs on my separate streaming PC, which automatically opens the Google speed testing tool to test my connection before every show, as well as Restream’s monitoring software so I can see what the show is doing before it reaches Twitch. This last step is important for me, because it allows me to see at a glance whether an issue or outage is caused by my broadcast, or by the Twitch platform receiving the broadcast. 


This whole process is one of the biggest time-saving and accident-preventing improvements I’ve made to my channel over its lifetime. With the setup stage down to a science I can think about more important things, like making a good Twitch stream, without worrying about whether I’ve forgotten something along the way. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve refined this workflow over the course of thousands of my own broadcasts, and it works specifically for the content that I make. Simply copying what I do won’t work for your own shows. But if you come up with your own set of steps, you’ll see an improvement very quickly. So try setting up some pre-stream automation on your channel. Your shows will thank you for it. 


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Travel with an IRL Streaming Backpack



In the entry How to Stream While Traveling Anywhere, I talked about my most recent trip to Tokyo, Japan, and how I was able to go live my usual three times per day, seven days a week, even from my vacation. I spoke about preparing for the trip beforehand, figuring out what kind of content to make, and talking with my traveling companions to see what they were comfortable with. These are all extremely important concerns, but what I didn’t cover in that entry is the kind of equipment I used during my trip to get the most out of the experience. In this entry, we’ll talk about just that: traveling with an IRL streaming backpack. 


Tokyo is a very photogenic place.

On the outside, an IRL streaming backpack just looks like a regular backpack. But inside, it’s filled with a few key pieces of equipment: a camera, one or more pocket WiFi units, and several portable chargers to power all your devices (as well as a whole bunch of cables). It’s basically an all-in-one accessory to let you go live for several hours at a time, often hands-free with a shoulder mount, while staying connected to the internet much more reliably than with a normal phone plan. This is very useful when traveling, because you can use your phone while streaming to look up directions or read chat, and the internet signal comes from a separate SIM card, so you aren’t wasting your phone’s data to make the broadcast. 



➢ CHOOSE YOUR PATH


Like with many pieces of equipment, there are three main ways to get your hands on an IRL streaming backpack: rent, buy or build. No matter what option you go with, this thing is going to be pretty expensive. There are many different kinds, and prices vary, so I’ll use rough pricing equivalents rather than hard figures to describe each. 


First, you can just buy a streaming backpack outright. The Gunrun Backpack is probably the premiere choice, and it’ll require next to no setup when it arrives at your door, but that convenience comes with a price. Just to get the backpack itself will cost you roughly what you’d pay for a high-end games PC, and the various subscriptions you’ll need to get the thing connected to the internet can set you back the price of a new game console every month. This is beyond prohibitively expensive for most of us who don’t make huge amounts of money from our streams, especially if IRL streaming is something we only want to do once in a while. But, if you have the money this is a very easy, stable and high-end way to get the job done. 


The Gunrun Backpack is a sleek and
high-end solution, but it'll cost you.

You can also rent streaming backpacks, complete with everything all set up, for set amounts of time. For my Tokyo trip, I rented a Gunrun Backpack from the service
UnlimitedIRL. This wasn’t cheap either- two weeks with the backpack cost me about as much as the plane ticket I used to get to Tokyo, but it was a relief not to have to worry about setting things up. Recently UnlimitedIRL seems to only be accepting limited amounts of rentals, but they’re a great choice if you can get your hands on a booking and don’t want to commit to owning. 


Finally, you could always build your own. When I was looking into streaming backpacks for that Tokyo trip back in 2019, this was also a prohibitively expensive option. No matter how cheap you made the equipment, you couldn’t really get around the astronomical subscription costs for the data, tethering, cloud servers and other services required to actually get the signal to Twitch. But recently, that’s all changed. 



DO IT YOURSELF


This year, after publishing my book about the Trojan War, I decided the best way to celebrate would be a trip to Greece. It was my first major trip since Tokyo three years prior, and after seeing how much it would cost to rent a streaming backpack again, I figured I’d check for alternate options. To my surprise, a few key discoveries were made in the three years since I was last in the market, which allow someone to build an entire streaming backpack, with no monthly fees required, all for less than the price I paid for my two week rental in Tokyo. All of a sudden, owning an IRL streaming backpack has become a very realistic option. 


The main concept of this affordable IRL solution, pioneered by the Twitch streamer SprEEEzy, is that it sidesteps the few ultra-expensive bottlenecks of the traditional streaming backpack. It uses a slightly less stable, but exponentially more affordable means of connecting to the internet (cutting out one of the major subscription fees), and compensating for that lower connectivity with better video compression algorithms. Then, by using your home PC as a remote relay for the broadcast itself, you cut out the other major subscription cost that would normally be required. This means that with just one prepaid data SIM card (easily attainable anywhere, though I had good success with the Japanese service iVideo) you can go live with pretty good stability, and have no other costs outside of the initial purchase of the equipment itself. For more information about the tech details behind this kit, you can find an excellent series of walkthrough videos on SprEEEzy’s YouTube channel. 


The main caveat with this route, just like when building a PC, is that you need to put the whole thing together yourself. That means a lot of patience, reading, iteration, sending back defective or incorrect parts, and experimenting with software settings. It's not going to magically work overnight, but if you’re like me and enjoy this sort of challenge every once in a while, you shouldn’t have too many problems. Plus, SprEEEzy has a very helpful Discord community where you can ask questions. 



SHARE YOUR ADVENTURE


Taken from my IRL backpack, at
the Acropolis of Athens.

Having built my streaming backpack, and having taken the time to really make sure everything worked before leaving, my Greece trip went incredibly well. In addition to streaming, I knew I’d also be traveling to ancient ruins, going to museums, and generally visiting a lot of places that wouldn’t have internet connectivity no matter what kind of data plan I used. So I invested in an SD card for local storage on the backpack’s camera. That way, I could easily switch between doing live shows and recorded shows without interrupting the fun or authenticity of my travel experience. Using this combination method, I was able to do
28 separate IRL episodes from my vacation, all with minimal worry. Many of my favorite historical sites, restaurants and other locations were discovered while walking around during the shows, and the backpack was so low profile that I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb on the street or in restaurants, bothering everyone around me. 


Building a streaming backpack is still a significant purchase, however. So it’s important to only go down this route if you’re sure you’ll get use out of it. I personally already had experience using an IRL backpack from my trip to Japan, and I had done many streams before that just from my iPhone. If you’re interested in becoming an IRL streamer, I would recommend (as I always do in Twitch Playbook entries) to go with the cheapest option first. Assuming you have a decent phone data plan, you can go live directly from the phone in your pocket without paying anything at all. Give that a try a few times, and see if IRL streaming is something you actually enjoy doing. If you think it’ll be worth taking the leap, then this affordable backpack solution by SprEEEzy is a great way to go. If you have more money to burn and don’t want to put things together yourself, you can always buy or rent pre-made kits. Whether you go live from your doorstep or from a city across the globe, a streaming backpack can turn that trip into an adventure not just for you, but for your audience as well. 


Sunday, July 10, 2022

Growth Check-In: Keep Your Streams Going



When learning about Twitch streaming, most people want to know about the glamourous stuff. How do you make your channel grow faster? Can you get the streams to look more professional? What can you say to make your chat more engaged? How do you make money? These are all very useful topics, and I’ve covered them all several times in the past. But the most important subject for a Twitch streamer is one that new content creators usually don’t think about: keeping your habit alive


This simple subject, despite being less popular (and probably less interesting), is the one we come up against the most often on Twitch. Our channels are constantly under attack. And the enemy is within ourselves. For any number of reasons, you will see streamers begin to falter in their broadcast regularity, until eventually they take long breaks and then give up altogether. In this growth check-in entry we’ll look back at a few of the recent Twitch Playbook tips dealing with this topic. If you utilize the advice within, I’m confident you’ll be able to keep your streams going for that much longer. 



➢ FIND YOUR INSPIRATION


The easiest way to stick to a habit is to truly love what you’re doing. When you’re excited to go live each day, you’ll feel much less friction when preparing to do your broadcast. Many streamers however, confuse loving what they’re doing with loving the attention they get from what they’re doing. Both of these can help you keep going, but only the former can propel you even through the worst of times. If you’re confused as to which motivating factor is driving your stream, ask yourself the following question: If your channel never grew, and every broadcast had zero viewers, would you still enjoy what you're doing? In entries like Streaming For Yourself, I spoke about how even positive feedback like channel growth or chat activity can skew your view of your own content, and potentially stunt your overall enjoyment of the craft. 


Keep your habit afloat.

Now, what if you really do end up in a slump like I described above? Whether it’s your viewership, chat engagement, or performance while playing games that are inexplicably drying up, you might find that this recession in momentum starts to erode your will to stream. These spans of decreased activity on a Twitch channel are the most common reasons a streamer might throw in the towel. Don’t let a temporary setback become a permanent failure. In the entry
Survive the Streaming Doldrums, I spoke about how you can overcome your reliance on the fickle ‘winds’ of outside factors, and instead use the self-propulsion of a strong creative vision to drive your channel forward. 


No matter how passionate and driven you are about streaming however, you will still have your off days. You might wake up to find that your confidence is simply drained, or your computer is suddenly having problems. These things can’t be predicted or prevented, but they can be planned for. In the entry Stream With the Hand You’re Dealt, I compared Twitch streaming to playing an eternal game of poker. Each day the cards might be good or bad, but even in the worst scenario you can protect your interests. And sometimes, in streaming as in poker, you can have major success even with a terrible hand. 



SETTING UP SYSTEMS


It helps to create smaller routines for yourself within your streaming habit. A few interlocking micro-habits working in concert can do wonders for keeping a larger habit alive. The entry Cut Down on Stream Errors will help you to break down your most troublesome weaknesses and prevent you from falling into various creative traps. Creating a Pre-Stream Checklist will help you to automate the setup time before your show begins, ensuring that you don’t forget or botch any of the steps. Strengthen Your Twitch Habits goes into detail about how to retrain your brain to replace any bad habit with a good one. All of these things involve solving small problems on a Twitch channel, but you’d be surprised how much these improvements can help your overall streaming habit. When you often make little mistakes, that embarrassment and frustration can keep compounding until you don’t want to stream anymore. Being able to go live without worries removes all that friction. 


More ingredients doesn't always mean 
a better dish. 

Finally, in the recent entry Build a Better Streaming Habit, I talked about how implementing good ideas at the wrong time can be very harmful to a Twitch channel, especially for new streamers. We can get overly ambitious, whether we’re trying to implement daily or weekly show concepts, widgets and plugins for our chat’s enjoyment, raffles and contests, or other features we think might help our channels. None of these are bad ideas in themselves, but they can bring harmful results if you’re biting off more than you can chew. Just because something can be implemented doesn’t always mean it should. Each feature we add to our Twitch channels attaches baggage to our streams. If you add too much, you may not be able to carry that weight each time you go live. 



STAY IN THE GAME


Being a Twitch streamer means constantly trying to stop yourself from giving up. This isn’t what most prospective streamers want to hear (and many won’t even believe it until they’ve streamed themselves), but it’s the reality that everyone should hear. If you can keep your broadcasting habit going, even if you don’t do anything special to improve your content as you go, you’ll already be doing better than the majority of other streamers to ever grace the platform. The most common Twitch channel is a flash in the pan- a lot of big ideas and excitement in the beginning, only to disappear as quickly as it came. Instead, aim to keep your flame alive for years to come, and build something that stands the test of time.