Friday, January 11, 2019

Start Your Twitch Channel with NO MONEY

There's one critical moment any would-be Twitch streamer faces, and that's the proverbial 'blank page.' You've made up your mind, you're going to dive into streaming, or at least to dip your toe into the water, but where do you start? You don't have a capture card or a high end PC, you don't have a camera or fancy microphone on a jib arm like you see so many of your favorite channels using. Even the decision about which piece of equipment to buy first can be enough to make you sigh and put streaming off until that fatal and nebulous day called "someday." Don't get caught in this trap. (And while you're at it, never use the term "someday" to describe anything you plan on doing, at least not if you ever plan on actually doing it. But that's a story for another post.)

Here's an important thought for anyone who is burdened with the idea of launching their channel:

Start doing it. Right now. Without buying any equipment.

It's really that simple. You don't need the professional cameras, capture cards, microphones, or newest games to get your start. The secret? When you start your Twitch channel, it's likely that nobody will be watching. Many might see this as a disheartening concept, but I find it very liberating.


I've always been fascinated by tech companies, their strategies for growth, and the trials they faced on their way to greatness. As it turns out, the world of the Silicon Valley startup harbors one of the most important pieces of advice I've ever encountered for tackling creative (or even personal) endeavors:

MVP: Minimum Viable Product.

If you've seen The Social Network, you know that Facebook
started humbly as a tool for college students.
The idea of a minimum viable product is to start with as simple, barebones, almost intentionally ugly of a product as possible, and move up from there. As long as the MOST BASIC idea of the product is in place, customers can give their honest opinion of the product itself without being distracted by its bells and whistles, and the company can change their course accordingly. Because they didn't waste their money and time perfecting the look of their app, marketing it to every demographic, or throwing some lavish launch party, they can pivot almost everything about their company with minimal financial loss. I guarantee you've NEVER used the MVP version of any successful app you currently use, but for months or even YEARS before you or any of your friends discovered Facebook, Snapchat, Uber or Paypal, they were fine-tuning their product in front of as few people as possible. Being in front of a minuscule audience is a huge advantage.

To translate this to Twitch: I know you want to make a gloriously high-def, stylishly designed stream with freakishly skilled gameplay, but starting this way is not only unnecessary- it actually HURTS your channel's growth. At the end of the day, I don't care what kind of Twitch streamer you are, the "product" you're trying to "sell" isn't any of that stuff. It's you. You're the product. Not because you're asking people to pay you (though that will come into play once you're an Affiliate or Partner) but simply by asking people to spend time watching your stream. Do not underestimate how precious it is to have a single viewer choose to watch your stream for ANY length of time. They could be watching THOUSANDS of other channels, but they chose yours. They're not doing that because of your fancy camera or your mind-blowing sound quality. Not even the skill level- there's always someone more skilled than you are at any game they could be watching. They're watching your channel because they like watching YOU.

It's your unique flair that makes people watch your stream.
Don't value the technical stuff over your own worth.


With this in mind, the most important thing you can do if you're trying to start streaming is to DO IT. Test the waters. Before people start watching. Do you have a PS4 or Xbox One? Use their built-in Twitch integration. Have a PC? Do a stream using OBS (free software) and play one of your games for a bit. Have a headset with a microphone, a built-in laptop mic, a mic lying around for some reason? Plug that in and talk on your stream. Don't have any of those? Download the Twitch iPhone or Android app and stream from your phone camera just talking about your day. Don't advertise on your Facebook or Twitter that you're going live just to boost your own ego. Don't pick a great title, don't perfect your resolution or bitrate settings, don't do anything except BE LIVE ON THE INTERNET. But turn on Past Broadcasts for your channel so the show gets saved. Spend less than 30 minutes setting up, and even that's stretching it. Go live for maybe ten minutes, don't shoot for a masterpiece broadcast.

Then watch that stream yourself and see what needs improvement. I guarantee there will be technical issues you didn't expect. Before you start spiraling out of control and buying every item in Amazon's tech department, see if there's anything about your stream you can fix RIGHT NOW. Can't hear your voice? Change your audio mix. Maybe there's another microphone in your house you can use. Maybe just talk louder. Game looks choppy? Lower the graphics settings on your PC, or lower your stream settings (there are plenty of free resources online explaining how to do this). The point is, you want to find out what the core of your stream is. Without buying a bunch of stuff first.

If your audience needs Extendable Ears to hear you, that's a problem to address.
Don't buy a fancier mic though- adjust your volume levels!

You know what sucks? Buying a $150 camera before doing a few streams and deciding "Eh, I really prefer to do my streams with only my voice and gameplay." You know what else sucks? Buying a $200 capture card and realizing after a few months that you really only ever play PC games anyway, and didn't even need to spring for the extra hardware. You know what REALLY sucks? Spending dozens of your off-work hours designing stream graphics and layouts (or commissioning them) and realizing in a month that you want to change everything, but feeling trapped because you already spent so much time or money on your current graphics. If you're creating your stream from the ground up using the concept of the Minimum Viable Product, you won't make these kinds of costly mistakes. You'll be able to predict the problems before you waste money or time.


Upgrade your stream like an RPG. Don't buy everything at the start.
See how long you can go without buying anything. You might be surprised. Weeks, months, even years! There are Twitch channels with tens of thousands of followers that are so ugly looking that I'd be mortified to put my name on them. But people are watching them, and that's because they like the streamer- not the stream. True, you may not be able to do your dream show that flashes your bedroom lights every time you score in FIFA. You may not even be able to stream the exact games you wanted to stream from the outset. But you will be honing your craft. And that's what actually matters. The viewers will come. Let yourself make the biggest mistakes before they arrive, and let the show slowly get better as people start watching your channel. Then when you have a bigger following, you can very gingerly introduce new gear into your setup. Would you rather do that stream you always dreamed about while there are no viewers and no chat activity? No, you want people to get excited about the stream, to laugh, cry and be entertained! So don't spend all your time and money perfecting your first ever Twitch stream. Even your 40th Twitch stream. Just put yourself out there and START LIVESTREAMING.

I tried to enact these principles when I started my current channel, and I'm still implementing them to this day. Want proof? This blog is hosted on a barebones Blogger page, despite the dozens of prettier and more robust free blog solutions on the internet. Why should I waste my time perfecting the window dressing before anyone has shown up? You're reading this to find out how to make a good Twitch channel- the surrounding visuals won't convince you of whether or not I'm able to help you in that quest. If this project fails, I will know that I spent my time doing what actually matters, and that's writing the content that I think will help people. Not making a pretty website to boost my own ego.

In TV advertising, there's a phrase to describe a beautiful, expensive commercial that doesn't actually attract any customers: "It was a great party, but nobody showed up." Don't let that happen to you- focus on what's important before anything else.

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