Friday, February 22, 2019

Who Is Watching Your Streams, And Why?

Once you've been on Twitch for a while, people will start watching your streams. It may take you longer than the next person to gain a viewer base and it may seem mysterious why people watch one of your streams over another,  but eventually you will have a viewer or two on your streams pretty consistently. I've written in the past about knowing who your channel is for, but something equally important is being able to identify who is actually watching your channel. I don't mean knowing the usernames of the people watching (that's important, but it's for another entry) or the average age and location of your viewers, but knowing what kinds of viewers are joining your shows, and why they chose to be there.

This is an important skill for streamers no matter how established they are, but it's not one I've seen discussed very much. If you don't know who is watching your streams, how will you understand what is working or not working about your channel? As outlined in a previous entry, understanding that your streams aren't for everybody is certainly important, but even if people not in your "target audience" are being turned away, it's important to know exactly why that's happening, and how many are being turned off by the channel. This lets you understand further what kind of value your channel's quirks bring to the table. If you're losing lots of viewers without getting much in return from your style of stream, this might indicate a need for a course correction.

Everybody has a different story- it's worth getting to know the people
who join your streams.


There are many kinds of people you'll encounter in your chat, and you'd do well to at least try to identify what each person in your stream is there for. Here are some of the most prevalent reasons someone might join your show:


This is the classic style of Twitch viewer. They came to your stream because they were looking for the game you're playing, or they follow the genre of game you're playing. The thing is, you don't necessarily know what aspect of that game they came to see. This is where you come in, and why it's very important to get to know this person, so you can at least understand what they want to see. For example, someone who is watching Dark Souls to decide whether they want to buy the game is very different than someone who beat it five times and wants to see world record speedruns. But they're both viewers who found your stream by browsing the Dark Souls category.

Dark Souls is a very popular community on Twitch,
and there are all sorts of reasons someone might
be watching one of these games.
This person is a wild card, because if you don't know their motivations, you can't really cater to their tastes. For example, on my streams I don't like spoilers, so it's important when I'm playing Kingdom Hearts for the first time to know whether someone might accidentally spoil the story, in case they assume I've played the game before. (Yes, I know Twitch has "tags" that should answer these questions to incoming viewers, but almost nobody reads those.) What I typically do if someone is new to the stream in this case, is welcome them to the show by mentioning that it's my first time playing Kingdom Hearts. This usually leads to discussions about their experience with the series. If they're already a fan they ask what I think of the games, or which I've played. If they're thinking of getting into the series they ask where to start, or whether I'd recommend it. For me, taking a moment to identify my level of experience to a genre fan goes a long way, and is a great way to start a conversation! It also instantly solidifies the fact that they're not likely to see high-level play or challenge runs, so any viewers who joined to see that kind of content are able to decide whether they like my stream or want to go on their way. I'm not tricking them into thinking they might see something they won't.

The thing to know about genre fans is, they may be more loyal to certain types of streamers than others. If you're a Fortnite streamer and the person came to see Fortnite, you're essentially set. But if you play a variety of games and they came to see Kingdom Hearts, they may unfollow once you move on to Borderlands. Unless you form a connection on some other level than just the game, and make this person interested in watching you as the streamer, you may have varying results with keeping them around.


Be careful of someone who chats with an agenda. This could be a person who wants to promote their own Twitch channel, trick you into participating in some private joke, or impose their values on your stream in some way. I know you might want that new follower, but if someone asks you to do something you're not comfortable with in order to gain their loyalty, don't debase yourself. You deserve better.

Make no mistake, unless someone has your earlier permission, it is NOT OK for them to be posting messages asking people to follow their own channel in your chat, or even veiled ones about how "it's been great seeing you but I'm going to go live now." The same goes for the person who says "I'll follow you if you say this phrase," even if the phrase itself isn't innately inappropriate. Do you really think that person found value in your channel and enjoys your shows? No, they just enjoy their fleeting moment of power over you. Once again, don't humiliate yourself. As long as you don't give in to their demands however, chatters with an agenda can be befriended. If they are reasonable and respect your rules once you explain them, these viewers could very well stick around and grow into  positive members of your community. Don't be too quick with the ban hammer, but definitely be wary.


Someone willfully uncooperative isn't always just an
obvious troll. If they're a constant problem for
breaking your rules, you may need to take action.
Sometimes a viewer is completely unreasonable, and in this case it's more clear what you need to do. Maybe they won't stop posting self-promoting messages in your chat, continuously talk about subjects you ask them not to, or act mean to your viewers. This person is a toxic member of your community, and needs to be removed. As long as you've warned them, that's all you can do. Is the follow of this one viewer worth the loyalty, trust and well-being of all your other viewers? Get rid of this person immediately.

As I mentioned earlier, my channel has a strict 'no spoilers' policy, and the biggest kind of willfully uncooperative chatters I've had are people who spoil the games I play. Most of the time it's easy to know who's being malicious about ruining games. But the toughest situations I've run into have been people watching for months, who I've gotten to know, but who just can't help posting spoilers. Of course after talking with them for hundreds of streams, I would get attached to them, but after someone has been given a dozen warnings and still doesn't uphold the channel rules, action needs to be taken. It's disrespectful not just to me, but to anyone watching who is experiencing the game for the first time. It takes so little effort to read the community's rules, especially if those rules are being told to the chatter directly by the streamer for doing something wrong. Eventually I realized that this type of person is actually holding their own agenda as well, that they enjoyed the power they had over me by forcibly gaining my attention even if it meant breaking cardinal channel rules to get it. This too is a toxic viewer.


A new fan is someone you see on a few streams in a row. They may not know everything that the channel is about, but they enjoy your vibe or like the games you play. And they came back for more, so that's something. It's important to make this person feel welcome. If they're coming by more than once and getting to know your community, it's likely they'll keep coming by later. Try to be patient with this person, as they'll likely break a few rules in the beginning- every channel is different after all, and they have no way of knowing what your channel stands for if they've only been around for a few shows. Always remember that every longtime community member has to start out as a newcomer at some point. Nurture your relationships with the people who genuinely enjoy your content!


Longtime fans have been around a while, know the community, follow or even enforce the rules, and join for a significant portion of your streams. They're the ones who not only like watching you, but want to get to know you, and will loyally follow you no matter what kinds of changes to your games list or schedule you need to make. These are the people you should always be thinking of when you make your streams. Yes, new followers are great and pleasing random people who join your shows is always a good thing, but everything should always come back to your longtime fans. If you can cultivate a community, the benefits are immeasurable. These people will be like your family- in fact, you may spend more time with them than some actual members of your family! You'll share details about your life with them, go through tough times together, and watch your channel grow together. You should do your best to keep these people around above all- just because they're your most loyal fans, doesn't mean they don't need love and attention too! Don't be someone who never gives a thought to your existing community, always in favor of acquiring new followers. Spend time with your most dedicated fans- send messages, joke with each other off stream, set up community movie or game nights! If you have a Discord server that helps a lot as well, but even going so far to make your closest community members always feel special on your streams goes a long way. However you show it, just make sure you're making an effort. These people should come before all others.

A longtime fan is watching because they like you as a person. If you
normally play shooters and you decide to play an RPG one day
instead, they'll likely come along for the ride.


On a macro level, people are watching Twitch to see video games be played. But you'd be wrong to assume that there's nothing you can do to make someone more interested in watching your specific Apex Legends stream than someone else's Apex Legends stream. Most of the time, someone is watching a stream in order to feel a connection- whether that's by discussing their favorite game, being introduced to new games, becoming a larger part of a community, or just relaxing while watching someone play and silently getting to know them. The important thing to remember about everyone watching is that they want to feel entertained, even if the type of desired entertainment may vary from person to person.

Of course you'll never be able to satisfy everyone, but understanding what kinds of viewers are joining your streams is a great first step in understanding your channel as a whole. If you can tell what kind of viewer someone is, you can approach talking to them in the way that most interests them, and hopefully bond over common interests that much faster. And to do this, you need to ask two important questions: who is watching your streams, and why?

Friday, February 15, 2019

Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day

As you continue streaming, you will notice that there are more problems to be addressed than you have time to solve at any given moment. The next time you go live, some of these problems might still be unsolved, because you keep forgetting to address them in your off time. Don’t leave solving these things up to chance!

This was a crucial point for me when starting my Twitch channel- at first I tried to remember major issues noticed while streaming and fix them after the show. The problem was, usually by the time my stream ended and the dust had settled I’d forgotten everything I wanted to change. Plus, I started noticing that my best ideas wouldn’t only come during a stream either- I’d have major breakthroughs at all hours, in the most unlikely situations.

I started keeping a checklist on my phone, adding every single thought to it, no matter how small. I made it a point to fix as many issues as could, whenever I could, but not to overdo it. The idea was not to get to every issue right away, but to have a definitive list of the problems I was facing. When I was able to look at the exact things causing me strife in my streams, rather than having a nebulous cloud of worries hanging over my head, it became a lot less stressful to solve them.

Be like Chuck Greene, always ready to modify what you
have in order to keep things interesting.


Now I can’t identify the specific things that are troubling your Twitch streams- how could I? Your channel is bound to be completely different from mine, and all your tech, games, hosting style, content and chat come with their own unique kinds of snags. But I can tell you about the kinds of problems I’ve addressed during the lifetime of my channel so far, and how I went about solving them:


Sometimes there is a problem on your stream that doesn’t require a lot of thinking, just a solution. These can be things like fixing a typo in your description, installing a patch to update the game you’re playing, or correcting the video window of a game on your stream if it’s cut off. Objective problems like these are the easiest for your chat to notice and point out to you, and also the easiest to fix. You shouldn’t have a problem solving one of these immediately after your stream is over, provide that you remembered to write it down. Don’t let these kinds of problems linger, especially if someone in your chat has pointed them out to you. As a viewer, it's no fun to watch a Twitch streamer who would rather live with an obvious problem on their stream than accept your help.


Sometimes making changes to your stream can feel like
a puzzle, but the rewards are great.
These can be trickier, but are usually even more important to get solved quickly. A subjective fix is something that requires critical thinking on your part to solve. It can include optimizing the placement of your graphics, changing the wording in your chatbot messages, or choosing when or where to add music. The most important kind of subjective fix on stream is optimizing your vocal audio mix- there’s nothing more important than having your own voice able to to be heard on stream. That’s not to say you need the most high quality gear, but having your voice loud enough compared to the game volume so that people can hear you even over the most action-packed moments is crucial. This takes some time to fix, as you’ll need to experiment with different sound levels, listening to recordings of your vocal mix over the game while it’s quiet as well as in battle sequences. The problem with subjective fixes is that people in chat usually won’t be able to point them out to you, because whether they need to be "solved" at all is up to your specific personal preferences. This means that unless you’re periodically watching your own streams and keeping track of subjective fixes you want to make, you could go hundreds of streams without ever noticing they was an issue. I'm a bit embarrassed to say I've been in that situation a few times. Don’t let it happen to you- write down the subjective issues you notice about your stream even if you don’t have a fix in mind. You may think of a solution later.


Sometimes problems don’t lend themselves to a quick fix, and require you to change your habits to make a solution actually work. These could include remembering to introduce your show in a certain way, being more active in your Discord community, or acting more welcoming to new followers. You won’t be able to consider these habit forming fixes “complete” until you’ve continually done them for several days or weeks and can trust yourself to keep doing them in the future. But having them show up as ‘incomplete’ every time you look at your checklist is a great way to remind you to keep that habit going.


A large-scale fix is something that will require a complete overhaul in some aspect of your channel. These are the problems that most people have the hardest time solving, because they either don’t know where to start, or are afraid to disrupt what they already have. Don’t shy away from writing things like this on your list. Even if they’re huge and seemingly insurmountable tasks. Later you can break a large goal into several smaller tasks of the previous three categories. The important thing is that you put these bigger problems down in black and white, and accept that they are, in fact, problems.

Examples of large-scale fixes include overhauling your stream layout, changing your channel's name (and all your branding with it), changing the types of games you play, implementing a new rule that changes how people act in your chat, or rethinking your hosting style. The moment you're too afraid to pivot major aspects of your channel is the moment you start stagnating, and lose major opportunities for growth. Step out of your comfort zone- always be ready to mix things up when you think it will improve your stream!


I used to keep a checklist of the areas I needed to go back
to in Castlevania, once I got the right items. Maybe I just
like checklists. But they work!
After making a list like this, keep an eye on which tasks go unsolved for the longest. Think to yourself why that is. Is it too much work? Are you worried about how people will receive the change? Are you scared you'll mess it up? On tasks that cause mental blocks, take everything in baby steps. Make small, reversible changes first and try to judge if it's helping your channel. Sometimes it's as simple as seeing the change in effect- a new logo Photoshopped into a screenshot of your Twitch page for example, or describing your channel in a new way during one of your shows with lower viewership, just to see how it feels. Sometimes that preview is all it takes to convince you the change needs to go into effect on the full scale. If not, you can usually roll back any changes you made to your channel. You never know until you try!

The only thing that can't be rolled back are purchases, which is why I strongly advise against them most of the time. (For more info about this, read my entry about starting your Twitch channel with no money.) If you are making a purchase to solve a problem, think through how that item will create ripples in your channel- what avenues it will open to you, but more importantly what avenues it will CLOSE. For example, I use a wired lavalier microphone which clips to my shirt collar. It gets good directional sound without breaking the bank, but it limits me pretty strictly to my chair. I can't get up and dance for example, or even move around much without snagging it. Yes I didn't move around much on my streams beforehand, but you'd better believe that I put thought into whether I'd ever NEED to move around on stream before I sunk the cost.

I'd suggest putting checklist items about purchases you want to make on another, less actively used list. You'd be surprised how many pieces of technology I thought I needed before applying some creative thinking and realizing I didn't need them at all!


What’s interesting is that I’ve still never whittled my checklist down to zero items- if anything, it has gotten bigger every day since I started cultivating it. That’s not to say that I haven’t solved all the original problems that I wrote down months ago, but I’ve continued creating more problems as the stream has gotten more complex, plus I notice ones I had passed over before, and that’s a good thing. I've become more adept at actually identifying issues of all sizes, and I've been able to get more granular with the solutions. I can polish my stream to a level I hadn’t thought possible before, only because I'm facing its problems head-on. If you think the goal to aspire to is being able to stream without ever having problems, you are mistaken. And if you’re at that point now, it simply means you are streaming without noticing all the things holding you back.

If you fix one thing about your streams every day, the results are extraordinary. The question is: are you willing to identify the problems?

Friday, February 8, 2019

If You Can't Describe Your Channel, Who Can?

As a Twitch streamer, it's the first question you always hear:

"What's your channel about?"

Do you have a good answer?

If you're starting out, you almost certainly won't. And by that I'm not necessarily saying you don't have an answer, I'm saying you don't have a compelling answer. A boring answer is just as bad as not having one in my book. I want to help you come up with a concise, interesting way to describe your channel to newcomers, other channels, passive viewers, anybody who might help you grow.

Be like Professor Layton and give your stream's identity some real thought.


So you've been streaming for a little while and you've refined your style a bit. Have you been paying attention to the trends forming on your channel? Maybe you're focusing in on one game, grinding the competitive circuit in multiplayer. It could be that you're playing a variety of games, plucked from your existing Steam backlog. Or you're sculpting and painting your own clay figurines. Whatever you're doing, I'm willing to bet that you can sum it up at its most basic level in one sentence. So let's try to do just that:

"I play Fortnite." 

That's definitely an answer. But it's not an interesting answer, because there are thousands of other people doing the exact same thing. And that's your biggest challenge if you're playing Fortnite, Overwatch, Dead By Daylight, or any of the other massively popular games on Twitch. The game isn't the interesting part in this case, it's what you do with the game. Don't worry yet, because we'll work on this aspect later on. The important thing is that you choose the simplest definition of what you do on your channel.

"I build LEGO sets"

This is a lucky answer because despite being broken down to its most basic form, it's already inherently interesting. That's because Twitch isn't flooded with people building LEGO sets in the same way that it's flooded with paratroopers from the Battle Bus. In addition to grabbing attention with its uniqueness, it hyper-targets a built-in audience. There's a community of dedicated LEGO fans out there looking for new and interesting streamers doing what they love, but the community is small enough that you might be among a handful of people streaming that subject at a given time. Plus, there's a whole group of casual fans who just want to watch a chill show while they do homework, with no chance of the streamer suddenly shrieking because he or she got sniped unexpectedly.

"I'm a variety streamer." 

We'll work on a more interesting way to explain it soon,
but for now, "I play Fortnite" or "I'm a variety streamer"
is a fine answer to start with.
This is a description that I hear a lot, but I find it frustrating. Just about anyone on Twitch who plays more than three video games could be called a 'variety streamer,' and while this suggests that sacred spice of life, it differentiates your channel even less than "I play Fortnite." When everyone is playing an undefined variety of games, there's nothing about that description to make your channel unique. Unless you define it differently, of course.

Do you have your most basic answer about what you do on your channel? If not, take a second to come up with it, then keep reading. Don't worry if I described a problem with the answer you chose, just make sure you have one simple sentence to describe what you do. Now I'm going to help you not only define, but refine your channel's identity.


In order to answer the question, "What's your channel about?" you first have to answer another question:

Who is your channel for? 

If you answered, "Everyone," you have a problem. 

Nothing in the world is for everyone. Even content with the broadest appeal misses, alienates, or just plain ignores entire swaths of people. One excellent example is the TV show 'The Big Bang Theory.' Clinically speaking, it's the most popular television show in the world. That means it's seen and enjoyed by the most people out of any other television show. And yet, there is a huge group of people who actively hate the show and refuse to watch it. What about people who don't own a TV? How about those in a third world country who have never even seen a TV show? You get what I'm saying. Even the largest television show in the world, with the broadest appeal of anything, is not catering to everyone. So why should you?

What you want to do is find something about your gameplay style, your selection of games, the things you like to talk about, that sets you apart or defines who you are. Maybe you like to do difficult challenges, blindfold yourself, play retro games, attempt world record speedruns, place bets on multiplayer matches, play with viewers. Maybe you like to drink coffee on stream, dance when you win, bang your table when you lose, sing during loading screens. I'm sure there's something you do that sets you apart from the boilerplate descriptor, even if it seems mundane on its own. The point isn't whether anyone else in the world does Fortnite challenge runs or celebrity impressions, the point is: Are there as many people saying, "I stream Fortnite challenge runs while taking requests for celebrity impressions" as there are people saying "I play Fortnite"? The more targeted description is bound to attract more fans because it's inherently more interesting. A million people do celebrity impressions in a million different ways, but not everyone plays Fortnite while doing it. And even among those who do, how many channels actually brand themselves around doing it? 

 I'll show you what I mean by telling you how I went through this same process.

No Twitch channel can be for absolutely everyone, so embrace what
makes you different!


On my channel, I like playing story-focused games. I don't talk over the cutscenes under any circumstances, and I enjoy slowly exploring the worlds. I drink several cups of coffee during my shows, mostly because I stream three times per day, seven days a week with no off days. Each stream is a different game from what I call the 'neverending backlog' - a huge catalog of Steam titles I've amassed over the years before I started on Twitch. It would be very easy to describe this with the cookiecutter, "I'm a variety streamer" line. Here's what I came up with:

I drink coffee and play lots of story-based games. Three times per day. Seven days a week.

It's not that any of these things are unique in themselves, but it's the fact that I'm taking a stand about what to expect when watching my channel, that makes this description more compelling. It allows someone to decide much more quickly whether they: 1) found what they're looking for, 2) are willing to give it a try, or 3) aren't interested at all. I'm not trying to trick someone into thinking I might play Fortnite by keeping the description ambiguous. There are huge portions of the Twitch streaming audience who will not enjoy my show, and I've come to terms with that. It allows me to truly be myself on stream, and if you share my passion for story based games or just plain enjoy my personality, you are getting an entertainment experience that isn't diluted by me trying to do something I'm not 100% passionate about. Plus, if you stumble onto my channel and want to watch Fortnite, I don't waste your valuable time by leading you on. You learn a huge amount of information from a few short, simple sentences with my channel description.

I love coffee. I drink it all the time on stream. Pouring it,
enjoying it and showing off my different mugs is a big
part of my channel's identity now!
For example, the way I describe my channel, I'm not a 'variety streamer.' I play 'story-based games.' That in itself is very informative because it excludes multiplayer games, RTS, city-building games, and anything else without a plot. I'm suggesting up front what I'll be playing in the future, so you know that your 'follow' won't result in a bait-and-switch later towards content you aren't interested in watching. The schedule is very unique as well, which I always mention when I describe the channel. I produce multiple shows per day, each about a different game. This is different than the usual single long stream with multiple games peppered throughout, like most streamers do. Not to say there's anything wrong with what other streamers do, but it is unique the way I produce my shows, so I think it's worth mentioning. Plus, the coffee. Mmmmmm, coffee.

Therefore: I drink coffee and play lots of story-based games. Three times per day. Seven days a week.

And having said all that, sometimes I play Black Ops multiplayer, and sometimes I do IRL artwork streams using colored pencils. You don't have to slavishly stick to the things you use to describe your channel, but it's a very useful shorthand for people coming into your streams because it tells them about the kind of content you're known for producing.


Coming up with a compelling way to describe your channel is the first step towards building your personal brand. What are you known for? Do you take viewer requests for challenge runs? You talk about the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien while playing Overwatch? Get really mad when you die in NES games? I'm not suggesting you come up with a random gimmick to add to your streams, I'm saying there is likely already something about you worth highlighting that you aren't taking advantage of. Any seemingly small aspect of your personality that comes out on stream can be used to strengthen the branding of your channel.

Branding of course has a plethora of uses: You can use it as the text description for your channel, to define the look of your logos and emotes, to name your community, and most importantly, as a quick and concise way to describe your channel when asked by newcomers. Once I started embracing the things I love doing on stream and working them into my channel's identity, I saw massive results- not only in gaining followers, but in not losing followers. Of course, someone who knows exactly what to expect when following my channel isn't likely to feel tricked later and leave.

It's very important to be able to describe your stream effectively. And at the end of the day, if you can't describe your own channel, who can?

Friday, February 1, 2019

Host Your Streams Like Nobody's Watching

Let's say you're planning your next stream and you've noticed that the show is most fun when people are talking in chat. This is a great observation- it definitely spices things up when people are lively and talking not only to you, but having conversations with each other as well. It gives you as the host something to bounce off of and respond to, rather than always think up talking points off the top of your head. So you start dreaming up all sorts of ideas for community involvement and viewer engagement. Maybe you want to ask for votes on where you'll drop in Fortnite before you start a match, play the Jackbox Party Pack with viewers, or play a Telltale adventure game by allowing people in chat to choose the dialogue option. While these sound like fun ideas, and they can certainly produce hilarious and entertaining results, you are playing with fire. You need to learn to host like nobody's watching.

Artist's representation of someone relying on their chat at all times. 
Let's pose a scenario: you decide one night to do an IRL stream where people in the chat pick the nouns, adjectives and verbs in Mad Libs, then you fill them in and read them out on stream. It's a fun idea- you're building engagement with your chat, and at the end there's a funny dramatic reading comprised of everyone's suggested words! Yes it's simplistic, but in between selecting words you can have an "Ask Me Anything" session with your viewers, where you select one question from the chat between each Mad Libs word and answer it. Sounds like fun, and it definitely gets people chatting. What could go wrong?

What happens when no one is chatting?

Your whole show relies on people actively chatting in order to function, and without that the show grinds to a halt. This is a huge problem. Partly because it makes for a less entertaining stream, but more importantly because it messes with your head. I’ve seen a lot of smaller streamers fall into this trap in one way or another, and it's heartbreaking. That goes double if they have a facecam, because you can actually see the flicker of disappointment and hurt in their eyes when they notice that nobody has responded to the question they thought was so engaging.

Be able to host your stream on your own merits. Then it's a
nice bonus if your chat says, "Hey, listen!"
The need to account for a no-viewer or no-chat scenario obviously starts going away as your channel balloons in size, but you'd be surprised how often you're left high and dry in the chat department, even at larger scales. Short of organizing an event with a tight-knit community, you shouldn't rely on having people constantly chatting in your shows until your follower count is in the thousands. Even if you are a larger channel and aren't regularly plagued with this issue, it's important for your hosting abilities not to be blown around by your chat like a leaf in the wind. You build a better personal brand by having your own cadence and rhythm to hosting, cultivating catchphrases or signature gameplay styles and letting people get to know you as a person. I think you can apply the teachings here to any size channel, but of course they're absolutely critical if you're starting out.


The hypothetical Mad Libs / AMA show detailed above is an extreme example, a show that to its very core will not progress without active chatters or a course correction mid-stream. But its teachings should extend to all aspects of your hosting technique. Try to stay away from things that stop the entire show if a message from chat doesn’t come in. Try reframing your requests for chat responses in another way, taking the pressure off your chat to answer quickly. Here’s an example:

You’re playing a Pokemon game and you want to let your chat name each monster you catch. Great idea! You throw the Pokeball and it locks down. You see the info sheet for that Pokemon, and you go to change its name. Now you ask your chat for name suggestions and wait on the menu screen for a response. Think about the entertainment value for your viewers while this happens. In one outcome, you sit for 60 seconds waiting to hear a response and none comes. Then you move on with the game in shame. Even in the best outcome, there’s a delay between when your chat sees your question (sometimes a full 30 seconds), then comes up with an answer, types it out and sends it, before you even start getting responses. It’s what radio broadcasters call "dead air," and should be avoided even if people are actively chatting.

Try this instead: You see a Pokemon in the wild and already start asking the chat what they want to name it. This gives people a minute or two to submit answers, and you can address all the suggested names while you’re going through the battle or catching process, before you even get to the naming screen. Aside from giving more time to answer, why is this method superior? If nobody responds, your show doesn’t skip a beat. You get to the naming screen, notice there are no answers, then come up with a name of your own and move on. Having people chat in your stream should be a privilege, not an expectation.

Try engaging with your chat in a way that doesn't put so much pressure on them.
People are often doing other things while watching.


You shouldn’t need to have people active in chat in order to be the host on your own stream. In fact, you should expect to have nobody in your chat. Until you get used to this concept, you are vulnerable to crippling self-doubt and lack of motivation, because it means you measure your stream's worth by the number of viewers watching it, not how satisfied YOU are with it. Be able to talk without outside prompting. There are a million things you could mention out loud to yourself while streaming: responding to an event on screen, doing dramatic readings of text prompts, talking about how your day went, or giving your thoughts on a movie you saw for example. It’s very easy to run your mouth when you get used to doing it.

Throw softballs at the audience. Ask for engagement that enhances the existing show, but isn't required to make it progress. Ask how everyone’s day went, what they thought of some TV show or event, what their weekend plans are. These can be answered at someone’s leisure, and help you get to know your audience in the process. The reason the Mad Libs idea doesn't work at a small scale is because the whole show is riding on whether anyone decides to answer, not to mention whether they'll submit multiple answers for you to select from. Even if you can fill time after asking for the noun in Mad Libs by chatting about your day, the anxiety will be building inside you. It's the equivalent of putting your hand up for a high-five and slowly realizing you aren’t going to get a response. It's humiliating.

Any idea can work if you frame it in the right way though. I don't want you to think that doing viewer requests while playing a Telltale game is a terrible idea, only to understand the risks you're taking. So let’s think about how we’d turn this Mad Libs idea into a better stream.

Bonus points if you can fill in your hypothetical Mad Libs
sheet while hanging upside down.
You could play Overwatch and fill in one blank noun, verb or adjective on your Mad Libs sheet between every match. Let it be the sideshow, not the main attraction. Then people have time to think up answers, and you're covered if nobody answers the questions- you can even continue that same Mad Libs page on your next stream! Now you're not forcing the chat engagement, you're allowing it to improve your already entertaining show with an extra feature. And of course, when you finish the Mad Libs sheet, you can celebrate! Thank your viewers for contributing to the final product, and be humble. Don't act like you expected people to take the time to engage with your show.

Of course, this is more of a general rule- you can obviously have a complete fluke of a stream where the perfect storm hits and everyone is chatting like crazy. The point is, you shouldn't plan for that. It should be a nice surprise. I’ve done streams with two viewers where the chat was flowing like a river, and I’ve helmed shows with hundreds of concurrent viewers where the chat would trickle and dry up like a stream. You really never know. Make sure you’re planning for nobody to show up- it will not only force you to become a more entertaining host, but it will protect you from spiraling into self-doubt and dejection.

Streaming in itself is fun- you’re playing a video game after all, or you're doing something you love- so don't measure your success by how many people are chatting. Just have fun and host your show like nobody’s watching!