Friday, April 12, 2019

On Twitch, Failure is Your Friend

You may have been streaming a certain way for a while, and are now thinking about making a change. It could be a new game to play, a fresh hosting technique, a change in your channel graphics, or a different time to go live. Whatever it is, this new concept sounds like a good idea and you think you'd really enjoy it, but whenever it comes time to actually work on making the change you just can't bring yourself to do it.

You may have very legitimate concerns. "I can't change my stream time because so many of my viewers are in X or Y time zone," you might say. "I can't change my logo because I worked hard on the old one, and it's too ingrained in my stream graphics and channel emotes," you add. "I can't change my hosting technique because everyone knows the way I host my show now, and they'd think it's weird if I suddenly changed something about my style." Whatever the problems ahead of you though, your excuses always translate to the same thing: "I'm afraid of failing."

In Dark Souls as in life, failure is a major part of learning how to succeed. 


Most people dislike failing. It's understandable. If you fail enough tests you could get kicked out of school. If you fail to park your car in the right spot, it could lead to a hefty ticket. If you fail to launch a rocket properly, your astronauts die. Yes, these are all real things and they're ingrained into heads so much that we have associated ANY failure with purely negative emotions. But here's what most people don't realize: there are two kinds of failures. Large ones are cataclysmic and hard to come back from. The other, smaller kind of failure though, is actually extremely helpful because you can learn from it - but only if you're able to harness its power.

Think of pivoting as playing a "Reverse" card on
your failures.
In the world of Silicon Valley startup companies, they utilize these micro-failures all the time. The roadblocks, potholes and traffic jams on the road to success are analyzed, and if they haven't been working as intended, the companies will execute what's called a 'pivot'. This means that, after assessing what was actually wrong about their idea, they move onto something that they think might work. These aren't always potentially company-ending failures we're talking about either, but mostly tiny areas of their products and services that are 'failing' to do one single thing as well as it could, and therefore need to be fixed or pivoted. Even if the product is 90% perfect, they don't just pat themselves on the back- they acknowledge that the 10% is something that should be addressed if possible.

They're smart enough to understand that everyone involved is human, that they they won't get every single aspect of their project perfect on the first try. They know there will be mistakes, and they use those mistakes to their advantage in order to learn lessons about the market. They don't sit and stew about how stupid they were for being wrong, keep pressing ahead and refusing to acknowledge the problem, or attempt to do everything exactly how all the other companies are doing it just to avoid failing again in the future. And yet these three completely backwards strategies are how most Twitch streamers deal with their failings. Most streamers would rather stagnate than admit that something on their channel has failed in some way.

To avoid making large-scale failures, the smart startup companies actually attempt to fail hundreds of times, in minuscule, controllable ways, in order to get the most performance out of their product or strategy. You should be attempting to fail like this on your Twitch channel: in a way that lets you learn quickly and adjust your strategy towards success.


Twitch is a tricky place- there's no one way to know exactly what works, because everyone's channel is completely different in hundreds of ways. You'll never know all of the platform's secrets- neither will I- all we can do is keep experimenting. If it's not clear from reading the past entries up to this point, I didn't spring out of the ground knowing exactly what my Twitch channel would be. In fact, my Twitch channel as it exists now has almost nothing in common with the one I started with. I had totally different graphics, sound equipment and capture hardware, sure- this is what anyone could tell you would improve your stream. But I also completely changed the identity of the channel, radically shifted schedules several times, shut down entire social media endeavors, went through hundreds of iterations of my chatbot's messaging and branding, and have scrapped and refined aspects about the way I host my shows almost daily. I've only been able to grow the way I have through careful experimentation, failing at something and then knowing through experience that it does or doesn't work for me, rather than just staying away from it because I was afraid.

Some of these were major blunders- things that noticeably set me back once I realized what was happening, but most of them were small. They were failures in one single sub-department of a sub-department, where I was only getting 90% of the efficiency I wanted. If I weren't ready to admit that I had been wrong, or that I had failed in one tiny aspect of a larger thing that was working, I wouldn't have improved. Within the games I like to play, I went through different ideas for my amount of chat engagement, frequencies of speaking, volume mixes for the games, sizing for my camera overlay, timing for when to take breaks, different ways to raid, how to properly incorporate my chatbot or alerts, and when to re-introduce my show, all of these comprised of thousands of these little micro-failures and pivots that I'd implement daily or weekly after I'd observed enough about what was working and not working.

Sometimes choices will paralyze you. In those
situations, execute on ALL choices and decide
which ones work from experience.
Even knowing WHAT you want to stream won't come to you naturally. In my channel's quest so far, I've attempted dozens of different kinds of new shows, like iPhone game broadcasts, community movie nights, co-op or multiplayer games, coloring in a coloring book, IRL streaming from events, or playing games without commentary - some of these I'd refine and would eventually became part of my channel, but some I'd scrap after one or two episodes. Some of them I'd work hard to refine and then scrap later. Of course these are all fine ideas for streams, but only certain ones worked for me and the way I like to make content. It didn't matter whether it worked for someone else- I had to know enough to question whether it was working for my specific channel, or whether it was something I was even truly interested in doing.

Let's go through three scenarios I dealt with: 1) Changing streaming times, 2) Adjusting my hosting style, and 3) Managing my social platforms. When changing my streaming times, I didn't just do it on a whim. I tried to change certain days, then recorded what seemed better or worse. Many of the changes were failures, but others moved on to become permanent. When altering how I hosted my show, I would gingerly add or remove tiny aspects of how I introduced my channel and monitor what worked over a few weeks. I'd never change too many things at once, so I could always track what was and wasn't causing problems. Some things worked so I'd keep them, but some would get bad reactions or not communicate concepts as efficiently as I wanted. Something about these was failing, and I had to figure out what it was. Single lines in my channel's intro would go through dozens of different iterations to make sure I had it exactly right in order to communicate what I wanted with minimal room for confusion. Some of my social media efforts were beautiful and well thought-out, but would not get enough returns compared to the effort put in. When I decided the cost was greater than the benefit, I scrapped those social media channels as outright failures and put whatever excess time and energy was left over into my actual streams.

These three examples go through different kinds of failures: Changing streaming times would be objectively right or wrong. I could see the viewer numbers and chat engagement and know easily which changes failed. Iterating on my hosting style was more tricky, because altering how I explained one thing wouldn't make more or less people tune in, but I could keep track of how many people misunderstood the channel's cardinal rules and assume that this was because of an unclear explanation on my part. The social media example would SEEM to be cut and dry, but this is one of the hardest for people to address, because it requires completely removing something rather than 'fixing' it. Check the entry 'Twitch is the Only Social Channel You Need' for more about when to do this. In all of these examples though, I wouldn't have improved if I wasn't actively seeking out failure. Never be afraid to challenge your own past ideas- nothing on your channel should be 'grandfathered in' or completely sacred. If it's not working, make it work or get rid of it.

Each one of the thousands of little changes I've made to my channel has helped to solidify it into what it is today. It's not a channel for everybody, it's a channel that I can point to and say, "This is how I like to play video games, and this is the kind of content I would personally want to watch." I think everyone who joins the streams can detect this passion as well. But not even I knew exactly what I'd want to watch from the outset- it took experiments, failures and pivots to find this truth even within myself. It should go without saying, but all of this is a lifelong process. I'm never done improving my channel, and you shouldn't be either. For more details about how I specifically lay out and implement changes on my channel, check the entry 'Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day'. But first you need to have the humility to admit that something about your stream needs fixing, and that means embracing the fact that in some way you have failed. This isn't a bad thing- it's going to make your channel better- just remember that on Twitch, failure is your friend!

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