Thursday, July 11, 2019

Easy Ways to Make Your Streams More Watchable

Every game you might play on stream has its own visual identity. It might be a top-down adventure or a close-up action game. It could have bright, cartoony graphics or a dark and dreary look. It might be covered in menus, or have no HUD elements at all. Most of you by now may have noticed that certain games, or even certain genres, perform better on stream. What you may not know is that there are elements of how you display the game, as well as how you actually control it, which could be holding you back.

In this entry, I want to share with you my three favorite methods for attracting more people with your gameplay, allowing them to engage more actively with what they're seeing, and keeping them around longer. Some of these may require changes to your hosting style, screen filters, or even the way you play games in general, but they all contribute to the same goal: making the stream more watchable for the viewer at home. 


No matter what you're doing on stream, viewers who are watching for entertainment purposes will always prefer when the subject is as large as possible in the frame. This could be the main character in a third person action game, the model kit you're building at your craft table, or your face during a Just Chatting show. Whatever is the "main event" should be as large as you can make it. The reason for this is deceptively simple: it's just easier to see what's going on. Having large, visible subjects on screen will improve everyone's viewing experience, but one very specific portion of your audience will benefit from these efforts most of all: mobile viewers.

A subject that's large on screen will be
easier to see, and more visually interesting.
Someone watching your stream on their phone will have a hard time seeing your show even under the best of circumstances. While you're playing your game, imagine if your screen were 10x smaller. That's what they're seeing at all times. Anything you can do to make the stream easier for a mobile viewer to see won't go unappreciated. This one simple trick can go a long way: if the game allows it, zoom the camera in closer.

You may say that there are instances when this strategy would ruin your ability to play, and you'd be right. In some games, you can't be zoomed in 100% of the time. But these roadblocks may not be as frequent as you think. If you're in an MMO game for example, it's tactically advantageous to zoom out as far as possible. But much of the time, you're simply grinding basic quests or traveling from place to place- why not zoom in for these moments, and zoom back out when you need to fight an actual tough battle? In a city building game, you can zoom in close to streets or characters while adjusting your economy settings, hiring people or setting a price for the hot dog stands, and zoom back out when it's time to build roads and offices. If you're playing a game that can't zoom in, it could be as simple as making your facecam bigger, or switching to your fullscreen facecam layout during any off-moment, like a loading screen or menu. Don't forget- YOU can be the subject on screen as well. These deceptively simple changes really help. Take advantage of moments where you don't need as much tactical thinking in your game, and use those moments to let viewers enjoy the stream even more.


Flashlights are a great way to brighten
things up, with the added bonus of not
ruining the scare-factor of horror games.
Here's something unexpected that I've noticed in my time as a streamer: the game will almost always look darker to the viewer than it looks to you while you're playing it. This applies to all kinds of games, but darkness can be especially problematic in the horror genre. If YOU'RE barely able to see what's happening on screen, it's likely that the VIEWER is seeing near-pitch blackness. This will then have crossed the line from being scary to simply being boring. No one is going to be invested in your stream if they can't even see what's happening, and you may notice people tuning out. There's a very simple rule I've discovered through streaming, and I try to keep it in mind at all times:

More viewers will watch your stream when it's daytime in a game, rather than night time.

This may sound completely ridiculous, but over thousands of streams I've simply noticed it to be true time and again. There are two main reasons why I believe this is the case:

1. Lighting effects, shadows, and environments look more interesting in the daytime, meaning the graphics actually look better overall during the day.

2. It's generally just easier to see what's going on.

If you play open world games, there is usually a cycle between day and night. But at the same time, there is almost never a need to complete your objectives in the moonlit hours. This means that simply 'resting' until daytime in these games more often, rather than playing 50% in the day and 50% in the night, could boost your viewership with almost no added effort.

Even if you're not playing a game with a day/night cycle, generally trying to make things brighter will always help. Turn on the lights in a room when you enter, if the game lets you do that. If not, you could always raise the overall brightness by a few pips in the settings. One of my favorite things to do is use a flashlight or torch whenever given the opportunity- this will light up the scene, and create lots of interesting lighting effects. It's also a great way to brighten up horror games, while still keeping them scary.

I've watched many streams where the person controlling the game has plenty of options to create more visible lighting for their viewers without any detriment to their performance in the game, but doing so simply doesn't cross their mind. There's nothing less engaging than watching a jumble of black blobs while hearing the streamer respond to things you can't even see. It's always worth going the extra mile to ensure your viewers can actually see what's going on.


At the end of the day, you want the viewer to understand what you're reacting to on screen at all times, which makes it easier to become interested in the show. There might be a funny glitch happening in your game, a scary hallway, an interesting piece of architecture, any number of things that you might want to compliment, make jokes about, or just generally point out to viewers. Many streamers assume it's obvious what they're talking about when they comment on some visual element in a game, but this is really not the case. There's usually a lot happening on screen, from the game's HUD elements, to background scenery to the expression on your facecam, not to mention what your character is actually doing at any given time. Any of these might have drawn the viewer's attention to a different area than where you happen to be looking. You need to be able to direct the viewer's eye to whatever you're talking about.

Focus your camera, and empathize with
the viewer.
Focus your camera on the item you're pointing out as clearly as possible. If you're playing a first-person shooter and you want to make a joke about an AI character you see, focus them in the center of the screen and leave your view fixed on them while you're talking. Don't whip the camera over to them, and then immediately whip it away to continue exploring while you commentate. In games with a mouse cursor like The Sims, you have a nice advantage- make sure to clearly point at things with your cursor. I even like to repeatedly circle the object in question with my cursor while I'm discussing it. In a game with a fixed camera, like a 2D platformer, or an IRL oil painting stream, it's more difficult to focus on individual things. But on these shows, communicating verbally and telling people exactly where the object is located on screen is key.

Using simple call to actions like "Look at this," or "What is happening here?" are great ways to let viewers know beforehand that you're about to be discussing something on screen. Many people can only half-watch your show, whether they're sitting at work, waiting for a bus, or doing chores. You may think that your entire audience should be focusing with rapt attention during 100% of your stream, but let's be honest: just hearing the commentary alone is fine for most viewers, most of the time. If you're going to point out something they have to SEE, clearly warning the audience that they should look at the screen gives them a chance to stop what they're doing and reopen your web browser tab, look down at their phone, or turn off the sink for a second. Then you can commentate on the item on screen while still having it clearly in the center of your camera's focus. This guarantees that everyone can join in on the fun, by knowing exactly what you're talking about.


If you're an entertaining person, people will be naturally drawn to you. But there may be portions of your audience missing out on valuable content, because they can't see what's happening. The important thing in all of this is to understand the viewer's perspective, and try to make your stream cater to all the different audience members who might be watching. Big, clear subjects on screen help to retain mobile viewers, brighter images allow everyone to get more invested in the action, and clearly pointing things out (both visibly and audibly) will make sure people can understand the context of your commentary. So don't let your hard work go to waste- get out there and make your streams more watchable!

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