Friday, August 2, 2019

Make the Most of Your Streaming Setup

Whatever equipment you may acquire for streaming, there comes a time when you need to stop purchasing new things and instead optimize what you have. And whether you stream from a top-notch studio, a no-frills laptop, or a home console's built in Twitch app, the things that matter about your stream itself stay exactly the same. In this entry, I'm going to help you to make the most of your streaming setup, no matter the scope of your tech.


Not these kinds of limits...
In order to begin, we need to make sure your head is in the right place. Many streamers will assume that once they've acquired a new piece of hardware or software, their stream has mostly plateaued, and it won't improve in any real way until another major purchase has been made. This is, in my opinion, the worst mindset you could have about streaming, and you'll never do any real problem solving with this attitude. Always think in terms of what you have, rather than what you don't have.

You may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of factors facing you, and not really know how to attack any given problem. This is normal, and it happens to everyone at times. But you can easily solve any stream issue by using only the tools available to you if you think in terms of these three top-tier concepts: clarity, setup, and style.


The most important factor of a Twitch stream is also the most deceptively simple. You want to make your stream, in all its aspects, as clearly understandable to the viewer as possible. Make sure the main subject of the stream, whether it be the game, your craft table, or your face, is large on screen and clearly visible. For more specific details on general visual clarity, see the entry Easy Ways to Make Your Stream More Watchable, but this doesn't just apply to visuals. It's also true when you want to communicate concepts to the viewer. Consider this example scenario:

Creating clarity will typically cost you nothing,
so make it a priority.
You're doing a challenge run in the new God of War game, trying to complete it on the hardest difficulty without ever upgrading your character. The problem is, people continuously join your show and wonder why you're having such a hard time with many of the bosses. New people keep asking why you don't just use a skill you would have gotten when your character upgraded early in the game. These people aren't aware of your stream's base concept, and in this scenario you need to more effectively communicate the details of your challenge run to viewers.

How would you solve this problem? Take a second before moving forward to come up with your own idea for a solution.

If it were me, I might place a graphic on-screen explaining the challenge run's rules, but I'd also create a chatbot command that people can call up to learn more, change the stream title to explain the run itself, and put a description of the run in the info panels at the bottom of my channel. Plus, word of mouth is always helpful: I'd make sure to explain the challenge run out loud more often on stream, and ask mods in chat to explain the run to newcomers.

There are countless ways to solve the same problem, and the point is not to know which of these was correct, but to ultimately communicate your stream's goal clearly, even if it means creating multiple options for different viewers. Some people only listen, and some watch without sound; some viewers read the title, others don't. There will never be one single type of communication that clearly conveys information to every type of viewer, so make sure you cover as many bases as you can.


Your stream setup will define many things about how your shows operate. I've spoken a lot already about both network and computer performance in the entry, Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right. But if you don't have stream from a PC or use a capture card, you may think your show can't get much better, that it's a console or phone stream's lot in life to look a certain way. Some of this is true- you can't implement many of the fancy graphical options or on-screen widgets that PC users have. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take these same concepts to heart, adapted to fit the scope of your tech. In fact, learning to think in terms of what you have rather than what you don't have is even MORE important for you, as you don't have many things to work with in the first place.

Even if you don't stream from a computer, you likely have a PC or laptop available somewhere, from which you can host chatbot software. If not, there are cloud-based chatbots out there as well. Load these up with commands and fun minigames for your community to play during streams. Get creative- invent a personality for your bot, come up with fun responses for it to give, and have it do unique things during your streams. If you stream from a console, the audio mix is tweakable as well- make sure to use the concepts laid out in the entry Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic to get your vocal mix on point.

Always make sure your camera is optimally placed too- get it as close to you as possible to give a clear image of yourself without having to zoom in. You might even have to move the camera or phone from its usual perch to achieve this, but your viewers will thank you. Use everything around you to make your stream shine- oftentimes with these kinds of non-PC streams I will take some time before my show and stack books to place the camera, rearrange lamps to create better lighting, or scotch tape my microphone or charger cables to hide them behind various objects. There's no excuse for a bad looking stream, only a lack of creativity in the streamer.


An important aspect of anyone's stream is its style. This is what will differentiate you from the crowd, and it will be the most easily recognizable thing about your shows. There are lots of things you can implement to create interesting concepts on your streams, all available to anyone clever enough to utilize them.

Someone who streams from a computer can add different kinds of channel graphics, transitions, effects, and on-screen chat minigames. All of these things, if implemented correctly, can enhance your channel's persona. Less is typically more here, but a few well-chosen widgets and graphics can go a long way, so try all kinds and refine them down to a select few that you really like.

If you're streaming from a console, phone or other device that can't use effects or graphics, you aren't out of luck either. There are all sorts of things you can do to enhance your stream's sense of style, as long as you're thinking about what you have rather than what you don't have. Maybe you wear costumes, speak in different voices or read passages from a book during loading screens. Maybe you ask your chat to place bets on multiplayer matches or influence your in-game decisions in singleplayer games. Maybe you hold tournaments with your community, chat with them through the console's built-in chat software, or decorate the wall in your room behind you with the names of community members. Of course, someone streaming from a PC would do well to use these kinds of non-technical strategies as well, but these will be most important to someone who has no other tech options available.


Some of the ideas I've mentioned above, like stacking your camera on a bunch of books, might be stopgap solutions, but you'd be surprised how many PERMANENT fixtures I came up with purely by thinking in terms of what I had rather than what I didn't have. I became so good at placing household lamps to light my stream that I never had to buy anything better. Over 1,000 stream-hours in, I still only use a $20 Amazon Basics desk light and an IKEA standing lamp. I use a $15 external number pad on my PC to switch OBS scenes instead of a $100 Stream Deck, and it works perfectly. Plus, always announcing my show's intro verbally instead of commissioning a high-quality intro video has forced me to become significantly better at speaking on camera. In the end, it's not about saving money (though that's always a good thing), it's about always keeping your mind sharp.

There will always be new things to buy for your stream, if you allow yourself to keep coming up with excuses to buy them. Not only will this burn a hole in your pocket, it'll cause your overall problem solving skills to atrophy. If you truly believe in the back of your mind that your channel won't get much better until you buy that next wishlist item, you'll never come up with any really creative ideas for your stream's clarity, setup or style. So before you take out your credit card, make the most of the streaming setup you already have!

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