Friday, September 27, 2019

How to Deal with Your Streaming Weaknesses

Everybody is bad at something. Actually, not just one thing. There's not a person alive who isn't terrible in several fields. This of course extends to Twitch streaming as well: we all have trouble with either tech, audio, graphics, confidence, chat interaction, or any of a hundred other subcategories involved with our craft. So how do we combat these deficiencies? Fixing the issue is the common approach- this is what we've been taught will make us more well-rounded people. And while this old-school idea is sometimes necessary, it's not always the best option. I've found that it's often better to go in the extreme opposite direction: forget about your weakness entirely, and instead bolster the opposing strength.


"But Nick," you might be asking, "If I give up on improving my weak points, wouldn't that make me even worse?" It's a fair question, because it follows general common sense. But consider this example scenario:

Mix-Max, just like you would in an RPG
Let's say that ever since elementary school you've been terrible at writing in cursive. You simply couldn't remember all the ornate squiggles, and all your English teachers graded you poorly for it. Now that you're further along in life, you have a clear weakness: your cursive writing skills are lacking. But if you need to improve your writing ability, which are you more likely to find useful: fixing your ability to use an archaic and largely decorative writing system like cursive, or bolstering your ability to type on a computer's keyboard? It's likely that in both your personal and professional life, you type on a computer more often than you write in cursive.

We all have limited time on Earth to spend on self-improvement. And we need to be very careful about how much of that time we waste solving irrelevant problems. Many of you who play RPG games will recognize the concept I'm describing. Min-Maxing in an RPG involves allocating all your skill points toward one or two of your most important abilities, but the same strategy can apply to Twitch as well. Improving a weakness will make you average at that skill, but wouldn't you rather further improve a strength and become extraordinary?


To combat a weakness, you must first understand your weakness. Your decisions on what to do about your on-stream deficiencies will all stem from your ability to identify these problems. What is truly important about the weakness you're trying to solve? Take a step back and think about it from all the different possible perspectives: not just from a close-up angle, but also from the viewer's position, and by looking ahead to what's best for the stream in the long run. Then bolster whatever skill will improve what actually matters. 

Attack it for massive damage
One weak point in my channel is self-imposed: I never talk over cutscenes or story moments in my singleplayer games. This however, is the only way I enjoy playing video games, and it's crucial to my channel's identity. But it's always important to remember: whether this feature is crucial or not, it's still a weak point in my engagement level from the viewer's perspective. So how do we solve this? Talking over the cutscenes is the obvious answer, but this isn't what I enjoy, and I'd be miserable in the long run. So instead, I bolster my opposing strengths: I make sure I'm providing as much entertaining commentary and viewer engagement as possible outside of the cutscenes. I ask viewers for opinions on what just happened in the story when a cutscene ends, and analyze the subtler character motivations that we wouldn't have noticed if I were talking the whole time. Plus, I use chat commands- viewers can send reactionary emote strings representing love, sadness, or excitement during cutscenes to show how they're feeling about story moments when I won't be talking. This means there is engagement during the cutscenes, but not from me. And there is as much engagement as possible during my shows, but not during the cutscenes

When you think about weak points in your channel, make sure you're taking a similar step back. Even if something is your number one favorite thing on your channel, like story in video games is for me, it might still be a weakness from the viewer's perspective. If you want to keep that feature, what opposing strengths could you improve instead of simply homogenizing your shows?


Sometimes the weaknesses on our streams aren't self-imposed, but are instead harsh realities of our lives. Then we're really put up against the problem with no choice but to solve it somehow.

What happens when the internet goes down?
There was a 6-month span on my channel when my internet service would intermittently drop out. It would happen with no rhyme or reason, and the dozen or so technicians who visited couldn't fix (or even diagnose) the issue. Without any warning, my streams would be turned into slideshows for a full 30-60 minutes. This was happening several times per week, sometimes multiple times per day. Instead of simply giving up on streaming, I came up with an alternative idea that my stream could switch to in these dead zones. Utilizing my strengths in chat engagement and community features, I would move to a Just Chatting stream, showing my computer screen as I worked on behind-the-scenes aspects of the shows. The work had to get done anyway, so it was still useful for me, and it provided an opportunity to talk more directly with viewers about the channel. Because this behind-the-scenes work involved mostly static web pages and Photoshop windows instead of a constantly moving video game image, it became less of a problem that the stream was only outputting one frame every second.

In the previous entry Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream, I talked about another of my channel's weaknesses: my business trips. Over a dozen times per year, I'd be in a completely different US state, and therefore wasn't able to stream from my usual setup. But instead of trying to 'fix' this by either asking not to go (unreasonable), or bringing a bulky PC with me on these trips (equally unreasonable), I took advantage of another of my skills instead. Having studied fine arts for about a decade in my early life, I started doing artwork streams while I was on the road. I'd bring a normal coloring book and apply advanced shading and lighting techniques to make the pictures my own. This became a favorite change of pace for viewers, and allowed me to keep the streams going strong even when I was away from the computer. I wasn't 'fixing' the problem put before me, I was taking advantage of a different strength to offset the problem entirely.


There's one streaming problem I talk about all the time: lack of equipment or other monetary investments. In almost every entry so far, I've suggested that you not spend money on equipment to improve your stream, effectively helping you create a self-imposed weakness. But instead of trying to 'fix' this weakness by making purchases, I help you bolster the opposing strengths. When you improve all the other things needed to make a great stream except the equipment, you actually end up a better streamer- something that wouldn't come from making purchases alone. In other words, this is an example of how buying things to 'fix' your weakness would be hurting you in the long run, rather than helping.

You don't have to be perfect at everything. Heck, you don't even have to be good at most things. All you need to do is identify what's truly important and focus on being as skilled as possible in those few categories. Whether the thing creating problems on your channel is a hard reality of your schedule, a lack of internet coverage, or even something self-imposed, you always have lots of options to improve. The trick is, 'fixing' your weaknesses isn't always the answer- try embracing your greatest strengths instead!

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