Friday, November 8, 2019

It's Okay Not to Grow Your Channel

When building your Twitch channel, there will be lulls when it feels like a good time to expand. You might reach some big round number of followers, maybe you'll finish the game you've been working on for a while, or maybe you'll just have a long spell of unchanging sameness on your streams. There are all sorts of ways to to go about growing your stream in either its quality or scope: celebrating one major milestone with a 24-hour marathon, doing game key giveaways, upgrading equipment, or opening brand new social channels. It's easy to get blinded by 'progress' without realizing which upgrades are actually helping. If left unchecked, this kind of rampant growth can bloat your channel enough to start impeding your actual streams, or worse- sap your will to stream.

There's a strange kind of peer pressure that occurs for Twitch streamers- our medium is so public and there's such a stigma about what we're supposed to look like that oftentimes it feels like we're following a road map when growing our channels. Most of us have assumptions in our heads about what our channels should look like at 500, 1,000 or 10,000 followers before we've even done our first broadcast. This act of blindly following the pre-established mold is one of the largest sources of unhappiness in streamers, and you should be careful not to get caught in it. While I always support starting new things to see if they work, I'm never a fan of dogmatically sticking with something you hate just because you think you're supposed to do it. If you want to be happy on Twitch, you don't only need to know when to expand, but also when not to grow your channel.


If you've been streaming for any length of time, it's likely that you've already enacted some expansions on your channel. Have you ever taken a long, sober look at those new endeavors and truly assessed whether they're working for you? And I don't mean thinking about whether your community requested those additions, whether it makes sense on paper, or whether another of your favorite streamers has the same feature- I mean whether they're working for you, and you alone, in practice. You need to ask yourself one question: does this feature make me enjoy streaming more, or does it make me enjoy streaming less?

It's easy to keep accumulating features without
considering which ones you actually like.
In the growth check-in entry called Boosting Your Streams, I've touched on this subject a bit already. It's easy to get sidetracked by all the moving parts we set up for our channels, and then feel trapped by those very additions we've made. Always remember that nothing on your channel is sacred, and there's no feature on Twitch that you absolutely need to have if it doesn't make you happy. Don't like doing marathon streams? Nix them. Don't like streaming popular video games, or video games at all? Do what you love instead. Don't like talking to chat, using a camera, or speaking at all, and would rather silently capture your screen while you look up Wikipedia articles about The French Revolution? Go for it! There is no secret ingredient that every Twitch channel needs to have in common, and if you want to last then you're better off simply doing what you love from the outset.

Throughout my life I've always preferred to play singleplayer story-based games, but when I started my Twitch channel I thought nobody would ever be interested in watching someone who only specialized in that one kind of thing. So near the beginning of my channel I started playing lots of multiplayer games as well. People watched, but these games were never something I personally was passionate about. I eventually realized I was only doing this because I thought that was what you were supposed to do when you were a Twitch streamer- on some days you do the thing you actually want to do, and on some days you do the things people want to see. This is ridiculous of course, and since dropping multiplayer games as a regular feature of my channel I've been much happier for it.


If you want to still be streaming years from now,
make sure you aren't doing things that make
you unhappy.
Most of the expansions we add to our Twitch channels in the beginning come about because we're checking off items on an imaginary list of things it takes to be a 'real streamer'. Some of these things will quickly show themselves as being too time-consuming and we immediately have to drop them. But the biggest problem that comes from new expansions are when you do find a way to fit them into your schedule, but they covertly sap away energy and time that you don't even know you're losing. Whether you're growing a new Twitter channel, setting up community game nights each Friday, or preparing the extra variables that come with multistreaming to a second platform, these may only take you an extra five minutes each day, and therefore seem pretty harmless. But as I demonstrated in the entry Perfecting Your Stream Prep, small tasks compounded over months or years compound into huge numbers. No matter how small or innocuous something looks, never hesitate to put it on the chopping block if you find it isn't helping.

One instance where I got caught in this trap was in setting up a merch store. Because many services offer the ability to sell t-shirts and coffee mugs at no up-front cost, they can be very tempting prospects for streamers to grow their brands. Plus, it would seem to be somewhat 'fire and forget' - you post the listings for each item once, and leave them alone. In practice however, things were anything but convenient for me. First, most of these places charge high prices to the consumer and offer terrible profit margins for the seller. So I knew I wouldn't make much money, but I figured, as you probably are right now, that I wasn't in it for the money anyway. On top of this was designing and listing items, which was much more grueling than anticipated, going back and forth trying to make logos fit perfectly in the right spot on each item, which came with the intangible cost of my time and energy. Then I bought some of my own items for myself or loved ones, which most streamers end up wanting to do, especially during the holidays. This meant that I was charged the high product costs and shipping fees from my own pocket, causing me to actually lose significantly more money than I was gaining, thanks to the terrible profit margins. Sure, anyone's ego would like the idea of someone wearing a shirt with their face on it, but was that vanity really worth losing my time, money and happiness? I eventually realized that I was only selling merch because I thought it was just something streamers were supposed to do. I discontinued my merch store and have been significantly happier ever since.


Expansion can destroy you just as quickly as it can help. The examples I've used in this entry apply to my personal experience alone- you might have great success with multiplayer streams and merch- but for me these things were only sources of unhappiness. It's important to keep the things we do every day in check, and not let them stand in the way of our actual ambitions. If you let something sap the joy from streaming for too long, you'll likely get fatigued or even give up on your passion altogether. So always try new things- you should be attempting changes and upgrades daily- but the keyword there is try. Don't assume that just because you've started on a new endeavor, or even if you've been doing it every day for six months, that it's completely above being reassessed.

So take a step back now and ask yourself: Is there anything you've added to your channel that you've had doubts about? Any types of streams that you've noticed yourself looking forward to less than the others? Any off-stream work brought on by channel expansion that you particularly dislike? Think about getting rid of them, even temporarily, and see if it feels better- you can always bring them back if you need to. But if you want to continue streaming for the long term, you need to know when it's okay not to grow your channel.

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