Friday, December 27, 2019

Why Viewers Stop Watching

Why do people join your Twitch streams? What causes them to tune out? What can you do to put as much time as possible between those two actions? Everyone who streams has thoughts about what attracts viewers to their channel, and what keeps them around, but in my opinion, the most important piece of the viewer retention puzzle is knowing what commonly causes viewers to stop watching. In this entry, we'll attempt to understand more about why viewers watch your shows by exploring what causes them to leave. We'll go into what you can do (or stop doing) to avoid driving people away, and learn to accept when viewers will naturally want to leave your show no matter what you do. Empathizing with your audience is always an important step in becoming a better streamer, but by demystifying the reasons your numbers sometimes drop, you'll be helping yourself stay sane in the process. 


Let's say you're playing a competitive first-person shooter. You're doing well and there are a lot of people watching- more than your usual average. Then the next time you see an enemy, you completely miss a few shots and get yourself killed in return. You've lost the match, and this isn't only frustrating for its own sake, but because letting yourself lose has also caused you to lose viewers.

But is this really the case?

Is losing really the reason viewers tune out?
Many streamers certainly assume so. A simple math equation: more headshots equals more views, more deaths equals more people leaving. I think this is a short-sighted and dangerous viewpoint, however. Yes, your view count during a multiplayer match or boss battle will go down when you lose, that's true. But what you may not realize is that your view count will go down when you win just as quickly.

If this phenomenon sounds confusing to you, then consider the main reason why people watch a Twitch stream: they want to be entertained. Whether you win or lose, once your game goes back to the menu in PUBG, there's a guaranteed downtime of a few minutes before anything interesting really starts happening again. In Dark Souls, losing against a boss means a minute or two where you run back to the boss room, but even if you win there will still be a few minutes of downtime while you look over your new items and search for a bonfire. Someone at work, school, or simply watching at home will take these moments of downtime as natural chances to tune out, because they may not think they'll have time to wait for the next big event. In short, viewers don't necessarily leave in response to poor performance, they leave as a side effect of high adrenaline.

Rather than wrapping all your hopes in your ability to win every single day, you'd be better off finding a way to keep the stream entertaining no matter the result. Take these moments after a victory or defeat to engage more with your chat, show entertaining things from your Discord, or excite people with little side-games on stream. If you're doing challenge runs for example, giving people after a match the opportunity to submit ideas for your next run is a great way to have them actually look forward to the downtime on stream, because that's when they might get picked to submit the next challenge.


One of my biggest pet peeves on streams is when the broadcaster is cruel to others, whether those are people present in the room or in Twitch chat. As a viewer this kind of behavior immediately sours my experience, and it's unlikely that I'll stick around. It's kind of like how they say you can tell a lot about a person based on how they treat their waiter at a restaurant. If the streamer is being mean to one chatter today, every other chatter is subconsciously thinking the same thought: "It's only a matter of time until I'm next."

You might be getting mad about the wrong thing.
The most common time for streamers to get angry and lash out is immediately after losing a match, not only because of naturally high tension, but because they know in the back of their mind that they're going to pay by losing views as well. For anyone who has a problem with outbursts on stream, it would be ridiculous for me to simply say, "Don't get angry." This isn't something you can control so easily, and if it were, you would have done something about it already. But hopefully, by understanding that losing isn't quite so different from winning when it comes to viewership dropoff, you might be able to clear your mind of some of the subconscious view-count pressure that builds every time you think you might lose a match. I've seen people who are terrible at video games who have lots of viewers, and I've seen people who are extremely skilled at games who have few. It's true that with no other variables, skill at the game itself plays a part in whether people stick around. But we're not dealing with the game in a vacuum- on Twitch, you are the most significant variable. More important than skill at a game is your skill as a streamer. If you're good enough at that, people will keep watching, regardless of your kill/death ratio.


Unless a viewer is pulled away by urgent business, they're going to choose low-adrenaline moments to tune out. If you're interested in keeping people from leaving when these moments occur, consider changing the cadence of your streams. By making the show more consistently entertaining, rather than pinning everything on whether you perform well on a given day, you'll be able to keep viewers watching for longer. More importantly however, you will remove much of the stream-related anxiety that many streamers feel in intense moments, because you'll know that the outcome of your match won't be the end of the world. So get out there and make great content, without sweating all the ups and downs!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Grow Your Channel in Public

People often wait to start their Twitch channels because they want to make sure everything's perfect before their first stream. I've spoken a lot in previous entries about how you should start sooner rather than later, before you're ready, because otherwise you'll never start. But aside from this motivational factor, here's what many prospective streamers don't understand about waiting until everything's perfect:

Perfection is actually an undesirable trait.

How is this possible? Let's say that hypothetically you did take a whole year to prepare behind the scenes, and your channel starts out 100% perfectly, with no room to improve in any department. Your stream looks great, but now you have nowhere else to go. You can still certainly have a community, but you will have robbed them of one of the most engaging aspects of following a Twitch streamer: you took away their ability to watch you grow.


Nathan Drake definitely doesn't make every
right decision along the way.
Think about the Twitch streamers you've followed longest. Not the huge ones with over 100,000 fans, but someone who hasn't reached partner, or hadn't yet when you started following. If you've been watching for one or more years, talking in chat, experiencing all the most exciting moments in their gameplay, checking in every day or week or month, you'll likely remember different 'eras' in the history of their channel. Times when their graphics had an uglier layout, or they had a cheaper camera, or when they weren't as personable when talking with chat. As a viewer, there's a certain pride in knowing that you've been with this person since before their channel was completely polished. You've been able to watch them improve in each streaming category slowly over time, until they became the person you know today.

I know you probably see your lack of tech, or lack of fancy graphical layouts, or lack of confidence on camera as a negative, but it's actually one of your biggest advantages. Because any low-tech, ugly, or un-polished aspect of your stream pays dividends over time. All you have to do is stay in the game. Imagine how powerful it'll be when someone tells you how much your stream has improved since they started watching a year ago. People will be able to compare their experiences on your channel based on its different eras, saying to each other, "I've been watching since the no-camera days," or "Remember when we were a Minecraft channel?" So if you're waiting until everything's perfect before you start your channel, don't. Start broadcasting RIGHT NOW!


RPGs are more fun when you're unlocking
skills regularly over time.
It's not just new streamers who can benefit from this mindset either- even if you've already been streaming for years, giving your channel more visible growth can benefit you as well. Do you want to add a bunch of funny new OBS layouts that you can cut to at different moments? Instead of waiting weeks until you have time to create and test all 20 of these scenes, just make the first one and then roll it out immediately. Let people notice the new feature, and give them a chance to get excited about the addition. Once this has settled in, you can start working on and implementing the second one. Then people can get excited all over again for this second layout. And so on, and so on.

In the best video games, they give you a steady drip of new powers and abilities over the entire length of the game. If all 100 powers were unlocked from the beginning and nothing ever changed from beginning to end, the game would get boring. Take this mindset to heart and let your stream's new features roll out in small pieces rather than huge chunks.


Most people don't want to look vulnerable in front of others. That's why they hide behind the excuse of 'making everything perfect' before they start something new. Deep down, they're scared to look like they made a mistake in public. But Twitch is a much more accepting place than you might expect, and the longer people get to know you, the more excited they'll be when you improve. If you haven't started streaming yet, jump in! Don't deny your potential fans the ability to see you grow! And if you've been streaming already, then forget about generating one single moment of hype with a comprehensive update- instead, spread the excitement around with a rollout of smaller updates, letting your channel improve in front of everyone's eyes. When you grow your channel in public, you'll be sharing the Twitch experience with your whole audience. What's more fun than that?

Friday, December 13, 2019

How to Take Stream Criticism

One day you open Twitch and notice a whisper from someone who watches your streams. This person has been watching your shows for a long time, and you know they always want the best for the community. But instead of chatting with you about life, or complimenting you about your shows, they're telling you that they've thought for a while that your camera setup looks strange. Or that your audio is hard to hear. Or that on a recent episode, you may have offended another chatter without realizing it. This blindsides you- how could this person, who you've always trusted, be joining all those other negative people who say you aren't good enough? So you get offended. You explain why the issue wasn't an issue at all, despite knowing full well that it needs to be fixed. You compare your stream to others, saying, "at least I don't do this or that." You might even lash out at that person for bringing it up. On paper this all sounds ridiculous, but it's unfortunately how most creative people respond when put on the spot. Graciously accepting criticism is one of the hardest disciplines to master in any field. But learning to properly accept the negatives with the positives will help you to be a better streamer, and bring your community closer together in the process.

Don't put on blinders.
Most people on Earth would rather be 'right' than be successful. It's just the way our brains are wired. I spoke in the previous entry On Twitch, Failure is Your Friend, about how failing actually makes you more likely to succeed. And receiving criticism from viewers is one of the surest ways to find out which things about your shows are failing. But despite how useful it is, most of us would rather never hear that feedback in the first place. If we can only put on blinders, tune out the warning signs, and explain to this viewer why their problem actually wasn't a problem after all, then we can keep on living in the failure-free fantasy world we've created. This mindset shields us from getting hurt, but it also shields us from becoming truly great at what we do. Criticism is necessary if you're going to improve.


The number one reason most people have so much trouble with this kind of feedback is they mistake 'receiving criticism' for 'being criticized.' On paper, these two terms mean the exact same thing. But in practice, the connotations are very different. Criticism involves being constructive- someone tells you about a problem they've been having with your content, in the hopes that it will help you to get better. Criticizing is not constructive- someone tells you that you're stupid, or that your content is bad, with no intention of helping. We all hate being criticized, but most of us are so guarded against being criticized that we overcorrect, and can't stand genuine criticism either.

In Dark Souls you never know. Someone might be
trying to help.
When someone gives you criticism or offers a suggestion, don't start explaining, or firing back, or offering any counter at all. If that person had criticism, that means they had an issue with their viewing experience on your streams. This is an objective fact. There's no explaining away their feelings or experiences while watching. Your place is in deciding whether or not you're going to fix whatever problem they're describing. You certainly can't and shouldn't implement every change someone suggests, nor should you be attempting to cater your stream to the whim of every person who watches- but despite this, the criticism brought up was still real from this person's perspective. Whether or not you plan to do anything about their problem, it's definitely not your place to explain to them why their experience wasn't valid in the first place.

This person is offering you a golden opportunity to hear a firsthand account of a problem on your stream. As the streamer, it can be very difficult to understand what the moment-to-moment experience is like for the viewer. But by identifying a problem, this person is essentially lighting a pathway toward what you should do to fix it. You just have to put your ego aside long enough to see that. So what do you say when someone points out that your camera angle looks strange, or that one of your alerts doesn't play correctly?

Thank them.

Ask more questions about the problem they're having. Listen to their concerns. But don't try to defend yourself. This person is your ally- they aren't attacking you. You should be immensely grateful, not only that this person is helping you see your shows from their perspective, but that they came forward with their account. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and you can safely assume that if one person had this problem with your stream, then they're only the tip of the iceberg. Others are almost certainly having the same problem, simply without mentioning it to you.


Try to encourage people to give you suggestions and criticism. Let them send you private messages or whispers with their concerns, where you can pick their brain about the issue one-on-one and learn from their experience. Making it a private conversation also creates a safe space for them to point out much more personal issues with your streams, without fear of being judged by anyone else who may not have the same concern.

Sometimes people feel they can't truly share
when they're in front of everyone.
What I DON'T recommend doing is creating a large, open forum for discussion of your stream's faults, like a 'suggestions' channel on Discord. In my community, even if people try to post stream criticism in a public place, I'll direct them toward a whisper or DM instead. When someone is posting in front of others, it taints the authenticity of their account, and makes them less likely to share personal stories or experiences. Nobody wants to post an idea that everyone on a public forum will shoot down, so this makes most people avoid sharing their more unique thoughts, or causes them to get upset and defensive when they do post those thoughts and others don't agree. Plus, having a big public place where everyone is suggesting things and building on ideas makes it harder to not implement something that won't work for your channel. If everyone has spent dozens of chat lines thinking up and refining an idea they they think could improve your stream, it becomes much more awkward for you not to go ahead with it. Even if it doesn't fit your channel at all, the community is already attached to the idea and it creates a lose-lose scenario for you.

You're the only one who knows the inner workings of your streams, and you're also the only one who knows the direction you're interested in taking them. People watching can identify what's causing them problems, but they don't always know the best way to fix those problems. Your audience would have no way of knowing about most behind-the-scenes factors, and it's not their job to know about them. If someone gives you an idea, it's more important to identify the problem they were having that caused them to come up with this idea, and build on that. Most of the time when someone sends me a suggestion, I will reverse-engineer their problem, go back to the drawing board, and completely reinvent that aspect of the stream. I don't necessarily use the idea they sent, but I use the implicit criticism behind it to come up with an idea of my own. Make sure you're thinking outside the box when you use criticism, don't just latch onto whatever ideas are provided to you.


Taking criticism well is incredibly important, but after it's all said and done, don't forget to give credit where credit is due. Whether or not someone suggested the exact idea I implement, I will always make a big event on stream to thank them for inspiring that change. This is very important in my opinion, because it not only shows that person that I appreciate them, but conveys to everyone else watching that I care enough to take criticism to heart. This creates a positive loop which encourages others to share their thoughts as well. So the next time someone sends criticism of your streams, don't immediately start explaining yourself. Just listen, learn, and ask questions. When you're inspired by your viewers' real experiences, you'll start improving faster than you could have ever expected!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Do More Streaming

You've been streaming consistently, but you wish you were getting better results. Whether you're not seeing follower growth as fast as you'd like, you're still stumbling while talking to the camera, or the flow of your broadcasts feels stilted and unnatural, there's something about your streams that you hoped would be better by now. But here's the other problem- you don't have any more time you can spend on streaming. You feel stuck, like your Twitch channel is never going to get better because of the rate at which it has to grow. You'll be glad to know that there is a solution here, and it's very simple: Do more streaming. 

"But Nick," you might be saying, "I just said I don't have any more time to commit to streaming!" Yes, you did say that you don't have more time for streaming. I just don't believe you.


Let's do an exercise: No matter how much streaming you do right now, what would it look like if you DOUBLED your output? Whether you're going from one stream per week to two, or one stream per day to two, this probably seems like an unreasonable challenge. But do you know it's unreasonable? What if you had to make this change? Work out the logistics of how your day would have to look in order to make it a reality. Which things would you have to rearrange about your days? Which would you have to give up? Take a while and really think this over.

Your output might be fine right now, but it could be
Double Fine! ...I'll see myself out.
Before we move on, know that you're not alone in thinking this exercise is ridiculous. But also know that there are people out there who do a tiny fraction of the amount of streaming you do, who sweat while thinking of matching even half of your current output. What's their excuse? And at the same time, there are people who produce two, three, four times as much content as you make, who have figured out how to double or triple their output overnight. Don't dismiss this exercise as complete futility. Everything is relative.

One easy way to find more time for streaming is to remove other stream support activities, and replace them with actual on-air hours. Get rid of your channel's Twitter, Discord, YouTube, and anything else stream-related that takes your time, reorganize your schedule, and lump all that extra time you saved onto the end of your streams. The perfect thing about this is, you were already committing that time to stream-related activities, so you can't claim you're losing precious family time or much-needed sleep by streaming more. The time was already accounted for, but now it's just being reassigned. Think outside the box like this, and remove or reorganize other less important things as well, to make way for your new schedule.

So now that you've figured out a plan to double your streaming output, you can put it into action. For two weeks. It doesn't matter what you've got going on this week, or how busy you are compared to normal. As I mentioned in the entry How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, you'll never have more time than you do right now. So spend two weeks with this new streaming schedule implemented, and allow it to settle into your life. Only then, after two weeks of having streamed at twice the efficiency, are you allowed to decide whether this new output level is too much. You'd be surprised at the results.


We all have a baseline- the default amount of work that we're able to do per day. But in my experience, this is never a good way to judge what you're capable of- it's merely a fraction of your true potential. As human beings, we think we're smart enough to know our limits, but the problem is: our brains are more often put to work to convince us that we've already reached our limits. I've done this entry's exercise several times in my streaming career, thinking it would be completely ludicrous to double my output at the time, only to later find that the extra time could easily be slotted into my days all along. Your output will always be low if your expectations are low.

Break out of the ordinary. Forget the rules!
Don't stick to a preconceived notion of what's possible. Become completely ignorant about what's possible, and just do as much as you can with nothing against which to measure. See from experience whether it's detrimental to your life, don't just assume. As I've mentioned in previous entries, little insignificant things will always find ways to take up your time if you let them. So just put out as much content as you can. It doesn't matter if people like it, and it doesn't matter if it's even any good. What matters is that you're publishing content to the internet, getting better each time. And you will get better each time. You may not be able to notice the change as it's happening, but it'll be there. You'll be taking control of your own fate, not allowing any excuse to put an asterisk on what you create.

I've now started doing this exercise with all important things in my life, jamming new creative ideas and daily projects into my schedule, or extending existing ones to take more time per day. This kind of thing can make you an incredibly productive person, because even if you only get to do 75% of a certain day's hours, your overall output will still be significantly higher than it was when you had lower standards. Raising your expectations for yourself is dangerous when completely unchecked. But if you back those expectations up with proven experience- being able to point to the last two weeks and say, "I already found a way to pull this off"- then you'll have no excuse to tell yourself later when you feel you can't do it.


If you're concerned about how slow you're growing, either as a channel or as a streamer in general, there are only two things you can do about it: nothing, or something. I've spoken in the past about why It's Okay Not to Grow Your Channel in the fields you don't enjoy, but you can take all that extra time you get from ditching the things you dislike, and put it into doing more of the actual streaming you love! If you want to get results, you need to put in work, and most people miss out on incredible opportunities, simply because they've convinced themselves that there's nothing more they can do. You could always do more, and as long as you're planning properly, you can do it safely and without ruining the other important things in your life. But until you prove this to yourself, you'll be your own biggest naysayer. So convince yourself that you're capable of doing greater things, and you'll be able to shatter the ceiling of what you previously thought possible!