Friday, December 25, 2020

The Influence of a Twitch Streamer

In many past entries I've talked about how we streamers often feel a subtle peer pressure, nudging us toward following the herd. We begin to crave the same trappings that other streamers around us have, and our ideas about the streaming practice become more rigid each day. Similarly, as your channel grows, you will begin to impose your own values upon others, whether consciously or not, in your Discord, your chat, the Twitter community, and the larger streaming scene. How about this- have you ever noticed that people who majorly identify with a certain streamer will eventually adopt that person's mannerisms? They may chat a certain way, pick up particular words, or start playing their games more similarly to how that streamer plays them. All of these examples demonstrate the effects of influence. Whether it's being imposed upon you as the streamer, coming from your own stream, or reaching viewers, everyone is susceptible as they spend more time on the Twitch platform. And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's important to understand how you're being affected, as well as just how much power you might have as a growing 'influencer' so you can use that power responsibly.


Before any of us started streaming, by creating Twitter presences, joining Discord channels, or simply watching streams, our thinking on various subjects had already begun to subtly change. It's unavoidable as we stay within certain circles. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we're influenced by the actions and ideas of those we spend the most time with- even if we've never met them before. Think of the strange power that celebrities have over many of our lives. They're not only able to sell us products and enlighten us about worthy causes with relative ease, but we often model our own fashion, speech patterns and other affectations after them just because we like the way they look or act. We as a culture have always been fascinated by celebrities- just watch the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd to see a shockingly familiar sight: A nobody from nowhere makes his way from local radio to national broadcasting, then to television, with his power over hearts and minds growing unchecked as he continues on his journey. In the film, average Americans feel they can relate to the character 'Lonesome Rhodes,' who came from humble beginnings and lays on the charm to everyone he meets, so they're more likely to buy products sponsored by him, watch his shows, and even adopt his mannerisms. This type of ultra-approachable celebrity status shown in the film seems to have portended our modern age of influencers. 

In this past decade, we've seen a major shift in who is able to sway hearts and minds. Brad Pitt is a great actor, but most of us here are much less likely to be influenced by him than by our favorite Twitch streamer. Because we can now create two-way conversations with our favorite internet personalities, or even just spend more time watching their content, we inherently begin to trust their opinions more readily than a celebrity we enjoy but know we'll likely never meet. This is all to say that, as someone consumes more streams, tweets, Instagram posts, and other content made by Twitch streamers, they will slowly begin to internalize some of those streamers' beliefs, whether they want to or not. This is why 'influencer marketing' has become so popular lately- agencies are starting to recognize this incredible power that average people in front of a camera can have when they spend enough time with their audiences. 


They're out there!
So you understand how powerful your own influence as a streamer can be (and hopefully you'll use it responsibly), but influence is not a one-way street. You as the streamer are also being influenced every day, by every other streamer and content creator you watch, read, listen to, or engage with in any way. I've touched briefly on this subject before, but have you ever noticed how most Twitch streamers have similar ideas about most aspects of streaming? What makes so many streamers have flashy, multicolored LED light setups on their PCs for example? What makes most streamers pick from a few very specific brands of headphones, or a few very specific brands of chairs? It's because influence has fed back into itself. Once a community formed around streaming, that meant that other streamers began consuming each others' content and ideas, and like waves lapping hundreds of thousands of times upon a stone, this group-influence slowly molded the average stream into what it looks like today. As more streamers began adopting this aesthetic, more advertising agencies reinforced it in our minds by selling us on this idealized look. And as more streamers were sold these products, even more ads began to crop up, and the cycle has continued exponentially. Don't get me wrong- this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The mere existence of influence isn't inherently evil. There's nothing wrong with having any of the products I mentioned either, but it's interesting to consider that the desire to have them may not have sprung from your own mind. As Yuval Noah Harari demonstrates in his excellent book Homo Deus, we're able to freely choose between several different options in our heads, but we can't choose the impulses that put those options in our heads in the first place. 

Okay, so we're all subject to influence. But don't eat your sim card and start wearing a tinfoil hat just yet. If you understand how you're being affected, it's possible to make more informed decisions about how you create your content. There are often things I'll think could never work on my stream, but when I really think about it, I'll realize it's only because I've been conditioned to think that way. It's common on Twitter for example, to see some massively retweeted post saying, "If you don't do X, Y, or Z, why are you even streaming at all?" Because of the way our human brains are set up, when we see an opinion like that from one person on Twitter, then from another in a video update, then a third time from someone completely different on their stream, we start to internalize this opinion as fact. We say, "I guess if all these separate people believe this to be true, there must be some truth in it." But if that thing they're advising against is something you genuinely enjoy, and it doesn't break the terms of service, don't let these outside opinions pressure you. Influence can help you find the safest possible route, but 'safe' doesn't make you stand out. Be strong enough to break free from that influence when necessary. 


With great- NO! I won't say it!

Because we create so much bespoke content every day or week, consistent Twitch streamers end up releasing more hours of video than any celebrity could hope to put forth with movies, TV and interview appearances alone. And just like how you may adopt the slang and mannerisms of your friend group, viewers will start to adopt the inside jokes and quirks of your streams as their watch hours reach the hundreds or the thousands. Every Twitch streamer has influence, and it's important to keep that influence in check. To avoid dredging up a tired quote from that old rice brand's namesake, suffice it to say that you should try to be a good person. While your Twitch streams grow, it'll be up to you to make sure that whatever you're putting forth into the world is positive, and fits with your core beliefs. Don't underestimate your influence as a Twitch streamer, and you'll be able to do a lot of good. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Reshaping Your Days for Streaming

In earlier entries, I helped you to remove unnecessary distractions from your routine. I encouraged you to delete unneeded social channels, and cut down on the time you waste doing unimportant tasks which don't further your aspirations. Streaming can take a lot of energy after all, and when you're pulled in a hundred different directions each day by artificially urgent matters on your phone or computer, you might find that when it comes time, you're too tired to go live.


One of the biggest wastes of time however, are tasks you may think are important, but are doled out in an inefficient way. Anyone who's ever worked at an office knows about this paradigm- being called into endless meetings might seem productive on paper to some coordinator, but in practice it just ends up wasting a lot of time, forcing you to work harder to meet deadlines when you're finally released from the conference table. It's easy to identify these meetings as culprits sapping your time- they're huge, dull blocks of hours you have to sit through. But what if there was something else, which wasted a similar chunk of your time, without you even noticing? 

These things can sap your brain.

Did you know that roughly 28% of the average office workday is spent simply reading emails? That's 2.6 hours, gone. What's worse, most of these emails aren't even necessary, and their endless chains could be cut, Gordian Knot-style, by getting on a single phone call. Email is one of the most harmful things to the modern office worker, because it not only saps their time, but it kills their productivity, efficiency, and ultimately their capacity for excellence, without the worker ever even realizing. It's not one big, identifiable thing. It's dozens of little interruptions throughout the day, which add up to a big thing. The proverbial 'death by a thousand cuts.' And this kind of indirect daily sabotage hurts much more than something big and obvious like a meeting. 

What if I told you that during your personal time as well, your spirit is being whittled away, slowly, silently, and just as lethally? In our internet-connected age, we can seek out all conceivable knowledge at a moment's notice. But over the past decade and a half, because this tool-assisted omniscience soon became the status quo, we then started asking that knowledge to seek us. Now, each of us is bombarded every day not just by content we want to see, but content we've signed ourselves up to be shown. Every few minutes, something causes our pockets to vibrate, whether it's a response our recent social media post, a message in a group chat among friends, notifications about content we're subscribed to, or sometimes just random pings from apps we haven't used in a while to remind us they exist. We accept all this as normal, because it's happening to everyone else too. But as we all know by now, just because everyone else does it doesn't mean it's right. This constant haze of faux-activity is one of the largest detriments to the average person's life goals. 


I've warned about the dangers of distractions in several past entries, and I've helped you to cull unneeded social media and other time-wasting apps from your days. But if you don't want to remove anything, is there another way to buy yourself some extra inner peace? What I've found is that we can trick ourselves into accomplishing more productive activities each day without changing which apps we use at all. We just need to alter the way they notify us. 

In the 1890s, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov was conducting research into the responses of various dogs being fed. During his experiment, he noticed something curious. The dogs would salivate whenever they saw food as expected, but they would also start salivating when they heard the footsteps of the technician who usually brought their food. How could mere footsteps cause a dog to be hungry? So he tried to go even further. The researcher would ring a bell, then give the dog food. When the dog was fed, it was only after hearing this chime. And after a while, the researchers found that the mere sound of a bell would cause the dog to salivate, even when it wasn't time to eat. With this famous experiment, the concept of the 'Pavlovian response' was born. 

Dog? Dog.

Now, we use the term to describe any action which has become unconsciously associated with another seemingly unrelated action in our heads. The biggest Pavlovian response we're all susceptible to is the vibration of a phone. For most of us, we're like wild west gunslingers when we hear or feel our phone go off- grabbing and unlocking them with lightning speed and precision. But statistically, the reason to unlock our phones isn't usually worth it. Typically the notification ends up heralding a single 'like' on a post or a piece of junk mail. I've found that tailoring the frequency of my phone's notifications, even without changing the apps I use, has encouraged better habits. I've disabled buzzes when things happen on Instagram, for instance, and now will only see what's changed the next time I open the app. Instead, I have my calendar app buzz me every time a scheduled stream, podcast recording, behind-the-scenes work session, or any other actual important item is coming up. 

And it really made a difference! My hand was still shooting to my phone when it buzzed, but now it accomplished something that truly furthered my dream- I was more punctual in getting stream work done on time, and I knew more reliably what I was doing each day and when. After seeing these positive results, I began disabling notifications for most things on my phone, unless they were of critical importance to my goals. I realized it made no difference whether I was notified every individual time someone liked my picture, versus just seeing all the past 3 hours' likes in a big batch. But by checking them in batches, I gained a disproportionate amount of mental clarity. Now I know that any time my pocket buzzes, it's actually important. Even though most people usually associate the Pavlovian response with negative outcomes, I was able to harness its power and redirect my modern conditioning toward enhanced productivity. 


So if you want to free up more clarity for your streams but are having a hard time deleting social media accounts, you could instead change the way they notify you. As I mentioned in earlier entries, by responding to constant pings- even if they happen while at work when you're away from your stream setup- you might find that you're mentally exhausted by the time a scheduled showtime rolls around. Try removing the frequency of notifications from things that aren't constructive toward your streaming career, and utilize pings for the calendar I helped you to establish in the entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming so you're able to better stick to it. By clearing my schedule of these distractions, I've found that I'm much more lucid and less tired. Hopefully by using these techniques, you can easily reshape your days for streaming as well. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Find Your Streaming Passion

When you've been streaming for a while, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the process. But among all the chaos and fun of building a new project from scratch, you might be holding back your true potential without even realizing it. Have you found your passion within the streaming craft? Once you've reached a certain point, it's not enough to simply love streaming in general- by looking within your streams and finding what specific things you love about them, you could tap into an even greater source of fulfillment. In this entry, we'll talk about finding your streaming passion. 


This process of finding your calling within a larger craft isn't exclusive to streaming though- it's helped people across all fields. For example, viewers and critics have been speculating for years that popular comedy actor Adam Sandler basically just shoots movies as excuses to hang out on tropical islands with his friends. And a few years ago, he's actually gone on record confirming that this is the case. On Jimmy Kimmel Live he stated explicitly, "I have done that since 50 First Dates (Sandler's comedy film from 2004). It was written in another place. I said, ‘Imagine if we did it in Hawaii, how great that movie would be.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s a very artistic idea.’ I’ve been doing that ever since." 

Whether choosing to make people laugh or cry, it's
his choice.

You may only be familiar with his comedy catalogue, but Sandler is actually a world-class actor as well, and several of his dramatic roles are truly extraordinary. Still, instead of constantly chasing awards, he chooses to spend most of his time going on these studio-funded vacations to make dumb comedies. And you know what? That’s his choice. Just because other people consider prestige to be the measurement of an actor doesn't mean he has to constantly chase after it. He can still satisfy his artistic side by working with Paul Thomas Anderson and the Safdie Brothers when he chooses to, and then spend the majority of his time having fun and getting paid to do it. Sandler has found what he loves within filmmaking, and he's been smart enough to truly commit to that passion.  


For some, it's the work itself that holds so much value. Tarsem, director of the incredible 2006 film THE FALL, actually prefers to do commercial work over feature films. Most aspiring movie directors shoot music videos and commercials as stepping stones to get into Hollywood. But Tarsem has found that what he loves isn't necessarily film itself, but the process of filming. When asked by The AV Club whether he shoots commercials to pay the bills, he replied, "Almost everybody I know hates the filming process that I admire. They always like the prefiguring and the editing, and I am the only moron that just loves being on a set. I shoot more than 300 days a year, I'm on the road all the time, and I love it. So I don't know. When that passion dies, maybe I'll do more films, but I just love being on the set, and film doesn't allow that as much."

Despite the filming process being what most people think of when they imagine 'making movies,' this is an incredibly stressful and taxing ordeal for a director, despite typically being the shortest part of the moviemaking process. Most directors can't wait for this 'principal photography' stage to be over, so they can start putting the movie together in the editing room. For anyone interested to see just how dizzying the practice can be, I highly recommend the extraordinary multi-volume documentary features about the making of The Lord of the Rings. But as Tarsem mentioned, he actually likes being on set more than anything else. He too has found what he loves within filmmaking. And by doing so, he discovered an entirely different path for his career. 


It's fine to love the act of streaming. In fact, a love for streaming is pretty much required if you're going to stick with it. But by finding what specific small things you love about streaming, your eyes might be opened to an entirely new level of satisfaction with your craft. Adam Sandler and Tarsem both love making movies. But if they had just left it at that, without exploring and doubling down on the things about moviemaking that they loved, they never would have unlocked their true potential for the lifestyles they wanted. 

For myself, I've loved the act of streaming since I started. But early on, I found that I didn't necessarily love everything about the type of stream I was making. As I've mentioned in previous entries, I used to talk constantly on my shows when I started out, keeping the energy at its maximum levels at all times. I was always glancing at my viewer numbers, trying to think of ways to keep them climbing. And because of my professional background in on-camera broadcasting and social media brand building, these things were easy for me. But this wasn't work anymore- it was my own Twitch channel. And as someone who loves storytelling, I didn't find this approach satisfying. This numbers-driven, high-energy show matched with the typical streamer's aspiration of gaining a large audience as quickly as possible, but I thought I could do better for myself by exploring what I actually wanted from the craft.

Can confirm by the way, this game is still a
masterpiece 12 years later.
So I sent my shows in the opposite direction. I realized that if I stopped measuring 'success' on my channel by how many people I brought in, I'd be able to focus on what I actually liked about playing video games: the stories. Now, my shows are very sedate. I talk seldom, and when I do it's never over a cutscene or story-infused gameplay moment. Replaying the massively story-heavy Metal Gear Solid games lately, this sometimes means going an entire hour or more while a string of cutscenes plays out, without my ever saying a word. My channel grows more slowly and there are fewer people chatting at any given time, but I'm happier than I've ever been with streaming. Because for the past few years since coming to this conclusion, I've been able to stream video games in the exact way I enjoy doing it. This doesn't match with what most people want from streaming, but that doesn't really matter to me. We all have to find what we want from our craft, and pursue that personal goal.


I encourage you to try to find what you love about streaming. Whether it's the high pressure of speedrun challenges, an opportunity to get on a soapbox about your favorite pop culture franchise, the chance to show off your new outfits on camera each day, or an excuse to practice your oil painting skills, see if you can find a way to increase the prominence of that element on your shows. Even if you have to give up certain more traditionally desirable results to do so, you may find that, just like with Adam Sandler and Tarsem, the happiness you gain is much more valuable than what you've getting rid of. Because when you find your streaming passion, nothing else really matters. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Know When Not to Do What the Audience Wants

As you continue streaming, you'll start to receive viewer requests for things to change about your shows. These can range from simple error fixes to suggestions that you add a new widget or minigame, and sometimes even demands that you alter the games you play entirely. But it's important to remember that as a content creator, the buck stops with you. There's nothing you have to implement on your own streams if you don't want to. In the entry Stream How You Want, I told you about how Bob Dylan uprooted his entire career to change his musical style, shunning a huge percentage of his existing fans to do so, and ended up creating some of the greatest rock albums of all time. We learned how, as a Twitch streamer, you should never be afraid to change your shows just because others might dislike your decision. In this entry, we're going to explore another angle- standing your ground amidst the various, often contradictory requests for changes from viewers. Here, we'll talk about the seldom-discussed concept of when not to do what the audience wants, and explore how two of the world's greatest business leaders used the same strategy to yield amazing results. 


In previous entries, you've heard me talk about Henry Ford, father of modern automobile production. This man was an absolute paragon of industry, and he was prophetic in many of his ideas about how factory production, as well as work in general, would function in the years to come. In fact, aside from some of his unfortunate and dated personal beliefs, Ford's 1922 autobiography 'My Life and Work' still reads like it could have been written today. 

We owe much of the popularity of automobiles to 
Ford and his groundbreaking ideas.

One of my favorite anecdotes in this book involves Ford's realization that the customer is not necessarily always right, and how we shouldn't be too quick to bend to every whim. He says, "The salesmen [...] were spurred by the great sales to think that even greater sales might be had if only we had more models. It is strange how, just as soon as an article becomes successful, somebody starts to think that it would be more successful if only it were different. There is a tendency to keep monkeying with styles and to spoil a good thing by changing it. The salesmen were insistent on increasing the line. They listened to the 5 percent, the special customers who could say what they wanted, and forgot all about the 95 percent, who just bought without making any fuss. No business can improve unless it pays the closest possible attention to complaints and suggestions. If there is any defect in service then that must be instantly and rigorously investigated, but when the suggestion is only as to style, one has to make sure whether it is not merely a personal whim that is being voiced."

There are always people who will be loud about what they want from you, and they don't necessarily represent the feelings of the whole. You'll see this often on your streams. If people in your chat are suggesting a change, it's likely coming from a few very outspoken people who are able to articulate what they want, similar to the 5 percent of customers Ford mentions. If someone is pointing out a flaw, like your microphone not working, then that's one thing. But if they're saying you should play this, or say that, or change a graphic to red instead of blue, that's not something you have to do. It's just a viewer's personal whim. As streamers, it's hard not to do what someone directly asks of us, because we typically want to make sure everyone is happy. But don't forget that only you know what's ultimately best for your streams, and the decision is yours at the end of the day which of these changes actually need to be made.


You can't talk about business leaders succeeding by not listening to their customers without mentioning Steve Jobs. Apple's co-founder and headstrong leader was the king of making unpopular decisions to move the industry forward. Many of us nowadays focus on Apple's rigidity as arbitrary and negative, like forcing us to buy various new connector cables or accessories for our phones. But throughout its history, Jobs' staunch positions on Apple's products blazed the trails which made many aspects of modern computing into what they are today. In the early 80's for example, Apple computers were the first to require that users have a mouse. This decision was laughed at in the beginning, but the mouse is now a mainstay most of us can't imagine being without. They hadn't invented the hardware, but by forcing users to use this tool in order to interface with their machines, they changed their entire industry for the better. 

It's hard to imagine now, but early computers functioned
with keyboards alone. 

The original iMac in 1998 changed things again, not necessarily by adding a feature, but by removing another one. One of the largest mainstays of computing throughout the 1980's and 90's was the floppy disk. This was a piece of storage media so ubiquitous that to this day, decades later, we still use an image of the floppy disk as the standardized 'save' icon in most games and applications. Steve Jobs saw the future though, and asserted that CD storage, as well as the rapidly expanding internet, were going to overtake this more established format. So, despite the floppy disk thriving in the computer industry at the time, Apple stuck to their guns and completely removed it from their brand new iMac machine. It was a massively controversial decision, and many users had a hard time scrambling to adjust to the new CD format. But this change ultimately helped to usher in a paradigm shift, nudging the rest of the computer industry to follow suit a few years later. And with hindsight, I think we can all agree that the 312-inch floppy disk, with its max storage capacity of 1.44 megabytes, wouldn't have much of a place in modern computing.

Sometimes whether we're updating our channel's entire look, changing the games we play, or implementing new rules, it can be difficult to shed our old features. But not everything has to carry over- it's often necessary to reassess what you truly need to keep on your streams. Like with the 312-inch floppy disk, some people may have liked that old feature, but removing it could shed the weight which was previously dragging you down. And like with Apple's requirement that all users have a mouse, you may find that by broadening your horizons, some new concept quickly becomes a mainstay on your streams. 


Viewer interactions and agency in helping to craft a Twitch channel can be amazing, and I'm not saying you should simply ignore every suggestion that comes your way. In fact, I use many of my viewers' change suggestions, clips they've created, and their ideas for future games to play on my streams. But the pressure can be substantial when the audience begins asking for things that go against what you want for your shows. And while you don't have to outright refuse on the spot or make anyone feel bad, you don't need to implement the things they ask for either. To paraphrase one of Henry Ford's most famous quotes: "The customer can have a car painted any color he wants, so long as it's black." Sometimes, when shaping your content offering, you need to know when not to do what the audience wants. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Expanding Your Twitch Brand

If you've been streaming for a while now, you might be looking for ways to expand your reach outside of Twitch. Or maybe you've already created branded social pages, but have had a hard time getting any response to your posts. While actually making your streams should always be priority one, I'm certainly an advocate of branching out when it's safe to do so. By posting on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, or any other platform in support of your streams, you can explore interesting new avenues of content creation which might not be possible on Twitch. But it's important to realize a few things: the added responsibility of creating a new page like this, figuring out what kind of content you want to make, and probably most importantly, figuring out why you want to make it. 

As I say before every entry of this sort, especially if you just started with The Twitch Playbook and skipped to this one first: becoming consistent and skilled at actually streaming is always more important than building your brand. If you can't do ten streams without missing a single scheduled show (or if you haven't done ten streams yet in general), see the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams before attempting anything I lay out here. Trying to expand too soon can kill your channel before it even begins.


So what do I mean when I say 'social media channels'? These are any pages on other platforms that you create as part of your Twitch brand, and only feature content meant to further your Twitch persona. What I'm not talking about when I mention 'social media channels' are personal Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages that your all your friends and family are connected to, which feature your first and last name. Those are not branded social media channels, they're personal profiles. You can post things to them if you want, but they're not what we're discussing in this entry. 

Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Before starting any social media undertaking, make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew. It's better to begin with small, achievable milestones than massive plans that you abandon after a few days. It's essentially the same as starting a Twitch channel in that respect- you need to build enough discipline that you'll keep posting on schedule, every single time, whether or not you're in the mood to do so. If you already have several social media channels for your brand, consider cutting back and focusing on a single one. You can find more information about how to do this effectively in the growth check-in entry called Simplify Your Streams.


Here's the most popular post made by Twitch streamers on Instagram: a photograph of their PC setup with OBS open, with a caption saying, "I'm going live now!" and a link to their channel below it. Many accounts, if you look at their Instagram profiles, are just rows and rows of nearly identical photos like this, because they post this exact same thing every time they do a show. I personally think this is a wildly ineffective strategy for two reasons: it brings no value, and it misunderstands how content gets displayed in the first place. 

If you've made that exact post before, consider the following: who benefits from that content? Imagine if someone was following your Instagram account, and they were pelted every single day with the same picture of your computer. It's not interesting to look at, and it doesn't say anything interesting in itself. On the contrary in fact- it's asking them to do something that benefits you. You're essentially posting an advertisement and asking people to engage with it. But why should they? Yes, your stream might be interesting, but these people on Instagram aren't seeing your stream, they're seeing the picture of your computer. The only engagement you're likely to gain by such attempts are from bot accounts trying to sell you something of their own. 

If you don't enjoy making the posts, and nobody
sees them, then who wins?

And most ironically, even if people were interested enough to check out your channel based on a post like this, they likely wouldn't even be shown the content. Social media algorithms work by sending your content to small percentages of your audience, and after those people engage with the post (if they engage with it), it'll be sent to another small percentage. This means that a post which provides little to no value to the recipient isn't likely to get past that first small percentage. And if it does, that chain of algorithmic distribution might take so long that people only see it after your show is over. Letting people know you're live might be useful if you have 50,000 Instagram followers who are all interested to know such information, but it's not a good way to grow when you're small. 


This value-add philosophy doesn't only apply to Instagram of course. No matter what platform you use, you should try to create something that benefits the audience rather than blatantly playing to your own self-interests. Whether it's a beautiful image, a funny video, or an interesting thought, convey it in a way that you would find worth sharing if it weren't your post. 

Even if you never post links to your streams, or even mention you're a Twitch streamer at all, people who enjoy your content enough will eventually look at your profile page and follow the embedded link to your channel. And going further than that, even if they didn't follow your Twitch channel, there's nothing wrong with simply building an Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok that has a following of its own. You might find that there are things about those platforms that unlock different creative outlets than your Twitch channel provides. 

Similar to my philosophy about Twitch streaming, I think it's best to post whatever brings you the most creative fulfillment. Do you like making funny clips of your shows, taking artful in-game screenshots, or sharing theories about lore? Then focus on that. Don't worry about trying to herd people into your streams. Just like chasing followers on Twitch, making content that you think will get results rather than what you actually want to make, will only produce burnout. When expanding your Twitch brand, first find what you truly enjoy creating. The rest will fall into place.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Separate Your Two Streaming Selves

Many streamers run into the same tricky problem: they're about to start their show, but at that exact moment, they see something wrong with their channel that needs to be fixed, or a graphic they want to take a crack at redesigning, or they decide they're actually feeling kind of under the weather all of a sudden. Whatever the hangup, all these options lead to the same result: their stream doesn't go live when it's supposed to. As I've mentioned in previous entries, this final moment before broadcasting is when we typically feel the strongest pull not to press the Go Live button. 

This all comes down to that cunning and malevolent internal force residing in all of us, which I've referred to in previous entries as The Enemy. It's a feeling we all get, which takes a thousand different forms, that tries to prevent us from following our life goals. Any time you get sidetracked from streaming, it's because you allowed The Enemy to poison your mind. In the entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming, I helped you to combat this deadly dream-killing foe by using better organization and discipline throughout your day. The Enemy is tricky though, and it'll constantly surprise you with new ways to stop you from doing what you're supposed to. One of the sneakiest is by making you do the right work at the wrong time, making you feel like you're getting things done, while in reality your habits and efficiency levels, and eventually your channel, all crumble around you. In this entry, I will help you to correctly prioritize your content creation habits by separating your two streaming selves. 


Of all the jobs that get done on a feature film, I've always been most fascinated with the responsibilities of an editor. They take thousands of disparate pieces and assemble them like a puzzle, reorganizing and sometimes essentially rewriting the entire film in the process. Whenever you hear editors in interviews, it's interesting to hear them talk about comedy scenes. Comedy is tough- a joke can be funny when you're reading it off the page, it can be funny when you see the actors perform it on camera, but it can't be funny after you've tweaked the same scene for the thousandth time. It just can't. So how do they judge whether the joke still lands, when they've been watching it over and over again, from a dozen different angles and in a hundred different ways? The usual answer is quite shocking: they don't. The editor typically has to remember that they and the director thought the joke was funny when they first added it, and trust that it's still funny in the end. 

Make your stream 'viewtiful!'

This is very similar to how I try to deal with creative aspirations. In my opinion, none of us are actually qualified to make decisions about our creative goals in the moment. When we sit down to do a stream, or even work on the behind-the-scenes aspects of our streams, we immediately feel something invisible and intangible, pulling us away from our keyboards. We start thinking of any reason, no matter how absurd, not to simply sit down and get our work done. When this happens to me, I try to take a page out of the film editor's handbook. Like the editor trusting their past judgment higher than their current thoughts, I might not feel like doing my stream in this exact moment, but I put trust in my past self's decision to stream and I do the show anyway. No matter what I'm feeling at the time, I follow the track I had laid for myself beforehand. If I still feel like I don't want to stream after the show is over, I tell myself, then I can cancel the next one. But of course, once the stream is finished, I always feel invigorated, and I never have those negative thoughts anymore. I know enough not to trust my 'in the moment self' about these decisions, because it's always the instant right before productivity that the mental roadblocks start coming out. 


As Twitch streamers, I believe there are two separate selves within each of us: the architect and the builder. An architect creates large-scale designs, separated from the day-to-day aspects of putting up walls and hammering nails. A builder, who comes onto the job site once the project is already planned, brings those designs to life. Neither job is more important than the other, because both are required to create a finished structure. But one should never try to do the work of the other. 

Kind of like how you should separate your sewage
plant from the water supply. A mistake I'll never
make again in this game.

The builder doesn't decide what a building looks like, or whether they do his work that day, or make the creative decisions about the work they're doing. The builder's job involves executing on a set of blueprints which are already established. In short, the architect plans, and the builder builds. As a creative person, you must always keep your architect self separated from your builder self. When you're planning your stream, you're the architect. You lay out the schedule, you decide what your channel will be about, and you come up with new ideas for graphics and layouts. But the architect never sits down to create the actual stream. The architect can worry about making decisions and changes once the show is done, but never in the moment. Allowing yourself to stay in architect mode right up until stream time is what causes those last-minute tweaks and changes which turn into hours-long overhaul sessions, delaying or cancelling your shows. When you sit down to do a stream, you should always be the builder. The builder is not allowed to decide whether the stream happens that day, or tweak the graphics, or fiddle around with other top-level creative choices. Those decisions have all been made already. The builder just has to clock in, make the show happen to the best of his or her ability, and clock out. If you're able to identify these two distinct sides of yourself and keep them away from each other, you'll be much more consistent about getting your streams done on time.


The only time when we should be making decisions about our creative goals is when we're not about to work on them. When we're in the planning stage as architects, we're detached. Our visions aren't being warped by lethargy, laziness, last-minute ideas or whatever else might get in the way. When it's time to do our work, we don't get a say. That work simply gets done, and any decisions about changes or fixes can be made after the fact. To stay on top of your aspirations even more effectively, return to the entry 'Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day.' Using the techniques to write down channel ideas laid out there, you won't feel as much pressure to make changes in the moment, and your architect self will stay away from your builder self more easily. The writer Elbert Hubbard once said, "Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not." And when you separate your two streaming selves, you'll see just how much that self-discipline improves your streams.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Focusing a Streaming Webcam

One of the most highly sought-after pieces of equipment for a Twitch streamer is a good camera. We all want to look good on our streams, after all. As I've mentioned in previous entries however, it's not always necessary to upgrade your camera to make your facecam shots shine. In the entry How to Make Your Camera Look Better, I took you through the two most important aspects of a good looking camera shot: composition and lighting. By understanding those, your frames will look a lot more professional. But there's another, more technical feature, which streamers often struggle with. In this entry, I'll teach you to understand your camera's focus in order to create a much more stable image. 


Focus, as it pertains to a camera, is what causes some things in frame to be clear and some blurry. But how does focus work? Why is it that some cameras make the background super blurry and some don't? What causes certain cameras to switch what they're focusing on at seemingly random times? Learning what makes cameras and lenses tick is a massive rabbit hole, but it's not necessary to understand everything about them in order to create a nice looking Twitch stream. For our purposes, it's easiest to understand lenses when you think of them as eyes. This comparison might seem overly simplistic, but you'd be surprised how close to reality it actually is. It's so close in fact, that you can test out several camera focusing tricks simply by holding fingers up in front of your eyes in various positions. And throughout this entry, I'll ask you to do just that, so be ready to participate if it's safe for you to do so. 

Focus controls which parts of your frame are
blurry and which are clear.

The most popular kind of camera Twitch streamers tend to use is a webcam, either built into the computer itself or resting above the monitor. These webcams are designed for maximum ease of use, and therefore have many automatic settings enabled by default. One of these settings is auto-focus. This means the camera will decide for itself where the subject is placed in frame, and will focus its attention on that. This is very useful, because it offers you the freedom to move around your frame forwards or backwards, and not worry whether or not the camera is picking you up. You usually don't need to do anything fancy to make a stream look good with autofocus, but it's useful to understand what causes your camera to choose its subject. You'll often see streamers attempt to hold an object up to their camera for example, only for the lens to wildly alternate its focus between the close object and the streamer's face behind it. This is because the camera is still able to see two distinct planes- the face it was focusing on before, and the newly introduced close-up item- but it can't focus on both. To demonstrate this, try closing one eye and holding your finger about 6 inches from your other eye. If you focus on the finger, the wall or scenery behind it will be blurry. Now if you focus on the wall, the finger will be blurry. No matter how hard you try, you can't make both come into focus without moving the finger. It's the same with camera lenses. To get your camera's autofocus to easily zero in on the object you're holding close to the lens, try using your other hand or a piece of paper to block the background. This makes it so that the camera can't see anything except the closer object, and it will be forced to settle on what you want it to look at. You can try this with a finger as well. Close one eye and hold a finger six inches from the other eye again. Now take your other hand and press the palm behind that finger, so it acts as a background. Now, whether you're focusing on the finger or the palm, they're both in focus. That's because they're so close together that the eye doesn't need to choose anymore. There's no more foreground and background, it's all just foreground. 


Focus isn't all-powerful though. Every camera lens, from a webcam to Hollywood cinema glass, has its limits for how closely it can focus on an object. If you attempt to show something closer than that point, it will always be blurry, no matter how much focusing you do. You can test this with your finger too. Try closing one eye and placing your finger right in front of the open eye, so it's almost touching it. Now try to focus your eye on that finger. You can't do it. Unless you move the finger back, you won't be able to see it clearly at ultra-close range. The same holds true with cameras- each has a different limit, but they all have a point of no return like this. 

When using an autofocusing camera, you also want to make sure the shot itself is somewhat controlled. When you're sitting in your chair playing a game for example, there shouldn't be anything closer to the camera than you are. This depends on your setup, but if you have a corner of your lampshade, or a toy, or a book in the corner of the frame, sitting closer to the camera than your face, then the camera will likely be spending the whole show racking its focus between you and that foreground object. This is a problem you can easily identify by watching your streams after the fact. If you see something like this happening, check what the camera is focusing on other than your face and either relocate or remove it from the frame. 

Harsh backlights can mess with your camera's
focusing ability.

Sometimes, even if you've removed any extreme foreground objects from your frame, your camera will still have a hard time finding focus. This might be due to an imbalance of light, or just an overall lack of light. Cameras have a hard time seeing in the dark. The less light in your scene, the less visual information your camera will have to work with. You might not be able to tell by looking at your camera shot that it's too dark in your room, because most modern cameras will automatically turn on low-light compensation, making it look bright in frame even when it isn't bright in your camera's sensor. But that's just an effect- it doesn't mean the camera itself is able to see you any better. Try introducing more light into the area where you stream, and see if this solves the problem. This indecisive focus can also be caused by improper placement of lights- an ultra-bright light or window behind you in the camera shot will sometimes pull focus away from your face as well, so make sure your face is the largest and brightest thing in frame. To learn more about properly setting up lights, see the entry I mentioned earlier called How to Make Your Camera Look Better

Depending on how your stream is configured, focusing your camera can sometimes be a troublesome task. But by keeping these simple camera lens mechanics, as well as their limits, in mind, your stream will look much more stable. So now you just have to make sure you look good, because you won't be blurry anymore! 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Being More Authentic on Stream

If you've been on Twitch for a while, you might be wondering if there are some ways to better connect with your community while streaming. We've covered several techniques in past entries to become more welcoming to new viewers, moderate your chat, get to know people's interests, and more easily remember names. But I haven't talked quite as much about going in the other direction, and opening up so your chat can get to know you. Twitch provides you the unique experience of being able to not only state your opinions, but go back and forth with your community about them. It allows a much more free exchange of ideas than other platforms where the content is merely created beforehand and posted. 

In an effort to connect to as many potential viewers as possible, it's common for Twitch streamers to take very noncommittal stances on just about every subject. They won't necessarily open up about about what they dislike, or even go into great detail about the things they like, so that they can have ample room to agree with the stance of whichever chatter is talking. I used to fall into this 'don't rock the boat' mindset as well, until I realized something: It's actually easier for viewers to connect to a streamer who takes a stance about the things they care about, than to a streamer who simply agrees with what everyone says.


Imagine you're sitting down to dinner at a restaurant. You want to find the best item on the menu, and you ask the server what they recommend. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to trust the advice of a waiter or waitress who says, "Oh, everything's good here." Instead, I'd rather that person choose one or two items and tell me they're the best the chef has to offer. It's even better if they launch into an impassioned description about what makes those few dishes so great. This means they're really showing their viewpoint, and putting themselves out there. By omitting every other menu item from their recommendation they may technically be mildly criticizing them, but the trust built by focusing on something specific makes their endorsement much more compelling. Now to take it one step further, the thing that allows me to connect to a server the most is if they actively warn against getting a certain dish. If they tell me that I shouldn't get the fish because it's not the menu's strongest point, but then give me a few other great options based on what I like, that means they not only have an opinion, but it feels like they actually care about my dining experience. 

Don't be rude, but it helps to be honest.

When streaming, the same holds true. It's hard to find a connection with someone who doesn't seem to care one way or the other about anything. It's often said that acquaintances agree, but friends argue. Taking a stand on a subject and not simply nodding your head instantly implies a deeper connection with the other party. This doesn't mean you have to fight with your chat, but simply be willing to let your mind be heard. You will limit the amount of people who agree with your opinion, but you'll increase the amount of people who respect your opinion. And having someone respect where you're coming from, whether or not they agree with you, is much more important. 


This doesn't only apply to the way you respond to questions or comments either. What are the things you're passionate about? Don't be afraid to gush about them on stream when the mood strikes. This allows people to know what you're likely interested to talk about on future shows, and positions you as an authority on these subjects. There are a few things I tend to voice very strong opinions about on my shows: anything from the writings of JRR Tolkien, to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, or Japanese toilet seats (don't get me started on these by the way- I find it insane that every first world household doesn't have them). People who love my shows know that I'm passionate about those topics, and it allows them to associate certain subjects with my content. As I've mentioned in the entry Your Channel is Not a One Stop Shop, establishing myself as someone who particularly loves Tolkien lore means that viewers will think of me when a new Lord of the Rings game, movie or TV show comes out. They know that when I watch or play that new release, I'll adore certain aspects and likely passionately oppose others. I might even strongly dislike the whole thing, but the fact that it comes from a place of love for the overall property means that even an unfavorable assessment wouldn't simply feel negative. Showing my authentic interest in a topic allows that to become a signature aspect of my streams, and means that even viewers who don't agree with my opinions will likely still respect them. 

When I play these games, it's open season for 
unleashing all the Silmarillion quotes.

There are other things that I show my love for, rather than just talk about. I don't necessarily discuss the Japanese language that much on my shows for example, but because I've streamed my Duolingo studies for so many days in a row, people know it's a huge interest of mine. My non-stream content is enhanced by the things I care about as well. If you've been following The Twitch Playbook for example, you've seen several of my passions find their way into the various entries. Movies, literature, 1960's music, history and tech startup companies often get used as examples. Sometimes I even write entire entries about them, which I tie back into the various disciplines of Twitch streaming. These entries would probably be pretty drab if I had only stuck to broad generalisms and dry technical language. They're instances where the content itself is made more interesting and more personal by the author being more authentic. 


Being authentic also means allowing yourself to be seen when you're not at your best. It's much easier for your viewers to connect to you when they understand what you went through to get where you are. In The Twitch Playbook that's something I've tried to do quite often, and you'll see in almost every entry very specific examples of how I've failed and picked myself back up. I hope it's empowered many of you, especially those who are brand new to streaming, to realize there's nothing wrong with making mistakes. And on your streams, you can help your own community by being just as genuine. Try showing your authentic self to your community, and see how much more powerful your connections can become. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Revising Your Streams from the Ground Up

Sometimes when making your streams, it can feel like you've hit your creative limit. You may assess the shows, with their current level of graphics, audio and interactivity, and not see much else that can be done. You start thinking that you've finally reached the point where if you want to improve, the only place to go from here is buy better tech. But before you go out and grab some gadget to boost your streams, consider taking a step backwards. What if you re-made your existing stream? 

I know this sounds drastic, but let the idea sink in for a second. By taking your stream apart and rebuilding it from the ground up, you'd be approaching each problem with a fresh perspective. You might find completely new avenues to take, and measurably improve the entire show. This works when updating the whole channel, or even just changing one aspect of your content. Think about it- each component of your existing stream has been comprised of countless smaller decisions and implementations. As you've continuously built upon those ideas to add new things to the channel, the older ones may no longer be the best solutions to your modern problems. Much like the 'First Principles' concept I described in the entry Simplify Your Streaming Problems, by reapproaching your situation from its absolute basic form you'll be opening your mind to potential paradigm shifts. In this entry, I'll help you to better revise your streams by taking advantage of this idea. 


One great example of effective revision took place on the Universal Studios Lot in California, almost 100 years ago. When silent films went away and sound became the norm, big movie studios had a very hard time creating international versions of their films. Because technological limitations prevented subtitling and dubbing from being implemented easily, studios couldn't put out their new movies in other territories, and were losing a huge portion of their revenue. So they came up with an interesting stopgap solution, which bred a quite unexpected result. 

Followed closely by this version of Dracula.

Even if you haven't seen the film, you're probably familiar with the classic 1931 adaptation of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. It kickstarted an entire era of monster movies, and his embodiment of that famous vampire is the image most of us imagine when we think of the character. But what you probably don't know is that there was another version of Dracula produced by the same studio, at the exact same time, for Spanish-speaking audiences. These productions featured two separate crews and two separate casts, but had the same screenplay and were so closely mirrored that they were actually shot on the same sets, and even on the same days! The English language crew would come in and film from morning to evening, then they'd clear out and the Spanish crew would arrive two hours later to shoot the same scenes from evening all the way until morning. 

This meant there were two near-identical versions of the film produced, and it meant that Universal could release Dracula for Spanish-speaking audiences as well as English-speaking ones. This alternate Spanish incarnation of the movie, along with most every other film's foreign language versions, got destroyed or lost in the ensuing years, and this curious film production practice became largely forgotten. That is, until the 1990's, when a copy of the Spanish version of Dracula was discovered, restored, and recirculated on home video. And then a very interesting thing happened. Critics began to point out that the Spanish Dracula, produced as a cheap alternative to the American monster classic, was actually a superior film! And it all came down to a simple detail: because the Spanish crew arrived on set after the English speaking crew was done filming, they were encouraged to watch the daily playbacks of everything shot that day, so they could recreate it as closely as possible. But when the Spanish director and cinematographer would watch the scenes back, they'd say to themselves, "Oh, I could improve on that shot," or, "I think we could do better than that performance." What resulted is a film in which almost every shot is more dynamic, the storyline is more coherent, and even the editing is better. It just goes to show how anything, even a film that would go on to become a masterpiece and define its genre like Dracula, can be improved upon if only approached with an inquisitive mind. 


The movies can all teach us a thing or two 
about production.

Most of us only ever re-do something on our streams if it's causing us tangible problems- visual glitches, botched audio, or performance hitches are the main culprits. But this purely reactive mindset doesn't usually lead to true innovation. It's important to also be proactive about updating your content. Even if something has been working perfectly on your channel, that's no reason not to reassess the idea from the ground up. In fact, it's usually the things that work perfectly that you should be most aggressive about changing after a while, because if they never stop working, they'll start to stagnate without you even noticing. There have been several aspects of my own streams that I thought were already perfect, but after tinkering with them myself, getting suggestions from viewers, or just blindly stumbling onto some alternate idea, I'd measurably improve upon the entire feature. Sometimes when it comes to streaming, the old saying is wrong: if it ain't broke, do fix it. And by revising your content from the ground up, you may just pave the way to a whole new level of production value.