Friday, February 28, 2020

Growth Check-In: Simplifying Your Streams

What does your channel look like today? How many features have you added since you began streaming? Whether hardware, software, or ideas, these additions could be anything that improve the look, sound, feel, or growth metrics of your streams. In previous entries, we've gone over many ideas for new improvements that you could add to your shows. But let's look at something different this time. Since beginning your channel, how many features have you removed?

I'm willing to bet that the list of features added dwarfs the list of features taken away. It's understandable- we all want to feel like our channels are marching ever forward, and removing features feels too much like taking steps back. But here's the issue: whether by bleeding you financially, sapping away time, or draining precious energy, taking steps forward without ever looking back will eventually cause you to feel burned out.

It's time to check in on your channel's growth once again. The previous Growth Check-In entry, called Boosting Your Streams, was about measuring your success in various fields as your channel became ever larger. In this entry, I'm going to give you actionable steps to cut back in certain areas, which will allow you to excel in others. One step back, three steps forward. Today we're going to simplify your streams.


When most people grow their Twitch channels, they look forward to certain milestones. These might be their first community game night, opening their merch store, creating their stream's Twitter account, or upgrading to a more complicated but prettier camera. These moments and countless others like them are all seen as checkpoints on the path to greatness- definitive ways to make the channel feel more legitimate as it grows. Once they've passed these checkpoints, they never feel the need to think about those old milestones anymore- instead, they can move onto the next items on their list of things to add. What's the problem here? Most streamers confuse 'growing their channels' with 'bloating their channels.'

Don't get over-encumbered.
To use a video game analogy, adding new features to a stream is typically considered akin to 'leveling up' in an RPG- an event which moves you indisputably into a higher tier, and able to take on tougher challenges from that point forward without ever needing to worry about lower-level hardships again. But this analogy doesn't hold up when you scale it over time. After all, there are only so many things you can do well on a Twitch channel before the quality starts to suffer, and beyond that, there are only so many things that you can do at all. How long will it take before you hit one or both of those breaking points? Instead of thinking of everything you add to your stream as a 'level up,' think of your stream's feature list as an RPG game's inventory screen. In games like Skyrim, Fallout, and The Witcher, simply picking up every item you find will cause your character to run out of carrying space. The same thing happens when adding features to a Twitch channel- eventually the streamer or the stream itself will become over-encumbered, and it'll be hard to keep everything moving at the pace you'd hoped for.

In these games however, filling your inventory isn't a cause for concern- you simply go to the nearest town and rid yourself of all the junk you've been carrying around. What many of us streamers don't realize is that we should be doing the same thing with the countless features we acquire on our channels. In order to fill up our inventories with things we really want, like cool new ideas or bigger improvements, it's necessary to remove some of the old ones which aren't proving as valuable as we'd hoped.


When you think about your channel right now, can you honestly say that every single addition you've made is working perfectly? Maybe you have a YouTube on the side where you can't quite find the time to post clip compilations, or a Twitter account you've been struggling to fill with content day after day. Maybe it's a special type of weekly stream which eats up a lot of your time, or meetups you organize with your community outside the streams which are causing you stress. As I've mentioned in several entries before, just because you get high viewer numbers from a change, or because your audience wants it, doesn't mean it's necessarily working. The most important thing will always be: does it make you happy? Could you see yourself doing this extra thing for the rest of your life?

Alan Wake can own up to his mistakes,
and you can too!
It's time to quantify all of your channel's features, and put everything out in the open. Get a piece of paper and write down every single feature you've added to your streams which takes any amount of time for you to enact. Sometimes, things become so ingrained that we forget that they aren't necessary, and we tell ourselves that a feature can't be removed without breaking the channel. Let's put all those preconceptions aside for a second and really honestly assess everything you've added to your streams. Whether it's a 1-minute process of setting up your lights, or a 4-hour weekly community event, make sure you include everything that happens before, during or after your shows, including each piece of hardware, software, new concepts, plugins, raid responses, time-consuming OBS Scenes, satellite social channels, video editing processes, and every other individual feature you've added to your shows since you started. If it isn't 'play the game on camera,' you add it to the list.

Now some of you might be sweating bullets right now, getting ready to put down this entry and run as far from your computer or phone as you possibly can. You might be thinking, "This is ridiculous! This list is going to be massive. There's no way I could write all this down!" And to those people I say: Congratulations! You're the one who needs this entry the most! You've added so many features that you don't even want to think about how many features you've added.

Taking inventory of all your stream's features might take you two minutes or two hours, but as long as you very truthfully lay bare your channel's baggage, you'll gain the kind of clarity that many others may never achieve in years of streaming without looking back. Once you have your list ready, try assigning a rank to each item individually. Base this rank only on how much you enjoy doing it, and how important you think it is to your stream. Don't think of things as apples & oranges, simply assign a single ranking number to every item on the list, from most to least important. Now, what would it look like if you removed the entire bottom 25% of those items? Based on your channel's size, that could be one thing, ten things, or more, but whichever features are the least mission-critical and worst for your personal happiness levels have little business being there. You may have to change things around to make up for these features going away, but there's really nothing that can't be removed from a Twitch channel if you apply some creative thinking. Even if you only remove the bottom 10%, you'll be freeing up a huge chunk of your channel's inventory space in order to make room for more valuable new ideas that work better and make you happier.


Everyone likes to add things to their channels, but no one really likes to look back at the things they've added and assess whether they've been working. For most streamers, doing this would mean swallowing their pride, and accepting the fact that they made one or two mistakes along the way. And as I've mentioned in a previous entry, most people on Earth would rather be 'right' than be successful. But removing sub-optimal features is arguably even more important than adding good ones. As the French writer Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry put it, "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." So don't be afraid to add new features to your channel (I will always support trying new ideas!), but make sure you're also not afraid to assess those same features and remove the ones that don't work. Embrace the art of simplifying your streams.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Three Useful Scenes for Your Stream

With streaming software like OBS, you'll typically find the ability to create 'Scenes' which you can switch between during your show. These are layouts you set up before your broadcast, which allow you to easily display important or entertaining things on your streams. In the two most common examples, you could have one Scene to show your game in fullscreen with a small facecam in the corner, and another Scene to show your facecam in fullscreen with your game window small in the corner. Then, during your streams you'd switch to the fullscreen facecam to talk more directly to your audience, and switch back to the fullscreen game when you're going to start playing. You can set up keyboard shortcuts to cut between various Scenes, use external hardware like a Stream Deck if you have one, or simply click on the different scenes with your mouse. Scenes are very useful tools when you want to make your streams more dynamic.

But aside from helping with a show's entertainment value, I've found a few other Scenes which help make my shows run smoother. These useful layouts have helped me to make my shows look and feel more professional, as well as prevent myself from making embarrassing mistakes on camera or on microphone. The following three examples are from my personal experience and may not work for you in the exact form described, but try to understand the underlying logic behind my decisions and see if there's something in them which can help your shows.

Please note that, while I have found these to be incredibly useful, I advise you not to set them up too early. If you're still starting out, especially if you haven't done ten full broadcasts on your channel yet, do not attempt to add these kinds of extra Scenes. (See the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams for more details on this matter.) If you're starting out, just do your streams and get the experience. Trying to improve the shows before becoming consistent is nothing but sugar-coated procrastination. Now, let's explore these useful Scenes for your streams.


Early into the lifetime of my channel, I found it necessary to begin my streams in a new way. Originally, I would press the 'Go Live' button and immediately I'd be on camera, introducing my show and then playing the game. A few months in however, I started noticing that some of the more dedicated people in my community would be saddened to always miss the beginning of my shows. I wanted to see if there was a good way to change the beginning of my shows to help people see the whole thing without compromising the quality of the stream. As I've mentioned in previous entries, even if a problem like this doesn't seem like it's your 'fault,' seeing multiple people have the same issue on your streams is usually a sign there's something you should look into. So I did.

Sometimes you don't want to immediately hit the
ground running.
I started thinking about it from the viewer's perspective: short of camping out on my Twitch page and waiting for a show to start, there would be no way for them to see the beginning of any of my shows. The streams simply started too quickly. I needed something that would let people get notified about me going live, and give the most dedicated fans time to join the show before it started. To do this, I created a Scene in OBS which would show up as soon as the stream started broadcasting, one which simply played calm elevator music and said 'The Show Will Be Starting Soon.' This solved the problem immediately, and reaped a few unexpected benefits as well. During the few minutes when this Scene was playing, viewers now had a chance to join for the beginning of the show, and could say hello to their fellow chatters before the stream proper began. In addition to this, I was given a few extra minutes to do some simple tasks while that opening screen was displayed, like sending my 'Going Live' Tweet or setting up the game client. Adding a Start Screen to my streams was a very simple change, but one that took a lot of pressure off myself and the community.


Sometimes you might find it necessary to take a break during your streams. Whether answering an important phone call, going to the bathroom, or the ever-important quest for a new cup of coffee, various real-world things might require the streamer to walk away from their computer area. At the beginning of my channel, I stubbornly tried to simply avoid taking breaks during my streams at all. I originally thought it was 'unprofessional' to do so, and I was afraid to lose viewers during the interim. But over time, I realized that was a ridiculous uphill battle not worth fighting.

Give yourself a chance to take breaks
every once in a while.
I then created a Scene in OBS similar to the openings of my shows, in which elevator music would play and say 'Stay Tuned.' It would give people in chat a moment to talk to each other, get themselves a snack, or just take a break from the action of whatever was happening on screen. I also created commands in my chatbot, like "coffeebreak" and "laundrystream," which could explain some of the more common things I might do while away, and these became favorites for viewers to plug into the chat as I was leaving. Yes, sometimes my view numbers would go down during these moments, but I was surprised to see how quickly they'd raise back up after I returned. (Don't forget- this was early in my channel, before I learned not to be so neurotic about things like view count.) Adding a standby Scene created a major benefit to my psyche as the streamer as well, because there was no longer this insane pressure to do the whole show without stopping. It actually made it easier for me to get motivated to go live every day, because I didn't need to take care of so many things before starting the show. It was now okay for me to stop mid-stream and get more coffee, and to someone like me that's a priceless gift.


Finally, I found that ending shows on my channel felt a bit abrupt. I'd thank everyone for being there, speak my outro, and then the stream would jarringly just cut out. I then used the principles outlined before to add a simple outro screen. It had the same elevator music, and a different message saying 'Thanks For Watching,' and this allowed me to cut gracefully away from my camera shot to this other screen before ending the show, where people could wind down for a minute and say goodbye to each other in chat. It was also a place where we could organize raids at the end of a stream, without me having to talk the whole time. Ending screens like this are also a great place to display your other social channels, remind people to follow, and show any other info you want to convey to viewers as they're leaving.


As you can see, all three of these Scenes aren't the usual entertainment-boosting things you'd quickly switch to in order to hype up your shows. But by taking pressure off yourself during your shows, they're arguably even more important. During all three of these Scenes, my camera and mic audio are completely disabled- it's simply a clean break from being the stream's host for a few minutes. And this is important if you want to clear your mind and increase your general stream stamina. You don't have to do these Scenes the same way I do- I've seen streams do all sorts of creative audiovisual displays on their standby screens, using videos, graphics, visualizers, all sorts of bells and whistles. But whatever you do, I think you'll find that giving your streams these moments to breathe will work wonders for your channel as a whole.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Would You Still Stream If No One Ever Watched?

You can see it on so many streamers' faces: the hopeful glances at their chat windows, demure looks at their view counts after they've lost a match, or mounting anxiety when they think whatever they're doing isn't entertaining enough. The crippling need to feel validated. To feel like people are watching. To feel like someone, anyone, cares about their shows.

Most people who get into Twitch streaming do so in the hopes that they'll become famous. And in harboring such a mindset, they set themselves up for failure from the moment they first press the Go Live button. Having a community dedicated to your channel is amazing, and people can humble you with their kindness toward yourself and their fellow members. But like a house, these things are only what you can see above the ground. Truly loving the craft, without the need for validation from anyone else in the world, is the foundation upon which you must build- otherwise your Twitch channel, and everything in it, will come tumbling down.

Ask yourself one question: Would I still stream if I were the last person on Earth? 


Most streamers follow what they think 'works.' Talking faster, louder or more obnoxiously, if you know how to please a crowd, can get more people watching. Setting up giveaways might boost the viewer numbers for a time. And playing the newest game releases is typically a sure way to bring new faces. But it all begs the question: what does it mean for something to 'work'? If a stream decision attracts larger crowds, does that mean it's more valuable than another option that brings in a smaller audience? Most streamers would say yes- the value of a stream is directly correlated to how many people watch relative to the follower count. But with this definition of success, what happens when your viewership falls, despite your best efforts?

Everyone tries to speed toward higher numbers
without thinking about why.
I've spoken before on this topic, but it's easy for many new Twitch streamers to chase this rabbit of viewership, because they think it'll lead them to fame and fortune. Their definition of success becomes only about reaching for higher numbers. And in the process, these streamers become mere puppets, strung along by their own channels' quests for rapid expansion. Eventually, whether after a week, a month or a year, they typically realize they can't keep up the pace- doing giveaways, playing so many new games, or acting artificially energetic, all take their financial or physical tolls and these practices come to a halt. Then a strange thing happens: as soon as the stream changes, the audience starts to dwindle. Dedicated fans drop away, active chatters dry up, and the streamer is left with a fraction of their original viewership. After about a week of this. burnout sets in, weepy Tweets are composed, the channel goes dark, and another streamer slips into obscurity. They might start the cycle over again a few weeks later, claiming they're refreshed after a much-needed break, or they may never go live again. These streamers don't realize that 'putting on a show' for the sake of an audience was all a mere gimmick. They were artificially boosting their results until they started fooling even themselves, relying on these fake metrics to measure their self-worth.

Every channel has its peaks and valleys. there are weeks or months when everyone will be watching and chatting during every stream, and then just as soon as they all come, whether due to life events, going back to school, changing jobs, or a million other reasons, viewers will drop off. You'll reach the doldrums of your viewership, when no one is around and the needle doesn't move at all. Even if you don't make major changes like I outlined above, these dark times will still come. They're the truly defining moments for every Twitch channel- when you're forced to look in the mirror and decide whether you actually like what you're doing for its own sake, when there isn't anyone else around to bring you validation. This span of frozen growth is when most streamers decide to quit. They may not be able to put their finger on the real reason why, but ultimately it's because they enjoyed the attention they got from streaming more than the act of streaming itself. They had built their channels on a bad foundation.


When you're building a channel, the momentum of gaining followers, viewers, and chat activity isn't constant. You don't just keep climbing at an equal or higher rate week over week. Things tend to move in fits and starts- one week there's nothing, and the next brings a surge. If you want to truly last on Twitch, your morale can't depend on any of these factors, or you'll be depressed every time your numbers fluctuate. But if you're in love with creating the content, rather than the sharing of it, your perspective will change. This is the strong foundation on which your channel should be built, because if you're happy with your stream from within, no external factors can affect you in the slightest.

Don't think too much about the practical realities
about being the last person on Earth.
It's just an expression.
Every day I wake up and I'm excited to stream. I happily put in grueling hours to study, create and improve, not because I hope those changes will be 'a hit' with the viewers, but because making and improving my show is the end goal unto itself. I could have 100 viewers, 10 viewers or 0 viewers and I'll still be equally as enthusiastic, equally content, equally unfazed. I can honestly say that, if no one ever watched my stream again from this moment onward, I'd still do it with the same vigor that I do now.

This doesn't mean that I discount the value of community- quite the contrary! In several past entries I've detailed the importance of growing and cultivating your community, and the people I've come to know through streaming have become incredibly important to me. But if you're going to last on Twitch, you need to build that community on top of a rock-solid foundation of self-contentment.


You are not measured by your viewership. Until you realize that, you're prone to debilitating breakdowns and constant self-doubt. You might think your content is good or bad, people might watch it or they might not, but the work and its rewards don't define who you are or how valuable you should perceive yourself as a streamer. What's the real reason any of us want to have outward success like high viewership numbers or follow counts? It's because we want the validation of knowing that we're making something worth watching. Cut out the middle man- if you (and you alone) are happy with your content, as well as the process of making it, and you could do it happily for the rest of your days, that's all that matters. Viewers will come and go, but when all the dust settles and the slumps set in, the only thing about your channel that will stay in place is you. So that's the one person you should try to please before all others. If you were the last person on Earth and you love what you do enough that you'd still stream, there's no challenge in the world that you can't overcome.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Learning Twitch is Like Learning a New Language

Starting on Twitch is a very humbling experience. In the process of growing your channel, there will be times when you feel like you don't know how any behind-the-scenes stuff works, you'll make a fool of yourself while talking on camera, and technical glitches will be a constant. But as I've mentioned in countless entries before, all these experiences are necessary if you want to become better and maintain consistency. I recently had an experience which took me back to when I was learning the ropes of Twitch: For about eight months in preparation for my trip to Tokyo last year, I tirelessly studied Japanese. And after working incredibly hard at this, I found that learning Twitch is a lot like learning a new language.

In the following three examples, I will tie my off-stream experiences in speaking Japanese to my early journey in becoming a better Twitch streamer. I had embarrassing moments, I forced myself to make the best of my existing tools, and I made many mistakes. Though the language anecdotes may not apply to you, the overarching lessons can apply to anybody. So try to keep an open mind before dismissing these experiences, and think about how you can apply them to your channel.


If you go to that camera store, please apologize
to the staff for me.
When my brother and I went through security for our flight to Tokyo, a specific rechargeable battery adapter I use was held at the gate and not allowed to travel with me. Naturally, as soon as we landed we made a stop at the electronics store to replace the part. As you may know from previous entries, I can converse in Japanese. But that doesn't mean I know every word in the dictionary, and it doesn't mean my grammar or pronunciation are spot-on either. Language learning is a life-long process, and nothing made that clearer than when I was trying to ask for a new battery adapter from the very polite employees at this giant Tokyo camera store. Not knowing the word for the type of adapter I needed in Japanese, I pointed to two ports on my equipment and said the Japanese equivalent of, "I need to transform this into this." I repeated the phrase to the few clerks who helped me, proud of myself for coming up with such a workable substitute sentence. It wasn't until I was leaving the store that I realized I was pronouncing the Japanese word for 'transform' similar to the Japanese word for 'idiot.' This meant that the whole time, it sounded like I was smiling and saying to these people, "I need this and this, you idiot."

Despite the error, I had done my best, and the clerks understood enough to direct me toward what I was looking for. They probably laughed to themselves after I left, but I accomplished my goal, even if it was sloppy. The point is, you need to get out there and make a fool of yourself. Think about your Twitch channel: just because you've been thinking about streaming, or making graphics for your stream, or practicing for the eventual day when you plan to stream, none of that will make you a better streamer. The clock only starts once you start streaming. Remember the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams, where I spoke about needing to do ten full broadcasts before you can even consider yourself to have started as a Twitch streamer? Don't give up on that mindset once you hit ten. You're building an entirely new skill, and it's being built from scratch. If you're learning Japanese, you're going to say a hundred embarrassing things before you can trust yourself to speak in mixed company, and if you're learning Twitch you're going to embarrass yourself a hundred times in front of your viewers. But if you're not out there gaining actual experience, you'll just be sitting on the sidelines forever, wondering what it could have been like if you only had the guts.


I could always use more vocabulary, but I didn't wait to start.
At a small Tokyo convenience store, I needed to buy Q-tips, but of course I didn't know the exact Japanese word for this item. The worst thing to do when trying to learn a language is to resort to speaking your mother tongue, or falling back on Google to get your idea across. So I forced myself to use only the vocabulary I knew in order to ask for this simple item. The following is the sentence I asked a clerk in Japanese, "Do you have those long white things for your ears?" After the clerk's initial confusion, they directed me to the Q-tips and even taught me the Japanese word to use next time. Yes, of course I could come up with the English word for this common item in a millisecond, but it wouldn't help me learn like actually solving problems with the tools I had available to me.

On Twitch, everyone likes to think that they're better than the hardware they have. It's easy to see your stream underperforming, and think to yourself that if you only had that expensive camera, or fancy mic, or new capture card, that you'd be set. These things won't make you a better streamer. It's best to start simple- the fewest pieces of equipment possible. Get good at making a great show using only your limited stream 'vocabulary', in the same way that I forced myself to use the most basic Japanese vocabulary to ask about Q-Tips. You'll be surprised how far your mind can take you, once you allow yourself to use it.


Then there's the classic mistake that any foreigner makes when speaking another language: ordering the wrong item at a restaurant. In Japan, one of the most popular foods are small, tapas-style skewers which cost the equivalent of roughly $1 American each, and you might order a dozen or more of these very cheap items for your table. You can imagine then, how easy it would be for me to order one of those dozen items incorrectly over the course of a dinner. Whether because I didn't understand a certain word, misread it from the menu or mispronounced it, we'd typically have at least one unexpected food in front of us, out of the dozen we ordered. This wasn't a cause of concern for my brother and I however- we'd simply take it as an opportunity to try these new foods we didn't think to order ourselves.

Sometimes the wrong food is the best food!
You're going to make mistakes on stream in the same way. Every time you go live, there are a dozen or more little categories you could accidentally botch. Before you're experienced, it's only a matter of time before you fall into one or more of these traps. Forgetting to turn on your mic, camera positioned wrong, stream settings too high or low, graphics settings being off, missing your going-live Tweet, and using the wrong sound output from your computer are only a few examples. You're going to make all of these mistakes, and countless more. You can't get discouraged when these happen though- just take a deep breath, fix the problems whenever you catch them, and learn for next time. You may even come up with your best ideas by making mistakes, the same way that my brother and I discovered some of our favorite dishes in Tokyo by accidentally ordering them. Embrace every mistake you make on stream, and let it teach you rather than bring you down.


Anyone who has already gone through the process of learning to speak and think in another language already knows the feeling: that special kind of embarrassment when you have a thought in your head, but it's trapped behind a language barrier. I might have been able to say something a thousand different ways in my native tongue, but in this new language it could only escape my lips in coarse, ugly barks that made me sound like a child. I truly felt 'dumber' because I didn't have the vocabulary to express what was really going through my head. But I kept going out there, every day, and kept speaking like a kindergartener. We all took years as children to learn our first languages, and it takes over a decade afterward to become truly eloquent. My Japanese self was less than a year old, so why should I expect to be as smart as an adult after so little time?

On Twitch, you're not going to be good from the word 'go.' In fact, you're going to be embarrassingly bad. But that's what you need. You're not going to get where you want by thinking about doing it, you're going to get there by doing it. And doing it a lot. Winston Churchill once said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." If you want to learn the language of Twitch, get out there and fail as many times as you can!