Friday, April 24, 2020

The Dangers of Attaching Yourself to One Game

As you continue streaming, you may end up discovering one of the most alluring shortcuts on the Twitch platform: by attaching yourself to the right game's community, you can double or triple your growth. It's easy to understand why if you think about it- by making yourself an authority on that one game, sharing stories about it, gossiping about future updates and listening to chatters share their own opinions on the matter, then others who love that game will know that your channel is the place to be. This typically works for games that are big, but not too big- something that isn't in the Top 20 games played on Twitch for example, but still has a large and dedicated community.

With high reward comes incredibly high risks however- if you pigeonhole yourself into the role of playing only that one game, you become more likely to feel trapped by the temporary success you create. The reason for this is simple as well: any fanbase you cultivate by obsessively playing one game won't necessarily be yours at the end of the day- their first loyalty will be to the game. And if you stop playing that game, you lose everything. I've met many people on the Twitch platform who lost their will to stream because of this phenomenon. It's not pleasant. In this entry, I'm going to teach you the dangers of attaching yourself to one game, and give you a few tips to future-proof your channel.


Don't forget to build your own brand when you're
focusing on one game.
It's not a coincidence when you see many of your favorite streamers suddenly switching gears. They play a new game for a few days and notice that massive spike in viewership, then a few days later they announce that they're going to be an 'Elite Dangerous Streamer' or a 'Tarkov Streamer' or an 'Elder Scrolls Online Streamer.' They see the shortcut and they take it. Some of these people will genuinely adore the game they're playing and they'll stick with it through the end of their streaming career. There will be others however, whose Twitch careers come to an early end because of the game. If you focus on one game on your own channel, make sure you're not one of the latter.

It all sounds like an exaggeration, but I've seen it in action. I know several partnered streamers with thousands of followers, who got their check mark specifically because of the one game they focused on, but suffered severe breakdowns when they tried to leave it. Some of these people never came back to Twitch. Others still have the Partner's check mark next to their username, but are now all the way back at the beginning, bringing in viewer numbers equivalent to their first months on the platform. Devoting yourself completely to a single game puts you on an island. You either play that game forever or you pay the price. And that's an experience that you might not be ready for when you sign the deal.


If you've been following The Twitch Playbook for a while, this method of focusing in on one single subject might sound a lot like the strategy I laid out in the entry Hyper-Specialize Your Channel. Like with many aspects of life however, too much of a good thing can cause problems. If you put your channel's entire identity behind a single external brand, you run the risk of pigeonholing yourself. You'll not only create an association in viewers' minds between you and that one thing, but they will have next to no interest in seeing you do anything except that one thing.

Don't let the game seep in so much that
it would damage your channel to leave it.
The key takeaway here is scope. When I've talked about hyper-specializing in the past, I would mention using your thesis as a jumping-off point, but still allowing yourself to branch out. In one entry, I described how I built The Twitch Playbook by branding it exclusively around Twitch, but still offering knowledge that can help YouTubers, Mixer streamers and the like. It starts by being focused on one thing and radiates outwards. In the another entry, Don't Be Afraid to Be Yourself on Stream, I talked about finding my own niche of playing story-based games. But despite describing my channel wholly around that concept to this day, I still do loads of other kinds of shows, like daily language learning sessions, live artwork, IRL restaurant streams and more. I brand myself around a hyper-focused concept, but I don't let that trap me inside the bubble of my description. I describe this as 'hyper-focusing while looking outward.'

The alternative, which gets people into trouble, is hyper-focusing while only looking inward. Some streamers get so attached to the amount of viewers they get from living and breathing one game, that they become terrified of deviating even slightly from their formula. They notice that switching games one day or even steering the conversation topic away from their channel's subject for a few minutes will cause the audience numbers to drop, and they misguidedly take this as a cautionary tale: Clearly, in their minds, doing anything that isn't directly related to Tarkov or Overwatch or Final Fantasy XIV is a bad idea. And their personal brand begins dwindling until it's eventually consumed by the brand of the game itself.


In reality, it's not that looking outside your designated niche is bad, but rather that you shouldn't be focusing so much on short-term attention. If you want to do something else, do it. Whatever fans are going to drop off because of it, let them drop off. Like a snake shedding its skin, you have to give your Twitch channel regular chances for its flakiest followers to fall to the wayside. This will condition your community to know that you have other interests, and ultimately make your channel more unique- if all you do is live and breathe Dead By Daylight, you're completely replaceable by any other streamer who does the same. But if you love Dead By Daylight and you also talk knowledgeably about cars, or once in a while you do cooking shows, or even play another game every now and then, your streams become unique. You start creating an actual brand for yourself, instead of simply co-opting the game's brand. And you wean yourself off of the need to chase audience numbers in the process.

If you've already been building your channel laser-focused around a single game, it's not too late to differentiate yourself. But you're going to have to brace for a shift in response from your viewership. Whether this manifests itself as loss in followers, lower view count or angry comments from chatters, you'll have to power through it. If this extra addition to your channel is something you love, it shouldn't matter what anyone else thinks anyway. Don't forget that it isn't the viewers' fault for being upset during this transition time- if this one game was the only thing anyone ever talked about or thought about on your channel, why should they expect anything else from you? So it's on you to take responsibility to make whatever changes you deem necessary, and at the same time not blame the viewers who leave.

There's nothing wrong with playing only one game on stream. But if your channel becomes so obsessed with that game that you start feeling trapped and unable to express your own interests, that's a dangerous place to be. Don't forget to give yourself some room to breathe!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Creating Twitch Emotes: The Basics

When you've been streaming for a while and you have at least fifty followers, as well as a few other checkboxes ticked, you'll be able to sign up for the Twitch Affiliate Program. This is a contract you enter into with the Twitch platform which allows you to offer subscriptions for your viewers, along with some other fun features. When a user is subscribed, they have extra privileges on your channel, many of which you're able to set and customize, but my favorite of these is the ability use custom channel emotes.

When you're a Twitch Affiliate or Partner, you can upload a certain number of custom emotes to your channel, which can be used only by your Subscribers. This gives your viewers a way to show their pride for your community, and it also gives you the ability to spread your channel's branding. When someone is subscribed to your channel, they can use your emotes anywhere on Twitch, even in other streams. I've met people who subscribe to certain channels and don't even watch the shows- they just want access to the amazing emotes! So if you make your emotes compelling enough, it could help others really take notice of your shows. In this entry, I'm going to give you some basics tips to create the best channel emotes possible.


Like I mentioned in the previous entry Create Your Own Stream Graphics, I highly recommend you create your channel's emotes yourself- at least at first. You can find more details in that entry about why you'd want to do this before paying for someone to do it for you, but suffice it to say that it's always worth giving something a try before you assume you can't do it. You don't need Adobe Photoshop or any expensive software- there are plenty of free alternatives out there that can serve you just as well. And you don't need to be a trained designer either- you just need to apply yourself.

Make your emotes specific to your channel!
First, remember that making an emote isn't permanent. You can delete any emote and replace it with a new one at any time with no penalty, so there's really no pressure to make it perfect at first. Just execute your idea and put it out there- don't get bogged down by constantly second guessing yourself. Many streamers will end up wasting an extraordinary amount of time just noodling with their design at the eleventh hour because they're nervous that it isn't exactly right, which usually causes them to break down and simply commission someone else to do it for them. Try to limit your emote creation time so this doesn't happen. You don't want to build this task up in your head as something more difficult than it actually is.

As I mentioned, channel emotes are a great way to let your Subscribers show their love for the community. What better way to do this than to incorporate your channel's identity into your emotes? When thinking up emotes to create, try to make them unique to your channel without being such an inside joke that no one else would understand them. Maybe it's the face of a character from your favorite game, maybe it's a funny photo of you, maybe it's a phrase you say often on stream, or maybe it's just your channel logo. Whatever the emote, I recommend choosing ideas that signify what your channel is all about, rather than checking off all the standard boxes that other channels have for emotes. Your emote catalog will be more unique that way!


There are three sizes to keep in mind when designing your emotes, which are squares of 112, 56 and 28 pixels. The one you see in chat most often is the smallest of these, but when you're creating your image you should of course be working at the largest size. The reason for this is simple- if you create your emote at the size of 28 square pixels and then enlarge it to 56 and 112, those sizes will be blurry. Beginning with the biggest version and then saving smaller copies is always the way to go.

Unlike in Katamari, with emotes you want
to start big and get smaller.
What you'll notice pretty quickly about emotes is that the default size of 28x28 is small. Really small. I mean so small that whatever you design at first almost certainly won't be visible. You'll look at other Twitch emotes and wonder how they're so easy to recognize within such tiny screen real estate. This is a major challenge, but not one that you can't overcome. The first order of business is to ensure that your emote design is filling as much of the canvas as possible. It should be touching all four sides of the square bounding box somewhere, or as close as you can make it. Size is going to be your enemy, so make things as large as you can. Similarly, try cutting down on complexity- if there is too much detail at such a small size, things can start to look muddy.

Many emotes include text as well, which is even trickier to make visible in such a small format. There are many factors which dictate whether you can read what an emote has to say. In addition to the text size, things like color, font and positioning of words can also have a significant impact on legibility. Ensure that you're displaying words as simply as possible, and in very high contrast compared to whatever is behind them. Grey words on a black background are going to be much more difficult to read than white words on a black background, for example.


When your channel has its own emotes, it's a good way to bring your most dedicated fans together. There are even some features recently added to Twitch which can allow non-Subscribers to temporarily use your emotes in chat as well! You'll be able to show your brand's personality, while providing a fun feature for people to use whenever they want to, even when they aren't watching your shows. Don't feel pressured to join the Affiliate program just to access the channel emotes feature though- deciding whether to join should be a measured decision and only you will know if it's right for you. But if you do, I hope these tips will help you to create great emotes for your channel!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Using Twitch Clips to Their Fullest

If you've been streaming for a while, your shows are probably pretty polished by now. But a Twitch stream is long- the average broadcast lasts for hours at a time. Isn't there a way to convey to people how fun your streams are without them having to catch you live or wade through a massive Past Broadcast video? Welcome to the wonderful world of clipping!

One of my favorite features on the Twitch platform is a remarkably robust editing system which allows viewers or streamers to immediately capture the past minute of a stream, even while the show is still in progress. They can then edit and name this snippet on the fly, and once it's saved, their clip will live permanently on the channel for anyone to see. All this happens within Twitch itself, on both desktop and mobile, without the need for any external software. I've found that Twitch clips are a fantastic way to entertain viewers, strengthen your community, and even attract new followers. And in this entry, I'll show you some of my favorite ways to use your channel's clips to their fullest.


When clips are made of your streams, it becomes very easy to use them to make your live broadcasts even more entertaining. On my shows, I have down-time moments where clips will play to keep the energy levels up. Many streamers will also have clips queued up in their streaming software, so they can pull up a specific funny moment at any time. As I mentioned in the previous entry Spice Up Your Stream's Chat, many streamers also have 'clip commands' in their chatbot, so viewers can write a specific command to pull up a clip, which encourages anyone else watching to take a look. There are many ways in which clips can actually enhance your live shows, even though they themselves are non-live videos. It's worth exploring a few of these options on your own channel.


Make your movies!
While clips mainly show up in the 'Videos' tab of your channel, they aren't only confined to your corner of Twitch. There's a whole ecosystem of discoverability for clips on the platform, which can introduce potential new viewers to your shows. When browsing a game's 'category,' next to the usual 'Live Channels' tab there are also areas for 'Videos' and 'Clips.' This means people browsing for funny moments in their favorite game can find your content without even knowing about your channel! Your clips can also show up as recommendations after someone has finished watching another clip or video on the platform. Plus, clips are easy for viewers to share on other platforms like Facebook or Twitter, increasing their potential to be seen or even go viral. Keep making clips and you might just get noticed by more people than you expected!

It may sound stuffy, but formatting when creating clips is actually really important. By default, if someone clicks the 'clip' button on your Twitch stream, the previous 30 seconds will be captured, and the clip will be given the same name as the stream itself. This means the clip likely didn't capture the moment effectively, and it won't have an eye-catching title. Both of these make it almost certain that your clip won't be seen or shared. Make sure when you're capturing clips that you trim them to fit the moment. You don't want the comic timing of your joke to be ruined by the video dragging on long after the funny bit has passed, or by your words getting cut off mid-sentence. The same applies to the title- try to come up with something short and witty that captures the essence of the clipped moment. These two simple factors will make your clips much more eye-catching to potential viewers.


In addition to using clips on your streams and letting them live out in the wild, they have a third function which may have been even more useful to me personally than the other two. Clips are a great way to speed up the editing process when making content outside your Twitch channel. For example, if you want to make a funny YouTube compilation featuring your best on-stream moments, this would typically be a daunting task- your streams have an insane amount of footage to wade through, and it's almost impossible to know where to look for the best moments. But if you've been clipping your shows effectively and often, you'll already have this footage of your best moments pre-made, which you can save and edit into your videos. I can say from experience that this speeds up the post-production process by orders of magnitude.

Put your most entertaining clips on your
satellite channels
If you want to get even simpler, clips can be saved directly from your Twitch channel, and posted natively onto video platforms like Instagram, TikTok or even YouTube to increase your channel's reach. If you're keeping an open mind about their potential uses, there's no limit to the amount of content you can extract from your Twitch clips. Remember not to get overly ambitious with opening new social channels however- see the entry Twitch is the Only Social Channel You Need for more details about how expanding too fast can actually sink your livestreaming efforts. Only make satellite channels when you're able to populate them with quality content consistently and easily.


Clips are one of my favorite features on Twitch because they're fun for everyone involved. The streamer has an easy way to show their channel at its best, new followers might use them to find a channel they love, and viewers who make the clips can be proud and take ownership of having captured a great moment! On my streams I make a ceremony out of clipping a stream moment. We have designated segments of the broadcasts when we'll show at any new clips someone took on stream, and I'll award the sender a certain amount of channel currency based on their editing, naming and comic timing skills. Clips are a win for everyone involved, so make sure you're using them to their fullest!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Streaming Under Quarantine

We're living through a strange time in human history. Many of us are at home all day, most of us are working fewer hours or not at all, and just about everyone is uncertain about their future. Even our favorite livestreaming platform is affected in its own ways, due to increased viewer traffic and an influx of streams. If you're listening to this entry at or near its release, you likely have more time on your hands than usual and may have been thinking about either finally getting into Twitch or dedicating more time to your existing streaming career. In this entry, I'm going to give you tips for streaming under quarantine.


First we must recognize what hasn't changed. In the previous entry 'How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch,' I shared with you the mantra I repeat to myself any time I want to start on a new project:

You'll never have more time than you do right now. 

Our strange situation has caused me to realize just how true that statement was. Think about it: right now you have an unprecedented amount of time. The whole world is at a standstill and you’re being given a golden opportunity: free time to craft your dream. But it probably still doesn’t feel like an opportunity, does it? Because you’re fearful for your future, you might have reduced or uncertain income, you're having a hard time adjusting to being isolated, or any of a dozen other very valid concerns. Don't forget however, that there will never be a time to stream that doesn’t come with associated problems. This is still the best chance you’ll probably ever get, purely from a standpoint of physical availability if nothing else. I urge you to take advantage of it.

When you're staying inside, it's a perfect time for
video games!
Do what you can to push through your fears and discouragement to simply make your dream happen. Don't wait until 'everything calms down' - think about how many times you've said that before, when referring to work deadlines, family engagements, or general stress. As I mentioned in previous entries, the Hedonic Treadmill phenomenon will never stop causing you to feel like you can't start on your dream, no matter what things are like outside your door. The world has changed, but the difficulty of streaming hasn't- you will truly never have more time than you do right now.


You may be thinking about starting your Twitch channel, or you may already have one and be thinking of ramping up your output. Either way, just start. Jump into your goal head first and don't think about it. Don't worry about whether it can work in the long term, don't worry about whether it'll look good, don't worry about whether anyone will watch, don't worry about anything in the beginning. Take advantage of your extra time and physical availability and really push forward with your goal, no matter the concerns.

Once you've done this, after you've streamed a few times on this newly free schedule, then you should start thinking about how to make it sustainable. You'll never stick with this goal if you can't figure out how to fit it into your life.

"Wait a second," you might be saying. "Nick, you're giving two completely contradictory pieces of advice! On the one hand, I shouldn't plan anything, and on the other hand I should be planning far in advance." That's right, but what's crucial is the order in which you execute these two steps. Think of the last time you had a long vacation, or a 3-day weekend, or time over the New Years holiday, and you suddenly had a flash of inspiration to write a novel, or paint your masterpiece, or get in shape. Did you end up following through with these projects all the way to their conclusions? If you're like most of us, you probably didn't. That's because inspiration isn't enough to form a habit, it's only enough to light the fuse. Plans relying on inspiration alone are typically dead within a week. Similarly, many people will over-complicate their dream, thinking hard about every logistical factor of how they'll integrate that big project into their lives, and buying new equipment to facilitate it. All this before actually writing the first word, making the first brush stroke, or doing the first push-up. They plan and plan and plan so much that they plan themselves right out of ever starting.

Jump in!
When talking about how they begin their projects, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs love to use the Ray Bradbury quote, "Jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down." This is the only way I've found to get any major habit formed. You have to first dive in recklessly, and then start planning once you've proven you can do it consistently. Specifically in that order. The trick after using that initial spark is to figure out how to keep things running even when you're not inspired. Because eventually there will be days when streaming won't be fun. It won't be every day, but they will come, and these days are the ones that unmake most streamers. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from artist Chuck Close, who said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work."


During this time, you're going to notice a few things different about Twitch streaming itself. You're not the only person who's at home all day, after all. Everyone is in the same boat. That means your whole household and and all the households nearby are also on their couch downloading and uploading to their hearts' content. Your internet speeds won't be the same as they were a month ago- you'll likely have to lower your bitrate or resolution settings to make your stream avoid cutting out.

The Twitch servers are experiencing a similar concept on their side too. Because so many people are at home now, many of them are using their increased hours to stream more than they usually would. This huge boost in activity means your streams are much less likely to be given variable quality settings for viewers with slower internet connections. Did you ever notice on some streams that you can change the video resolution from 1080 to 720, 480, 360 or 160p to help the stream load, but sometimes on a stream it only says 'Source' resolution is available and you can't change it? That's because having multiple quality options is a privilege to everyone but Partnered streamers, not an expectation. Whether you get these settings is randomly selected each time you go live, based on the current Twitch server load. And the server load is heavy right now, so your stream is likely to be available only at the exact resolution and bitrate you're outputting during the quarantine, without the ability for viewers to turn it down. Another reason not to overdo it with your output settings.

During this time, you may also receive fewer audience members than you would have a month ago. This will either be due to more choices for viewers because of increased saturation of streamers going live, or your stream not loading on viewers' computers due to a lack of variable quality settings. Don't let this discourage you. As we've established in previous entries, you're not streaming for a fickle viewer number, you're streaming because it's what you love to do. Let this be your time to decompress while enjoying a video game or favorite activity on camera, appreciate and engage with the viewers who do join, and build rock-solid streaming habits so you'll have them in place once everything is back to normal. Even if you have lower numbers, people are looking to be entertained right now. Those few people on your stream today might really appreciate you taking their mind off their troubles for a while. So don't let the quarantine's disadvantages stop you from doing what you love doing. Stay at home and build your Twitch streaming dream!