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!

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