Friday, June 19, 2020

Making Your Streams More Flexible

At the end of the day, there's only one important thing when you're a Twitch streamer, and that's streaming. If you aren't streaming, and doing it consistently, then it doesn't matter how many graphics you've made, giveaways you've done, or social channels you've created. If you can't get yourself to stream, then you're just procrastinating. For most of us, this is a no-brainer concept. Of course you have to stream to be a streamer. And yet in practice, getting ourselves to actually go live regularly without ever missing a day is one of the hardest things for any Twitch streamer to do. 

Lack of time is the most common excuse. A lack of time prevents most from ever starting their channels in the first place. Or if someone has been streaming 100 days in a row, a dinner reservation taking up their night might make them feel they need to break their streak. Twitch streamers tend to get overly rigid ideas into their heads about what it means to be a streamer, and if a potential show doesn't meet their arbitrary criteria, they oftentimes won't bother going live that day at all. This is a bad way to look at streaming. It'll erode your habits and lead you down a dark path. In this entry, I'll help you to make your streams more flexible. 


Small differences can change an entire outcome.
There's a classic scholarly article by Herbert Simon called 'The Architecture of Complexity.' In this work is a parable about two watchmakers, which I'm going to paraphrase here. The two men, who we'll call John and David, made excellent watches and the phones rang often in their workshops with new orders coming in. But over time John prospered, while David continually got poorer until he eventually went out of business. What went wrong? 

The watches they both made were comprised of 1,000 individual parts each. It's incredibly intricate work to create a watch, and whenever David needed to put his watch down in the middle of assembly, all the pieces would fall apart and he'd have to start over. This means that the more that customers liked his watches, the more they would call him on the phone to place orders. The more customers would call to place orders, the more he'd be interrupted and have to start from scratch in creating a watch. The phone would only keep ringing more and more often, and he'd find it harder and harder to carve out an uninterrupted chunk of time to build a complete watch. Eventually, no such chunk of time existed, and David was ruined.

The watches John made were of exactly the same quality and complexity as those of David. But he designed them in a different way from the ground up. John would create subassemblies, each of which only had ten little pieces inside. Then he'd combine ten of those subassemblies to create a larger piece, and he'd combine ten of those larger pieces to make a complete 1,000-piece watch. This sounds like a trivial difference until you consider the practical realities. When John would receive phone calls, he would only lose the progress from putting together his most recent ten pieces. He wouldn't lose his progress on the entire 1,000-piece project like David. Therefore, despite both of them creating watches that were identical on the outside, one prospered as he grew in popularity, while that same popularity ironically drove the other out of business. 

I know what you're thinking: why didn't David just get a secretary? Well it's a parable, okay? But it hits closer to home than you might think. Most Twitch streamers build their careers like David. Their brand becomes solidified around completely rigid ideas of what it means to stream on a given day, but as their responsibilities increase with size they find it harder to carve out the time for their actual streams. The usual all-or-nothing streamer mindset goes something like this: "My show is always three hours long, and if it weren't three hours long then it just wouldn't feel like a complete show. Whoops, today I have a plan to do something that won't leave me enough time to do a three hour show. I guess I'll have to cancel." If you think this way, you're at risk of getting hooked on the most addictive substance in the world: the excuse. 


There is no rule about how long you need to stream, which pieces need to be set up, how you have to look, what you need to play, where your stream needs to take place, or any other aspect of the craft. As long as you're not breaking the terms of service, there really are a lot more possibilities than you probably expect. Feeling sick or don't like how you look? Stream with no camera. Don't feel like playing the game you usually play? Play something else. Away from home? Make an IRL stream, or some other kind of show entirely. Don't have three hours to do your normal amount of streaming today? Stream for 2 hours. Or for 1. Or for 30 minutes. Or 1 minute. Honestly, there are very few legitimate excuses not to stream. Most of the roadblocks are simply detritus built up in your mind from how you think a stream has to be.

Be more flexible. 
The important thing about sticking with streaming is to do it every time, not to do it the same way every time. If your stream is completely inflexible, then it will eventually break. But if you can bend to life's outside forces while still showing up and doing the stream every day, then you will form a strong habit. In the entry Just Keep Streaming, I spoke about how you need to understand where to make compromises: "You should be flexible about WHEN and HOW you stream, but never about WHETHER you stream. There's nothing more destructive to a growing streamer than finding excuses to miss their scheduled days." 


When everything else is stripped away, Twitch streaming is about forming a habit and then fighting like hell to keep that habit alive. It doesn't matter how or when you do your show. You could be in a great mood or a terrible mood. Your video feed might look beautiful or atrocious. But you get out there and you do it every time. Even when my internet is out, the classic problem to stop all Twitch streamers, I still don't let that stop me from doing my streams. In such a scenario, I record my show locally and upload it to my Twitch channel upon the signal returning. Yes, there may be no opportunity for chat interaction during that one episode, but I still made my content. The habit is intact, and someone who wants to watch my playthrough is still able to be entertained. The next time you feel you need to cancel your show, consider whether you really have a worthwhile reason. In most cases I can tell you now: you don't. Try making your streams more flexible: your shows will do the bending to prevent your channel from breaking. 

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