Friday, July 24, 2020

Scaling Your Twitch Channel

We all have very different Twitch channels, but none of us can avoid running into one universal problem: scale. As we expand operations, things will invariably go wrong. The way in which they go wrong will differ, but the fact that they will go wrong can't be avoided. What we can do however, is minimize the damage to our streams (or our willingness to stream) which comes from scaling incorrectly, by thinking through our ideas more strategically. In this entry, I'm going to help you scale your streams the right way. 


From the moment we start our channels, we're already facing a problem of scale. "How do I turn streaming into a consistent habit?" is the first question we all have to answer. Most prospective streamers never find a solution, instead broadcasting a few scattered 'first streams' over the course of a few months and then giving up, without ever figuring out how to scale their idea into a scheduled activity. These people typically lose because they think about the scale of their success, but not the scale of their process. It's easy to do one stream and then immediately daydream about what it'll be like when you're a famous Twitch personality, but daydreaming doesn't actually get any work done. As these people find out, this type of cart-before-the-horse thinking can actually hurt your dream more than help it. 

For more experienced streamers, scale still looms large. Any time we want to add a new community feature, a new social channel, or stream longer, we face the possibility of outgrowing our production capabilities. Oftentimes we take the same mindset as those streaming hopefuls. We think, "Wouldn't it be great if I had a morning talk show in addition to my main stream?" and then we get so caught up in the romantic notion that we don't consider the practical necessities of fitting that show into our schedules. Our ideas about how cool it would be to do daily posts on Instagram might be fine on paper, but in practice they may not work quite as smoothly once three months have gone by and we can't go a full week without breaking our streak. 


What causes us to fail so often when trying to scale our channels? The problem is actually quite simple. When adding some new idea, we typically only consider how busy we are right now. What we should be doing is thinking about how busy we are on our busiest day and then creating a schedule to fit that. By not working this way, most streamers set themselves up to fail from the moment they decide to expand. 

This guy clearly thinks a lot about scale.
My mindset on the subject is very similar to how I optimize my PC games. If a game has cutting-edge graphics, there are two ways to go about adjusting the graphics settings. First, you can do some tests and figure out the absolute highest settings your PC can handle while still outputting 60 frames per second, then play the game at those settings. Or, you can find those absolute highest settings, and then set every slider to be 25% lower than that value. The second strategy is always smartest. This is because the first doesn't take into account the fact that things will change as you progress through the game. Every level has differently sized environments and a different amount of special effects. Just because the game runs smoothly with those settings in the initial area where you tested it, doesn't mean it'll run smoothly throughout. You'll encounter performance issues as soon as the action gets more exciting. But if you lower the bar from the outset, you won't ever run into a performance problem. This is because you accounted for scale from the beginning, and it means dealing with a lot less headaches. 

Most streamers expand their channels in a similar way to the first PC optimization strategy- they find their peak output levels, then attempt to perform at those maximum levels every day. This works fine until their lives get busier, and they realize that they can't actually keep pace with their channel expansions. But if you find your peak levels and then scale back your expectations significantly- planning to make a two hour stream every day instead of three, or an Insta post every week instead of every day- you'll find that you'll keep hitting your targets. Plus, if you do more on a given day, then great! There's nothing wrong with going above and beyond, but by scaling back your expectations, you'll still hit the baseline even on your worst days.


Of course, I've made every scaling mistake imaginable throughout my past endeavors. Some have led to giving up on projects entirely, while others have simply meant stunted growth. The three key scaling factors that have helped me most on my current channel have been cutting back on time commitment, removing expectations, and good old preparation. 

Learning a language is hard enough without a huge
commitment added in.
The first example has been a type of show you've heard about before in The Twitch Playbook: my Duolingo streams. I knew I wanted to learn Japanese, but I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew by adding another full-sized stream to my roster. So instead, I cut back on the time commitment of these shows from the beginning, making the Duolingo streams themselves only as long as it would take to complete my daily challenges on the app. Any other interactions or additional learning were bonuses. Sometimes the language streams would be longer, but the daily challenges were all I ever expected myself to do each day. I wasn't shooting for anyone's standard of a 'full-length Twitch stream' every day on Duolingo, instead simply documenting my journey each morning as I learned a little bit more. This has allowed me to stick with this habit for the past 450 days in a row and counting. 

Another major boon has been removing expectations. You may be aware from previous entries that I produce three livestreams every single day. It's actually part of my brand's identity at this point. And yet this statistic isn't actually true- for more than 100 days in a row I've actually been doing four streams every day. In addition to my Japanese language learning and video game streams, I also do a fourth show in which I edit YouTube videos live on stream. These shows, which I refer to as 'secret streams,' have allowed me to consistently populate a satellite YouTube channel while also consistently adding more content to my live offering. I could have announced from the outset, "Okay guys, now I do FOUR streams per day!" but this would have set me up to potentially fail, because upon starting, I didn't know whether I'd have the time to fit that fourth stream into my lifestyle yet. Instead, I just did the fourth stream without setting any expectations, and I found out that, yes, I could in fact do it consistently. 

Finally, preparation helps a lot when scaling up. The best example of this would be the resource you're engaging with right now. Before starting The Twitch Playbook, I had no idea how to write, record, mix, produce, or release a blog and podcast. I didn't know how long each entry would take to make, I didn't know whether I'd be covering subjects that could help anyone, I didn't even know if I wanted to make it for the long term or if it was just a fleeting idea. So instead of releasing the first episode immediately upon completion and hoping for the best, I wrote the first nine entries before I ever released a single one to the public. This allowed me to really shape the content on a macro scale, get an idea of whether a weekly schedule was realistic, and see if I enjoyed doing it in general, before committing myself. 

Cutting back on time commitment, removing expectations, and properly preparing have all helped me in many ways. They've allowed me to fit three completely alien and time-consuming concepts into my daily schedule without skipping a beat. When starting my channel, I never could have imagined creating the amount of content I currently produce, but by thinking about scale I was able to expand beyond my wildest dreams. The next time you want to add something to your Twitch brand, do yourself a favor and think about scale before taking the plunge.

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