Friday, September 25, 2020

Beware Chasing Follower Counts

When trying to build your channel on Twitch, what's the easiest way to measure progress? Most people use the same metric they'd use on any content platform: the follower count. After all, this is one handy number which essentially boils down the popularity of all your efforts. Convenient, right? 

Sort of. 

The issue with a follower count is that it only reflects a very slim portion of an otherwise balanced channel. Chasing that number, only for the sake of making it grow faster, is a very dangerous practice, because it will leave you unsatisfied with the actual content you have to make each day. And the last thing we all want is for a Twitch channel to be just another place where we clock in and out, not loving what we do. In this entry we'll cover why you should beware chasing follower counts, and what you can do instead to love streaming even more.


Consider the choices you make every day when eating food. Whenever you go with junk food over something substantial, it might taste good but it doesn't really nourish you. And because you enjoy the taste, eating junk food can begin a vicious cycle. It's easy to fall into a habit of eating more and more junk food, because you want to chase that feeling of intense flavor. Even though you know it's bad for you, it slowly starts to phase out healthier options from your diet until every meal leaves you simultaneously full and malnourished. This exact same phenomenon happens with Twitch streaming as well. There are things that you may want to do on your channel because they're the core of your being, they reflect who you are as a person, and they're what you would love to do every day in a perfect world. These might be your favorite obscure games, your life's passion to paint, or your desire to study ancient history. But similar to how the healthiest foods usually don't taste as good as the junk food, the streams which truly nourish your life's deepest passions usually don't attract as much audience attention. So most streamers just opt for the junk food by chasing their follower count, concurrent viewers, chat activity, and other ego-boosting metrics, rather than feeding their creative passions.

There's a difference between 'eating' and 
'being nourished.'

And once you've started chasing a follower count, it can become difficult to stop. It creates the same kind of vicious cycle as eating unhealthy foods. If all you want to do is make the number go up, you're going to keep doing everything you can to force that number to go up faster and faster. You'll slash more of the things you might actually enjoy doing, in favor of the things that get what you consider to be 'results.' Of course, these results are inherently skewed. The follower number is going up, so they're fulfilling their objective, but that blinds you to the bigger picture. What we all really want when Twitch streaming is to be happy in what we do. And if you do a song and dance every time you go live, putting on an artificial facade, being unable to express yourself in your truest form, where does that leave you in the end? If you suddenly had no more viewers, would you still be doing the same thing on your channel? 

Of course, most streamers don't even reach the stage where they start removing things they enjoy, because they begin their channels from the opposite direction. Twitch streaming is intimidating, and at the beginning most of us just want to fit in. So we file all the things we really love away, without ever having actually tried them on stream in the first place. The amount of streamers I hear talking about how much they love JRPGs, or indie platformers, or adventure games, but would never broadcast them because, "they wouldn't make good stream games," is staggering and heartbreaking. When I started, I fell into this category too. Many of the streams I do currently, I would never have dreamed of doing at the beginning. But now when I stream, I'm doing what I truly love every single day- never again do I want to be chained to an idea of what can or can't work. 


Here's the thing about people saying X or Y won't make a good stream game: They're right. Those games probably won't work on their channel. But only because they've cultivated an audience that doesn't want to watch these games. 

Some games can get you results quick, but those results
won't scale once you stop playing those games.

When you worry too much about your follower count, you reap exactly what you sow. If all you play is Jackbox Games because they bring in lots of people, you're not magically going to attract a viewerbase that wants to watch Subnautica, or Madden, or oil painting. You're going to attract a community that wants to watch Jackbox Games. So of course when you try doing a different kind of stream, your viewers are going to get upset, tune out, possibly even unfollow. The issue isn't that nobody wants to watch the thing you want to play, it's that nobody in the community you built wants to watch the thing you want to play. Do you see the difference? You have the power to change what kind of community you cultivate- all you have to do is stick to your guns by doing what you love and let the new viewerbase come in.


If you want to stream the content that nourishes you creatively, then stop chasing a follower count. It's important to stream what you actually want to stream. And even that's a tricky thing to find. You might have streamed some game that gets you followers for so long that you've confused wanting to play that game with needing to play it. Saying, "I want to play Tarkov because it's the only game where I can get over 50 concurrent viewers," isn't the same thing as, "I want to play Tarkov because I live and breathe this game, and I'd be streaming it even if I had zero concurrent viewers for 30 days straight." That's how you can identify what you truly love doing: Which activity would you continue to stream, even if you got absolutely zero viewers while doing it? The nice part is, you won't actually have zero viewers, no matter what you do. If you stay consistent long enough, anything can attract a community. So why not attract a community of people who want to watch what you actually want to play? 

Of course, it's fine to build a following. I'm not saying you should actively try not to grow. But if you're only growing for growing's sake, when do you actually get to enjoy what you're doing? As many rich people have learned throughout history, success doesn't mean much if you don't actually like what you do each day once you get there. So beware chasing your follower count, and let it chase you instead. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

How to Stick to Your Streaming Plans

Have you been struggling to follow through with plans on your Twitch streams? Maybe you committed to doing a daily morning show, but couldn't keep it consistent for more than a few weeks. Or you wanted to make compilation videos from your streams, but stopped uploading after the second entry. It could be as simple as saying you were going to start streaming in the first place, but quickly finding you couldn't follow through. Don't worry if you've been in this situation, it's happened to all of us at one point or another. The problem however, might lie deeper than motivation or time commitments- often the root cause of our failed plans is the fact that we announced them in the first place. 

I went pretty deep into the philosophy and science behind this concept in the entry Build Your Twitch Channel Like You're a Secret Agent, but suffice it to say that telling others about your goals releases the same chemical in your brain as actually achieving that goal. And for most of us who are constantly pressured by stressful lives and generally starved for time, it becomes easy to give up on the goal itself once we've received the initial boost of gratification from announcing it. This ultimate irony is one of the greatest dream killers on Earth. From the moment that idea leaves your lips, it's immediately placed on the executioner's block. If you're not already able to consistently make good on a plan by the time you announce it, then its days are numbered. In this entry, I'll teach you how to avoid announcing your projects too early, so you can more easily stick to your streaming goals. 


When it comes to announcing things prematurely, there are varying degrees of damage which might be caused to our channels. Of course, the most lethal is when someone tells people about a plan before they've even started working it. This ensures that they not only feel accomplishment before actually being accomplished (once again, see the 'Secret Agent' entry for more on this), but they also have no concept of the real-world logistics of putting this plan into action. Think of all the times you or someone you know has announced that they're going to begin working out, build a new business, or write a novel before ever starting to work at it. Now think about how many of those plans ever led to anything concrete. The results are likely pretty grim. The concept of the New Year's Resolution is probably the most common version of this 'announcing before doing' practice, and everyone knows how rarely those are kept up. To attach an actual number to it, 92% of Americans fail to keep their resolutions for a full year, and 80% will give up within the first month. Essentially, if you announce a plan before starting to work on it, you've already signed its death warrant.

Announcing too early can cause
a lot of trouble.

The next logical step here would be to announce something after you've started doing it a few times. At least this ensures that you have a basic understanding of what it takes to put your plan into action. This however, will still typically lead to failure. That's because you're publicly identifying as something you haven't yet proven yourself to be. Doing two streams doesn't necessarily make you a Twitch streamer, it makes you someone who has started Twitch streaming. But if you start to identify as the former before you've proven that you can stick with it, you might just find yourself slacking. After all, everyone already knows you're a Twitch streamer- you told them so, didn't you? You've possibly even received their encouragement about it. Why then, is it so necessary to keep doing the actual streams? After two weeks or a month, when life gets really busy, why not go on an indefinite break from streaming until things calm down? 'Everyone already knows you're a streamer,' your brain tells you. There's no need to work so hard anymore- you've already 'made it.' 

As you can see from this example, the mind is a tricky thing. From the moment you start to identify as someone dedicated to a certain goal or career, the brain no longer cares much about whether or not you actually achieve that goal or land that career. Because it already knows that others see you the way that you want to be seen. Even among established streamers, this deadly principle comes into play all the time. They try some new idea, like a different show format or game to play, and then immediately tell their chat that they're thinking of turning this into a regularly scheduled thing. They make it into a big discussion and ask for feedback about the idea. They draw up beautiful looking schedules and post them to their social media, and they excitedly talk about all the possibilities every chance they get. Then, a month later, this new idea has slowed or even sputtered out completely. Most people on Earth underestimate just how dangerous it can be to overshare. 


So how do you actually tell people about big plans, then? Surely those plans must be announced at some point! It varies based based on your personality and what you're trying to accomplish, but the best way I've found has been to wait until you've been executing on that plan for so long that it's no longer exciting. Then you can announce.

Don't get tricked by the 'honeymoon phase.'

The reason we all feel we need to announce things as soon as the ideas pop into our heads is that we're excited for them. Like with the 'honeymoon phase' in a relationship, we tend to get so blinded by the good qualities and infinite possibilities of our new content ideas, that we completely overlook their flaws and logistical hurdles. None of us are really qualified to know whether we'll be able to stick with some new stream idea until it's passed out of the honeymoon phase. On my streams, I wait until I've done something every day for months before I lock it in as a new addition to the schedule. In previous entries, I've mentioned the Duolingo streams I do, in which I've catalogued my daily journey in learning Japanese. Even when publicly producing these shows, I never promised to my viewers that they would be a regularly scheduled thing. Those streams were just something I happened to do every day. Going even further, I didn't even say when those shows would be going live, and did them quietly in addition to all my other regularly scheduled content. Eventually, after they had been going for 50-100 days without fail, I graduated the language shows from unscheduled 'secret streams' to a mainstay of the channel. 


If you've already announced your idea publicly and are now fearing for its life, don't worry. The best remedy is to simply stop talking about it. Maybe even act as if you don't plan to do it anymore. But behind the scenes, quietly execute on that idea until you know you can deliver results every time without fail. Make your goals into personal quests, not merely things you're doing to impress others. If you want to stick to your streaming plans, don't get your assumptions or dreams mixed up with the practical realities of actual creation. Make something consistently first, and only then should you announce it. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Simplify Your Streaming Problems

When faced with problems on our streams, it's easy to feel trapped. There are a thousand variables which could be causing things to go wrong at any turn, and we typically put so much work into simply getting our content made that we don't really allot any time to puzzle out the solutions. Instead, we make quick fixes in the moment and write off the underlying problems as things which can't be helped. This is almost never true true. Most problems can be solved, and without buying anything to do so, if you only change your perception of those problems. 

Open your mind.

Truly opening your mind to potential solutions isn't as easy as it sounds, however. This requires you to set aside your ego and all preconceptions about your channel's content. It requires a clearing of the mental cache and a return to absolute basics. You want to reconnect with what's actually important about the area you're focusing on, and then build back up from there. This is typically referred to as working from 'First Principles' in the science community, but the same discipline is used by successful people in all creative and commercial fields. Typically, when we can't find a solution to something, it's only because we aren't going deep enough toward the core of the issue. Like sticking a piece of Scotch Tape to a leaking pipe, most of our solutions don't address the root of the problems we face. In this entry, I'll help you to simplify your streaming problems, in order to come up with true solutions to anything you might face. 


How well are you able to break down your streaming problems right now? Let's try a little exercise. I'm going to present a few common scenarios that streamers face. Then I'll dive into the various avenues of thought you might want to travel down in order to reach a solution for each. If you'd like to actively participate while going through this section, take a moment to pause after a scenario is presented. Then think through all the possibilities which might be causing each problem. Once you've done this in your head or on a piece of paper, you can move forward. 

1. Your viewers complain that they can't hear you, or that you sound bad.  
This is a pretty common one, and audio is a very wide field to narrow down. Of course, the knee jerk reaction might be that you need a new microphone in order to sound better. But this would depend on several factors- have you always sounded this way, or is it only just starting to happen now? If it's a new occurrence, there's likely some variable recently introduced which is causing the problem. Maybe the game is mixed too loud and it's drowning you out, or the automatic settings on your computer are making your mic sound distorted. Possibly the issue is hardware related, and there's something wrong with the cable connecting your microphone to the PC. It could be a completely analog issue, like sitting too close to the mic, or too far away. It could even be something totally unrelated to you, like the viewer's internet connection. Any of these categories (and many more) might be the root of the issue, but you have to keep an open mind to find them. Even if your mic has always sounded bad, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad mic- it could be that you simply set it up incorrectly from the start. As I laid out in the earlier entries, The Best Microphone Setup for Streaming, and Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic, there are several factors which might make your stream audio sound better or worse, sitting right under your nose. 

2.  A viewer mentions that your show is lagging.
Take a breath and explore the root of the issue.

When you're told that the stream is lagging, there are two obvious thoughts: either their internet is slow, or your internet is slow. There's a third factor however: maybe your computer has hit its limit for processing power, and is now dropping frames in your capture software. This last one isn't technically considered 'lag,' but don't forget that to the viewer it wouldn't look any different from an ordinary internet issue and they'd likely describe it as such. All this should be easy enough to narrow down, simply by utilizing the tools available to you. Does the stream lag when you watch it on your phone as well? If not, then it isn't something on your end causing the issue. If so, it could be either your internet connection or your computer. If you open Task Manager, does your CPU meter touch the top of the charts? Then your PC is likely starting to chug. Simple tests like this, which narrow your search fields, can help you to make informed fixes as quickly and painlessly as possible. As I mentioned in the entry Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right, keeping your show from dropping frames is a careful balancing act which shouldn't be underestimated.
3.  You keep missing your scheduled streams.
Typically when someone can't keep to their schedule, they quickly chalk it up to 'not having enough time.' But this is a very surface-level analysis. If you feel this way, it's more likely that you aren't managing your time properly (covered in the entry, How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch), maybe you're trying to stream at the wrong times (discussed in the entry, Trick Yourself Into Being More Productive), or you're biting off more than you can chew (which I help with in the entry, Growth Check-In: Simplifying Your Streams). Saying you can't stream because you don't have enough time is like saying, "King Kong died because he stopped breathing." It may explain the issue on a surface level, but it completely ignores the actual cause. 


When you thought up your own possibilities for each of the three scenarios mentioned here, how did you do? Did you come up with the same ideas for where the culprit could lie? Make sure to keep your mind sharp and open to all possibilities. Of course, the process of breaking down problems isn't about having one catch-all solution, but rather cultivating the kind of brain that can dig its way down to any solution, no matter the problem. Streaming can be stressful and confusing, but as long as you stay calm and simplify your streaming problems, you'll find your way out of a jam every time.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Organizing Your Twitch Clips

By now you've likely discovered the wonders of Twitch clips. These useful features allow you to capture portions of your streams, and redistribute those small snippets in all sorts of ways. As I mentioned in previous entries, clips can help new viewers find your channel, they can be shared to social platforms to expand your reach, and they can be saved to speed up the editing of your compilation videos or channel trailer. I've discussed the myriad specific uses of this feature in the entry Using Twitch Clips to Their Fullest, and I spoke about how to efficiently capture them yourself in the entry Clipping and Highlighting Your Streams, but there's a third side to clips I'd like to cover. 

After you and your chat have been capturing great stream moments for a while, you're going be sitting on a huge stockpile of this bite-sized content. But what if you want to grab a specific one for future usage? At a certain point, organizing all the content that's been created becomes a real necessity. Most streamers fail to keep proper tabs on their clips, and in doing so miss out on incredible opportunities. These memories simply become lost in the pile, and thus go largely unused. In this entry, I'll help you to organize your clips so you can use them to create whatever you choose. 


Let's say you're editing a YouTube video of your best plays in a certain game. As I mentioned in previous entries, clips are a great way to save the best moments you might want to utilize in videos like these, which you can then download for later use. But how will you wade through all your channel's clips in order to find the one you want? Sure, scrolling through them might work when you only have a few dozen captured overall, but what about when there are hundreds, or thousands of clips from your shows? My streams feature a 'clip reel' which plays while I'm away from the computer, displaying the best moments from my past shows. This reel is comprised of quick 20-second clips captured either by myself or my viewers, and when combined together it has a total length of over 3 HOURS. And those are just the clips of my channel I've deemed worth showing! Imagine if I wanted to go through all my channel's clips individually, just to find a specific one- it would be completely futile. But now when I need a clip, I'm typically able to grab it in seconds. This is because I've developed a system for finding the clips I need, and keeping track of which clips I think I'll need in the future. 

Make sure your clips can be found.

If you want to do the same, then you should first confirm that your clips are being named properly. This means making sure the name is concise, and applies to what's actually happening during the clip. Even if a clip is hilarious or thrilling, you'll never find it again six months from now if it just uses an identical title to all your other clips. Users watching a stream will often grab clips but forget to name them, and in those cases I recommend going back and remaking the clips yourself after the show is over. This will save you a huge amount of headache going forward. Of course, this expanded dedication to clip naming won't help any clips that have been made already, but it's never too late to start future proofing. The sooner you start enacting this strategy, the easier a time you'll have sourcing clips further into your channel's lifetime. 

But even once you've been doing this for a while and you have hundreds of well-named clips, that would still mean wading through a huge amount of content when you want to locate something specific! Isn't there any way to narrow down the field? Unfortunately as of this writing, Twitch doesn't have any way to search through your clips by title, which would have been the easiest solution. But there are several other methods which can help you find what you're looking for. In addition to the 'Clips' tab that viewers can see while looking at your profile, you also have access to a powerful tool behind the scenes called the 'Clips Dashboard.' When you're on this screen, you can check the box for 'Clips of My Channel' and it will show every single clip that you or your viewers have created from your streams. You can sort by views to find the most popular ones, or by date to see things in chronological order. Already, the functionality of these sorting options is greatly expanded over what normal viewers can do on your profile page. 

Most useful for a channel like mine is the 'Category' search bar on the right side, which will show only the clips taken while you were streaming a certain game or activity. Even though my channel has hundreds and hundreds of clips overall, because I play through so many singleplayer games, there are bound to be only a few dozen clips per game at the maximum. This feature significantly reduces the time it takes me to find any clips I need later. Of course, if you only stream one game exclusively, a narrowing field like this wouldn't be much help. In that case, there are some other measures you can take. 


Sometimes paperwork is in order.

In addition to using the built-in Twitch tools to find my best clips, I also take matters into my own hands. Because I post clips on social media every day, use them to edit YouTube videos, and regularly add them to my stream software for the aforementioned clip reel, it's imperative that I keep track of my clips more specifically. Therefore, after every stream ends, I take stock of any clips created and add all their links to a Google Document. Along with the links to each clip, I add the date and name of the game I was playing. This allows me to vary the posts I make to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok so there aren't a bunch of clips of the same game being posted in a row. I then cross each one off after it's been used. This method has made me incredibly efficient about instantly finding any clips I need, and this increased production speed has in turn drastically boosted my social media presence. 

If you stream one game or activity exclusively, keeping a document like this will be your best chance to get more granular about your clips. For me, all I need to know is which game I was playing. If you play only Fortnite, you might want to organize clips into different categories like 'Funny,' 'Skill,' 'Luck,' Wins,' or whatever features are important for you to differentiate the various moments. This works the same way if you specialize in something that isn't video game-related, like painting model kits. You can organize clips in your tracking document by project, by series, by skill level, or any other criteria, even though Twitch's built-in tools would lump every model kit stream into one single category. Using a document like this effectively will require a bit of foresight on your part. What do you want to do with your clips, and what would be important to keep track of in order to best facilitate that goal? 


Twitch has some pretty useful tools for keeping track of your clips, but you should never rely solely on what you're given. If something you need doesn't exist, simply make it yourself. Clips have been a massive part of my channel for a long time now, and they've allowed me to introduce new people to my shows in so many ways. So take matters into your own hands and organize your Twitch clips to create something new and extraordinary!