Friday, November 27, 2020

Expanding Your Twitch Brand

If you've been streaming for a while now, you might be looking for ways to expand your reach outside of Twitch. Or maybe you've already created branded social pages, but have had a hard time getting any response to your posts. While actually making your streams should always be priority one, I'm certainly an advocate of branching out when it's safe to do so. By posting on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, or any other platform in support of your streams, you can explore interesting new avenues of content creation which might not be possible on Twitch. But it's important to realize a few things: the added responsibility of creating a new page like this, figuring out what kind of content you want to make, and probably most importantly, figuring out why you want to make it. 

As I say before every entry of this sort, especially if you just started with The Twitch Playbook and skipped to this one first: becoming consistent and skilled at actually streaming is always more important than building your brand. If you can't do ten streams without missing a single scheduled show (or if you haven't done ten streams yet in general), see the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams before attempting anything I lay out here. Trying to expand too soon can kill your channel before it even begins.


So what do I mean when I say 'social media channels'? These are any pages on other platforms that you create as part of your Twitch brand, and only feature content meant to further your Twitch persona. What I'm not talking about when I mention 'social media channels' are personal Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages that your all your friends and family are connected to, which feature your first and last name. Those are not branded social media channels, they're personal profiles. You can post things to them if you want, but they're not what we're discussing in this entry. 

Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Before starting any social media undertaking, make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew. It's better to begin with small, achievable milestones than massive plans that you abandon after a few days. It's essentially the same as starting a Twitch channel in that respect- you need to build enough discipline that you'll keep posting on schedule, every single time, whether or not you're in the mood to do so. If you already have several social media channels for your brand, consider cutting back and focusing on a single one. You can find more information about how to do this effectively in the growth check-in entry called Simplify Your Streams.


Here's the most popular post made by Twitch streamers on Instagram: a photograph of their PC setup with OBS open, with a caption saying, "I'm going live now!" and a link to their channel below it. Many accounts, if you look at their Instagram profiles, are just rows and rows of nearly identical photos like this, because they post this exact same thing every time they do a show. I personally think this is a wildly ineffective strategy for two reasons: it brings no value, and it misunderstands how content gets displayed in the first place. 

If you've made that exact post before, consider the following: who benefits from that content? Imagine if someone was following your Instagram account, and they were pelted every single day with the same picture of your computer. It's not interesting to look at, and it doesn't say anything interesting in itself. On the contrary in fact- it's asking them to do something that benefits you. You're essentially posting an advertisement and asking people to engage with it. But why should they? Yes, your stream might be interesting, but these people on Instagram aren't seeing your stream, they're seeing the picture of your computer. The only engagement you're likely to gain by such attempts are from bot accounts trying to sell you something of their own. 

If you don't enjoy making the posts, and nobody
sees them, then who wins?

And most ironically, even if people were interested enough to check out your channel based on a post like this, they likely wouldn't even be shown the content. Social media algorithms work by sending your content to small percentages of your audience, and after those people engage with the post (if they engage with it), it'll be sent to another small percentage. This means that a post which provides little to no value to the recipient isn't likely to get past that first small percentage. And if it does, that chain of algorithmic distribution might take so long that people only see it after your show is over. Letting people know you're live might be useful if you have 50,000 Instagram followers who are all interested to know such information, but it's not a good way to grow when you're small. 


This value-add philosophy doesn't only apply to Instagram of course. No matter what platform you use, you should try to create something that benefits the audience rather than blatantly playing to your own self-interests. Whether it's a beautiful image, a funny video, or an interesting thought, convey it in a way that you would find worth sharing if it weren't your post. 

Even if you never post links to your streams, or even mention you're a Twitch streamer at all, people who enjoy your content enough will eventually look at your profile page and follow the embedded link to your channel. And going further than that, even if they didn't follow your Twitch channel, there's nothing wrong with simply building an Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok that has a following of its own. You might find that there are things about those platforms that unlock different creative outlets than your Twitch channel provides. 

Similar to my philosophy about Twitch streaming, I think it's best to post whatever brings you the most creative fulfillment. Do you like making funny clips of your shows, taking artful in-game screenshots, or sharing theories about lore? Then focus on that. Don't worry about trying to herd people into your streams. Just like chasing followers on Twitch, making content that you think will get results rather than what you actually want to make, will only produce burnout. When expanding your Twitch brand, first find what you truly enjoy creating. The rest will fall into place.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Separate Your Two Streaming Selves

Many streamers run into the same tricky problem: they're about to start their show, but at that exact moment, they see something wrong with their channel that needs to be fixed, or a graphic they want to take a crack at redesigning, or they decide they're actually feeling kind of under the weather all of a sudden. Whatever the hangup, all these options lead to the same result: their stream doesn't go live when it's supposed to. As I've mentioned in previous entries, this final moment before broadcasting is when we typically feel the strongest pull not to press the Go Live button. 

This all comes down to that cunning and malevolent internal force residing in all of us, which I've referred to in previous entries as The Enemy. It's a feeling we all get, which takes a thousand different forms, that tries to prevent us from following our life goals. Any time you get sidetracked from streaming, it's because you allowed The Enemy to poison your mind. In the entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming, I helped you to combat this deadly dream-killing foe by using better organization and discipline throughout your day. The Enemy is tricky though, and it'll constantly surprise you with new ways to stop you from doing what you're supposed to. One of the sneakiest is by making you do the right work at the wrong time, making you feel like you're getting things done, while in reality your habits and efficiency levels, and eventually your channel, all crumble around you. In this entry, I will help you to correctly prioritize your content creation habits by separating your two streaming selves. 


Of all the jobs that get done on a feature film, I've always been most fascinated with the responsibilities of an editor. They take thousands of disparate pieces and assemble them like a puzzle, reorganizing and sometimes essentially rewriting the entire film in the process. Whenever you hear editors in interviews, it's interesting to hear them talk about comedy scenes. Comedy is tough- a joke can be funny when you're reading it off the page, it can be funny when you see the actors perform it on camera, but it can't be funny after you've tweaked the same scene for the thousandth time. It just can't. So how do they judge whether the joke still lands, when they've been watching it over and over again, from a dozen different angles and in a hundred different ways? The usual answer is quite shocking: they don't. The editor typically has to remember that they and the director thought the joke was funny when they first added it, and trust that it's still funny in the end. 

Make your stream 'viewtiful!'

This is very similar to how I try to deal with creative aspirations. In my opinion, none of us are actually qualified to make decisions about our creative goals in the moment. When we sit down to do a stream, or even work on the behind-the-scenes aspects of our streams, we immediately feel something invisible and intangible, pulling us away from our keyboards. We start thinking of any reason, no matter how absurd, not to simply sit down and get our work done. When this happens to me, I try to take a page out of the film editor's handbook. Like the editor trusting their past judgment higher than their current thoughts, I might not feel like doing my stream in this exact moment, but I put trust in my past self's decision to stream and I do the show anyway. No matter what I'm feeling at the time, I follow the track I had laid for myself beforehand. If I still feel like I don't want to stream after the show is over, I tell myself, then I can cancel the next one. But of course, once the stream is finished, I always feel invigorated, and I never have those negative thoughts anymore. I know enough not to trust my 'in the moment self' about these decisions, because it's always the instant right before productivity that the mental roadblocks start coming out. 


As Twitch streamers, I believe there are two separate selves within each of us: the architect and the builder. An architect creates large-scale designs, separated from the day-to-day aspects of putting up walls and hammering nails. A builder, who comes onto the job site once the project is already planned, brings those designs to life. Neither job is more important than the other, because both are required to create a finished structure. But one should never try to do the work of the other. 

Kind of like how you should separate your sewage
plant from the water supply. A mistake I'll never
make again in this game.

The builder doesn't decide what a building looks like, or whether they do his work that day, or make the creative decisions about the work they're doing. The builder's job involves executing on a set of blueprints which are already established. In short, the architect plans, and the builder builds. As a creative person, you must always keep your architect self separated from your builder self. When you're planning your stream, you're the architect. You lay out the schedule, you decide what your channel will be about, and you come up with new ideas for graphics and layouts. But the architect never sits down to create the actual stream. The architect can worry about making decisions and changes once the show is done, but never in the moment. Allowing yourself to stay in architect mode right up until stream time is what causes those last-minute tweaks and changes which turn into hours-long overhaul sessions, delaying or cancelling your shows. When you sit down to do a stream, you should always be the builder. The builder is not allowed to decide whether the stream happens that day, or tweak the graphics, or fiddle around with other top-level creative choices. Those decisions have all been made already. The builder just has to clock in, make the show happen to the best of his or her ability, and clock out. If you're able to identify these two distinct sides of yourself and keep them away from each other, you'll be much more consistent about getting your streams done on time.


The only time when we should be making decisions about our creative goals is when we're not about to work on them. When we're in the planning stage as architects, we're detached. Our visions aren't being warped by lethargy, laziness, last-minute ideas or whatever else might get in the way. When it's time to do our work, we don't get a say. That work simply gets done, and any decisions about changes or fixes can be made after the fact. To stay on top of your aspirations even more effectively, return to the entry 'Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day.' Using the techniques to write down channel ideas laid out there, you won't feel as much pressure to make changes in the moment, and your architect self will stay away from your builder self more easily. The writer Elbert Hubbard once said, "Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not." And when you separate your two streaming selves, you'll see just how much that self-discipline improves your streams.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Focusing a Streaming Webcam

One of the most highly sought-after pieces of equipment for a Twitch streamer is a good camera. We all want to look good on our streams, after all. As I've mentioned in previous entries however, it's not always necessary to upgrade your camera to make your facecam shots shine. In the entry How to Make Your Camera Look Better, I took you through the two most important aspects of a good looking camera shot: composition and lighting. By understanding those, your frames will look a lot more professional. But there's another, more technical feature, which streamers often struggle with. In this entry, I'll teach you to understand your camera's focus in order to create a much more stable image. 


Focus, as it pertains to a camera, is what causes some things in frame to be clear and some blurry. But how does focus work? Why is it that some cameras make the background super blurry and some don't? What causes certain cameras to switch what they're focusing on at seemingly random times? Learning what makes cameras and lenses tick is a massive rabbit hole, but it's not necessary to understand everything about them in order to create a nice looking Twitch stream. For our purposes, it's easiest to understand lenses when you think of them as eyes. This comparison might seem overly simplistic, but you'd be surprised how close to reality it actually is. It's so close in fact, that you can test out several camera focusing tricks simply by holding fingers up in front of your eyes in various positions. And throughout this entry, I'll ask you to do just that, so be ready to participate if it's safe for you to do so. 

Focus controls which parts of your frame are
blurry and which are clear.

The most popular kind of camera Twitch streamers tend to use is a webcam, either built into the computer itself or resting above the monitor. These webcams are designed for maximum ease of use, and therefore have many automatic settings enabled by default. One of these settings is auto-focus. This means the camera will decide for itself where the subject is placed in frame, and will focus its attention on that. This is very useful, because it offers you the freedom to move around your frame forwards or backwards, and not worry whether or not the camera is picking you up. You usually don't need to do anything fancy to make a stream look good with autofocus, but it's useful to understand what causes your camera to choose its subject. You'll often see streamers attempt to hold an object up to their camera for example, only for the lens to wildly alternate its focus between the close object and the streamer's face behind it. This is because the camera is still able to see two distinct planes- the face it was focusing on before, and the newly introduced close-up item- but it can't focus on both. To demonstrate this, try closing one eye and holding your finger about 6 inches from your other eye. If you focus on the finger, the wall or scenery behind it will be blurry. Now if you focus on the wall, the finger will be blurry. No matter how hard you try, you can't make both come into focus without moving the finger. It's the same with camera lenses. To get your camera's autofocus to easily zero in on the object you're holding close to the lens, try using your other hand or a piece of paper to block the background. This makes it so that the camera can't see anything except the closer object, and it will be forced to settle on what you want it to look at. You can try this with a finger as well. Close one eye and hold a finger six inches from the other eye again. Now take your other hand and press the palm behind that finger, so it acts as a background. Now, whether you're focusing on the finger or the palm, they're both in focus. That's because they're so close together that the eye doesn't need to choose anymore. There's no more foreground and background, it's all just foreground. 


Focus isn't all-powerful though. Every camera lens, from a webcam to Hollywood cinema glass, has its limits for how closely it can focus on an object. If you attempt to show something closer than that point, it will always be blurry, no matter how much focusing you do. You can test this with your finger too. Try closing one eye and placing your finger right in front of the open eye, so it's almost touching it. Now try to focus your eye on that finger. You can't do it. Unless you move the finger back, you won't be able to see it clearly at ultra-close range. The same holds true with cameras- each has a different limit, but they all have a point of no return like this. 

When using an autofocusing camera, you also want to make sure the shot itself is somewhat controlled. When you're sitting in your chair playing a game for example, there shouldn't be anything closer to the camera than you are. This depends on your setup, but if you have a corner of your lampshade, or a toy, or a book in the corner of the frame, sitting closer to the camera than your face, then the camera will likely be spending the whole show racking its focus between you and that foreground object. This is a problem you can easily identify by watching your streams after the fact. If you see something like this happening, check what the camera is focusing on other than your face and either relocate or remove it from the frame. 

Harsh backlights can mess with your camera's
focusing ability.

Sometimes, even if you've removed any extreme foreground objects from your frame, your camera will still have a hard time finding focus. This might be due to an imbalance of light, or just an overall lack of light. Cameras have a hard time seeing in the dark. The less light in your scene, the less visual information your camera will have to work with. You might not be able to tell by looking at your camera shot that it's too dark in your room, because most modern cameras will automatically turn on low-light compensation, making it look bright in frame even when it isn't bright in your camera's sensor. But that's just an effect- it doesn't mean the camera itself is able to see you any better. Try introducing more light into the area where you stream, and see if this solves the problem. This indecisive focus can also be caused by improper placement of lights- an ultra-bright light or window behind you in the camera shot will sometimes pull focus away from your face as well, so make sure your face is the largest and brightest thing in frame. To learn more about properly setting up lights, see the entry I mentioned earlier called How to Make Your Camera Look Better

Depending on how your stream is configured, focusing your camera can sometimes be a troublesome task. But by keeping these simple camera lens mechanics, as well as their limits, in mind, your stream will look much more stable. So now you just have to make sure you look good, because you won't be blurry anymore! 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Being More Authentic on Stream

If you've been on Twitch for a while, you might be wondering if there are some ways to better connect with your community while streaming. We've covered several techniques in past entries to become more welcoming to new viewers, moderate your chat, get to know people's interests, and more easily remember names. But I haven't talked quite as much about going in the other direction, and opening up so your chat can get to know you. Twitch provides you the unique experience of being able to not only state your opinions, but go back and forth with your community about them. It allows a much more free exchange of ideas than other platforms where the content is merely created beforehand and posted. 

In an effort to connect to as many potential viewers as possible, it's common for Twitch streamers to take very noncommittal stances on just about every subject. They won't necessarily open up about about what they dislike, or even go into great detail about the things they like, so that they can have ample room to agree with the stance of whichever chatter is talking. I used to fall into this 'don't rock the boat' mindset as well, until I realized something: It's actually easier for viewers to connect to a streamer who takes a stance about the things they care about, than to a streamer who simply agrees with what everyone says.


Imagine you're sitting down to dinner at a restaurant. You want to find the best item on the menu, and you ask the server what they recommend. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to trust the advice of a waiter or waitress who says, "Oh, everything's good here." Instead, I'd rather that person choose one or two items and tell me they're the best the chef has to offer. It's even better if they launch into an impassioned description about what makes those few dishes so great. This means they're really showing their viewpoint, and putting themselves out there. By omitting every other menu item from their recommendation they may technically be mildly criticizing them, but the trust built by focusing on something specific makes their endorsement much more compelling. Now to take it one step further, the thing that allows me to connect to a server the most is if they actively warn against getting a certain dish. If they tell me that I shouldn't get the fish because it's not the menu's strongest point, but then give me a few other great options based on what I like, that means they not only have an opinion, but it feels like they actually care about my dining experience. 

Don't be rude, but it helps to be honest.

When streaming, the same holds true. It's hard to find a connection with someone who doesn't seem to care one way or the other about anything. It's often said that acquaintances agree, but friends argue. Taking a stand on a subject and not simply nodding your head instantly implies a deeper connection with the other party. This doesn't mean you have to fight with your chat, but simply be willing to let your mind be heard. You will limit the amount of people who agree with your opinion, but you'll increase the amount of people who respect your opinion. And having someone respect where you're coming from, whether or not they agree with you, is much more important. 


This doesn't only apply to the way you respond to questions or comments either. What are the things you're passionate about? Don't be afraid to gush about them on stream when the mood strikes. This allows people to know what you're likely interested to talk about on future shows, and positions you as an authority on these subjects. There are a few things I tend to voice very strong opinions about on my shows: anything from the writings of JRR Tolkien, to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, or Japanese toilet seats (don't get me started on these by the way- I find it insane that every first world household doesn't have them). People who love my shows know that I'm passionate about those topics, and it allows them to associate certain subjects with my content. As I've mentioned in the entry Your Channel is Not a One Stop Shop, establishing myself as someone who particularly loves Tolkien lore means that viewers will think of me when a new Lord of the Rings game, movie or TV show comes out. They know that when I watch or play that new release, I'll adore certain aspects and likely passionately oppose others. I might even strongly dislike the whole thing, but the fact that it comes from a place of love for the overall property means that even an unfavorable assessment wouldn't simply feel negative. Showing my authentic interest in a topic allows that to become a signature aspect of my streams, and means that even viewers who don't agree with my opinions will likely still respect them. 

When I play these games, it's open season for 
unleashing all the Silmarillion quotes.

There are other things that I show my love for, rather than just talk about. I don't necessarily discuss the Japanese language that much on my shows for example, but because I've streamed my Duolingo studies for so many days in a row, people know it's a huge interest of mine. My non-stream content is enhanced by the things I care about as well. If you've been following The Twitch Playbook for example, you've seen several of my passions find their way into the various entries. Movies, literature, 1960's music, history and tech startup companies often get used as examples. Sometimes I even write entire entries about them, which I tie back into the various disciplines of Twitch streaming. These entries would probably be pretty drab if I had only stuck to broad generalisms and dry technical language. They're instances where the content itself is made more interesting and more personal by the author being more authentic. 


Being authentic also means allowing yourself to be seen when you're not at your best. It's much easier for your viewers to connect to you when they understand what you went through to get where you are. In The Twitch Playbook that's something I've tried to do quite often, and you'll see in almost every entry very specific examples of how I've failed and picked myself back up. I hope it's empowered many of you, especially those who are brand new to streaming, to realize there's nothing wrong with making mistakes. And on your streams, you can help your own community by being just as genuine. Try showing your authentic self to your community, and see how much more powerful your connections can become.