Friday, December 25, 2020

The Influence of a Twitch Streamer

In many past entries I've talked about how we streamers often feel a subtle peer pressure, nudging us toward following the herd. We begin to crave the same trappings that other streamers around us have, and our ideas about the streaming practice become more rigid each day. Similarly, as your channel grows, you will begin to impose your own values upon others, whether consciously or not, in your Discord, your chat, the Twitter community, and the larger streaming scene. How about this- have you ever noticed that people who majorly identify with a certain streamer will eventually adopt that person's mannerisms? They may chat a certain way, pick up particular words, or start playing their games more similarly to how that streamer plays them. All of these examples demonstrate the effects of influence. Whether it's being imposed upon you as the streamer, coming from your own stream, or reaching viewers, everyone is susceptible as they spend more time on the Twitch platform. And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's important to understand how you're being affected, as well as just how much power you might have as a growing 'influencer' so you can use that power responsibly.


Before any of us started streaming, by creating Twitter presences, joining Discord channels, or simply watching streams, our thinking on various subjects had already begun to subtly change. It's unavoidable as we stay within certain circles. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we're influenced by the actions and ideas of those we spend the most time with- even if we've never met them before. Think of the strange power that celebrities have over many of our lives. They're not only able to sell us products and enlighten us about worthy causes with relative ease, but we often model our own fashion, speech patterns and other affectations after them just because we like the way they look or act. We as a culture have always been fascinated by celebrities- just watch the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd to see a shockingly familiar sight: A nobody from nowhere makes his way from local radio to national broadcasting, then to television, with his power over hearts and minds growing unchecked as he continues on his journey. In the film, average Americans feel they can relate to the character 'Lonesome Rhodes,' who came from humble beginnings and lays on the charm to everyone he meets, so they're more likely to buy products sponsored by him, watch his shows, and even adopt his mannerisms. This type of ultra-approachable celebrity status shown in the film seems to have portended our modern age of influencers. 

In this past decade, we've seen a major shift in who is able to sway hearts and minds. Brad Pitt is a great actor, but most of us here are much less likely to be influenced by him than by our favorite Twitch streamer. Because we can now create two-way conversations with our favorite internet personalities, or even just spend more time watching their content, we inherently begin to trust their opinions more readily than a celebrity we enjoy but know we'll likely never meet. This is all to say that, as someone consumes more streams, tweets, Instagram posts, and other content made by Twitch streamers, they will slowly begin to internalize some of those streamers' beliefs, whether they want to or not. This is why 'influencer marketing' has become so popular lately- agencies are starting to recognize this incredible power that average people in front of a camera can have when they spend enough time with their audiences. 


They're out there!
So you understand how powerful your own influence as a streamer can be (and hopefully you'll use it responsibly), but influence is not a one-way street. You as the streamer are also being influenced every day, by every other streamer and content creator you watch, read, listen to, or engage with in any way. I've touched briefly on this subject before, but have you ever noticed how most Twitch streamers have similar ideas about most aspects of streaming? What makes so many streamers have flashy, multicolored LED light setups on their PCs for example? What makes most streamers pick from a few very specific brands of headphones, or a few very specific brands of chairs? It's because influence has fed back into itself. Once a community formed around streaming, that meant that other streamers began consuming each others' content and ideas, and like waves lapping hundreds of thousands of times upon a stone, this group-influence slowly molded the average stream into what it looks like today. As more streamers began adopting this aesthetic, more advertising agencies reinforced it in our minds by selling us on this idealized look. And as more streamers were sold these products, even more ads began to crop up, and the cycle has continued exponentially. Don't get me wrong- this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The mere existence of influence isn't inherently evil. There's nothing wrong with having any of the products I mentioned either, but it's interesting to consider that the desire to have them may not have sprung from your own mind. As Yuval Noah Harari demonstrates in his excellent book Homo Deus, we're able to freely choose between several different options in our heads, but we can't choose the impulses that put those options in our heads in the first place. 

Okay, so we're all subject to influence. But don't eat your sim card and start wearing a tinfoil hat just yet. If you understand how you're being affected, it's possible to make more informed decisions about how you create your content. There are often things I'll think could never work on my stream, but when I really think about it, I'll realize it's only because I've been conditioned to think that way. It's common on Twitter for example, to see some massively retweeted post saying, "If you don't do X, Y, or Z, why are you even streaming at all?" Because of the way our human brains are set up, when we see an opinion like that from one person on Twitter, then from another in a video update, then a third time from someone completely different on their stream, we start to internalize this opinion as fact. We say, "I guess if all these separate people believe this to be true, there must be some truth in it." But if that thing they're advising against is something you genuinely enjoy, and it doesn't break the terms of service, don't let these outside opinions pressure you. Influence can help you find the safest possible route, but 'safe' doesn't make you stand out. Be strong enough to break free from that influence when necessary. 


With great- NO! I won't say it!

Because we create so much bespoke content every day or week, consistent Twitch streamers end up releasing more hours of video than any celebrity could hope to put forth with movies, TV and interview appearances alone. And just like how you may adopt the slang and mannerisms of your friend group, viewers will start to adopt the inside jokes and quirks of your streams as their watch hours reach the hundreds or the thousands. Every Twitch streamer has influence, and it's important to keep that influence in check. To avoid dredging up a tired quote from that old rice brand's namesake, suffice it to say that you should try to be a good person. While your Twitch streams grow, it'll be up to you to make sure that whatever you're putting forth into the world is positive, and fits with your core beliefs. Don't underestimate your influence as a Twitch streamer, and you'll be able to do a lot of good. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Reshaping Your Days for Streaming

In earlier entries, I helped you to remove unnecessary distractions from your routine. I encouraged you to delete unneeded social channels, and cut down on the time you waste doing unimportant tasks which don't further your aspirations. Streaming can take a lot of energy after all, and when you're pulled in a hundred different directions each day by artificially urgent matters on your phone or computer, you might find that when it comes time, you're too tired to go live.


One of the biggest wastes of time however, are tasks you may think are important, but are doled out in an inefficient way. Anyone who's ever worked at an office knows about this paradigm- being called into endless meetings might seem productive on paper to some coordinator, but in practice it just ends up wasting a lot of time, forcing you to work harder to meet deadlines when you're finally released from the conference table. It's easy to identify these meetings as culprits sapping your time- they're huge, dull blocks of hours you have to sit through. But what if there was something else, which wasted a similar chunk of your time, without you even noticing? 

These things can sap your brain.

Did you know that roughly 28% of the average office workday is spent simply reading emails? That's 2.6 hours, gone. What's worse, most of these emails aren't even necessary, and their endless chains could be cut, Gordian Knot-style, by getting on a single phone call. Email is one of the most harmful things to the modern office worker, because it not only saps their time, but it kills their productivity, efficiency, and ultimately their capacity for excellence, without the worker ever even realizing. It's not one big, identifiable thing. It's dozens of little interruptions throughout the day, which add up to a big thing. The proverbial 'death by a thousand cuts.' And this kind of indirect daily sabotage hurts much more than something big and obvious like a meeting. 

What if I told you that during your personal time as well, your spirit is being whittled away, slowly, silently, and just as lethally? In our internet-connected age, we can seek out all conceivable knowledge at a moment's notice. But over the past decade and a half, because this tool-assisted omniscience soon became the status quo, we then started asking that knowledge to seek us. Now, each of us is bombarded every day not just by content we want to see, but content we've signed ourselves up to be shown. Every few minutes, something causes our pockets to vibrate, whether it's a response our recent social media post, a message in a group chat among friends, notifications about content we're subscribed to, or sometimes just random pings from apps we haven't used in a while to remind us they exist. We accept all this as normal, because it's happening to everyone else too. But as we all know by now, just because everyone else does it doesn't mean it's right. This constant haze of faux-activity is one of the largest detriments to the average person's life goals. 


I've warned about the dangers of distractions in several past entries, and I've helped you to cull unneeded social media and other time-wasting apps from your days. But if you don't want to remove anything, is there another way to buy yourself some extra inner peace? What I've found is that we can trick ourselves into accomplishing more productive activities each day without changing which apps we use at all. We just need to alter the way they notify us. 

In the 1890s, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov was conducting research into the responses of various dogs being fed. During his experiment, he noticed something curious. The dogs would salivate whenever they saw food as expected, but they would also start salivating when they heard the footsteps of the technician who usually brought their food. How could mere footsteps cause a dog to be hungry? So he tried to go even further. The researcher would ring a bell, then give the dog food. When the dog was fed, it was only after hearing this chime. And after a while, the researchers found that the mere sound of a bell would cause the dog to salivate, even when it wasn't time to eat. With this famous experiment, the concept of the 'Pavlovian response' was born. 

Dog? Dog.

Now, we use the term to describe any action which has become unconsciously associated with another seemingly unrelated action in our heads. The biggest Pavlovian response we're all susceptible to is the vibration of a phone. For most of us, we're like wild west gunslingers when we hear or feel our phone go off- grabbing and unlocking them with lightning speed and precision. But statistically, the reason to unlock our phones isn't usually worth it. Typically the notification ends up heralding a single 'like' on a post or a piece of junk mail. I've found that tailoring the frequency of my phone's notifications, even without changing the apps I use, has encouraged better habits. I've disabled buzzes when things happen on Instagram, for instance, and now will only see what's changed the next time I open the app. Instead, I have my calendar app buzz me every time a scheduled stream, podcast recording, behind-the-scenes work session, or any other actual important item is coming up. 

And it really made a difference! My hand was still shooting to my phone when it buzzed, but now it accomplished something that truly furthered my dream- I was more punctual in getting stream work done on time, and I knew more reliably what I was doing each day and when. After seeing these positive results, I began disabling notifications for most things on my phone, unless they were of critical importance to my goals. I realized it made no difference whether I was notified every individual time someone liked my picture, versus just seeing all the past 3 hours' likes in a big batch. But by checking them in batches, I gained a disproportionate amount of mental clarity. Now I know that any time my pocket buzzes, it's actually important. Even though most people usually associate the Pavlovian response with negative outcomes, I was able to harness its power and redirect my modern conditioning toward enhanced productivity. 


So if you want to free up more clarity for your streams but are having a hard time deleting social media accounts, you could instead change the way they notify you. As I mentioned in earlier entries, by responding to constant pings- even if they happen while at work when you're away from your stream setup- you might find that you're mentally exhausted by the time a scheduled showtime rolls around. Try removing the frequency of notifications from things that aren't constructive toward your streaming career, and utilize pings for the calendar I helped you to establish in the entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming so you're able to better stick to it. By clearing my schedule of these distractions, I've found that I'm much more lucid and less tired. Hopefully by using these techniques, you can easily reshape your days for streaming as well. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Find Your Streaming Passion

When you've been streaming for a while, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the process. But among all the chaos and fun of building a new project from scratch, you might be holding back your true potential without even realizing it. Have you found your passion within the streaming craft? Once you've reached a certain point, it's not enough to simply love streaming in general- by looking within your streams and finding what specific things you love about them, you could tap into an even greater source of fulfillment. In this entry, we'll talk about finding your streaming passion. 


This process of finding your calling within a larger craft isn't exclusive to streaming though- it's helped people across all fields. For example, viewers and critics have been speculating for years that popular comedy actor Adam Sandler basically just shoots movies as excuses to hang out on tropical islands with his friends. And a few years ago, he's actually gone on record confirming that this is the case. On Jimmy Kimmel Live he stated explicitly, "I have done that since 50 First Dates (Sandler's comedy film from 2004). It was written in another place. I said, ‘Imagine if we did it in Hawaii, how great that movie would be.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s a very artistic idea.’ I’ve been doing that ever since." 

Whether choosing to make people laugh or cry, it's
his choice.

You may only be familiar with his comedy catalogue, but Sandler is actually a world-class actor as well, and several of his dramatic roles are truly extraordinary. Still, instead of constantly chasing awards, he chooses to spend most of his time going on these studio-funded vacations to make dumb comedies. And you know what? That’s his choice. Just because other people consider prestige to be the measurement of an actor doesn't mean he has to constantly chase after it. He can still satisfy his artistic side by working with Paul Thomas Anderson and the Safdie Brothers when he chooses to, and then spend the majority of his time having fun and getting paid to do it. Sandler has found what he loves within filmmaking, and he's been smart enough to truly commit to that passion.  


For some, it's the work itself that holds so much value. Tarsem, director of the incredible 2006 film THE FALL, actually prefers to do commercial work over feature films. Most aspiring movie directors shoot music videos and commercials as stepping stones to get into Hollywood. But Tarsem has found that what he loves isn't necessarily film itself, but the process of filming. When asked by The AV Club whether he shoots commercials to pay the bills, he replied, "Almost everybody I know hates the filming process that I admire. They always like the prefiguring and the editing, and I am the only moron that just loves being on a set. I shoot more than 300 days a year, I'm on the road all the time, and I love it. So I don't know. When that passion dies, maybe I'll do more films, but I just love being on the set, and film doesn't allow that as much."

Despite the filming process being what most people think of when they imagine 'making movies,' this is an incredibly stressful and taxing ordeal for a director, despite typically being the shortest part of the moviemaking process. Most directors can't wait for this 'principal photography' stage to be over, so they can start putting the movie together in the editing room. For anyone interested to see just how dizzying the practice can be, I highly recommend the extraordinary multi-volume documentary features about the making of The Lord of the Rings. But as Tarsem mentioned, he actually likes being on set more than anything else. He too has found what he loves within filmmaking. And by doing so, he discovered an entirely different path for his career. 


It's fine to love the act of streaming. In fact, a love for streaming is pretty much required if you're going to stick with it. But by finding what specific small things you love about streaming, your eyes might be opened to an entirely new level of satisfaction with your craft. Adam Sandler and Tarsem both love making movies. But if they had just left it at that, without exploring and doubling down on the things about moviemaking that they loved, they never would have unlocked their true potential for the lifestyles they wanted. 

For myself, I've loved the act of streaming since I started. But early on, I found that I didn't necessarily love everything about the type of stream I was making. As I've mentioned in previous entries, I used to talk constantly on my shows when I started out, keeping the energy at its maximum levels at all times. I was always glancing at my viewer numbers, trying to think of ways to keep them climbing. And because of my professional background in on-camera broadcasting and social media brand building, these things were easy for me. But this wasn't work anymore- it was my own Twitch channel. And as someone who loves storytelling, I didn't find this approach satisfying. This numbers-driven, high-energy show matched with the typical streamer's aspiration of gaining a large audience as quickly as possible, but I thought I could do better for myself by exploring what I actually wanted from the craft.

Can confirm by the way, this game is still a
masterpiece 12 years later.
So I sent my shows in the opposite direction. I realized that if I stopped measuring 'success' on my channel by how many people I brought in, I'd be able to focus on what I actually liked about playing video games: the stories. Now, my shows are very sedate. I talk seldom, and when I do it's never over a cutscene or story-infused gameplay moment. Replaying the massively story-heavy Metal Gear Solid games lately, this sometimes means going an entire hour or more while a string of cutscenes plays out, without my ever saying a word. My channel grows more slowly and there are fewer people chatting at any given time, but I'm happier than I've ever been with streaming. Because for the past few years since coming to this conclusion, I've been able to stream video games in the exact way I enjoy doing it. This doesn't match with what most people want from streaming, but that doesn't really matter to me. We all have to find what we want from our craft, and pursue that personal goal.


I encourage you to try to find what you love about streaming. Whether it's the high pressure of speedrun challenges, an opportunity to get on a soapbox about your favorite pop culture franchise, the chance to show off your new outfits on camera each day, or an excuse to practice your oil painting skills, see if you can find a way to increase the prominence of that element on your shows. Even if you have to give up certain more traditionally desirable results to do so, you may find that, just like with Adam Sandler and Tarsem, the happiness you gain is much more valuable than what you've getting rid of. Because when you find your streaming passion, nothing else really matters. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Know When Not to Do What the Audience Wants

As you continue streaming, you'll start to receive viewer requests for things to change about your shows. These can range from simple error fixes to suggestions that you add a new widget or minigame, and sometimes even demands that you alter the games you play entirely. But it's important to remember that as a content creator, the buck stops with you. There's nothing you have to implement on your own streams if you don't want to. In the entry Stream How You Want, I told you about how Bob Dylan uprooted his entire career to change his musical style, shunning a huge percentage of his existing fans to do so, and ended up creating some of the greatest rock albums of all time. We learned how, as a Twitch streamer, you should never be afraid to change your shows just because others might dislike your decision. In this entry, we're going to explore another angle- standing your ground amidst the various, often contradictory requests for changes from viewers. Here, we'll talk about the seldom-discussed concept of when not to do what the audience wants, and explore how two of the world's greatest business leaders used the same strategy to yield amazing results. 


In previous entries, you've heard me talk about Henry Ford, father of modern automobile production. This man was an absolute paragon of industry, and he was prophetic in many of his ideas about how factory production, as well as work in general, would function in the years to come. In fact, aside from some of his unfortunate and dated personal beliefs, Ford's 1922 autobiography 'My Life and Work' still reads like it could have been written today. 

We owe much of the popularity of automobiles to 
Ford and his groundbreaking ideas.

One of my favorite anecdotes in this book involves Ford's realization that the customer is not necessarily always right, and how we shouldn't be too quick to bend to every whim. He says, "The salesmen [...] were spurred by the great sales to think that even greater sales might be had if only we had more models. It is strange how, just as soon as an article becomes successful, somebody starts to think that it would be more successful if only it were different. There is a tendency to keep monkeying with styles and to spoil a good thing by changing it. The salesmen were insistent on increasing the line. They listened to the 5 percent, the special customers who could say what they wanted, and forgot all about the 95 percent, who just bought without making any fuss. No business can improve unless it pays the closest possible attention to complaints and suggestions. If there is any defect in service then that must be instantly and rigorously investigated, but when the suggestion is only as to style, one has to make sure whether it is not merely a personal whim that is being voiced."

There are always people who will be loud about what they want from you, and they don't necessarily represent the feelings of the whole. You'll see this often on your streams. If people in your chat are suggesting a change, it's likely coming from a few very outspoken people who are able to articulate what they want, similar to the 5 percent of customers Ford mentions. If someone is pointing out a flaw, like your microphone not working, then that's one thing. But if they're saying you should play this, or say that, or change a graphic to red instead of blue, that's not something you have to do. It's just a viewer's personal whim. As streamers, it's hard not to do what someone directly asks of us, because we typically want to make sure everyone is happy. But don't forget that only you know what's ultimately best for your streams, and the decision is yours at the end of the day which of these changes actually need to be made.


You can't talk about business leaders succeeding by not listening to their customers without mentioning Steve Jobs. Apple's co-founder and headstrong leader was the king of making unpopular decisions to move the industry forward. Many of us nowadays focus on Apple's rigidity as arbitrary and negative, like forcing us to buy various new connector cables or accessories for our phones. But throughout its history, Jobs' staunch positions on Apple's products blazed the trails which made many aspects of modern computing into what they are today. In the early 80's for example, Apple computers were the first to require that users have a mouse. This decision was laughed at in the beginning, but the mouse is now a mainstay most of us can't imagine being without. They hadn't invented the hardware, but by forcing users to use this tool in order to interface with their machines, they changed their entire industry for the better. 

It's hard to imagine now, but early computers functioned
with keyboards alone. 

The original iMac in 1998 changed things again, not necessarily by adding a feature, but by removing another one. One of the largest mainstays of computing throughout the 1980's and 90's was the floppy disk. This was a piece of storage media so ubiquitous that to this day, decades later, we still use an image of the floppy disk as the standardized 'save' icon in most games and applications. Steve Jobs saw the future though, and asserted that CD storage, as well as the rapidly expanding internet, were going to overtake this more established format. So, despite the floppy disk thriving in the computer industry at the time, Apple stuck to their guns and completely removed it from their brand new iMac machine. It was a massively controversial decision, and many users had a hard time scrambling to adjust to the new CD format. But this change ultimately helped to usher in a paradigm shift, nudging the rest of the computer industry to follow suit a few years later. And with hindsight, I think we can all agree that the 312-inch floppy disk, with its max storage capacity of 1.44 megabytes, wouldn't have much of a place in modern computing.

Sometimes whether we're updating our channel's entire look, changing the games we play, or implementing new rules, it can be difficult to shed our old features. But not everything has to carry over- it's often necessary to reassess what you truly need to keep on your streams. Like with the 312-inch floppy disk, some people may have liked that old feature, but removing it could shed the weight which was previously dragging you down. And like with Apple's requirement that all users have a mouse, you may find that by broadening your horizons, some new concept quickly becomes a mainstay on your streams. 


Viewer interactions and agency in helping to craft a Twitch channel can be amazing, and I'm not saying you should simply ignore every suggestion that comes your way. In fact, I use many of my viewers' change suggestions, clips they've created, and their ideas for future games to play on my streams. But the pressure can be substantial when the audience begins asking for things that go against what you want for your shows. And while you don't have to outright refuse on the spot or make anyone feel bad, you don't need to implement the things they ask for either. To paraphrase one of Henry Ford's most famous quotes: "The customer can have a car painted any color he wants, so long as it's black." Sometimes, when shaping your content offering, you need to know when not to do what the audience wants.