Friday, February 26, 2021

Stream Smarter, Not Harder

When creating and refining a Twitch channel, there are a million areas on which you could spend your time. In many past entries, I’ve helped you to remove wasteful activities from your day, optimize the amount of time you dedicate to streaming, and better organize the tasks you take on. But even with all this polish, it might always feel like there’s more you could be doing- like there will simply never be enough time to do everything you want to do on your Twitch channel. 

And actually, this is true. 

There will never be enough time in the world to do everything you want to do, on Twitch just as in life. So the really important skill comes down to finding which activities, improvements or other ideas will move you in the right direction. Until you know what you’re aiming for, all the optimization in the world won’t help you fully achieve your Twitch goals. It’s only once you’ve cracked that code that you can truly be efficient with your time. And once you’ve found that nugget of inspiration, you can continue refining it- not only by doing more, but also by strategically doing less. In this entry, I’ll help you to stream smarter, not harder. 


Let me get one thing out of the way first. If you haven’t started streaming yet, this entry isn’t for you. The objective when using a technique like this is to discover things through experience. Your goal, if you haven’t been streaming consistently for a long time, is to first get good at simply going live every time you plan on doing so. By attempting to implement the technique I'm about to teach too early, you’ll end up merely planning a Twitch channel, but never actually streaming on that Twitch channel. And in that case, optimization will be the least of your livestreaming problems.

There are always many ways to 
approach the same task.

For everyone else who has been streaming for a while, try lots of ideas to see what you like most. In several previous entries, I talked about discovering what I wanted from my content not by thinking, but by doing. And doing a lot. I’m talking about finding new stream concepts after hundreds, sometimes thousands of individual broadcasts. The time spent before discovering those things is still valuable, as it strengthens the ability to stream, and of course isn’t completely without enjoyment. Streaming itself, after all, is the passion. New ideas are just ways to enhance and supplement that passion. For me, these ideas were things like art streams, live language learning, and focusing more on story in the games I play. For you, the passions will be completely different, but the process will be very similar. The only way to find these new ideas is to stumble upon them through the act of streaming. Keep trying things. If you get too set in your ways, you’ll have a very hard time discovering anything new. 

I’m not saying everyone has to become an ultra-experimental variety streamer either. Even if you only play one game, there are a million ways you could play that game, and a million more ways you could present it in a stream format. How will you know you’ve found the one you like most until you’ve tried all the other possible options? No matter what kind of stream you produce, there are always new pathways to explore. Don’t lose the curiosity to follow them. 


Once you’ve found an idea you like for a stream and have tried it enough times to know it’ll stick, you can start chipping away. That’s right, we’re actually going to begin scaling things back in controlled ways, which will allow you to get the most return out of what you put in. There’s a principle that highly effective people apply in several personal and professional fields, which I’ve touched on briefly in various entries, but never mentioned by name. It’s called ‘The 80/20 Rule.’ This baffling-but-true law states that in any endeavor, 80% of the efficiency actually comes from only 20% of the effort you put in. In business, this means that a small group of one’s clients typically account for the majority of the overall profits. In an example from the world of computers, Microsoft found that by fixing the top 20% of major bugs, it solved 80% of computer crashes across the board. And in Twitch streaming, it means that some small sub-section of what you’re doing right now makes up 80% of your overall happiness with the content you make. 

Games are cool. Yoga is cool too. If you find you like one 
much more than the other, you don't have to do both.

So the objective, once you’ve found a good thing, is not to simply add that thing to your routine, but to shave away all the stuff that gets in the way of you fully enjoying that thing you want to do. Try to identify specifically what makes you happy about this thing you’ve discovered within your streams. Which activities related to your Twitch channel enhance that feeling, and which are inhibiting it? These might come from any stage in the process. It could be that once you’ve found that you really love live-streaming your morning yoga, you decide that video games, and all the headache and prep that goes with setting them up, can be removed from the schedule entirely. Maybe you’ve found that you’re happier streaming games but with no camera, which would then remove the endless setup and tweaking of webcam, lights, OBS layouts, syncing, forgetting to enable certain video tools, and so on. Each piece of your stream is like an iceberg. The action itself is just what you see on the outside, but in every feature we add to our channels, there’s a massive infrastructure of setup, tweaking, and other tasks connected just under the surface. Cutting one feature typically removes a lot more headache than you’d expect. 

This rule can certainly come into play when making informed decisions about viewer optimization on your shows. In the entry Three Easy Ways to Stand Out on Twitch, I proved mathematically why choosing one less popular version of Dark Souls II as your game category over another version of the same game, was 5x more likely to attract an audience than the one with more potential viewers. This same concept could even apply to cutting back ideas outside the streams. For example, as I mentioned in a previous entry, I found that creating, maintaining and selling merch was taking more time and energy than I wanted, so I removed that feature entirely. By excising that one thing I didn’t enjoy (along with all its hidden time sinks), I was able to create several times more pieces of Instagram, YouTube and other content outside the streams that I actually liked. 


This principle doesn’t always break down to an exact 80/20 split of course, but simply represents any instance where something of low value takes significantly more time or effort than something of high value. By cutting that thing of low value, you’re not only freeing up time, but allowing yourself to potentially do several times more of that high value activity. When you cut back from your routine, don’t just leave that blank space alone. Continue reinvesting in yourself. Add more of the things you actually like doing on your streams, and your satisfaction with your content will start increasing exponentially. Hopefully by utilizing these concepts, you’ll see why it’s important to stream smarter, not harder. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Repurposing Your Streams for Social Media

Creating a social media presence for your Twitch brand is a big undertaking for any streamer. Usually, the stream itself is more than enough to keep you busy, and the work involved in making social media content is so different from going live that it can distract you from making the actual shows. I’ve spoken before about the downsides of getting sucked into long Twitter discussions, endlessly scrolling on Instagram, and wasting too much time coming up with the perfect description for a new video. I’ve also spoken about certain social media strategies which I think are misguided. Self-promoting posts, follow-for-follow programs and other sketchy ‘game the system’ style ideas will typically not get the results you’re looking for. So what’s a good beginner strategy for social media that can be kept up consistently?

Of course, I will begin this entry the same way I do with all the ones dealing with endeavors only remotely related to streaming. If you haven’t done at least a dozen full broadcasts on your channel already, this advice is not for you. Do not let the process of making social content become another way for you to procrastinate from streaming. 


There are two main types of content which I’ve found most useful when posting on my Twitch channel’s social media. I call them Platform Content and Stream Content. The first, Platform Content, is a post which you’ve created specifically for each platform itself, taking advantage of the tools, techniques and paradigms available through that platform’s toolset. This might involve a TikTok video which natively uses the sounds, camera effects and graphics which TikTok provides, or an IGTV video made specifically to fit the video and thumbnail style of that Instagram format. These typically take longer to conceive and execute, but have a higher chance of gaining attention because they’re more likely to be favored by the app’s algorithm. The other option is to create content which comes directly from your streams. Whether it’s a short clip, an edited montage, or a complete episode, this typically has a lower chance of being seen, but also tends to require less effort. I call this Stream Content

Don't get distracted from what's important.

Both options can bring you fulfillment and both are valid ways to create content, but despite its seeming disadvantage, I personally believe Stream Content to be more valuable than Platform Content. And to avoid explaining a concept I’ve outlined in multiple entries before, suffice it to say that it’s better to attract the kind of audience you want, instead of an audience of just anyone. While Platform Content may show off your personality or humor, Stream Content will more accurately convey the tone of your actual broadcasts. You’re more likely to see reactions from people who like the same games you do, or who may even be interested in watching your shows on Twitch. And of course, there’s that other major advantage of making Stream Content: most of the work has been done already. The footage was created when you did the stream. Why not use it? As I’ve outlined in many entries before, the paramount concern when making social media channels, or doing any support task outside your streams, is to not let it get in the way of streaming. The easier you can make the process of posting, the more time and energy you can put into your true passion. This makes Stream Content a great way for beginners and experts alike to post consistently and easily on social media platforms. 


Of course, it’s not just the ease that makes Stream Content a valuable tool. Think of the massive amount of people out there who haven’t yet been introduced to your streams. Even among those who enjoy video games, not everyone watches Twitch. And out of those who do watch Twitch, only a small fraction have been exposed to your specific channel. But most people today have an Instagram, or TikTok, or YouTube account in addition to their Twitch account. You might be able to expose that person to your streams outside of the Twitch platform, simply by repurposing the content you already created on your broadcasts. 

Don't panic.

A good example of this concept outside of streaming is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. When I mention this franchise, most of you will think of the massively popular Douglas Adams novel, which spawned a movie and TV series, and has inspired generations of ensuing science fiction franchises. But did you know that the novel ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is actually not the original version of this story? It was first written and released by Adams as a radio play for the BBC, with acting, sound effects, and of course, that amazing theme song. The book, which came out a year later, is so near-identical that it’s essentially a novelization of the radio broadcasts. Almost all the dialogue, narration and stage direction is exactly the same as the original BBC production- it didn’t require much work to adapt the story from one format to another. But by making the jump to a new style of media, a massive new fan base was introduced to the franchise, to the point that this second version of the material has since eclipsed the original by orders of magnitude. The radio version enjoyed its own success within England, but the release of the book turned ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’ into a global sensation. And this was achieved simply by taking the content and lifting it, near-verbatim, from one platform to another. 

Now I’m not saying that you’ll become an international superstar overnight just by putting your Twitch clips on TikTok, but ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’ is certainly a great example of how this strategy of reposting the same content on multiple platforms can be very valuable. You don’t always need to totally rethink what you’re doing when making a social media post. Sometimes it just comes down to bringing your existing offering to a different audience. 


By posting your stream content elsewhere and spreading it out, you’re extending the lifespan of the things you create. Every show becomes a fountain of potential posts, automatically generating free material that you can utilize elsewhere. But of course, whether you choose to create content specific to a platform or repost selections from your streams, there is no wrong answer. As I say in many Twitch Playbook entries, it all comes down to what you want from your overall content offering. Just like with streaming, find whatever kind of post makes you happiest to create (not just the one that gets the most likes), and once you know what that looks like, work on refining the process of creating those posts to be as unobtrusive as possible within your day. In past entries like Clipping and Highlighting Your Streams, I helped you to autonomously create clips. And in other similar entries, I helped you to organize and use those clips more effectively. Should you choose to post Stream Content on your own social channels, these entries can help a great deal. Hopefully by taking advantage of this mindset, you too will see the benefits of repurposing your streams for social media. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Run Your Twitch Channel Without Limits

What is a Twitch channel? Whatever you want it to be. I’ve explored this concept in the past, and in the entry Your Stream is Your Own, I dove even deeper into this idea. There, I stated that there are only two objective criteria which make up a Twitch stream: First, it's live. And second, it's on Twitch. Anything else you think a stream 'has to' include is either simply based on your own thoughts, or ideas implanted in your head by the influences around you. These preconceptions have been growing in our minds since far before any of us even started streaming- they're based on things we've heard and seen from other content creators for our entire lives. And as with any old habit, it's very hard to break free from these ingrained ideas for our channels as well. 


One of the hallmark aspects of Twitch is its level of interactivity. What most people see as the factor setting a stream apart from an uploaded video is the ability for those in chat to offer their thoughts in realtime, and receive a direct response from the broadcaster moments later. But this kind of engagement can come in many forms, and it doesn’t have to look the same between any two streams. The concept of interactivity is simply a tool available to the streamer, which can be used in whatever way the creator sees fit. I’ve often seen a form of elitist gatekeeping among Twitch streamers, spoken either during a broadcast, or in soapboxing tweets, where someone compares certain types of streams to YouTube videos. It’s always meant as a cutting insult, claiming that if someone doesn’t incorporate some chat feature, or doesn’t respond to questions in a certain way, their stream ‘might as well be a YouTube video.’ I feel that this type of negative reinforcement not only serves to limit the accuser’s perspective, but also hurtfully shames anyone who thinks differently from them. 

Don't let anyone tell you what you have to
talk about on stream.

Luckily, Twitch itself doesn’t harbor any such judgments. You can do whatever you want on your streams. If you choose to never speak to your chat, that’s your choice. If you only want to let people chat using emotes, that works too. Even if there are certain arbitrary types of comments you don’t like to respond to, you don’t have to respond to them. Of course, most chatters understand that hot button or offensive issues are globally off-limits, but maybe you’re sensitive about how you look, or some aspect of your streams. Even if it doesn’t make sense to the chatter at all, you still don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. Maybe you don’t like to talk about the color red, or the planet Saturn. Then they’re off the table! These may feel like extreme cases (or maybe not- I don’t know your preferences) but don’t ever feel like you have to talk about things you don’t feel comfortable with. It’s your stream, your space. Anyone who enters is responsible for upholding the guidelines you put in place. You're not beholden to anyone else's values. 

Conversely, maybe viewer interaction is your favorite thing in the world. Maybe you’re passionate about giving one-on-one advice, or trading pop culture gossip, or maybe you just like having a steady flow of discussion while you play games. In that case, you might be looking for an experience that’s even more interactive than the normal Twitch infrastructure can provide. Other platforms can supplement these kinds of shows in powerful ways. Many streamers incorporate their Discord servers, keeping open chat channels active so that all members can join, and viewers can hear their realtime conversations with the community. To go even further, some allow viewers to call or text them through a Google Voice number, whether on the show or off, for a completely transparent interaction style. This is a concept that would make many streamers uncomfortable (myself included) but it comes down to individual tastes. The important thing is to capitalize on what you actually want from streaming. Whether you prefer to keep the normal amount of chat interaction, limit it to create a more chill vibe, or ramp things up to open a direct line into your life, there is no wrong answer. As long as you make sure you’re taking proper safety precautions, there’s no limit to what you can choose to do with your own brand. 


This mantra doesn’t only apply to interactivity either. Every aspect of a stream is yours to customize as you see fit. There’s no particular way a Twitch stream needs to look, for example. If you don’t want to show your face, ditch the camera. Don’t have a capture card? It could be as simple as pointing your phone at the TV screen. Maybe you don’t even want to show the game at all for whatever reason, and would rather hold up drawings you made of the game while you narrate what’s happening. Or you could just make an audio-only stream. Video, like interactivity, is just another tool available to you. It’s up to you how to use it, and that doesn’t need to be constrained to the kinds of ideas you’ve already seen. Just do whatever excites you, or whatever your budget and tools will allow. There’s no rule for how your stream has to look, only the rules you choose to impose upon yourself. 

Not gonna lie, that 'drawings' idea actually sounds
like a pretty awesome stream.

To take this even further, you can even create content on a Twitch channel without ever doing a livestream. Maybe you do non-live videos and upload them to your channel. Maybe you write little choose-your-own adventure stories utilizing the info panels in your channel’s about screen. Maybe you just love catching great clips of other streamers and creating compilation videos of their work. If that’s what makes you happy, then that’s what you should do. Should it live on Twitch, rather than some other platform? Who cares? If you choose to do it on Twitch, then yes, it should live on Twitch! The advice given in Twitch Playbook wouldn't always necessarily apply to someone who doesn't go live, but if that's the kind of content you're passionate about then do what feels right. Let go of your preconceptions and just allow your creativity to run wild. 


Asking what a Twitch channel ‘is’ is like asking, "How long is a piece of string?" Your channel can be whatever you want it to be. There’s no point thinking any further about whether what you’re doing will ‘fit in’ with the other content creators, or whether anyone will want to watch it. As I’ve mentioned in other entries before, aiming to ‘fit in’ is the worst thing you can do for your content, both creatively and for growth purposes. And over time, any kind of stream, no matter how outlandish, will attract a dedicated audience as long as the person creating it is passionate enough. So forget all the peer pressure and preconceptions, and just run your Twitch channel without limits! 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Tips for Setting Up Your Stream Equipment

When setting up equipment for your stream, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. There’s typically so much to think about: hardware compatibility, interconnecting cables, software, patches, and a thousand other little things in between. Because of this, we often end up becoming frustrated and dejected when everything doesn’t go as planned. What we thought would be simple fixes or upgrades end up taking hours, and more complex tasks like building a PC can leave us stranded with a half-finished machine while we wait for replacement parts to arrive. Over the years, I’ve found a few general guidelines and shortcuts when trying to implement new equipment into any setup I’m working with, and these have helped me greatly when getting into streaming. 


What’s the biggest enemy of the average person trying to set up equipment of any kind? Expectations. Our own hopes and ideas often get in the way of being effective planners and problem solvers. We’re typically so excited about the thing we just unboxed that we leave all good practices behind and simply want to start using our new toy as soon as possible. The psychology here is understandable- we’ve been thinking this way since we were children, receiving gifts on holidays or birthdays and immediately playing with them. But when doing something complex like creating a stream, there are a lot of moving parts. You’ll run into numerous technical and artistic challenges when dealing with cameras, lights, microphones, various software or any number of other items. You probably won’t get it right on the first try, if the item even functions at all. To avoid being disappointed, expect every equipment alteration, improvement, or replacement process to take longer than expected.

You don't have to know what's going to happen, 
you just have to know that something will happen.

Don’t let your stream get cancelled because you tried to set up a new camera ten minutes before planning to go live. Don’t be late for a dinner plan because you’re stuck troubleshooting a microphone. In my own experience, I can’t think of any piece of equipment whose setup process didn’t have hidden time sinks. Something always needs to get redone, altered, replaced, patched, or otherwise worked on. With your own setup, plan for equipment changes to take two or three times longer than whatever you think is a reasonable amount of time. That way, you won’t always be disappointed when things either go wrong, cause delays or require extra work. For big projects like building a PC, you should assume an even longer wait. Expect you’ll have at least one dead part in the initial build, and won’t be able to use that machine at all on the day you start putting it together.


The physicist Arthur Leonard Schawlow once said, “ Anything worth doing is worth doing twice, the first time quick and dirty and the second time the best way you can.” This certainly holds true when setting up stream equipment. If you want to avoid frustration, put things together in stages, testing them out in an ugly, imperfect way before properly arranging them. 

Here’s an example of what I mean: Imagine you just bought a new webcam. You take off the plastic, admiring its beauty. You uncoil the cable, carefully routing it to fit neatly into the crevice behind your desk, binding everything together with cable ties so the wire is completely hidden. You set up the camera, adjusting the placement so it’s in exactly the right spot on your monitor. You throw away the box and clean away all the packing materials. Everything is tidy and perfectly integrated into your stream setup. Then you turn on the camera and it doesn’t work. 

Test things properly before implementing them.

Now you have to take the camera back down, cut those cable ties, un-thread the cable from behind your desk, fish the box and packing materials from the garbage can, and send it all back to Amazon for a replacement. But what was the problem here? Sure, the camera’s defective status is partly to blame. Mostly however, the problem was your mindset. You should never assume the first time-setup for any piece of equipment is going to be the final setup. Like I’ve mentioned in several other entries, you should always begin with the most important things before moving onto making it look good. Here, that would involve making sure the camera works and has all the parts it needs. You can test that just as easily by plugging it into the front port of your PC, with the cable bulging in an ugly arc, and pointing it at a speck of dust on the table. The act of setting everything up before you had made such an essential check was only because you had allowed your expectations to get in the way of good critical thinking. Of course, this thought process doesn’t only work for cameras. You can use the same mindset with any piece of equipment. Do a quick and dirty setup process first, so you can check everything required, before you do all the extra work to make it look good. You’ll often be thankful you did. 


One major place where I’ve made just about every mistake imaginable is in building the various iterations of my PC, and upgrading it throughout the years. Expecting the process to take longer than anticipated, as well as using a first principles testing method, has helped me enormously in preventing those time-consuming mistakes that would otherwise require me to take everything apart again for one reason or another. Frustration causes the most problems when setting up tech, and by taking these steps I hope that you too will be able to sidestep this issue when working on your stream equipment.