Friday, March 26, 2021

Protecting Your Privacy as a Streamer

Streaming is a very public activity. You’re putting yourself in front of people, sharing the things you love, talking about your day, and hearing from others in the same way. This is an amazing aspect of what we do. It allows us to meet people from around the world, see things from other perspectives, and have all kinds of unique experiences. But for all its benefits, this act of putting yourself in the spotlight comes with concerns as well. Namely, when people are able to see everything you’re doing while on the air, it becomes easy to accidentally show things you’d rather not share. I think it’s important to say a few words here about protecting your privacy as a streamer. 


The first step when thinking about any kind of privacy concern is to do a bit of planning. What would you be okay with sharing on your broadcasts? Is there some information you’d rather not let everyone know? In the past entry Setting Limits For Your Streams, I touched a bit on this topic: “Do you talk about what you do for a living? Do you talk about your love life or relationship issues? How specific are you about where you live? Some streamers are completely transparent about all of these topics, and others would be mortified to go near them. Just because there is no wrong answer doesn't mean you shouldn't have a plan for how many answers you're willing to give.”

Snake is all about privacy. That's why he's
always sneaking around!

Maybe take a few minutes to write down each of the major subjects that are important to you, and how much you’re willing to share. Do you want people to know your full first and last name? Do you want them to know your personal email address? Do you want them to know where you live? Everyone has different comfort levels when dealing with these things, and as long as you know what you’re okay with, you can start coming up with solutions for how to address each concern. Many streamers allow viewers to send them gifts, either from an Amazon wishlist, or directly by mail. Some will even allow these to be shipped directly to their homes. But if you’re uncomfortable with strangers knowing your address, you can use a post office PO Box or similar service as an intermediate. Or, if you don’t even want people to know the general area where you live, you could make it so viewers can only gift digital goods rather than physical ones. There’s not necessarily any wrong answer, but make sure you think things through. For example, if you put your address out there when you have only a few followers, it’s possible that this can come back to bite once you’ve reached the tens of thousands. Anything put onto the internet, even a fleeting Twitch broadcast, has a potentially very long tail and should be treated as permanent. Other streamers I know who work at game studios make sure to disclose where they work for ethical purposes, and make it clear that their streams are unaffiliated and their views don’t represent those of their company. Even showing your full name might be a point of concern for various reasons, and in that case you may want to scrub through your Steam, Xbox Live, PlayStation, Spotify, Discord, and any other accounts you use adjacent to your streams to make sure your full name isn’t visible. 

As the saying goes, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Revealing something early in the process can still have an effect once you’ve grown as a streamer. So if you’re not sure whether or not to share a particular piece of info, it’s best to err on the side of more privacy. 


Once you’ve gotten in tune with your own sense of privacy values, you’ll start to realize other areas where you might want to tighten things up. Similar to tidying up your home before people come to dinner, you may want to tidy up your stream so personal info isn’t just lying around. This might involve those tax forms you keep on your desktop, the tabs or bookmarks visible in Chrome, or the ‘recent folders’ in Windows Explorer. 

Don't forget to tidy up. 

On my own channel, when I started to livestream the editing process of my YouTube videos, I had to sit down just like I’m describing here, to really think through the implications of such an undertaking. Because I work on video editing projects professionally, I knew I wouldn’t want to open Adobe Premiere and accidentally show something confidential that I’ve been working on for a client, or pull up the import menu (which shows the most recent folder accessed) only to reveal a logo or image from something that could break the terms of a non-disclosure contract. So, knowing that I had to be absolutely sure that nothing unwanted ever appeared on these broadcasts, I came up with a pretty handy catch-all solution. I created a separate user account on my PC called ‘Stream Editing,’ which would be the only place where I’d ever edit the projects I make on stream. This would guarantee that all the ‘recent places’ in my editing software, Windows Explorer, and everywhere else would only show the things I’ve been working on during the broadcasts. And because I took that little bit of time to come up with a solution, I’ve done over 300 of those video editing shows without incident. 


As long as you think things through, you can prevent a lot of headaches going forward. And these kinds of preparations don’t need to petrify you or prevent your shows from going live in the first place- all it takes is a little applied thought and common sense. Even now, I of course have no way of predicting everything that might show up on one of my streams, but I can at least control what kinds of situations I put myself into. If I need to enter a password or make a purchase, it could be as easy as doing it on my phone rather than visible on my monitor, in case certain fields autofill without warning. For some things, I’ll simply send the show into a short break, displaying a “We’ll be right back” screen while I do something that feels risky to display on the air. Don’t ignore these simple but important steps. As long as you’re thinking things through, there are plenty of options for you to protect your privacy as a streamer. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

You're on Twitch, Not on Television

When making content for Twitch, it’s easy to get caught up in a lot of dangerous pitfalls. Many of these I’ve covered in previous entries. Focusing too much on numbers, pushing your other commitments aside, or sending yourself down a financial rabbit hole are very real potential problems if you lose track of your priorities. But the more I’ve thought about this issue, the more I’ve realized that many of these problems actually spawn from one deeply ingrained piece of cultural conditioning: Every streamer, on some level, still clings to the old television format.


TV has been in our homes and influencing our lives in so many different ways that it’s natural to use it as a reference point. Even if you didn’t grow up watching TV, it likely had an influence on all the people who have influenced you, so its roots still spread to your life. There’s so much about the cadence, show length and punctuality of television shows that’s permeated the way we think about video in general. Much of how we design graphics, introduce ourselves, interact with guests, and design special events also has its roots in the look and feel of TV. For better or worse, there’s no escaping TV completely. But rather than trying to shed these roots entirely, it’s more important to realize where these inspirations are helping us, and where they’re hurting. Because once you take stock of these things, you’ll be able to fully embrace the true identity of your own brand and take advantage of the livestreaming format. Don’t forget: you’re on Twitch, not on television. 

TV is a big influence on us all.

When planning to start anything, we naturally draw from what we already know. Most of us go live at a certain time on our schedules, for mostly pre-determined lengths of time. Many of us even create special weekly events with names of their own, like Spooky Saturdays, or Throwback Thursdays. This fosters a regularity of showtimes and diversity of content, not unlike the weekly lineup you might find on a TV station. Twitch channels also often feature holiday episodes, call-ins, and prize giveaways. The platform now even supports commercial breaks, which can be activated by the streamer at whichever time they choose. Whether we want to admit it or not, there’s much of the old variety hour TV show framework nestled into the average Twitch stream. 


Now, none of what I’ve just mentioned is inherently bad. There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by something, and as I’ve covered in previous entries, there’s no escaping influence either way. What’s really important, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is understanding what about these influences is helping you, and what is hurting you. Since we’ve seen some of these paradigms last for so long on television and other formats influenced by television, we begin to subconsciously cement them in our brains as things that should never be changed in our own content. We adopt the mindset that, because these things have endured so long, they must be the secrets to success. But as we’ve covered in many Twitch Playbook entries before, ‘success’ is only defined by what you enjoy, and that may not align with what worked in all these other peoples’ content. 

For example, if your show is fantastic, but you’re destroying your outside life in order to do it at the same time every day, is it worth the trade? Does a regularity of stream schedule mean more to you than the things you’re giving up or pushing into the background? This isn’t for me to tell you, it’s for you to decide for yourself. It’s just important to remember that one main point: you’re not on television. That means you don’t have to make a 1:1 trade, giving up either your stream or your personal life. You’re not filling a time slot on a network, you’re creating content for yourself. If you want to make room for more things you want to do, you don’t have to go live at the same time every day. You can move things around with minimal effort and accountability. As long as you keep streaming and keep yourself in check, there’s no problem with changing things. 

Similarly, many streamers act as if they’re beholden to network shareholders, putting out the equivalent of a PR statement on Twitter any time they feel they’re going to miss or even be late for a scheduled day. This message might explain what went wrong, how they’re feeling, their promises for future shows, a plan for how they’ll make it up to their audience, or any number of other bullet points covering all the bases. While this can be useful in keeping viewers aware of what you’re doing, the constant, intense accountability can create a lot of pressure for you as the streamer and lead to burnout or worse. There’s no ‘right’ answer about how detailed you should be in keeping your audience informed, but it’s important to remember that it is your choice whether you keep it up. You’re creating videos for fun after all, not satisfying a major broadcasting company, and there’s no requirement to keep yourself on the hook for every little slip-up if it makes you uncomfortable. 

Pepsiman wants you to take stock of your streams.

And most importantly, you’re not going to be cancelled if you fail to meet some kind of quota. That means you don’t have to do marketing stunts, special events and giveaways in order to keep your show on the air. One of the big dangers for people who stream a variety of games like myself is a feeling that they need to stay on top of what’s happening in the industry by buying every new game when it’s released. This has its own benefits through the Twitch algorithm (even though in previous entries I’ve speculated that it likely doesn’t work in the long run) but it also closely resembles the way many of our favorite TV shows are structured. Every week they bring you the newest movie, or game, or restaurant, or whatever, give you a guided tour through its features, and review it. Now maybe this is the kind of content you’re passionate about making, but like with the other factors, it’s important to know that you don’t need to do it to keep your channel alive. If you find that making several $60 purchases per month is draining your funds from other things you want to do in life, it’s okay not to buy that newest game release. People will still watch your shows, and you can still enjoy the games you have. Take it from someone whose entire Twitch channel was built around playing the backlog of 500+ games he’s bought in the past 16 years of Steam sales: there’s plenty of fun to be had with the games you already own. 


We live in the internet age, and that means you don’t have to hold yourself to any of these old network TV standards if it’s not helping your shows or your personal well-being. And on top of that, people don’t necessarily even want you to make content that conforms to these paradigms. There’s a reason traditional TV has declined in popularity with the rise of streaming services like Netflix and live platforms like Twitch. It’s pretty clear that viewers want different kinds of entertainment. So don’t be afraid to break away from what your first instincts tell you to do. There’s no telling what kinds of amazing things you might be able to create. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Don't Wait to Start Your Streaming Dream

It’s tough to start streaming on Twitch. In fact, one of the things I’ve recommended most throughout this resource is the simple act of forgetting your pride and jumping into the craft as quickly as possible. But I understand- it’s a scary prospect. It’s easy to think about starting some major project, and we can set up a thousand grand plans for how we’ll do it, right up until that moment where we actually have to put ourselves out there. But time is only going to keep marching forward, and the more we wait for the ‘perfect time’ to begin, the more we unknowingly dwindle away our best opportunities to achieve our goals. Please. For your own sake. Don’t wait to start your streaming dream. 


I love the Disney animated movie ‘Tangled.’ The characters are really fun, and it quietly manages to have one of the best soundtracks of the CG animated bunch. But while I think very highly of the film, I also think it exemplifies a very dangerous message. Rapunzel sits locked in her tower and sings, “When will my life begin?” until Flynn Rider, an unexpected outside force, comes in and enables her to start on a grand adventure. There’s no action taken by the main character to change her circumstances, until the circumstances are changed for her. Constantly in pop culture, we’re given a similar message. From Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, we’re shown that if you just sit around doing nothing and wish hard enough for your life to change, it eventually will. Also, there will probably be cool magic spells. 

As you can imagine, I was pretty pumped when
Rapunzel showed up in KH3.

Of course, these are works of fiction. There are no cool magic spells to be found in the real world (that I know of), and it’s not like we’re using these stories as blueprints for how to live our own lives. But despite that, most people approach their real-world ambitions in this same exact way. Whether they don’t think they have the skills, their lives are too busy at the moment, or they’re just plain scared, the vast majority of people are content to just wait for good things to happen to them. They find reasons not to get started on their lifelong ambitions, or look for outside forces to blame in the meantime. But this is life, and nobody is going to whisk any of us away to start on our passion projects. Many of us simply wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for our creative ‘life’ to begin, until eventually after years, decades, a lifetime of waiting, these dreams no longer can come true. And the cruelest part is, during this entire span we never actually think we’ve given up on our dreams. As Steven Pressfield says in his incredible book The War of Art, “We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.””


So here’s the thing: you’re going to have to be both Rapunzel and Flynn Rider on your Twitch streaming journey. It’s not good enough to simply want it. You have to make it happen. It doesn’t matter what it takes. It doesn’t matter how embarrassed you are. It’s never going to be easier, and there will never be a better time. Do not wait. If you’ve gone through the past 114 entries and still haven’t started streaming on your own Twitch channel, don’t allow yourself to reach the next one without doing a broadcast. Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy setup (or any setup at all) - in the entry Start Your Twitch Channel With No Money, I told you how you can begin streaming with no equipment, prep time or financial input. Do not continue learning without doing. As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, acquiring too much knowledge without regularly putting it into action will actually decrease your chances of ever getting started. 

Kept you waiting, huh?

This isn’t only a wake-up call for absolute beginners either. Even seasoned Twitch streaming veterans run into roadblocks in their creative journeys. In my own experience, I conquered one of these challenges very recently. Throughout the lifetime of my channel, I’ve always been very reluctant about doing the Metal Gear series on stream. It’s my all-time favorite franchise, and those games were simply too precious to me to do in half-measures on my streams. Everything had to be perfect. At first I was legitimately concerned, because I love the story of these games so much, but I was too self-conscious on my streams at that time not to talk over cutscenes (and anyone who knows those games knows that there are quite a few of these moments to contend with). But even after I got my streams where I wanted them, I still found excuses not to bring these games to my channel. A few months ago, I finally admitted to myself that I was falling into the deadly ‘Rapunzel trap.’ In regards to doing these games on stream, I was waiting for my ‘life’ to begin. So for the past several months, I’ve been playing through everything from 1987’s Metal Gear 1 onward, including fun add-ons like live audiobook-style readings of the PS2-exclusive in-game novels, and live-translating goofy non-canon fan comics I bought in Tokyo. I’m ecstatic every day I get to experience these games again, and I realized early in the playthrough that all my worrying was for nothing. All I had to do was take the first step, and after that I was fine.


Take a look at your own channel. What’s been a similar problem in your streaming career? Of course, if you haven’t started streaming at all, this is pretty easy to identify. But even if you’ve been going consistently for months or years, there’s probably some feature you just can’t bring yourself to start. Don’t wait. Just find a way to just get yourself going, even if it isn’t 100% as perfect as you imagined. In one of the first Twitch Playbook entries, I advised that you “never use the term ‘someday’ to describe anything you plan on doing, at least not if you ever plan on actually doing it.” I was thinking of Metal Gear as a ‘someday’ project, and if I hadn’t changed that mindset, I may never have actually begun replaying them on my shows. And like our girl Rapunzel, I found that I was actually much more equipped for the adventure than expected, once I finally pushed myself to get started. So no matter what kind of dream you’re wishing for, and no matter your experience level with streaming itself, do yourself a favor. Don’t wait to start your streaming dream. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Advanced Stream Camera Techniques

The camera is an important part of most Twitch streams. And while it's usually not necessary to purchase anything to make your streams look a bit better, it can sometimes require elbow grease and a bit of technical understanding to get yours to look the way you want. I've already helped you to get past some of the most common challenges that Twitch streamers face regarding their camera setups. In the entry How to Make Your Camera Look Better, I spoke about properly utilizing the two most important camera-related concepts: composition and lighting. And in the more recent entry Focusing a Streaming Webcam I covered the underlying concepts that govern how your camera sees the space around it. In this entry, we will dive deeper into the world of cameras and filters with some more advanced stream camera techniques.


Typically, someone making a livestream will opt for a webcam. They’re easy to set up and don’t take a lot of hassle to maintain. Some of us are a little more comfortable with video equipment however, and might want to utilize other hardware options. If you fall into this more advanced category, and you’re okay with using a less stable, but prettier solution for your streaming visuals, you can try switching to another type of camera. DSLR cameras are excellent steps up from the average webcam. In the movie and TV worlds these cameras are considered very affordable, though for a stream they’ll set you back at least 5x the price of your average webcam. And while I’ve seen streamers use these higher-tier cameras to great effect, they’re also extremely easy to mess up. So I wouldn’t really suggest you buy one of these for your channel unless you really know what you’re doing with it, and are confident that it’ll help your shows in some way. In fact, I wouldn’t suggest buying one specifically for your streams at all. I’d only really suggest trying this strategy if you already own a DSLR camera for some other purpose. As I say in almost every Twitch Playbook entry, getting better at streaming is always more important than buying better equipment for streaming.

Fancier cameras have more options, but they require
more know-how and patience.

If you do have a DSLR camera however, it has the capacity to look great on your shows. These cameras are going to have bigger chips than a webcam, resulting in a much clearer image. They also usually have the option for interchangeable lenses and much subtler control over the aperture, gain and shutter speed. If you want the ‘blurry background’ effect in your shot, this becomes much easier to accomplish without filters in a DSLR camera. There are a few quirks you’ll have to get used to though. Unlike webcams, DSLRs aren’t really made to display their real-time feeds for extended spans. The typical user would turn the camera on, get the shot, and turn it off again, so they run on relatively short batteries. Depending on what’s in your camera kit, you may need to get a few extra parts to make it work for a stream, like an AC power adapter and some kind of tripod or mounting device to attach it to your monitor. Plus, depending on what kind of crop factor your camera has (Full Frame, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, etc.) you could find that you have to free up a lot more room between the camera and yourself, requiring some redecorating in your streaming area. You may also need to install separate software to make your camera display continuously on your computer and allow your streaming application to display it. This is all a lot of work, and there will be even more considerations to keep in mind based on your personal setup, so I will reiterate that I really only recommend this strategy to someone who already owns and knows what they’re doing with one of these devices. It’s a big expense, and it’s very finicky even once you get your hands on it, so keep in mind that with the high reward there is also a very high risk.

I will mention as well, that just because you know how to use cameras doesn’t mean you have to have the fanciest video hardware for your broadcasts. I’ve been operating cameras professionally for TV and video shoots for ten years, but I still stick with a webcam on my personal streams. As I always say in these entries, it comes down to what you want from your content. I personally would rather take the time I save by opting for a simpler camera, and put it toward other aspects of my shows. But if you do a lot of IRL streams, or intricate model building, or some other type of show where the camera is of paramount importance, it could be worth looking into DSLRs.


If you don’t want to fully commit to a new camera, here’s an option that just about everyone can employ: camera filters. I’m sure you’re already familiar with filters in some way. We use them on Instagram, Snapchat, and basically every other camera app in existence in order to make our images look better. But have you tried using them on your streams to improve the look of your camera shot? OBS and most other streaming software gives you the ability to change the look of your camera through several post-processing techniques. Depending on which software you use, it may be possible to crop and distort the image, or mask out unwanted areas. You can also color correct, altering the contrast, temperature, gamma and other settings to get the most out of your frame. The color key, which we’ve covered in the entry Using a Green Screen for Streaming, also falls under this 'filters' category. 

Filters can make a cool shot look even cooler.

Make sure you only start adding and adjusting filters once you’ve finished setting up your camera’s composition and lighting however, because these steps in the reverse order might make it more difficult to properly set up your shot. Filters should always be the icing on the cake. By using filters creatively, I’ve seen streamers achieve extremely bold looks, like turning themselves into an army of rainbow colored clones, making their room look like a psychedelic lava lamp, or inserting themselves into famous movie moments. I’ve also seen filters used in very simple, yet tasteful ways to fine-tune the color tone or contrast on a stream and make it look that much more professional. Whichever way you go with filters, this can be a very powerful technique to employ on your broadcasts if you keep an open mind. 


Whether you’re already a video professional, or you just want to experiment with new ideas, there is a lot your can do with your camera. Visualize what you want your stream to look like, and what steps it might take to get there. You might find that there are fewer obstacles in that way than you expected. Just stay smart about it, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. By employing a few advanced stream camera techniques, anyone can find something that works for their shows.