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. 

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