Friday, May 28, 2021

Growth Check-In: Managing Your Stream Ratio


Throughout The Twitch Playbook, I’ve spoken on all kinds of technical and creative topics. The objective throughout this resource has been to teach the various lessons I’ve learned through my own successes and failures on the platform. There’s one idea that I regularly touch on however, which might not seem to fit with all the other techniques: I often advise against learning about Twitch streaming. 

This is a concept I call Streaming with Strategic Ignorance, and believe it or not, it’s become one of the most important disciplines I’ve cultivated throughout my Twitch career. In a few different entries, I’ve explored the idea that knowledge about a subject is helpful in small doses, but lethal when accumulated unchecked. Experience, as I like to say, is always more important than knowledge. And in this entry, we’re going to take some time to look back and ensure we aren’t slipping. It’s time to manage your stream ratio. 


Think back to the last six months of your Twitch streams. In this span, how many times have you gone live per week, on average? And whenever you broadcast, what’s the average amount of time that a stream lasts? There’s no need to go back and look through channel metrics- we’re just looking for a ballpark estimate here. Multiply the number of weekly streams by the average stream length to come up with a baseline number for the amount of stream hours you produce each week. 

Don't let time slip away. 

Now think about how many pieces of content you watch, read, or listen to
about streaming every week. This can include podcasts you’re subscribed to (including this one!), YouTube tutorials you watch, and articles you read. Once again, just come up with a general estimate of how much time you spend. But try to include everything you can think of. On top of this number you should also include the amount of weekly hours of streams from other content creators you watch, as these provide you with inspiration for your own streams and should also be considered learning. The number probably balloons quite a bit when you add this figure to the mix. This new baseline number should now show how much stream-related content you consume per week on average. 


So now you have two figures. The first represents how many hours of streams you produce per week, and the second represents how many hours of stream-related content you consume per week. The objective in keeping a ‘positive stream ratio’ is to make sure the first number is larger than the second. In other words, you want to make sure you’re producing more stream hours than the stream-related content you consume. 

Now, the impact of this statement is going to be different for everyone. Some will consider it a no-brainer, while others will think I’m crazy for even suggesting it. It all depends on your personal habits. If you fall into the second camp however, consider that the ratio of stream-related content you’re consuming is likely hurting your streaming career more than helping. As I mentioned in earlier entries, gaining too much knowledge before putting it into practice can cause analysis paralysis, making you unable to effectively utilize the lessons you learn for your streams either way. Watching too many other streamers can also cause you to begin making harmful comparisons about your own content and skill level. As I mentioned in the entry Stream Before You’re Ready, you want to stack small amounts of knowledge acquisition between chunks of experience, rather than simply stockpiling knowledge in the hopes of magically solving all your streaming problems at once. 


Focus on self-improvement.

Of course, there are two ways to go about improving your stream ratio. You can either begin consuming less stream-related content, or begin producing more streams of your own. In reality, the smartest answer is usually a mixture of both. As you likely know from this resource, I’m not a big fan of consuming much of anything. In the entry Learn to Love the Grind of Twitch Streaming, I spoke about the benefits I’ve received by paying less attention to my surroundings, and simply focusing on my goals. In the entry Stream With Strategic Ignorance, which I alluded to above, I discussed how even seemingly helpful knowledge can sabotage your streams. In my opinion, there’s no amount of content consumption that’s too low. Experience is more valuable than any piece of information or inspiration you could gain by passive watching, reading or listening, including The Twitch Playbook. Similarly, as you’ll know from the exercise I presented in the entry Do More Streaming, whatever amount of content you’re creating right now, there’s always a sustainable and safe way that you could be producing more. You just have to think creatively about how to go about it. 

For anyone who’s doing this exercise and hasn’t started streaming yet at all, your ratio is obviously woefully unbalanced. In the earliest entries of this resource, I suggested that you should begin streaming right now, no matter how much equipment or experience you have. I really meant it then, and I still do now. There’s no excuse not to start streaming today. For more details on the subject, see the entry titled Start Your Twitch Channel With No Money

Conversely, if you’ve been streaming for months or even years, don’t be surprised if your ratio is also out of alignment. When we’ve gained experience, we might think we’re immune to such things, but that overconfidence is often what puts us at the highest risk of slipping. Experienced streamers often get bogged down by other tasks like branded social media channels, planning large events, and working on behind-the-scenes upgrades for their streams. If you’re an experienced streamer, consider adding all these things to your weekly tally of stream-related consumption as well, and see how your ratio looks. They may not involve actually consuming content, but they are things which distract you from producing live broadcasts. As I’ve mentioned in several entries before, a growing channel can put lots of pressure on you to begin focusing on things you feel you’re expected to do, rather than what you actually want to be doing. Don’t forget that no matter how nice it is to build your community, design graphics, or tweak your layouts, your main objective as a streamer is to actually stream. 


In earlier entries, I told the story of how Lennon and McCartney were performing on stage for several hours a night before they even knew all the basic chords on their guitars. And even when they formed into The Beatles, none of the four bandmates ever learned how to read or write music. Yet they performed live on stage for over 6 hours every night, seven days a week, for hundreds of underground performances. And after a few years of this, they released their first album and... the rest is history. They didn’t get better at making music by learning- they got better at making music by doing. And it’s no different with Twitch streaming. If you want to see real results, stay on top of your stream ratio. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Streaming for Money

There are a few reasons most people get excited when first learning about Twitch streaming. Many of us have been playing video games our entire lives, so why not be able to build a community while doing it? On top of that, it’s possible to get paid for our efforts. Who wouldn’t want to make money while doing the thing they love? This leads most streamers to create a very specific set of goals for themselves, and they count the days until they’re able to sign up for Twitch’s Affiliate program. Most new streamers rush toward their first 50 followers (Twitch’s largest Affiliate prerequisite), and as soon as they hit that number, they immediately put their name on the dotted line. From the moment they’re able to monetize their content, things begin to change for these Twitch streamers, and not always for the better.

I’ve spoken in many entries previously about the various fun things you can do with your community thanks to the Affiliate program, and the ways a community can grow with these tools. But I haven’t spoken that much about why you might not want to sign yourself up to monetize your shows. In this entry, I’ll go into the pitfalls of streaming for money.


As soon as a streamer signs up for the Affiliate program, they usually assume that it’s only a matter of time before the money starts pouring in. And this can certainly happen- we all know about streamers who make comfortable livings from their shows- but the key word is time. New streamers are typically not prepared for just how long it takes to make anything consistent from their shows. And this is because of a major false positive, which happens right at the beginning of most channels. The first 50 followers someone gains aren’t really a good indicator of how fast their channel will continue to grow, and it’s also not a great representation of who might actually subscribe (pay the streamer a monthly fee) or cheer (give the streamer a one-time tip). In previous entries, I explored the usual dicey ways that most streamers gain their first 50 followers- they ask friends to follow, post about their channel on Facebook so family members can do the same, and sometimes even blindly solicit follows by spamming other streamers. All these strategies might make a follower number go up, but they don’t indicate any real growth. That’s because none of the followers gained by these means are very likely to engage with your channel ever again.

Sometimes followers will only ever follow.

It’s also common that streamers will go all-out by designing or commissioning all sorts of emotes, subscriber badges and other flourishes, as soon as they gain the ability to do so. But again, because of what I previously described, most channels won’t actually have many subscribers in the beginning. This can cause these streamers to sink a lot of time and money into getting everything perfect, only to be met with disappointment when they unveil the fruits of their hard work. Instead, if you are lucky enough to have some subscriptions at the start, it’s usually best to take it slow. As I mentioned in previous entries like Grow Your Channel in Public, community members like to see your channel grow over time. They won’t resent you for having only one exclusive emote to start out. Most early adopters of new tech products do it because they’re loyal to the brand, and this is true of your early stream supporters as well. These first subscribers are doing so mostly because they want to help you, not because of the goodies that come with it. Plus, when you reveal a second exclusive emote a month or two later, it can be an even more fun reason for these members to renew that subscription. Don’t let the process of setting up your channel for Affiliate benefits cloud your judgment about what’s best.


When you’re able to make money from your content, it’s easy to start envisioning a life in which you’ve quit your day job in order to stream exclusively on Twitch. This is a very nice goal, and with a lot of persistence it is possible, but it’s also something you shouldn’t necessarily expect to happen any time soon. As I’ve mentioned in many entries before, it’s best to enjoy the life you’re able to create with streaming right now, rather than constantly dreaming of the day you can finally hand in your two weeks’ notice. It takes a long time to build a community at all, and only a very small percentage of that community will be willing to subscribe and cheer on your channel.

It’s also not a steady income. Even when you’ve reached a number that seems to match what you make at your 9-5 job, you may not be ready for the huge peaks and valleys that come with streaming. You don’t really have direct control over what you make every month, and the various seasons can bring big swings in your monthly payout. Sure, events like sub-a-thons and donation goals can bring in money if you really need it, but that gets prickly when you’re depending on it in order to put food on the table. It’s unfortunately common to see streamers quit their jobs in order to stream full-time, only to later be forced to take on new work once they’ve realized that it isn’t a very comfortable way to live. If you have real-world responsibilities, monthly payments and out-of-the-blue emergencies that might need tending to, you will probably prefer to have your streaming stay as a nice side-hustle on top of a regular income.


Chasing money when Twitch streaming often looks a lot like chasing followers. Many of us can get blinded by the urge to simply make the number go up, no matter what it takes. And in that pursuit, we can lose track of what we actually enjoy about streaming on Twitch. Even though most of us see the Affiliate contract as a way of getting paid to do what we love, it’s not always that simple. ‘Playing video games’ and ‘playing video games for money’ are often two very different things.

Don't let money subconsciously pull your strings.

At the beginning of my own streaming career, I had planned (as most streamers do) that once my subscriber numbers reached a certain point, I would slowly transition streaming into my sole source of income. And aside from discovering the frustratingly inconsistent results outlined in the previous section, I also realized that I was subconsciously allowing things that I didn’t like to persist on my streams because I didn’t want to rock the boat. I wasn’t setting out to simply ‘do it for the money’ of course, but because that goal about making a living off my streams was in my mind at all, I found I would be more lenient about things that actually bothered me. So I wouldn’t be too hard on spoilers, I’d let things slide in chat, and I’d keep the games to what I thought people wanted to watch, rather than what I wanted to play. The more agreeable I could be, the more followers I would gain, and the more followers I could gain, the more subscribers I would have. That’s what my thought process was, anyway. Once I stopped trying to make a living wage off my shows, I realized I was much freer to do my streams exactly how I wanted to do them. Then I could make work be the thing that feels like work, and streaming could be the thing that's actually fun. 

This kind of subconscious pressure happens to many streamers, in all different ways. One of the most deadly was laid out in the entry titled The Dangers of Attaching Yourself to One Game. When someone builds their community while only ever playing or talking about one video game, and all their monthly subscribers are there to see that one game, they can begin to feel trapped by that game. And when these people get fed up and break away from the game they’re known for playing, they can go through an excruciating identity crisis about their content, often leading them to take a break from streaming, or give it up altogether. 


There’s nothing wrong with making money from your shows of course, but it’s hard to deny that this dynamic changes things about your streams. Try to keep things in perspective. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment (or worse) by trying too soon to quit your job in order to stream, and make sure you’re constantly questioning yourself about whether the thing you’re doing on stream is what you actually love doing. Getting paid is great, but in the end you shouldn’t just be streaming for money, you should be doing it for the love of the game.

Friday, May 14, 2021

How to Flesh Out Stream Ideas

Throughout this resource, I’ve advised that you should never wait to start streaming, whether that involves beginning your channel altogether, or revising your streams in some way. If you want to make a change, it’s better to do it in small increments, and iterate on that idea over time than to make one big overhaul. In the entry Grow Your Channel in Public, I even talked about how it's actually a disadvantage to create something perfect from the beginning. Being able to notice a tangible growth trajectory over time is one of the great joys of a longtime Twitch channel viewer, and you shouldn't rob your fans of that opportunity. But how can you make sure your ideas are good ones, and prevent yourself from looking like a fool in front of your people? The answer to this lies in your mindset: What environment are you creating for yourself when you flesh out stream ideas? 


In the entry I mentioned above, I talked about how growing your channel in small, visible steps is more engaging than making sweeping overhauls. But even aside from the benefits such a public growth process gives to your audience, this workflow will help you make better decisions for your channel in general. Taking small steps is how a person keeps hold of their creative energy, and allows them more wiggle room when they want to improve. There’s a great piece of advice from the literary world, which states that you should never rewrite while you’re writing. The writer should simply put down all their ideas, no matter how terrible they seem, and leave them on the page until the end. Then when their whole draft is done, they can go back and change things. 

Pictured: Starkiller from The Force Unleashed,
surrounded by my early Twitch Playbook drafts.

This is how I try to write The Twitch Playbook every week. When I start writing, I merely jot down a few vaguely related sentences. Then I typically go into a state of mild panic, because it looks like that week’s entry will be completely terrible, and I spend a little stretch of time having no idea how those disparate thoughts will fit together. But throughout it all, I force myself to write freely about each of these three or four points, without judgment of any kind, until I have a few paragraphs on each subject. Then, before I know it, I have roughly a dozen terribly written paragraphs which make some kind of sense, but don’t really feel cohesive. But it’s this free writing stage which has laid the path for everything. From that point, once all that garbage has been dumped onto the page, all I have to do is sift through it- a.k.a. rewrite what I already have into a shorter, more concise version of itself- and I’ll have a finished entry. I always think the entry is going to be terrible, right up until the end, because the polish doesn’t come in until the absolute final stage. 

And this is the only way that works for me. The reverse never gets me results. Trying to change my ideas before I’ve spent some time writing a bunch of absolute trash typically traps me in a never ending loop. I sit there trying to find the ‘perfect’ one or two sentences, and don’t get anything else written. The way I see it, putting down the big mass of badly written thoughts is like being a sculptor and gathering a big lump of clay. You should only start sculpting once all the clay is on the table. And just like with writing, when I’m coming up with ways to improve my channel behind the scenes, this is the best way I’ve found to do it. There are no wrong answers at the beginning stage of the process. I simply spew a dozen or more terrible, half-baked concepts onto the page, then flesh them all out and sift through what I have for nuggets of inspiration that I can refine into something better. 


Now, all these iteration ideas are great for behind-the-scenes work, but that’s not the only way you should be utilizing these principles. You can apply this same thought process to a live broadcast as well. Improv comedians use a guideline called “Yes, and...” Through this line of thinking, when a comedian is performing on stage with other comedians, and someone sets up a joke, the comedian responding will never shut that joke down, or say, “No.” They will always build on that joke by saying, “Yes, and...” Even if the setup is for a joke they think is completely abysmal, the comedian will only ever try to find ways to keep the bit going and make it funny. Essentially, they’re taking the writer’s principle of never rewriting while you write, and applying it to a live performance setting. 

Ricky could tell you all about "Yes, and..."

And as you might imagine, this “Yes, and...” idea comes in very handy while you’re Twitch streaming live on the air. It makes you more open to unexpected situations, letting you take technical problems, chat messages, and other surprises in stride. Thinking this way allows you to create entertainment and value out of things that might have caused another streamer to lock up or cancel their show. In the entry Up Your Showmanship on Stream, I mentioned that I like to use chat messages as springboards to make more interesting responses. So instead of simply giving a one word answer to a yes-or-no question, I say, “Here’s my answer, and here’s a story about that.” So even when engaging with comments that aren’t problematic or surprising, you can utilize the “Yes, and...” philosophy to make your responses even more compelling.

And on top of that, if you combine the “never rewrite while you write” principle with “Yes, and...” for your streams, you can get big results. Consider these two philosophies for a minute. In the first, you are throwing ideas at the wall, knowing they’re only half thought-out. And in the second, you’re training yourself to be better at creating entertainment from any possible situation in a live scenario. So when you put them together, it means you will actually be able to start trying any idea on your live broadcasts, even if it’s completely terrible, and always be able to make it work. I’ve often spoken in Twitch Playbook entries about how you should attempt your worst ideas, and stream your passions even if nobody else on Twitch is doing it. If you’ve had trouble believing me before, the mindset I'm describing in this entry will be the key you need to unlock that true creative potential. I constantly try things on and around my own channel that are totally antithetical to everything else I’ve done. You’ve heard me describe several of my weirdest ideas in the past two years’ worth of entries. And whether I continue doing them, build upon them, or change them into new things entirely, I never regret having done them in the first place. I always allow them to play out by taking the ideas and saying, “Yes, and...” 


Many Twitch streamers can feel trapped, because they get in their own heads about changes they want to make, and because of this, they never end up actually making those changes. Other people are so afraid that they never even start streaming in the first place. Both of these problems are due to a fear of uncertainty. The streamers and prospective streamers who fall into these deadly traps want everything to be planned out and perfect before they start on their new endeavors, not realizing that uncertainty and surprise is a natural part of the process. So if you suffer from this problem yourself, work on your ability to throw all sorts of things out there, and then try your best to make them work. You’ll be surprised how many of those quick sketches of stream ideas can turn into full-blown masterpieces, if you only take the time to flesh them out. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Why You Should Change Your Streams (Even When There’s Nothing Wrong)

If you’ve been following this resource for a while, you’ll know that problem solving is very important to me. There have been several entries in which I’ve explored the process of fixing all kinds of problems that might arise on a Twitch stream, from large-scale overhauls and little visual glitches to interpersonal communication issues and channel branding. Staying on top of all these things will really raise the level of professionalism on a Twitch broadcast over time. Then in entries like Revising Your Streams From the Ground Up, I explored another concept: it’s just as important to change things when problems don’t present themselves. Sometimes things are going fine, but you want to try something new. Maybe there’s an issue that you never would have considered an issue, without hearing from someone else. Either way, just because there are no technical or logistical problems that you can see, doesn’t mean your channel is as good as it can possibly be. When you stay inquisitive, you’ll discover all sorts of things that can improve.


Personally, when I play video games, I’m mostly interested in the stories they tell. I’ve often mentioned in this resource how my channel started out in such a way that I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the storylines in the games I played on stream. Then as I went forward, I slowly transitioned my content in the direction I wanted it to go. The first iteration of my channel was growing like wildfire- if you asked anyone, they would say that it was already ‘working.’ But it wasn’t what I personally wanted from my passion- I wanted to be able to play the kinds of games I like to play, in the way I like to play them. So I took something that others would tell you wasn’t ‘broke,’ and I fixed it anyway. And by doing that a few times throughout the lifespan of my channel, I’ve achieved the exact balance I was looking for. 

On another note, sometimes a feature may seem to be working perfectly for me, but it isn’t working for others. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the way your community interacts with the streams. As I outlined in the entry Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself, you can reverse-engineer the mistakes and rule violations of your chat, into actionable changes that need to be made in your content.  Oftentimes, I’ll also directly ask viewers in private messages whether they think there’s something that could improve about a certain aspect of my shows. Just because something seems to me to make perfect sense, that doesn’t mean it makes perfect sense to others. If that turns out to be the case, I try to swallow my pride and accept the suggestion gracefully. 

There are two major instances I can think of where I didn’t see anything wrong, until I asked my community: 


The God of War games were already great, but
changing them anyway made them even better.

The first of these involved my ‘away’ screen. As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, a selection of my channel clips plays while I’m away from my computer, so there’s something to watch while the show is on a break. When I first introduced the feature, I’d cut to a break, where those clips would play inside a little television on screen, next to text that said, “Stay Tuned!” To me, there were more than enough visual cues within this scene to communicate to viewers that I was away from the computer, and the show would be right back. But after a while, I started to notice that people in chat would talk to the clips, thinking that they were watching me live. This phenomenon was totally confusing to me, because every 20-30 seconds, the clip would change, where I was playing a different game, wearing a different shirt, talking about something totally different. However, all those context clues didn’t stop people from getting confused. 

Eventually I asked around, and found out that many people didn’t understand the ‘Stay Tuned’ choice of words. It’s not necessarily that common for a Twitch streamer to play clips while they’re away. Usually they show a static screen, or they show their empty chair while they’re not at their desk. So it’s conceivable that the words ‘Stay Tuned,’ especially to a new viewer, may simply have seemed like something I showed on screen while I played games so they wouldn’t leave. So I changed the message on screen to instead say in larger letters, “NICK IS AWAY - Enjoy some clips!” And since enacting that change, the problem has become much less abundant. As simple as it seems now, I never would have imagined that the wording was the issue. It just made so much sense to me. And that’s why it’s so important to ask for feedback in cases like this. 


I’ve spoken before in this resource about how I stream my daily language learning sessions. And this was an instance where I not only ‘fixed what wasn’t broke’ to great effect, but also had help from a viewer to identify another issue I couldn’t see. When I began streaming my Japanese Duolingo sessions, I was an absolute beginner in the language. I knew a few very basic phrases, and a few letters of the alphabet, and that was it. On day one, I was essentially right there in the same boat as anyone else watching. For this reason, the earliest version of these Japanese shows were essentially Just Chatting streams, where I would struggle through my Duolingo practice each day while explaining whatever I could about how the language works. But it’s funny- if you study something for enough days in a row, you start to actually get better at it. Who knew? A few hundred days into my streak, I realized that my learning was starting to get held back by the stream itself. The shows were doing fine stats-wise, and viewers thought they were fun, but the ultimate objective of these streams was for me to learn the language, and that was being stunted. So I changed the shows to present myself with a real challenge: I began doing every one of these Duolingo streams in Japanese, limiting the things I said to chatters only to what I could string together in-language on the spot. And over another hundred or so days, my vocabulary, as well as my ability to string thoughts together in-language, started growing faster than they ever did before. Of course, as any language learner knows, forcing yourself to speak the language exclusively in conversation will supercharge the learning process. But for me, who never spoke a second language before, I found it quite surprising. This was an instance where I changed something that didn’t necessarily need to be changed (the Duolingo app wouldn’t have known the difference whether I conducted my streams in English or Japanese), but changing things anyway made a world of difference. 

Japanese can be fun!

After this, even though the streams were going quite well, and I was learning much faster than before, I received a message that brought those shows into a new perspective. One viewer pointed out that it would help others who weren’t at the same level as myself, if I could introduce some way to translate what I’m saying back into English. I immediately took to this idea, and after a few weeks of experimenting with different solutions, I found a bot that could hear Japanese speech, immediately write it in Japanese, and then Google Translate that Japanese writing back into English, all on its own. It wasn’t accurate all the time (both due to my Americanized dialect and the woes of Google Translate in general) but it was still shockingly effective. I then designed the Japanese streams to show both the Japanese and English transcriptions on screen while I spoke, so viewers of all levels could enjoy the shows. Even viewers who exclusively spoke English were able to interact and chat with me while I exclusively spoke in Japanese, thanks to the text translation. This feature didn’t impede the way I learned, and it made those shows much more accessible to everyone. And in this case, I hadn’t even seen the language barrier as a problem (nor did I know the live-translation technology existed) before a viewer gave me that suggestion. 


As I often say, you’re very unlikely to run into the exact same problems I’ve outlined in this entry. But hopefully by internalizing the mindset I’ve employed, you’ll be able to come up with ways to improve your own streams, no matter how different they are from mine. The important thing is to keep an open mind, and never stop experimenting. Whether you want to change something despite it already working, or you hear a perspective that you never considered before, there are all sorts of ways you can improve your streams even when nothing seems to be wrong.