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.

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