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. 

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