Friday, June 25, 2021

Manage Your Calendar for Streaming

If you’re just starting out, do you have a hard time finding a solid place in your day for streaming? If you’ve already been streaming, do you find you often can’t keep to your schedule? Or maybe you just want to squeeze a little extra time out of your regularly scheduled shows. I find that in order to maintain a solid streaming regimen, it’s very useful to stay organized. In the entry How to Get in the Habit of Streaming, I talked about setting up a calendar and sticking to it. I know, this might seem like one of those empty ‘self-help’ suggestions that sound like a good idea on paper, but don’t actually work in real life. After maintaining a detailed calendar every single day for over two years however, I can say with confidence that it’s not just a good idea on paper. This one simple routine has helped me immensely in creating a solid streaming lifestyle, and even more importantly, it’s helped me not to destroy my personal life in the process. You can check the previously mentioned entry for all the reasons why a calendar is useful for streaming, but in this entry I’ll help you with more specifics about how to actually set one up for yourself, and how you can optimize it for streaming. 


What are you doing tomorrow? Whether it’s a workday or a day off, we’ll use tomorrow as an example to help you shape the rest of your days. Maybe you’ve never kept track of your days before, or maybe you’ve already been sticking to a calendar. Either way, try to come into this exercise with an open mind. As I mentioned in the entry How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, we all tend to think we’re already at our maximum output levels, no matter how efficient we’re actually being. It’s a concept called the Hedonic Treadmill, which means you’re always going to settle into a groove. What we’re going to do today is break you out of that comfortable rut, and help you to rise even higher.  

Set up Google Calendar, iCal, or any free calendar app where you can easily create blocks of time and drag them around. I personally advise against writing your plans on a piece of paper, as it’s difficult to move and alter things on a physical page. A digital app will give you a lot more freedom to be creative with your schedule. Once you have your calendar app ready, we’re going to identify everything you have planned for tomorrow.


In XCOM, it's always important to stay
on top of your schedule.

When mapping out your day, the key is to break things down into two categories:
primary and secondary items. One of these tends to be longer than the other, but both are equally important when scheduling. Primary items are your plans, like work, a dinner reservation, meeting a friend, or a Twitch stream. Secondary items are all the spaces of time that are required to make these things happen: the time it takes to get ready for work, drive to the office, drive home from dinner, or set up your Twitch stream before going live, are all good examples. If you work from 9-5 for instance, that should be on your calendar as a primary item. It’s a big chunk of time in which you are locked into doing something. But you should also have the prep time and travel time blocked into your calendar leading up to 9:00, for however long these items take. This gives you a definite idea of how long you need. Now, most of us know instinctively how long it takes to get to work because we do it so often, but applying this same principle to all your other tasks is where this workflow really starts to become useful. Once this is done for everything, you’ll have a clear visual reference for where your time commitments lie, and where there is room for free activity. Don’t forget to pad everything out with a little bit of extra time either. Life is unpredictable, and I like to assume that everything will take 15-30 minutes longer than it normally takes, just in case something unexpected comes up. Lastly, add the time you usually go to sleep and wake up. 

And there you have it: your day is displayed right in front of you. No matter how cluttered or empty that day is, you can now actually see what you’re up against. A lot of people like to keep themselves in the dark, afraid to look at their scheduling problems head-on. But by creating this graph, you’re rebelling against this natural human flight instinct. And now you can comfortably move onto streaming. If you’ve previously been concerned that you don’t have enough time for streaming, see if that’s still the case now. I’m willing to bet that there are some blank spaces in your day somewhere. Find a nice free spot, and use it to build your dream. 


When you can see your day visually, organizing
often feels like playing Tetris.

Whatever spot in the day you choose, insert a primary block of time into your calendar in that empty space. If you don’t see a large enough free space in the day for your stream, then either remove unimportant items, shift changeable things around, or, worst case scenario, push back your planned sleep time by a little bit. By doing one or multiple of these things, even those with solid streaming habits can find extra time to extend their broadcasts. You’d be surprised how many things can shift out of the way when you’re able to actually see your day clearly.  And if you can’t do any of those things, then simply shorten your stream to fit. There are no excuses. Stream for one minute if you have to, as long as you stick to your plan. As you continue using this kind of calendar, you’ll get better at managing your day. And by sticking with it, you’ll find more and more creative ways to shift things around and make time appear where there seemingly was none before. 

By doing all this, you’re creating a reservation time for streaming in your day that’s just as important as anything else you’ve committed to- a time when you’re unavailable to do anything else. Many streamers miss their shows because in the hierarchy of their days, streaming is the easiest thing to push back or cancel. Our objective is to make the stream of equal importance to a dinner reservation, trip to the theater, doctor’s appointment, or any other scheduled meeting with a beginning or end. We’re turning streaming into an absolute priority. I’ve used this method to go live thousands of times in a row without ever missing a single broadcast. Hopefully you’ll find just as much value when you manage your calendar for streaming. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Stay Curious About Streaming

Throughout this resource, I tend to speak very definitively about my passion for streaming. I personally love what I do every day, and am able to use that love to continue fueling my creativity as I go forward. And because I’ve always enjoyed streaming while writing these entries, that passion may sound demoralizing to some who haven't felt as sure about their own endeavors. Though I’ve spoken in bits and pieces throughout different entries about my past experience with professional media production, games industry coverage, and then streaming, it’s easy to forget that I didn’t always know what I ultimately wanted from my craft. In many ways, I still don’t. But I’ve always found things to enjoy about what I'm doing in the moment while feeding my passions. In this entry I’ll share my own struggles in finding my path, and hopefully help you to stay curious about your own streams. 


When I was a kid, internet livestreaming wasn’t invented yet, and wouldn’t be readily accessible to ordinary people until I was in my late teens. But I loved video games, and I loved the excitement around video games. I read all the news sites, watched the slowly loading videos, and hungrily gobbled up any game my parents bought for me. When I got a little older I became aware of E3, the hub from which everything exciting in the video game world grew. I watched everything I could, meticulously loaded mp3s of podcasts about it onto my Motorola flip phone for my daily walks to school, and started learning all the names and duties of my favorite people who attended all these industry events. I had no idea how to do it, but I wanted to be in that world. 

The 2007 press conference demonstration for
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was hugely influential to me.

I started showing off games to friends and family, trying to move the camera around in that slow and measured way you’d always see in E3 press conference demos. I made hundreds of terrible YouTube videos, tried to emulate the way professional demo people spoke, and sketched out grand plans for how I’d break into the games coverage scene. But this wasn’t a viable way to make money for me- at least not yet. And I began working as a freelance video editor in high school and college. I went to school for film, and at some point while attending the PAX East convention as a fan, realized I might be able to fake my way into creating my own video coverage. I had a little MiniDV camcorder with me at the event, and thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?” So I flipped my ‘Attendee’ badge around to hide the fact that I wasn’t press, and asked the PR person at every single game booth if I could interview them. I got dozens of ‘nos,’ but after a while I did get a ‘yes’ or two. And I ended up having some pretty cool conversations on camera. I was over the moon. 

Then I came back, got my college friends together, shot some footage of us talking about the convention as if we’d all been there, and we turned it into a campus TV show. We went to all sorts of video game conventions, launches and private events after that. It started turning into a real thing. When I left school, I developed that show into a website, invested in some really good business cards, and practiced in front of the mirror for hours to come up with the perfect way to say things as if I were a seasoned, slightly bored professional, and not the giddy kid who felt like an impostor among all his idols. It started to work, and it got me into even more events. Eventually, I was actually able to get my own press access, and didn’t have to pretend anymore. After years of doing this in my free time, I got hired by a major company to produce coverage of events on the large scale, and suddenly I really didn’t have to pretend anymore. We were building sets, organizing multiple teams, and flying to E3, GDC, Comic Con, Tokyo Game Show, and every other significant place for video games and pop culture you could imagine. In the events’ off-season, I built the company’s Twitch brand from scratch by streaming to their channels every day. I showed off games in a way that my teenage self would be proud of, in those heady days when I used to pretend I was the demo person at an E3 press conference while showing my confused parents the merits of the brand new PS3’s cell processor. But after I’d done this for a few years, something began to grate on me. I was always answering the same questions, responsible for knowing everything I could about a game, and only showing them in a certain light. Simply put, I wasn’t able to play games the way I liked to play them. I was merely showing them off to other people. 


When I left that company, I decided I had achieved my childhood dreams, and didn’t need to continue chasing that particular rabbit. I was free to set up shop for myself and try something new. What if I could simply play games the way I liked to play them, while others were able to experience them along with me? It took a long time to ‘un-polish’ myself, removing years of media training and various types of on-camera conditioning. I went through dozens and dozens of different kinds of shows, scrapping, refining and reorganizing until I was satisfied in various fields. I was able to turn Twitch into something that supported my lifestyle in many different ways, not just a way to play video games. I often rejected commonly held beliefs about what ‘works’ (as you’ll know from following The Twitch Playbook so far) and I’ve also intentionally chosen paths which provide less growth and fame, all in the interest of letting Twitch compliment my life rather than dominate it. 

Miyamoto has his 'rule of three,' I have mine.
For example, many who read these entries and hear me talk about doing three streams every day assume it’s a testament to how hard I work. But in many ways it’s actually the opposite. Twitch’s algorithm actively docks me for going live so many separate times. It sees my channel as a sort of ‘boy who cried wolf,’ and actually won’t send out ‘going live’ notifications to my audience most of the time because of it. And I’ve known about this since the first week I started streaming. At any point in the last three years, I could easily have combined my three streams into a single mega-stream and immediately removed myself from this self-imposed shadowban, but I kept my eyes on a bigger picture. I’ve already experienced the highest echelon of what livestreaming has to offer. I’m not interested in massive recognition for my personal content as much as I am in creating a sustainable lifestyle. Going live three times per day and never having any set start times allows me to have a much more flexible schedule than I would with a single, immovable block of a broadcast. Having three distinct streams also allows me to turn the shows into permanent YouTube archives more easily. Since the start of my personal channel, every single stream I’ve ever done- nearly 5,000 individual videos, have been archived and placed into playlists on a separate YouTube channel. This allows longtime fans to revisit playthroughs, and lets newcomers catch up when they join in the middle of an ongoing series. It also logs my many mistakes and detours along the way while building my brand, and helps to show me just how far I’ve come. 


Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I adore this quote for its inspirational value, but I think it’s a little misleading. Unlike in movies, there’s not necessarily one day in which we suddenly decide exactly what we want to do for the rest of our lives. For me, even though I was very passionate in pursuing my life’s ambition, that ambition changed multiple times over the course of the years. Even though in retrospect, each endeavor feels somewhat connected, I never would have expected the outcome. And while each of these steps in my journey has informed my skillset in some way, I never allowed my previously decided-on goals to interfere with whatever new paths I wanted to take. Of course, I don’t consider my current situation to be the ‘end point’ for my trajectory either. Who knows what my content will look like in five more years? In my opinion, it’s not necessary to know exactly what you want in life. If you want to be inspired and get things done, all you need to do is follow your current passions with all your energy. And by doing this, I hope you’ll find just as much fun and fulfilment in your own endeavors. When you stay curious about streaming, there’s no telling where it can take you. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Stream with a Running Start

In past entries of this resource, I’ve spoken about the importance of keeping plans to yourself. This is an extremely important subject to me, because it was one of the most measurably helpful concepts when first building my channel. It’s so meaningful to me in fact, that the third entry I ever released, titled Build Your Twitch Channel Like You’re a Secret Agent, is dedicated to this exact subject. That entry, which was focused on brand-new streamers, advised against sharing plans and ambitions (and even the existence of your Twitch channel) with family or friends until you’ve already been producing your content steadily for months on end. But this concept is too broad-reaching to stop there. The sharing of goals can damage the output of any creator, even those who are seasoned streaming veterans. No matter the skill level, anyone on Twitch can stay more motivated by streaming with a running start.


There are a few widely accepted concepts that I take issue with, and I think these fallacies hurt many content creators at various levels of experience. Many claim that telling other people about your goals can help keep you accountable. This could be true for some, but it’s never actually worked for me personally. And by looking through the graveyard of announcement tweets, videos and streams by Twitch creators which were never followed through, it’s easy to see just how often this logic betrays people. The problem with this concept of forcing accountability is that it cuts both ways. When you try to start a new type of stream you’ve never done before, you haven’t built the habit yet. And while this habit is still forming, it’s normal to stumble and lapse while trying to find your footing. But when you announce a definitive schedule or plan for your streams before ever starting the habit, you’ve instantly put unnecessary pressure on yourself to get everything right at a time when you should really just be working out the kinks and allowing yourself to make mistakes. And then if you do stop streaming for a while, or falter in your goal in any way, that same sense of accountability that might have motivated you to keep going is now going to make you feel like everyone knows you’ve failed. This kind of psychological humiliation ends up working just as potently to put the streamer down as its accountability might have helped to bring them up.

And it's a big sword at that. 

Publicly announcing things not only makes it more crushing to lapse in your habits, but it also makes it more difficult to rethink your ideas. Maybe you’ve announced a new show that focuses on ultra-difficult indie platformers every Thursday. You came up with a clever name for it, and got an amazing logo and graphics package made for the show. But now, after spending a few Thursdays struggling through these episodes, you’ve realized that you don’t really love making the content. Well, now you’re in a bit of a tricky situation. Not only have you announced it and heard everyone in your audience voice their approval for the concept, but you’ve also committed all this time and energy to perfecting the concept and branding as well. It’s going to be harder to change things about the show than it would have been if you hadn’t made a big deal about starting it. And it might sound silly, but this small extra bit of psychological pressure keeps many streamers stuck producing content they don’t actually love making.

And the thing is, there’s nothing actually wrong with announcing things. The trick is knowing when to announce them. The best time to announce a new plan is when it’s no longer a plan. Instead, announce something when it’s already become a habit. This gets you a running start with any piece of content, and it allows you to stay motivated for much longer.


Here’s how to get a running start. Let’s say you’re planning to do a new show where you broadcast your gym sessions five times a week. Imagine whatever you would have announced, the schedule you would have promised, and the hype you would have created. Then, instead of announcing it at all, just start producing the content to the best of your ability. Everything will still be the same- the audience can still watch the show, interact with you, suggest workouts, or do whatever, in the same way they would have if you announced it was coming out five days a week. But by not promising an infrastructure for an unproven concept, you’re now more free to let this new show idea grow naturally.

Kiryu is about to get a workout without
even needing to hit the gym.

As I mentioned in the entry On Twitch, Failure is Your Friend, allowing yourself to make mistakes on stream, scrap ideas, try new ones, and work out kinks is an important part of making a stream better. By doing this, you can deal with problems as they arise without added pressure. What if the gym doesn’t allow you to film? What if the internet there keeps cutting out? What if, after a few episodes, you realize you don’t like being filmed while working out? By simply starting to do broadcasts from the gym, and having them happen to occur five times a week, you’re forming a habit while also learning to tackle several important troubleshooting factors. Then once you’ve built up the experience in this new stream type, learned what does and doesn’t work, and most importantly, have decided whether you enjoy doing this new show in general, you can safely announce it without loss of motivation. Because you’ve already got a running start.


This idea of getting up to running speed with a new stream idea before announcing it has helped me just as much three years into my channel as when I first started. I truly believe this is a universal piece of insight, and I highly encourage you to try it with your next big idea. The audience doesn’t need to hear a big pitch and announcement for every one of your new concepts before it’s ever been tested. They can get just as excited to learn that a new stream type they’ve been seeing from you will now become a channel fixture. And of course, this will do wonders to take pressure off you as the streamer, and help keep you motivated through the entire process. It’s hard enough to build new habits without creating extra commitments. So why not get a running start before committing to new things on your streams?

Friday, June 4, 2021

Craft Your Discussions With Chat

Interacting directly with your audience in real-time is one of the major benefits of creating content on a livestreaming platform like Twitch. There are many ways to approach the subject, and I’ve spoken in several entries about all the different methods I’ve used to interact with my own audience. Ultimately however, there are a few major points I consider most important when it comes to chat. First, you want to make sure your channel’s chat has the right tone. Second, you want to be able to talk about things you actually care about. And third, you want to make sure you aren’t being pushed around. In this entry, we’ll talk about crafting your discussions with chat.


Even though the viewer is the one who actually writes in your chat, you as the streamer are still able to set the pace and tone for discussions within your streams. After all, you’re the only one on a stream who speaks, and you’re the one that everyone is watching. It’s up to you which comments get more airtime and which get pushed into the background. Viewers also follow your lead when it comes to the overall positivity level. The frequency with which you get offended by comments can dictate how often you’re bothered in the future. And even your level of concentration can increase or decrease the flow of messages, as chatters prefer to comment when you’re paying the most attention to your audience. Quite simply, as I suggested in the title of a previous entry, Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself.

Two very different levels of talkativeness. 

Once you realize this, it helps you take something like chat, which might seem totally out of your control, and start shaping it however you want. All you have to do in order to change something about your chat is look at the current results, then adjust your behavior on stream to counteract them. For example, if you want to increase the amount of messages you get, try speaking more frequently, and cultivating a more welcoming environment for viewers to share their thoughts. Make it clear you’re checking for messages, and answer promptly when you get them. If you want less negativity among viewers, stand up for the things you care about and lead by example. Don’t allow negative messages in, and make sure you aren’t acting in a way you wouldn’t want your viewers to act. As the streamer, it’s up to you to keep things in order.


Many streamers, in attempting to increase their engagement, like to put out super low-hanging fruit for their audience. These will typically look like simple ‘this or that’ prompts, like “pancakes or waffles?,” “Star Wars or Star Trek?,” and other ultra-simple questions. Asking someone what time it is in their time zone is another, which (for whatever reason) invariably sends every other viewer into a chain reaction, commenting with their own local times. These questions are designed to get the maximum number of people talking with the minimum amount of effort. And there’s nothing wrong with doing this if you feel you need to jump-start your chat. But you should be careful with these kinds of cheap engagement tricks.

In the entry Beware Chasing Follower Counts, I talked about the need for actual creative nourishment in streaming, and it’s just as important to maintain some level of intellectual nourishment when talking with chat. These kinds of simple ‘this or that’ pings will often get the job done, but they aren’t actually interesting conversations. Especially when you’ve done this for years and you’ve asked versions of the “pancakes or waffles” question for the hundredth or thousandth time, you’ll be feeling pretty bored with it. Continuing to ask things like this can also cause a snowball effect. If you're utilizing chat-boosting questions, it means that on some level, you’re chasing after growth metrics. And as I’ve spoken about in several previous entries, that kind of strategic junk food might get you short term results, but it doesn’t nourish you in the long run.

In the entry Up Your Showmanship on Stream, I talked about the three basic steps in crafting better chat interactions: make your viewers feel heard, truly engage with their comments, and build on their questions. Using these basic tools, there are lots of more healthy and interesting conversations you can have with chatters, should you choose to.


It’s also important to read through messages before reading them aloud on stream. As I mentioned in the entry Setting Limits for Your Streams, “many new streamers will take a 'leap without looking' approach to reading comments, simply repeating back whatever's put in front of them before they actually comprehend it. You don't want to accidentally end up saying something that violates your personal values on stream just because someone put words in your mouth.” You may think it unlikely, but this kind of thing isn’t uncommon in Twitch streams, and most experienced creators have been in their share of awkward situations because of it.

In the entry Who Is Watching Your Streams, And Why?, I described this type of person as ‘Chatting With An Agenda.’ While most viewers want to be entertained by watching your show and having fun conversations, there are others who seek a different kind of entertainment. They look for streams where they might be able to get a rise out of the streamer, or otherwise manipulate the show in some way. For this reason, you should be wary of anything in chat you don’t understand. Sometimes you’ll be asked to repeat a strange but meaningless phrase. Other times you’ll thank a new follower whose username looks like nonsense, but when read aloud sounds like a story spoiler or crude word. If you don’t take that moment to think things over before reading it out on stream, you can get yourself into embarrassing situations.

Not every comment will be as innocuous as 
"Pepsi for pizza."

Sometimes you may even receive comments in other languages. It’s a common tactic for those chatting with an agenda to post rude things in a different language, in order to either watch you Google Translate and then be offended by it live on stream, or watch you respond with courtesy to something deeply offensive that you didn’t understand. For this reason, it’s a pretty commonly accepted practice for Twitch streamers to only allow chat messages in whichever languages the streamer understands. Of course, not every viewer who speaks another language is typing in chat maliciously, and they’re certainly welcome to watch the broadcasts. But anyone reasonable would realize that if you don’t speak their language, there’s no way for you to interact with them, and therefore there’s also no reason to post the chat messages. Usually, when someone continues posting in another language after it’s clear you don’t understand, they’re actually chatting with their own agenda. There’s no way to moderate a chat that you yourself can’t read after all, and having a clear-cut rule like this will avoid a lot of problems going forward.


Just like no two people are the same, no two streams are the same either. Everyone has their own style for dealing with chat, and it’s important to remember that all the things I mentioned in this entry are personal lessons I’ve learned by streaming on my own channel. By going out there and continuing to stream yourself, your own preferences will begin to fall into place, and you’ll find even more ways to moderate and manage the tide of messages. But if you take anything away from this entry, remember that the way your chat behaves isn’t as random as you might think. It’s always possible to craft your discussions with chat.