Friday, August 27, 2021

Growth Check-In: What's New on Stream?


Streaming on Twitch, it’s easy to lose track of time. And I don’t just mean missing dinner because you want to play one more match. When we create routines that require as much effort and precision as Twitch streaming, the days, weeks and months can pass by in a flash. And so as we continue on our journeys, it’s important to take moments to reflect on our progress. In past growth check-in entries, I’ve covered subjects like boosting your results, simplifying your routine, getting on track, and being more efficient. This time, ask yourself one simple question: What’s new on stream? 

What have you been doing on stream lately that’s different from what you were doing several months ago? Have you switched the games you play? Is there a new way you interact with chat? Are there any new graphics or layouts being used in your streaming software? Whether you’ve just started streaming or you’ve been doing it for years, it’s always useful to take note of what’s new on your shows. 

Just pay attention and you'll be fine.

We’re not necessarily here to make snap judgments or remove features, but simply to observe. You may come up with some solutions on the spot, but for most things it’s enough just to bring them to the front of your mind. By paying attention to how your shows (and you as the streamer) have changed in the past few months, ideas will begin percolating in your head. Over the next few days or weeks, solutions or new features may begin presenting themselves in your mind without even needing to think about them. Sometimes it’s enough to shine a light on everything happening on your channel, and let your subconscious mind do the rest. 


When asked what has changed recently, many may claim that nothing at all is new. I personally think this is impossible. If you keep streaming on a Twitch channel, something new is always happening, whether you’ve brought it about, or it creeps up without you noticing. Even when you’re doing the exact same thing every day, there will still be differences from your older streams. You may not have made any visual updates, but you’re probably more confident in the way you speak on camera. Maybe you found a nice rhythm for when to pay attention to your game vs when to read the chat. Or you could simply be faster when setting up the show, because it’s become such a set routine. In other words, the stream itself may not seem to have anything new, but you yourself have become a new streamer. 

Every day we spend streaming, we get a tiny bit better at the various aspects of our craft. But it’s nearly impossible to see this growth if you’re looking at things from close range. This is a good change to watch older Past Broadcasts or Highlights to see your old self in action. Can you detect any differences in how you spoke on the shows, or how you handled certain situations? This is also a great use for the methods I laid out in the entry Chronicle Your Twitch Progress. There, I spoke about taking a quick ten minutes per week to write down your thoughts about the best, worst, and most interesting moments on your channel. When you have a diary like that and you want to zoom out and take stock over the course of months like we’re doing here, you’ll be able to look over your notes to see which old problems have since been solved, and which still need improvement. It gives you a great bird's-eye view.


Not everything new on stream will be good, either. What problems have occurred on your shows lately? This includes a broad range of possibilities too, not just your tech. You may run into issues with your capture card or a crashing game- these are easy problems to notice. But you may also be struggling with discipline, missing your scheduled shows or never finding time to work on your stream behind the scenes. Maybe your chat is constantly getting out of hand and making you uncomfortable, or you find yourself getting into arguments you’d rather not have. Everything, from the most basic hardware issue to the most esoteric interpersonal dispute can be addressed, if you come at it with a creative mind. I’ve written a lot about dealing with Twitch chat, but if you’re having a hard time with yours, you can look into entries like Combat Negativity in Twitch Chat, or Setting Limits For Your Streams. If you’re unable to keep to a schedule, you can revisit entries like How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, and How to Get in the Habit of Streaming. And for all other issues, it’s mostly about getting into a proper problem solving mindset. The entry Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day will help you to keep track of everything better, and then others like Simplify Your Streaming Problems will let you get to the heart of any issue. 

Even if you’ve done everything possible to prevent problems and solve the ones you already have, there will never be a way to plan for every single eventuality. Things will happen on stream one way or another, and it’s important to pay attention to how we deal with the problems that do arise. If something happened on your stream lately, take a moment now to consider how you responded in the moment. Did you keep your cool, or did you fly off the handle? Did you have a hard time keeping the show in check amid the chaos? Many times, after a problem occurs on my own shows, I try to take stock of what I handled well, and what I could have done better. Then I keep that assessment in mind for the next time something happens. This way, I’ll be able to work on my flaws in a very conscious manner. For more info on how I like to approach reacting to problems on stream, see the entry Don’t Panic: A Guide to Facing Stream Problems


It's all about balancing.

On top of all the streaming you’ve done, it’s good to also consider how the shows fit into your overall life. How much content are you producing these days? Are the streams longer or shorter on average than they were six months ago? Neither of these statistics is inherently good or bad of course, it’s all up to how you want streaming to fit into your life. Do you want your shows to be longer than they have been recently, or does it feel like streams are detracting from your personal life? If you’d like to fit more streaming into your days, even if you can’t see how that would be practical, check the entry called Do More Streaming. There, I helped you to rewrite your assumptions about what’s possible, and squeeze more time into an already-busy day. If you feel like streaming may be hurting other aspects of your lifestyle, you do have a few options. In the entry, Stream Smarter, Not Harder, I gave some sneaky ideas about how to spend significantly less time but still get similar results. And in the entry Make Sure to Rest From Streaming, I helped you to see the importance of taking time for yourself. 


This entry has featured some of the biggest bullet points to address when thinking about what’s changed on your channel over the past several months. But there will always be more areas to look into. Don’t worry, because whatever you focus your attention on will be productive in the end. Spending any time at all in self-reflection is better than continuing to push forward blindly. Plus, you can always revisit this exercise later to get new results. As long as you’re considering what’s new on stream, all kinds of possibilities will present themselves. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Stream-Friendly Game Settings

When streaming on Twitch, there are all sorts of things you can do to make your show more enjoyable to watch. General ‘watchability’ is a big topic for streaming, and there are a lot of angles from which you can tackle the problem. In fact, I’ve spoken about it in a few different places throughout The Twitch Playbook already. Probably the most direct was the entry Easy Ways to Make Your Streams More Watchable, in which I went over all sorts of ways to make a Twitch stream more accessible for the viewers at home- from stream software settings to how you conduct yourself as the streamer. In this entry, I want to zero in on one specific aspect of making your streams easier to follow along with, which anyone who plays video games on stream can implement. We’re going to take a second to tweak some of the settings in the games you play. 


One quick and easy setting that can help make your streams easier to follow is a simple toggle switch. Twitch viewers often appreciate when you enable subtitles in the games you play. This is true for many reasons: of course, it assists the hard of hearing, but it also helps people to understand what’s going on if you’re speaking over the characters in the game. On top of that, many Twitch viewers watch streams in public or at work (shoutout to those who risk getting in trouble with the boss to watch our shows, by the way!) These viewers have to watch at either a lowered volume, or with the sound completely disabled. In all of these cases, having subtitles makes it easier for someone to follow along. Now, subtitles are more important in certain types of games than others, but if you’re playing something with dialogue and don’t mind having words on screen, give these a shot for an easy boost to watchability! 


Another visual option that can assist viewers is put in front of you when you first boot up almost any video game: the brightness slider. As I’ve mentioned in earlier Twitch Playbook entries, broadcasts tend to appear darker for the viewer than they do on your screen while you’re playing the game. This means that in some games, when it’s night time or the lights are out in a haunted house, the action can be so dark that the viewer is completely unable to see what’s happening. In any game you play, I suggest turning up the ‘Brightness’ slider a few pips past where you think it’s meant to be. This will ensure that your viewers are able to enjoy the show along with you. Believe it or not, this one change alone has gotten me tangible increases in viewer retention, at different points in my Twitch career. 


In past entries like Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic, I explained the importance of sound mixing. In that one, I mostly focused on how you can mix audio in your streaming software. But it’s also possible to alter aspects of the sound mix in almost every video game available today! Taking a few minutes to tweak these settings can net you some extra points for viewer accessibility. 

The first sound setting you should look for is the Dynamic Range. I would say that the majority of games have this, though it’s sometimes listed under different names. You’ll know the Dynamic Range setting because it asks you to choose between sound options like ‘Large Speakers,’ ‘Small Speakers,’ ‘Headphones,’ and ‘Home Theater.’ This is a mysterious setting to most people, and some tend to opt for the larger choices like ‘Home Theater,’ assuming that they output higher quality audio. This is a misconception, and can make your game’s sound mix more difficult to understand on a Twitch broadcast. What Dynamic Range actually does is control the difference between the loudest sounds in a game and the quietest ones. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve ever tried to watch a Christopher Nolan movie like Tenet or Interstellar on headphones or a normal TV speaker, you’ve likely experienced just how much dynamic range can affect you. Nolan is notorious for using an extremely high dynamic range in his movies, and while this sounds great in a movie theater, watching these movies at home usually means that explosions are loud enough to bother your neighbors while dialogue is whisper quiet. And while your game’s settings may not be that severe, it’s still typically best to choose the ‘Headphones’ option. 

Persona 5 has a killer soundtrack, so maybe
keep the music all the way up for that one.

Then there are the individual sound settings. Most video games will give the option to tweak the volume levels of various types of sounds. The most common sliders you’ll see are for ‘Voice,’ ‘Effects’ and ‘Music,’ though some games have even more to choose from. Using these, you can optimize the audio for the kind of stream you’re trying to produce. If you want to play your own custom soundtrack during the game, turning the ‘Music’ slider all the way down will prevent the game’s own music from getting in the way of yours. If you don’t want to hear the grunts and yelps every time your character moves around or gets attacked in a multiplayer shooter, you can remove the ‘Voice’ track. I personally use these settings all the time in story-based singleplayer games by turning the ‘Effects’ and ‘Music’ sliders to about 80% while ‘Voice’ stays at 100%. This ensures that everyone can always hear what characters are saying, even when there’s a lot of action happening. One other useful setting to keep an eye out for is ‘Streamer Mode.’ This will automatically disable licensed music while you play the game, so you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble with copyrights.


There are a few settings which can help you have a smoother time in the games you play as well. Stream hiccups mean less entertainment for the viewers after all, and keeping your shows in good working order will also help with watchability. For PC players, especially those with multiple monitors, you may find a lot of use in the ‘Borderless Fullscreen’ display option, rather than normal ‘Fullscreen.’ This prevents the game from causing as many problems when you need to switch away from it to type in your chat, and can sometimes even help performance. 

Speaking of performance, it’s always good to make sure your graphics settings are appropriate. This applies to PC players, and even some console ones, as certain console games now have options like ‘Performance Mode’ and ‘Resolution Mode.’ Graphics settings will always be up to your personal preference, but sometimes you may be pulling more power from your machine than is required for the stream. For example, if your stream outputs at 720p, then it’s not necessarily as important to get every single pixel of detail from the game in the graphics settings. Even if it looks good on your 1080p monitor at home, the viewer isn’t really seeing the difference that some of these graphics settings make. But your machine may be dropping the game’s framerate due to those unnecessary settings. It’s sort of a ‘worst of both worlds’ scenario. Since streamers who aren’t Partnered often don’t get variable quality options on their streams, outputting at high resolutions like 1080p is typically only going to hurt your shows anyway. So if you want to take some pressure off your machine and your stream, try going for performance over resolution. It’ll make your games run smoother, and that definitely helps watchability. 


What I’ve described in this entry are some settings I’ve had success with at various points in my streaming career. But depending on which games you play, there will be other options available to tweak as well. Try taking some time to experiment with some of the tools at your disposal. Sometimes the simplest change can make a big difference. If you stream video games, the viewers will be seeing your game for most of the show. Why not do your best to make sure it looks and sounds as good as possible, by finding a few stream-friendly game settings? 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Don’t Panic: A Guide to Facing Stream Problems


It’s happened to all of us at some point. Everything’s set up, we’re ready to stream, and then suddenly we find out there’s an internet outage. Or we’re in the middle of a stream, and a part suddenly stops working. Or we turn on our PC before going live, only to find that it won't boot up. Problems both big and small are always going to be a part of the livestreaming experience. In past entries, I helped you to come up with solutions to various issues (including some of the ones mentioned above), and get into the mindset which will help you solve many more. But what about the exact moment when catastrophe strikes? There are so many thoughts and emotions running through your head in those few seconds when you see the screen go black, realize you’d forgotten to turn on your microphone, or accidentally corrupt your save file. It’s hard to keep yourself in check when something terrible or embarrassing happens. And that goes double if you’re in front of a live audience when it happens. So in this entry, we’re going to focus not on the solutions themselves, but on keeping a cool head when problems arise. That way, we’ll be better equipped to face any situation. 


So something bad just happened. Maybe you’re live on air, or maybe you’re sitting at your desk waiting to go live. No matter how bad it seems, just take a second and breathe. Remind yourself that it’s fixable. There’s no streaming problem that can’t be solved in some way. Maybe your broadcasts won’t immediately bounce back to 100% capacity, and maybe you’ll have to switch things up, but there will always be a way to go on with the show if you put your mind to it. In the entry Become a Solution-Oriented Streamer, I spoke about three totally different ways I’ve solved one of the worst problems a streamer can face: a lack of internet. There are all sorts of ways to attack any problem, and even though things might seem uncertain in that initial moment of catastrophe, you should remind yourself that it’s not so bad after all. 

Breathe in, and breathe out.

It’s also important to consider the people that might be around you. This includes those in your physical space, as well as the viewers in your chat. It sucks when something bad happens while you’re live, because that means everyone can see your mistake front and center. The combination of embarrassment and frustration can lead many streamers to fly off the handle. Smashing things and yelling can be entertaining when they’re done in good fun, but not when you’re genuinely upset. In such a scenario, the only people who will be entertained will be laughing at you, not with you. And after that kind of situation, you’re likely to regret whatever went down. So try to put things in perspective. Consider that your viewers want you to succeed. If they’re fans, they likely don’t mind that something went wrong, and would be willing to wait while you fix it. They’ll understand if you need to take the show down and come back later, or even change the show entirely while you come up with a solution. Keep in mind that you’re all on the same team. If fairweather viewers leave when things go wrong on the stream, there will always be others to take their place when you’re back to normal. But don't offend your fans. They're the ones who really care about you. So try not to get in your own head about what will happen to the show while you figure things out. Focus on yourself first. 

And if you are live when the problem occurs, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break while you cool your head. Send the stream to a ‘be right back’ screen if you have one, get out of your chair and just walk around for a bit. For those of us who can’t control our outbursts when problems occur, this particular technique will be especially useful. Give yourself a moment to calm down, and afterward you’ll be able to think about solutions in peace. 


When you’ve lived through a few problematic situations, you’ll start to have an easier time keeping your cool. But you’ll also have an opportunity to help your future self, by preventing repeat problems. Think about some of the things you’ve faced- even the ones that were completely out of your control at the time. Is there anything you can do to catch that issue early, or to create some new workflow which sidesteps the trouble altogether? In entries like Perfecting Your Pre-Stream Checklist, I helped you to set up a constantly improving system for your streams, which can help to further cut down on anything unexpected in the future. 

Geralt is a guy with plenty of problems to
deal with. But he takes them in stride.

Whatever issues you have, it’s good to remember that Twitch streams are fleeting. Any mistake you make today will be washed away tomorrow. And this concept compounds with experience. If you’ve only done five streams, this one botched episode may feel like a major stain on your reputation, but after your thousandth broadcast, it won’t seem like such a big deal. Just keep streaming, and keep learning. You’ll soon find that many of the biggest problems of last year don’t even register on your radar today. As I talked about in the entry Stream With No Complaints, allowing yourself to perceive every bump in the road as a major problem will only cause you to resent the act of streaming, because it'll feel like it's full of problems. But if you keep things in perspective, your worries will melt away. 


Ironically, while writing this very entry, I was preparing for a broadcast and my streaming PC met with the dreaded ‘blue screen of death.’ A terrible problem to have for a streamer, especially right at the moment of intending to go live. Even though I’ve used this entry’s techniques throughout the lifetime of my channel, this was a great opportunity to put everything into practice once again. And I’m glad to say that I did keep my cool. After plenty of troubleshooting, I found that I had to reinstall Windows, restore anything I could from backups, and set up all my software again. I didn’t lose hope at having a mostly-bricked computer, or lament all the time it would take to set everything back up. I simply took things in stride. So you’ll be glad to know that the anecdotes I mention in these entries aren’t all from the distant past. Nobody can completely prevent problems from occurring on their streams, no matter how prepared they are, or how much experience they’ve accumulated. All we can do is stay calm, collect ourselves, and get ready to face whatever challenges await. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Seeing Your Streams from the Outside

When you stream on Twitch for long enough, you begin to settle into a personal style. But most of us don’t stream without also watching the streams of others from time to time. And all those streams we watch are influenced by the streams their creators watch. And so on and so on. All this adds up to a certain status quo between Twitch streams. No matter how different two channels are, you’ll typically find several common points between them. And because everyone who engages with this podcast is usually deeply ingrained in the Twitch ecosystem, either as a streamer or as a viewer, it can be difficult to see our own streams with a truly objective eye. In previous entries, I’ve helped you to see your streams as a viewer might see them. But this time we’ll go even further- what does your content look like to someone who has never even watched a Twitch stream before? By breaking down some of the platform’s quirks, we’ll try to see our streams from the outside. 


On one level, the Twitch platform is a very intuitive experience. The website and its accompanying apps are all slickly produced, and anyone is able to find a game they like, choose a stream and begin watching within seconds. But there are many aspects to this experience that we often take for granted. The average Twitch stream’s visual layout is an explosion of light, color and graphics. Not even counting the game, there might be follower goals, death counters, chat messages popping up, emojis flying around the screen, and all kinds of scene changes. Much of the lingo is unfamiliar, and even sometimes unintuitive. What’s the difference between a follower and subscriber, for example? To us as streamers it’s obvious, but to a viewer who previously only watched on YouTube, these two words would seem to mean the same thing. Twitch stream titles can be almost impossible to read to the outside observer as well. What’s the exclamation point with a word after it? What are the numbers in brackets? A Twitch stream’s title often looks like a bootleg movie file you’d find on some sketchy website in the dark recesses of the internet. 

Yes, the Kappa is a real piece of Japanese
folklore. And it's kind of terrifying.

Then there’s the chat itself, where it can feel like the commenters are speaking in a completely different language. It quickly becomes clear to the new Twitch viewer that there are all sorts of connotations associated with the various emotes, but it’s not always immediately clear what those meanings are. Acronyms, abbreviations and various shorthand remarks are flying all around, and even more bafflingly, the streamer on screen might be speaking these words verbally. “Why is everyone casually mentioning a mythical Japanese river monster?” the new Twitch viewer thinks to themselves. “Or maybe they’re all in the same fraternity? Surely there must be some other ‘
kappa’ I’m not aware of. And I used to have some Pogs back in the 90’s, but why is everyone talking about them while playing Fortnite?” As you can imagine, when everyone on screen and in the chat seems to be in on some private lingo that this new viewer isn’t aware of, they’re likely to be pretty intimidated. 


“So yes,” you may be thinking to yourself, “Maybe watching Twitch streams is a bit daunting to someone who has never watched one before. But should I really be worrying about welcoming someone new onto the platform, when there are so many others out there who are already familiar with it? After all, I almost never get those kinds of uninitiated viewers in my own streams.” This may or may not be true, but you should take into consideration that you likely wouldn’t know either way. Because due to all the intimidating points mentioned above, I find that it’s common for those who have never watched Twitch streams before to avoid chatting. And because we don’t see them in chat, it’s easy to discount them. 

See your streams from the outside.

Over the years, I’ve heard from various extended family members, friends, friends of friends, and people who follow me on other platforms, that they tuned into my Twitch streams at various times, even naming the specific game I was playing or specific moments from the episodes they watched. Many of them don’t even have Twitch accounts. They were enjoying the content and showing support, but they simply weren’t chatting. I’m willing to bet that if you’ve been streaming for a while, many of the lurkers on your shows have been new to the platform as well. And then in past entries like Expanding Your Twitch Brand, I helped you to come up with interesting content for other social media platforms. But of course, any social media platform you’re cultivating to support your Twitch brand should ultimately be bringing in new viewers to your Twitch streams. If someone enjoyed your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter posts enough to come watch your stream live, it’s very possible that they’ve never actually been on Twitch before. So wouldn’t you want to make sure these viewers have a good first impression? 


In the entry Different Kinds of Viewer Engagement, I divided Twitch chatters into four categories. These ranged from the most active in chat, which I deemed Type A, through the ones who watch your show but never make it known, or Type D. Twitch newcomers will often fall into Type D or Type C. This means you’ll either never hear from them in chat, or they’ll say one or two things but quickly feel like they can’t keep up with everyone else, and recede into the background. Twitch streamers often focus most of their attention on Type A and B viewers, as they say the most in chat during a broadcast, but no one kind of viewer should be considered more important than another. Especially when you consider that even someone who never chats in your stream could still be recommending it to others. I’ve often heard from viewers who followed years earlier without ever chatting, that they’ve been avid viewers since they joined, and tell others to watch me whenever they get the chance. 

So think of your own streams. What aspects might be difficult to parse? And is there anything you can do to be more welcoming? Of course I’m not saying you need to stop doing things that cater to regular viewers, or that you need to overhaul everything about your shows just to make it work for platform newcomers. But it’s important to put yourself into the shoes of another. You might find that there are a few areas where you wouldn’t mind making the shows more approachable. Or that you’re able to respond with more patience to chatters who don’t know all the intricate steps of the Twitch chat dance. When you’re conscious of how confusing Twitch can be, you’ll be able to truly see your streams from the outside. And by doing that, you can welcome those viewers you never even knew you had.