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. 

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