Friday, October 29, 2021

Be Careful of Glacial Stream Changes

Twitch streaming is a long process. Many of us have been doing it day after day for the past several years. And along the way, it’s easy to lose sight of our goals and fall into traps. Not by making one bad decision, but by letting things change over a very long span. Time is often the enemy for a Twitch streamer, because it can distort the way we see our shows, and cause us to forget what made our content special in the first place. In this entry, we’ll explore how to recognize and deal with these kinds of glacial stream changes. 


We’re all susceptible to this glacial change issue, because it’s almost impossible to detect in the moment. The best way to explain it is the metaphor of the boiling frog. The idea is, if you dropped a frog into a pot of boiling water, it would of course immediately jump out. But if you placed a frog in a pot of room temperature water, and only raised the temperature by a degree or two every few hours, the frog wouldn’t be able to perceive the changes and would stay inside until it was eventually boiled alive. Now, apparently science has proven that this won’t actually happen among real frogs, but that doesn’t make the metaphor any less powerful. After all, the same thing happens to us humans every single day. 

Geralt reflects on where things went wrong
quite often.

Think of how many times in your life you’ve looked back on something and asked, “Where did it all go wrong?” Whether this was something personal, professional, or creative, it’s likely that there wasn’t one specific incident you could point to. Instead, it’d be thousands of little things which continually crept up while you were busy worrying about something else. All of us are completely oblivious to these effects in the moment, and can usually only detect them once it’s too late. Like everything else in life, Twitch channels can easily be affected by this imperceptible deterioration as well. Therefore it’s useful to prepare yourself against these glacial changes so they don’t do too much damage to your streams. 


I’ve talked about this concept in various different forms before. There are a few different entries which deal with stream stagnation, as we often just settle into what works if we don’t actively challenge ourselves to stay fresh. In entries like How to Easily Free Up Time for Twitch, I talked about how even the smallest idle activities we do throughout our daily lives can ripple into major problems for the creative drive. Recently, in the entry Cut Back on Recurring Stream Costs, I discussed how stream-related subscriptions can erode away our bank accounts without us even realizing. There are countless ways for us to fall into the boiling frog trap. And of course this may lead you to ask, “If the changes happen so slowly that I can’t perceive them, how am I supposed to prevent them from happening?” This is a very valid question. It’s not necessarily about prevention, but instead recognizing the warning signs as early as possible. 

Either bring something new, or bring
something back.

For those of us who struggle with missing scheduled stream days, it can be useful to keep a tally of which days you’ve missed. Then, you can see week over week whether that number has been rising or falling. When wondering if your streams have stagnated, it actually helps to listen to your gut. With my own channel, I’ll sometimes get some idea stuck in my head, like a new game I can’t stop thinking about, or a radical new idea for a stream concept. If this persists and compounds for enough days in a row, I usually take that as a sign that I need to put the change into effect. Similarly, I’ve also learned to grow suspicious of being too comfortable in my stream tasks. It may sound strange, but when I find that I’m so practiced at everything I do on stream that I haven’t made any mistakes or had to solve any problems for hundreds of broadcasts in a row, that’s a red flag. Yes it’s natural for us to get better and better at what we do with more practice, but when we aren’t being sufficiently challenged, it can be a sign to switch things up. Lastly, it’s possible to use channel metrics to help detect long-term problems on a Twitch channel. Dropoff over the recent weeks or months can sometimes be signs that things have been slipping. This can be a double-edged sword, however. Anything can affect stream numbers, often completely unrelated to you. The beginning of a school year, for example, can majorly staunch the flow of viewers entering your streams, without you doing anything wrong. So if you’re checking statistics, be careful not to alter things unnecessarily based on false or skewed data. 


Once you’ve recognized that something is either declining in quality or becoming stagnant, you can begin course-correcting. If you have records of your older streams, whether in Highlights, Past Broadcasts, or saved somewhere else, those can be very helpful. Compare the show you did yesterday to a stream from six months ago. Is there a magic to those shows that’s been lost somewhere in the interim? If so, was there something you removed from your content offering since then, or is the problem a lack of change? Maybe a totally fresh take on how you produce your shows is called for, or maybe it’s as simple as sprucing up your room in the background of your camera shot. Only you’ll be able to know what needs to be done on your specific streams, but as long as you recognize the problem, you will have taken the biggest step already. 

Whatever kinds of streams you make, being able to see the signs of these glacial stream changes will make you much more equipped to stick with streaming for the long-term. If you’ve been doing your shows in a certain way forever, it can be difficult to imagine changing them. But this problem only exists in your mind. You can always alter the course of your streams if you put your mind to it. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Create Streams You Identify With

What makes you different from other Twitch streamers? Is it something you embrace, or is it something you’d rather hide? Has this difference prevented you from getting into streaming in the first place? If Twitch streaming is something you want to do, but there’s some aspect of your personality, your gameplay style, or your ideal content offering that’s holding you back, we’re going to work on breaking through that barrier. Because after all, you’ll be happier when you create streams you identify with. 


I often hear of people who want to get into Twitch streaming, but feel self-conscious about their age. The idea that someone has become ‘too old to stream’ is a common reason many hopefuls never begin their Twitch channels. I can see where the idea comes from when looking at the average age of Twitch streamers, but this shouldn’t prevent anyone from creating their content. Nobody is too old to stream on Twitch. Yes, statistically, nearly half of all Twitch viewers are between the ages of 18 and 34 years old. But that doesn’t mean that your specific shows will have the same breakdown. It’s easy to get tripped up by false measurements. When you stream on Twitch, you aren’t dealing with half of all Twitch viewers, you’re dealing with whichever viewers want to watch your shows. And those people will enjoy your content because they like watching you, not because of some arbitrary statistic.  

Snake is never too old!

Similar fears come into play for all sorts of perceived differences among hopeful Twitch streamers. Maybe you’re self-conscious about a speech impediment, or your looks, or your lack of first-person shooter skills. Maybe you don’t play video games and are worried that nobody on Twitch will want to watch you knitting a scarf, or hiking up a mountain, or fumbling your way through learning to cook. It can be very scary trying entering a crowded field like Twitch when you feel different from everybody else right from the start. But if you can push past that fear and start going live, you’ll realize that there will always be a place for you. All that matters is that you enjoy what you do. If you have something to say, that’s even better. Who knows? You may even inspire someone else with the same fear to create their own content as well, if they see that you’ve been able to do it. I’ve met streamers in all the above-mentioned categories, as well as many others, who have pushed past personal phobias, self-consciousness, and fear of rejection in order to start broadcasting. And each of them makes amazing content. 

On Twitch, just as in life, your differences are only small parts of your character- they don’t define you as a person. I won’t trivialize whatever aspect of your streams you’re scared of sharing- the fear is legitimate. But what I can promise is that pushing past the fear will be worth it in the end. 


If you want to explore tombs on stream, and have REALLY
good network reception, then go for it!

In several past entries, I’ve actually recommended focusing more on the parts of your character that make you stand out. On my own shows, I’ve often chosen to go in directions that I’ve never seen anyone do before, not knowing whether viewers would ever want to watch those shows. This wasn’t in some attempt to find areas on Twitch that I could exploit for untapped viewership. Every new stream idea was simply a way of doing something that I enjoyed. There was no ulterior motive. Even for my main content offering, I’ve been doing this as well. As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I’ve slowly transitioned all my video game broadcasts over the years to feature the gameplay style that I authentically use while playing by myself. I read every journal entry, scrutinize over tiny details in the environment, and never talk during any cutscene or story moment. I was hugely self-conscious about this aspect of my personal gameplay preferences when I began streaming, and it took a lot of effort to allow this to come out on my shows, but I’m now grateful every day that I’m able to truly express myself on stream. 

Livestreaming doesn’t need to be something you do for other people. Sure, others are able to watch and comment on what you’re doing. But ultimately, it’s enough to simply enjoy the task for its own sake. This is a point I’ve made often, but I think it’s also one of the hardest to actually put into practice. Many times throughout my own Twitch career I thought I was doing what I loved, only to later cringe at how much I had simply been doing what was expected of me. And you’ve met me during several of those times in my life! For example, the person I was almost three years ago, when beginning to write The Twitch Playbook- I wouldn’t want to be him anymore. I identify with my current streams so much more than I did with the ones I produced back then. And I’m sure in another three years, or even in one year, I’ll say the same about what I’m making right now. But I’m glad that I’m always trying to push myself in the right direction. And if you create streams you identify with, I hope you’ll feel that same gratification. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Cut Back on Recurring Stream Costs

As a streamer, one of the most important skills you can cultivate is the ability to manage your spending. After all, if you want to stick with this passion for the long term, you need to make sure it’s financially viable. I truly believe Twitch streaming shouldn’t require you to buy anything at all, and throughout this resource I’ve often suggested honing your ability to solve problems without your wallet. In the recent entry How to Avoid Overspending on Streaming, I explored the psychology of purchasing, and how we can unwittingly find ourselves falling down financial rabbit holes. This time, I want to shed light on the bank account’s silent killer: recurring costs. Anything you regularly spend money on in order to produce your stream should be heavily scrutinized, because the compounding charges of these items can climb much higher than you’d expect. 

In this entry, we’ll explore three major categories of recurring stream costs- subscriptions, essentials, and dependencies- and we’ll consider how you can cut back on each without damaging your content offering. Some of them may require changes of mindset, and a few hard decisions may need to be made, but any change worth making is usually difficult. If you want to keep your streams viable for the long-term, it’s worth looking into your recurring costs. 


Most Twitch streamers pay for a few different subscriptions. This includes online networks like Xbox Live, game memberships like Humble Bundle, game-specific services like MMOs, or Twitch-related tools like chatbots. You may even be paying subscription costs directly to other Twitch channels. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with shelling out for any of these things. They can all provide entertainment, utility or support for your friends. But it is worth looking into them, and making sure that there aren’t any unnecessary charges mixed in. 

If you play most of your multiplayer games
on one platform, you may be able to cancel
subscriptions to the others.

For example, I used to be subscribed to both PS Plus and Xbox Live. But eventually, I realized that because I had been mostly playing games on PC, I wouldn’t need either of these subscriptions at all. That allowed me to cut out two yearly subscription charges in a single stroke. For your own channel, there will be different situations and priorities, but you may have a similar revelation. Maybe you don’t really play that one MMO anymore. Or you decide you only need the online benefits for one of your consoles, instead of multiple. Even subscriptions to other Twitch streamers should be examined. It can be prickly to think about pulling the plug on your support of their content, but think about it: if they really care about you, they wouldn’t want you to pay anything you couldn’t afford. Subscriptions are particularly dangerous because they’re so unobtrusive- our credit cards get charged month over month and we forget that it’s happening. Make sure you’re keeping on top of them. Cutting down on a few of these can make a big difference over the course of a year. 


The one thing that everyone needs in order to go live is an internet connection. And while it’s not likely that you’ll be able to remove this subscription from your monthly statement and keep making live content, you may be able to reduce it. It’s possible you’re paying for higher internet speeds than you need. In the entry Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right, I helped you to understand how much bandwidth is required to broadcast your shows. I also helped you build a buffer space of bandwidth which can be allocated to other things your household may use the internet for. But anything above this buffer number is likely going unused. Check your internet service provider, and see if they offer different plans. If there’s a lower-tier one which still sits comfortably above your buffer number, it may be worth looking into switching. This could save you a lot of money, without impacting your stream’s performance at all. 


Then there are purchases which aren’t necessarily required to stream, but may feel that way because of the type of streams we produce. Among variety streamers for example, games are the big recurring purchase. It’s common to feel like we need to keep up with all the new releases, lest we be stuck playing something nobody cares about anymore. I’ve been in this position before on previous channels I’ve run, and it can be a very suffocating feeling. It also left a big dent in my bank account every month. So when I started my current Twitch channel, I created a monthly budget in a Google Spreadsheet. Every small or large game I’d buy on a Steam sale was logged. Then, if I didn’t use the full budget at the end of the month, I’d let some spill over into the next. This has allowed me to buy new games in a sensible way, without cutting the practice out altogether. 

I've always been concerned for the main characters
of Dead Island. They drink so many energy drinks!

Many streamers also like to buy supporting items for their broadcasts, usually to increase the overall entertainment value of their shows. This may include food, drinks or props that are used on-camera all the time, like a spicy chip they’ll eat every time someone sends a certain amount of Cheer, or a beer they’ll drink every time they die in Dark Souls. Depending on how often you stream, these kinds of purchases can really start to add up, especially if you begin to build your stream’s identity around needing to have them every time you go live. They also carry the dubious cloud of potential health hazards, so it may be worth considering how you can cut back on aspects of your stream which require you to eat or drink something. 

Lastly, it’s very popular for streamers to buy items to give away during their shows, which can be used to bring in new viewers and cement existing ones. These giveaways can incur some major costs, not only in making the initial purchases, but when trying to send the gift to the lucky winner. You should be wary of giving away any physical item. Shipping can be a killer, especially if it’s international. One easy way to lower costs while still doing giveaways is to limit your prizes to digital content. 


It’s very likely that at least one aspect of your recurring stream costs can be lowered right now. The problem is that we all get so used to these charges, and the benefits they bring, that we begin to tell ourselves we couldn’t possibly remove anything. But with a little creative thinking, you’ll be able to continue getting most (or all) of the benefits for a fraction of the price. When you cut back on your recurring stream costs, your wallet will thank you. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

When Streaming, Show Before You Tell


When creating content on Twitch, motivation is a very valuable currency. Everything we do requires it, and the more we have, the faster we’re able to accomplish our various tasks. Naturally, I place a lot of importance on gathering and protecting this precious resource. Several entries throughout The Twitch Playbook have dealt with concepts like where to find motivation, how to trick yourself into staying motivated, and how to turn that motivation into a habit. This time, I want to dive even deeper into the reasons we lose motivation, and how we can stop it from escaping. Everything comes back to this: when streaming, it’s always better to show before you tell. 


Years ago, I decided I wanted to somehow increase the amount of books I read. There’s just so much out there, and I knew that if I was going to experience more stories, I’d have to make a change. But the problem was, I was already able to read relatively fast. Any difference in the speed at which my eyes traveled down the page wasn’t going to move the needle in a significant way. But then I realized something interesting about my reading habits outside the actual raw speed of my reading comprehension: whenever I told someone about a new book I was reading, the average rate with which I read it got significantly slower. This wasn’t because I read the words more sluggishly, but because I actually picked up the book less frequently. Essentially, every time I told someone I was reading a book, I would lose the motivation to read. 

For witchers, reading can be the difference 
between life and death.

So rather than looking into speedreading techniques, I made one simple change: I would only tell someone about a book I was reading after I had gotten at least 15% through it. This would ensure that I was already a good deal into the story, had become accustomed to the author’s writing style, and had spent some time with the book by myself, before anyone else knew I was reading it. And under no circumstances would I tell someone about a book I planned on reading but hadn’t started yet (aka being 0% through the book) - that always spelled death for my literary motivation. And by making this one simple change, I found that my average reading speed increased dramatically. In the years since, I’ve doubled and then tripled the amount of books I read per month. 


Since discovering this secret of motivation, I’ve adopted the same mindset in many different disciplines of my life. Twitch streaming is certainly no exception. In the entry Stream With a Running Start, I discussed how telling someone about your plans can backfire when you find unexpected hurdles in executing an unproven strategy. In the entry Build Your Twitch Channel Like You’re a Secret Agent, I talked about how revealing your goals to others will activate the same chemicals in your brain that you’d get when actually achieving those goals. But why is this the case? What makes us less likely to finish books or follow through with our Twitch ambitions when we tell others about them too early? 

The best way I’ve found to explain this phenomenon is that it’s all based on perception. Human beings are social creatures. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all measure a lot about ourselves based on how other people perceive us. And when we achieve our goals, it allows us to be perceived in a certain way. For example, after we’ve stuck with our content creation habits and have completed 100 streams, it’s pretty safe to say that we’d be perceived as ‘Twitch streamers.’ When we’re starting out and haven’t done our first stream yet, there’s a gap between where we want to be (someone who streams regularly) and where we are (someone who hasn’t streamed yet). Therefore, we will work hard to close this gap by continuing to move towards our goal. 

It's easy to gossip about your plans, but it's
more rewarding to make them come true.

But there’s another way to be perceived as a Twitch streamer, without requiring all that pesky work. All we have to do is tell someone about our big plans for streaming. The more realistically we can describe and map those plans out, the more likely others are to believe that we’re destined for greatness. In the eyes of these people we’ve told, whether they be family, friends, or our social media followers, we already get to identify as a streamer, even without being one. And at that point, there’s not much motivational fuel left in the tank for actual streaming. 

Keep in mind, I used the prospect of beginning to stream as an example here, but this same logic applies to everything. Do you know anyone who constantly announces big changes for their Twitch channel’s lineup or schedule on Twitter, only to come back and announce new ones a few weeks later? Does this maybe describe you? With a little bit of extra discipline, there’s an easy way out of this endless cycle of broken promises. 

Once you realize that we as human beings tend to focus less on what we actually are, and more on what people perceive us to be, you can come to terms with what needs to be done. When beginning a big project, whether you want to start streaming, change to a new schedule, alter the games you play, or make different kinds of shows, simply start doing it without announcing it to anybody. That way, there’s no way for anyone else to perceive what you’re doing as a new part of your identity, and by extension, no way for you to cash in on that social proof. You’ll be forced to work towards your goals, because there’s no other outlet for your validation. If someone asks on stream whether whatever you’re doing is going to be a new regularly scheduled thing, you can simply say that you’re trying it out. Rather than immediately telling them, “Yeah, this thing I’m trying for the first time is now going to happen every Wednesday!” you can just give the impression that it’s a one-off idea you attempted on a whim. Then, after you’ve done it several times, having worked out the kinks, and (most importantly) having decided whether or not you enjoy doing it, you can announce it as a new part of the schedule. At this point, you will have already been reliably executing on it for a while. In other words, you’ll be 15% through the book. 


When reading, streaming, or working on any other project, this strategy has helped me immensely. It’s even possible to use the desire to tell others in the future as a fun motivating factor in itself. Because I look forward to telling someone about a book I’m reading, I’ll put more time into reading it in the beginning, so I can get past 15%. And because I want to create a new scheduled show or interesting recurring concept on my streams, I’ll continue doing it in an unannounced way. This carrot on a stick has consistently been a great way to give me a running start towards any goal. In streaming, as well as in everything else I do, I find that it’s always better to show before you tell. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Avoid Streaming Dejection

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you on your streams so far? The closest you’ve been to throwing up your hands and stepping away from your channel? Whether it’s a software glitch, a hardware malfunction, a troublesome chatter, a forgotten setup step, or anything in between, we’ve all had those singular moments in which our whole streaming lives flash before our eyes. At these times, the idea of getting back out there for the next broadcast feels like too much. One small event has the ability to short-circuit our entire creative drive. This is a moment of what I call ‘streaming dejection.’ 

I’ve spoken in previous entries about several such moments I’ve had on my own channel, from blue screens of death and internet outages to being forced to ban longtime chatters who just couldn’t follow the rules. These moments have all been difficult, and they’ve made me reflect on my streaming career, but they weren’t the worst I’ve encountered. This time, I’ll speak about the event that, though somewhat trivial looking back, threatened to damage my will to stream more than anything else. And more importantly, I’ll detail the strategy I employed to avoid streaming dejection. 


A year or two ago, I was playing The Hobbit video game on stream. This was a delightful PlayStation 2 & Gamecube platformer, with some surprisingly well-executed Tolkien lore and fun adaptational concepts. Having gone through many episodes, taking my time and exploring every nook and cranny, I suddenly came up against a message you don’t want to see while saving your game: “Memory Card error! Data may be corrupt.” This was quite troubling to see, and it became more troubling when I realized that it couldn’t be fixed. Then the thoughts came flooding through my head. What was I supposed to do now? The past sixteen hours of gameplay were lost. Would I play through everything again, subjecting my viewers to another identical playthrough until I reached the point where I left off? Would I try to speed through everything, missing all the collectibles I’d previously gotten and ruin my new character’s progression? Would I play the full sixteen hours again off-stream just to spare the repetition of doing it live? The thoughts continued swirling, and the more I considered these three evils, the less I liked any of them. Strangely, I began thinking it would be better not to stream for a while- the realization that I had wasted all that time was enough to sour my taste for live broadcasting. I had come up against a clear moment of streaming dejection. 

It's best not to react like Smaug when issues occur.

Luckily, I was able to recognize these negative thoughts for what they were, and I knew I had to do something soon. I utilized the strategy that I outlined in previous entries, by simply picking a choice and sticking to it. All three options seemed like nails on a chalkboard to my creative drive, so I just dove in. Before I could think any further about how annoying it would be to replay all the stuff I had already done, I went live again. I started from the beginning (making sure to keep multiple save slots this time) and played through The Hobbit game once more. I decided that I wouldn’t rush things, and would be just as meticulous as I had been the first time around. In collect-a-thon games of that sort, you’re only hurting yourself if you skip all the secret items, after all. And it was interesting- once I got over my initial gloom, I found that I was still having a lot of fun. Even though I was playing through the same levels and doing the same things, I was able to experience them in different ways, and dive even further into the storyline. Plus, now that I knew where everything was, I was able to traverse faster while finding even more secrets than I found before. All things considered, I enjoyed the game even more the second time around. It certainly didn’t factor into my plans to encounter this major detour, but going back through the old content was nowhere near as bad as my mind made it out to be when the issue first occurred. 


Just a week or two ago, this same issue happened to me again. While playing the Xbox 360 version of Assassin’s Creed II through my Xbox One, I found out the hard way that the backwards compatible version of the game has a glitch that deletes your saves when the game shuts down. It's a pretty bad glitch to have, and I suppose this is a cautionary tale not to play that version of Assassin's Creed II. But that time, I lost only about five hours of gameplay. Not too bad, and certainly nothing to complain about when compared with the larger chunk lost from The Hobbit. This time, I didn’t allow myself to think at all. I switched to the PC version and immediately replayed those opening five hours on stream. Since I already had experience with this problem, and the stubborn determination required to combat it, I was able to go back in without even hesitating. Before I knew it, I was back at my old place and was able to continue with the game. 

My console assassinated my save file.

Because I play games from so many different eras on my channel, I’m used to contending with all sorts of weird quirks when saving, setting up visuals, or even just getting them to run in the first place. Usually I’m able to catch whatever problems present themselves, but a few catastrophic errors are bound to slip through the cracks every once in a while. I try to chalk them up as occupational hazards. The important thing is to take these issues in stride. Despite panicking internally when the issue happened during my playthrough of The Hobbit, I was pretty proud of how calm I stayed on the outside. The corrupted save presented itself during my stream after all, so my reaction was being broadcast to everyone watching. This is another example where the techniques laid out in the entry Don’t Panic: A Guide to Facing Stream Problems have really helped me. If I had allowed myself to get overly upset about the loss of data, it would only have compounded the feeling of dejection. 


What I’ve laid out here have been very specific anecdotes from my own streams, in which I came up against potential feelings of streaming dejection. Though they stemmed from the loss of save data for me, these feelings may come from a totally different place in your own journey. Whether you feel bad after missing scheduled shows, you have trouble with a toxic viewer, your streaming PC crashes, or anything else, just know that there’s a way to come out on top. As I’ve said in various entries before, whenever you feel like you shouldn’t keep streaming, it’s usually best to just go live anyway. It may sound too simple to actually work, but you won’t know until you try. Time and again, I've found that staying in motion is the best way to avoid streaming dejection.