Thursday, December 30, 2021

Growth Check-In: The Best Day to Start Streaming


To all those listening to this entry when it comes out, Happy New Year! As we ring in 2022, many of us will follow the time-honored tradition of setting a New Year’s Resolution to begin streaming. And within that group of streaming hopefuls, a large percentage will follow the other time-honored New Year’s tradition, of never following through with their goal. As I mentioned in the entry How to Stick to Your Streaming Plans, 92% of Americans fail to keep their resolutions for a full year, and 80% will give up within the first month. Now I know it sounds like I'm being a total downer here, but trust me, it's for a good cause. Because if the start of a new year doesn’t work for kickstarting a new project, this begs the question: when is the best day to start streaming? 

The answer is, there’s nothing wrong with having your venture coincide with a new year. (The first episode of this podcast, for example, happened to be released in the first week of January three years back!) The problem instead lies in the way most people build up their expectations for New Year’s Resolutions: all talk and no action. Most of us revel in telling others about our objectives for the upcoming twelve months, and as I’ve explored in Twitch Playbook entries before, I think it’s the gratification we get from sharing our incomplete plans that causes them to end up fizzling out. So whether you’re here on the cusp of a new year or in the middle of June, rest assured: today is the best day to start streaming. Don’t make a big deal about it to others. Don’t overthink it. Just start. 

If you’ve been following The Twitch Playbook to this point, you know this topic is really important to me. I’ve covered it from several angles in various entries like Start Your Twitch Channel with No Money, How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch and Don’t Wait to Start Your Streaming Dream. And the concept of ‘starting’ doesn’t only apply to absolute beginners either. Many experienced streamers want to make changes, but feel nervous about rocking the boat. Streaming is a constantly shifting journey, in which we often find new priorities, come up with different ideas, and explore new pathways. So whether your channel has yet to be created, or you’ve been broadcasting for years, in this Growth Check-In entry we’ll explore some of my favorite methods to get yourself out of your head and onto the air. 


Plenty of games get improved after release,
but we appreciate getting to play them early.  

Perfection is one of the biggest reasons why people never begin their projects. They want to wait until they have everything exactly where they want it, and figure that until that time there’s no need to make a move. Of course, things never work out exactly the way we want them to, and that causes most people to wait so long that they never start at all. In the entry
When in Doubt, Stream, I spoke about how you should avoid this mindset when streaming on Twitch. Do not let such a misguided pursuit as 'perfection' stop you from putting in actual hours live on the air. Improving your ability to stream is more important than improving the means by which you stream. And if you think about it that way, it doesn’t matter whether you own a capture card or you stream from a smartphone pointed at the TV screen. Both work just as well to log hours of experience.

In the entry Stream Before You’re Ready, I told a story about how The Beatles were writing songs and performing live before they even learned all the chords on their guitars. And on top of that, once they became worldwide sensations, they still never learned to read or write musical notation. There are countless stories like this, of successful figures who began their projects in this same way. They didn’t wait until they had gathered all the tools and knowledge of their field, but followed their passions and allowed themselves to learn as they went. The only important thing when following your dream is that you care deeply about it. And streaming, of course, is no different. You don’t need to listen to every episode of this podcast, or buy all the equipment you consider to be the ‘bare minimum.’ Just go live with whatever you already own, embrace your ignorance, and accumulate real-world broadcasting experience. There’s nothing you can learn on a page, in a podcast or by watching a video that will teach you more than you can glean by simply going live for days and weeks on end.


Choices are also ironically a big problem for many of us. It may seem to be convenient to have so much independence and so many options, but this same freedom often causes us to seize up and do nothing. In the entry How to Avoid Streamer’s Block, I talked about limiting your choices. If you can become more decisive, you’ll put out more streams. And if you do more streams, you’ll improve more quickly. Of course, I know what you’re thinking:  how do you be more decisive while still making the right choices? The answer is, any choice is better than no choice. If your two options are to either make a less-than-perfect stream today, or not do a show until tomorrow, embrace imperfection and go live now! Sometimes it’s best to take away your ability to choose, in order to grow. 

So if you’ve been streaming for a while and can’t decide on the best way to approach your newest channel feature, just go for it. Let it be imperfect now, and improve it over time. If you’ve been wanting to start streaming and can’t find the right time to pull the trigger, there’s no time like the present. Today is the best day to start streaming. No matter what day it is while you’re listening to this episode. Don’t think. Just stream. You’ll thank yourself for it later. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Stream Like a Hobbit

When you’re streaming, it’s tempting to reach for as much as you can possibly grab. This may include fame when you constantly go for more followers, production value when seeking out new equipment to buy, or money if you continuously sign yourself up for more and more branded deals. We often pursue some kind of reward, a light at the end of the tunnel where we’re able to comfortably create our streams without worries. In the recent entry When Is Your Stream Enough? I went into this topic in-depth, and suggested that it might be okay to stream comfortably now, rather than putting off that satisfaction until after you’ve hit some arbitrary milestone. This time, we’re going to go further into that idea by exploring one of my favorite stories. In other words, sometimes it’s best to stream like a hobbit. 


First, a quick heads up: this entry will explore the ending of JRR Tolkien’s book The Hobbit. So if you haven’t read the book or seen the films, move forward at your own risk. (And honestly, you can’t go wrong with the book, the 1968 radio drama, the 1970’s Rankin Bass TV movie, or the 2012-14 Peter Jackson trilogy. So go read or watch whichever you prefer- you’ll be doing yourself a favor!) 

Now onto the story. Once Smaug has been defeated and the smoke has cleared after The Battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo makes his way back home with Gandalf the wizard. But there’s a detail of his return journey that I always found to be one of the most interesting parts of the whole quest: Despite being entitled to one fourteenth of the treasure horde under The Lonely Mountain, the hobbit chooses to take with him only two small chests of gold and silver. In explanation he says, “Very kind of you[...] But really it is a relief to me. How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home.” When thinking in Twitch terms, this very neatly summarizes two different pitfalls of ambition. 

Geralt gets attacked everywhere he goes.
He's used to it by now.

First, Bilbo anticipates being accosted while trying to transport a larger sum of treasure all the way back to Hobbiton. In a creative endeavor, our greatest treasure is our ambitions. And like medieval (or Middle-earth) travelers, we’re always at risk of being attacked while holding those dreams in our possession. As I’ve spoken about in many other entries, our self-consciousness, the pressure of time, peer pressure, and a thousand other small factors constantly attack us like highwaymen, trying to take these precious things away. Every day, another person in the world will give up on their life goals because one of these metaphorical robbers finally got to them. Make sure you’re only taking risks on your channel that you’d be willing to fight for. 

Second, Bilbo wonders what he’d even do with more than two chests of treasure when he got home. ‘Getting home’ in this case would mean reaching your goals on Twitch. He realizes that more isn’t always better, and even if he were able to reach his destination without any difficulty, the result may not even be desirable. With more treasure comes more headache, as any interaction with the Sackville-Bagginses could tell you. The two chests were enough for him, so Bilbo was content. Similarly on Twitch, not everyone on Twitch has to aspire to the same ambitions. Streaming is not a linear path, along which all channels can be plotted. There is a set starting point, but after that, everyone goes their own way. 


I’ve spoken in past entries about how we sometimes reach for goals for the wrong reasons. And when we begin from that point, our projects begin growing in the wrong directions. For example, this happens if we begin our channels with the hopes to impress others, rather than fully enjoy them ourselves. When we want to be able to tell our family and friends how much our endeavors are growing, we focus more on making the viewer and subscriber graphs climb. And when we focus more on that, we aim toward more styles of content which bring more attention. And we continually push aside the things we really like doing, in favor of whatever will enable that goal. A similar twisting of ambitions occurs when we start streaming solely to make money. As I often say, the means on Twitch are more important than the ends. Because the means are where we spend most of our time. 

They may not make good standing armies, 
but they make great video games. 

In his hugely influential treatise The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli discusses the best and worst strategic ideas in warfare. He suggests that mercenaries, a pillar on which much of the Italian states’ military might were based at the time, are a terrible idea: “The fact is, that they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe...” Essentially, money and reward is not enough to make a soldier willing to give up everything he has. He needs a real cause to believe in, like the defense of home and family. This is how 300 spartans made such a legendary dent in the invading 10,000 Persian soldiers, and how the paltry American army defeated a global superpower to gain independence. And even with his self-proclaimed lack of warfare knowledge, Bilbo Baggins innately understood the same concept. Only take risks when you’d be willing to fight for the results. On Twitch, we should treat our channels the same way. You’re giving up a significant portion of your time and energy when you create your content. And if you truly want to stick with it, aiming for money and fame isn’t enough. Create a stream you wholeheartedly believe in, so that no matter what kind of content you’re creating, it'll be a worthwhile adventure. Get out there and stream like a hobbit!

Friday, December 17, 2021

How to Use Your Influences for Streaming

If you’ve been following The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you’ll know that I draw inspiration from many different artists of various disciplines. There have been entries focusing on the music of Bob Dylan, the writings of Mark Twain, and the films of Hitchcock. Though each of these artists focuses on a different craft, they all have something in common: an unbridled love of the arts. Whether pulling from the works of others in their discipline, like a movie director drawing from other movies, or jumping across to others, like musicians being inspired by television, truly great creators keep their minds active by not only enjoying the media they watch, read or listen to, but by putting it to use. 

Many Twitch streamers believe that in order to improve a Twitch channel, they must consume other content related to Twitch. They watch other Twitch streams, look up tutorials with ‘Twitch’ specifically in the name, and get into Twitch-related discussions. And while all these things can help you in your quest, it leaves out a huge wealth of potential knowledge and inspiration. I think that a balanced diet of different media, consumed regularly and with care, can lead to a much healthier Twitch channel overall. In this entry, we’ll talk about how a love of books, movies, TV and music can help to keep your Twitch channel fresh. 


Anyone who knows this podcast knows that I love the works of Hideo Kojima. He’s responsible for the Metal Gear Solid series of video games, as well as the more recent masterpiece Death Stranding. Kojima is a hugely inspirational figure to me, who wears his influences on his sleeve. He’s a major believer in pulling from other artistic genres for his work, saying so himself on all his social media profiles, with his quote, “70% of my body is made of movies.” And while cinema is certainly a huge presence in what he creates, there is so much more going on under the surface. Throughout the years, I’ve discovered countless movies, books, bands and other pieces of art because of his games and real-world recommendations. I find his voracious consumption of media hugely inspiring, not because he’s able to watch, read and listen to so much, but because he has the uncanny ability to take what he’s consumed and redirect that inspiration into his own creations. 

Death Stranding puts many of Kojima's musical
passions in the spotlight.

Kojima opens his newly published book
The Creative Gene by describing the zen-like connection he has cultivated with other works of art: “I place tremendous significance on the media I encounter within the limits of my lifetime. Such encounters are acts of happenstance; they can seem like a product of fate. I have no idea what will connect with me, or where, or what kind of connection will form. And so, rather than wait in a passive haze, I desire to act with purpose and to cherish the encounters that result from my choices.” Kojima goes to the bookstore every single day. He reads and reads and reads, making no attempt to research which books will be good or bad beforehand. He briefly roams the shelves, and picks whatever stands out to him that day. If it’s good, that’s great. If it’s bad, oh well. On to the next one. As he puts it, “If the book I choose is a miss, there is no reason to become discouraged. That is also part of the learning process that will guide me toward another winner. Time spent reading such a book is not wasted, but rather leads me to my next encounter.”

I think this is an amazing way to look at the process of consuming. Too many of us are focused on only experiencing things we already know we’ll like. It’s the reason that Hollywood churns out so many identical blockbusters and other safe bets. We actually get upset when something we watch isn’t perfect, we wish we hadn’t spent the time, and we blame whoever recommended it. But what if we accepted that all the media we take in is a net gain? What if everything we watch, read, or listen to, whether we enjoy it or not, is a worthwhile experience? Just like how a person doesn’t have to be perfect to influence your life, a movie or book doesn’t have to be good to teach you something worth learning. It’s all about how you approach the material. When streaming, the same is true. Even if you had a bad stream today, and there were glitches or embarrassing moments, you’re always gaining something valuable from the experience. 


While Kojima takes his influences from all genres and turns them into video games, there are other artists who successfully work within one medium while being influenced primarily by that same medium. Movie directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese for example, are famous for essentially transposing existing cinematic styles and making them their own. And it’s important to remember that you don’t need to consume a lot of content to make something great either- it’s about how well you can channel the creative energy you receive. In Peter Jackson’s incredible 7-hour documentary about The Beatles’ final album Let It Be, there’s a scene in which George Harrison describes a TV show he happened to be watching the previous night. And from having taken in that one piece of audiovisual inspiration, he wrote the entire song I Me Mine in those few moonlit hours before coming in the next day. The show he was watching didn’t sound like the song he wrote at all (at least as far as I could detect), but the inspiration struck, and he understood how to channel it. 

Not pictured: The Beatle I was actually talking about.

So clearly there’s some kind of mysterious value in consuming media, even if you want to apply the inspiration to a totally different discipline, like, in our cases, Twitch streaming. But the question is, how do you harness that skill and transmute the lessons learned from one thing into something totally different? For me personally, it’s about being able to definitively quantify my feelings about what I consume. Many of us settle for ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ but that doesn’t suffice, because it doesn't really mean anything. As I mentioned during the section about Hideo Kojima and the books he reads, it’s not about whether we liked it, it’s about learning from it. In the entry Chronicle Your Twitch Progress, I spoke about how I write down short summaries after every conversation I’ve had in Japanese. This allows me to break down what worked, and what needed improvement. When it comes to movies and books, I do the same thing. After watching any movie or reading any book, I write down my thoughts. Not in terms of whether I liked it, but in terms of what I thought worked and what I thought didn’t. And most importantly: why. No hiding behind vagueries, but really confronting my opinions, being honest with myself, and committing those thoughts to a permanent record. There are several websites where you can do this yourself with movies, books and music, should you so choose. In my own life, I think forcing myself to think meaningfully about what I consume heightens my creative senses, and allows me to arrive at good ideas more quickly. No matter what we’re doing, it’s always possible to learn from it. Make sure you’re not wasting time, even while you’re wasting time. There’s no telling what you can create when you learn to use your influences for streaming. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

When Is Your Stream Enough?

As we build our Twitch channels, we’re always looking upward. What’s next? What new thing can we add? How can we make this better? It’s always fun to build things, and it’s great for your personal creativity, but I think there’s another important question you should ask yourself when expanding on Twitch: When is your stream enough? This applies to the channel as a whole, as well as to individual features within your channel. At some point, it must be okay to say, “This works, and I’m satisfied with it.” In this entry, we’ll try to identify when it’s okay to slow expansion and instead focus on refining what you have. 


First of all, why should we think about slowing down? Isn’t the objective to always be growing our brands? In a way, yes, but it’s about balance. If you truly love everything about what you do while you’re in maximum effort mode, then by all means keep doing it. Maybe check in every once in a while to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying the grind. For many of us however, it’s not a complete win-win. It’s more of a trade-off. We sacrifice some aspects of what we enjoy, in order to facilitate faster growth. And if you fall into this camp, you may want to look inwards sooner rather than later. But in the end, whether you enjoy what you’re doing or you don’t, always ensure you’re working toward the scale you actually want to achieve. 

Again, Scrooge McDuck may have a different
stance on this subject. 

Because the traditional mindset about building a brand is to keep constant upward momentum, this idea of aiming for a specific scale may sound ridiculous. “The sky's the limit,” you might say. “Why aim low?” And to communicate this idea, I’ll use another example that people usually chase after without any limit in mind:
money. Tim Ferriss, in his excellent book The 4-Hour Workweek, sums up the psychology of money this way: “People don’t want to be millionaires — they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy.” In other words, we want to be free to spend our days doing what we love, rather than what we must. We want to take vacations. We want to be able to buy gifts for loved ones and treat them to nice things. We want to stop having to worry about paying rent. Unless you’re Scrooge McDuck, it’s unlikely that you’re interested in the actual bills (or coins) of legal tender, and more interested in the kind of lifestyle that money represents


Similarly, on Twitch we chase followers in much the same way that we chase money. We try as hard as we can to collect them, and continue trying to make the number go up, no matter how high it gets. When chasing money, we keep working and saving, hoping to someday enjoy the benefits of our labor. And with Twitch, those followers accrue and grow our brands, in the hopes that someday we can do what we actually love on our channels, rather than what we have to do in order to get more followers. In the above mentioned book, Ferriss shows readers how he’s able to live on less money overall, but simultaneously cut expenses and time spent working in such a way that his net gain is higher than it was before. In short, because he takes on less work and spends wisely, he has more time to do the things he truly wants to do. And more than simply having a lot of money, that’s what it means to be rich. Because the overly ambitious investment banker who puts in 100 hour weeks is just as much a thrall to his paycheck as the rest of us working 9 to 5, because he never has the free time or peace of mind to truly enjoy his wealth. The same thing is very useful to consider on Twitch. Fast follower growth isn’t worth much if you’re spending all your time and energy trying to attain it. Because then, when do you truly taste the fruits of your labor? When you’re so burnt out that you can’t enjoy them? 

Your creativity flourishes when you have
more time to be creative.

Similar to the 80/20 Rule, which I described in the entry Stream Smarter, Not Harder, it’s about finding the highest gain that also takes the least of your time and energy to achieve. Be honest: if you had a hundred thousand followers, would you be doing the same thing on your channel that you do right now? Or would you no longer be worrying about how many followers you have? In that scenario, free of the concern for how you’ll ‘make it’ on Twitch, you may find you’d no longer be weighing all your game choices and show formats against which will perform better, and would instead be choosing based on whatever you actually want to do. The 4-Hour Workweek describes how to live your entire life as carefree as if you’re in retirement, rather than saving all your money for one big retirement at the end of your career. And I contend that the same can be done for streaming, when you’re able to de-prioritize growth enough to focus on what you truly love doing. 


Growing your channel is good. Don’t mistake this entry for a suggestion that you give up on your expansion efforts entirely. But in the end, your stream exists to serve you. It’s your passion project, and it would be a shame if that passion project didn’t allow you to actually engage in your passions. So of course reach for the things that challenge you, try new ideas, experiment, fail, and try again. But don’t let your efforts for growth get in the way of your potential for enjoyment. Ask yourself, when is your stream enough? When do you get to enjoy the content you’ve created for a change? If you organize your priorities well enough, you’ll see that the time has already come. You just have to put it into action.

Friday, December 3, 2021

How to Learn New Streaming Skills

When you’re streaming on Twitch, it’s difficult to measure progress. Day by day, it never seems like things are improving, or at best only growing at a minuscule rate. This often leads to streamers opting for drastic self-improvement measures, which can easily backfire. If they’re not ready to handle the workload, the streamer will end up right back where they started. So what’s the best way to learn new streaming skills in a safe way? For me, it all stems from a story I used to hear when I was a child. 

Remember the fairy tale about Goldilocks and the Three Bears? She sneaks into the house of a family of bears, which had just cooked three different bowls of porridge before leaving. One is too hot, one is too cold, but the third is just right. This is how I approach learning new skills. It’s difficult to learn when we’re doing something too easy, because there’s nothing to keep us interested. We quickly become complacent about what we’re doing, and settle into a routine. Our minds require challenge in order to thrive. However, too much difficulty can cause the same detrimental effect. When something is so far past our ability levels that we can’t even begin to approach it, there’s nothing to do but throw up our hands. Instead, the best way to learn is to take on challenges slightly above our current skill levels- not too easy, but also not too difficult. Like Goldilocks with her porridge, we want to make sure our conditions are ‘juuuust right.’ In order to truly learn new streaming skills efficiently, get yourself into this ‘Goldilocks Zone.’ 


In The Witcher 3, it's easy to stumble into an 
area way higher than your character level.

One common strategy for new or intermediate Twitch channels is to look upwards for inspiration. The mindset being, if the largest channels on the platform are conducting their shows a certain way, that must be the right way. There are several problems with this way of thinking. First, those channels didn't spring out of the ground with all their various mechanics intact. The hours and hours of daily content with intricately scheduled shows and segments, the empire of social media profiles, and inspired collections of merch are all the products of years spent on Twitch, or whichever platform that streamer used to build their brand. Simply imitating the product of those years of experience without having gone through the whole process yourself won’t get the results you seek. And second, even if this did work, it’s usually far too much to take on at once. Since the highly experienced streamer has been doing it for years, taking small steps along the way, their current content offering is likely within their own Goldilocks Zone, only a little bit more challenging than what they’d previously been doing. But for a beginner or intermediate streamer, it’s more akin to a Level 10 character in an RPG entering a zone full of Level 99 enemies. It’s not going to be very productive. 

So instead of reaching for unattainable goals, one might think it’s better to stay within a very safe range. Here, the streamer may avoid all challenges and aspire to have a show that never changes and simply runs without issues. This, while preferable to the former strategy, can also stunt a streamer’s potential for growth. To continue the RPG analogy, it’s pretty difficult for a Level 10 character to improve if they only fight Level 1 enemies. Those enemies drop such a small amount of XP that you could spend a huge amount of time fighting them and still see no change in experience level. Instead, the best way to level an RPG character is to fight enemies a few levels above your own. These enemies are just at the edge of your skill threshold, giving you the most experience points you can get without being so much of a threat that they’ll take you out without even giving you a chance. This is the Goldilocks Zone. 


In previous entries I’ve spoken about the benefits of being wrong. I wholeheartedly believe that making mistakes is one of the most important parts of being creative. When you’re working on a Twitch channel, or doing anything else in life, it doesn’t matter how many things you get right on the first try. How you react to mistakes, and the solutions you reach to put a project back on track, are what truly define you. In the entry Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream, I talked about how you can quickly arrive at bold new stream concepts by doing the things you wish would work on stream, rather than the things you know will work. Even if you’ve never seen anyone do this particular thing on Twitch before, you can likely make it into a great show if you put your mind to it. The new stream concept usually won’t be perfect on the first try, but experience and iteration will help you separate the wheat from the chaff. When you place yourself outside your comfort zone, that’s where learning begins. And by staying in a mode where you need to keep changing things, your mind will always be active. 

Without always trying new things and researching
the unknown, the XCOM team would be dead in the water.

Another way to acquire skills quickly is to ensure you’re never simply learning without also doing. Stockpiling too much knowledge about a subject can ironically lead to worse performance. Many who opt for this route are so focused on what they should and shouldn’t do, that it often causes them to do nothing at all. In the entry Stream Before You’re Ready, I spoke about how The Beatles created a massive catalog of genre-defining hits, without ever learning to write or even read musical notation. In that entry, I helped you to emulate their learning strategy, which I call ‘stacking’ knowledge. In other words, never allowing yourself to learn too much without first putting any small amount of new knowledge you learn into action. 

By using these active learning strategies, and keeping the tasks in front of you within the Goldilocks Zone, you’ll be able to improve your skills at a much faster rate. Now the only question is, with these new skills, what amazing things will you create?