Sunday, September 18, 2022

Get Your Foot in the Door: A Memoir



Are you nervous to start on Twitch because you don’t feel prepared? Like there’s some secret ingredient you need if you want to be taken seriously as a streamer? Maybe you’ve been streaming, but you can’t quite get yourself to make the leap to another category or feature on your channel. This is a very common concern among creatives in many fields. However, I’ve found that for the projects and accomplishments I’ve completed throughout my lifetime, perseverance is always better than preparation. Someone with enough drive can usually find a way to make their dreams into reality. 


In previous entries, I’ve spoken about how I used to cover video games for a living. This time, I’ll go into more detail about how I made that dream real. Keep an eye on the challenges I faced in my own journey, and the creative ways I overcame them. Are there any places on your Twitch channel where this same kind of outside-the-box thinking might serve you too?



➢ BOY WITH A CAMERA


My first ever video game industry coverage took place at the PAX East convention in 2011. I was attending as a fan, but throughout my years of consuming video game coverage up to that point, I began to feel the allure of such a lifestyle. Why couldn’t I cover this amazing, ever-evolving industry? I was in college at that point, and had just switched my major from Fine Arts to Film & Television. I was a novice in every sense of the word, not knowing how to make professional-looking videos, conduct on-camera interviews or really do anything in-between. But I had the passion, and I figured that being in the thick of things at this huge convention center was as good a chance as any.


Bastion ended up being an incredible 
video game as well. 

I ran to every booth for a game I was interested in, trying to find someone in charge of granting interviews, and asked for a slot. I got a lot of ‘nos.’ But doing this, I quickly learned the law of the land: AAA games were very unlikely to grant me an audience of any kind. Glimpsing the clipboards and schedules of PR people I spoke to, I could see that their days were booked solid with appointments, and it became clear that these kinds of things were set up in advance of the convention. Smaller games however, would sometimes have a few openings, and after getting dozens of refusals I finally got to film a few interviews. I’ll never forget my first ever industry interview. I spoke to a very gracious Greg Kasavin, an idol of mine from his previous days working at video game news giant GameSpot, about the newest game he’d been working on, Bastion. I was over the moon after finishing this talk, and I was proud of the interview footage I got. After filming a few more discussions and of course getting plenty of extra footage of the convention, I went home ecstatic. I was still very far from my goal, but I had gotten a taste of what it must be like. As unofficial and unsanctioned as it was, this was the beginning of my career in the games industry. 



BEHIND CLOSED DOORS


Upon getting back to school, I started a video game-themed show with some friends for the campus TV station. The fact that we already had on-camera interviews and footage from my time at PAX East helped us get a green-light from the TV station’s director of programming. For the next year I got my team into progressively larger video game events. We went to the launch of the Nintendo 3DS in Times Square, as well as the launch party for Gears of War 3. With my group of fellow filmmakers behind me, our content only got better. I don't think anyone ever actually watched that campus TV show, which was screened only around our school. But we all gained a lot of valuable experience. After leaving school, I continued the legacy of the show by turning it into a website. I was able to leverage the video packages we’d made from other events to get press badges for progressively larger conventions. As early as the next year, we were attending conventions as actual press, and I had even managed to get us into a few parties and behind-closed-doors game showcases. I remember eating hors d'oeuvres in a swanky Manhattan loft during a private reception for Square-Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider at New York Comic Con 2012, not quite believing how far I’d come in such a short time. 


Square Enix always had good events. 

Though it may seem like everything just sort of fell into place, in reality the journey was anything but easy. I had zero connections in the video games industry on starting, and I used every trick I could think of to dredge up contacts. At any convention or event where I’d been refused an interview, I always made sure to get the PR person’s business card. I’d make sure to send that person my team’s coverage of their game later, which often opened doors for me to set up appointments at the next exhibition or event. I also made friends with other journalists at the events I attended, who could sometimes help me get further access. There were still huge gaps in my list of contacts however, and where all traditional routes failed, I simply made things up as I went along. I would trawl the internet for hours each night, trying to find working email addresses for people with access to games I wanted to cover. I looked everywhere- on the game’s sites, the publisher’s LinkedIn, the PR firm’s roster, sometimes even just making my best guess at email addresses for people whose names I knew. (This last one, surprisingly, did work a few times!) Slowly, despite my complete lack of resources, connections, and know-how, I started to build up a small contact network for my budding little video game website. Even during this time, I don't think anyone really read my website or watched any of my videos. But once again, I was gaining extremely valuable experience over the course of these next few years.



DON’T WAIT FOR THE RIGHT CONDITIONS


In the entry Stay Curious About Streaming, I described the next stage of my career, when I was hired by a major entertainment company to attend the industry’s biggest events around the globe and create content seen by tens of thousands of people every day. At this point, six years into my journey, I was being paid to do the exact thing I had set out to do back in PAX East 2011. But the early part of my video game industry career is still what I look on with the most fondness. This was a time when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Everything I accomplished involved simply willing a solution into existence. There was no rulebook, I had no mentors in the industry, and I had no idea where the journey would take me. But I didn’t let my lack of experience or equipment bother me. I didn’t stress that I was doing all this while simultaneously going to college and working for a living. I had a dream and I followed it. That passion allowed me to push through a lot of personal boundaries and create something that I could really be proud of. 


My career making video games industry coverage, which lasted (in various capacities) from 2011 to 2018, wasn’t the usual trajectory. I didn’t interview for a job, I didn’t take a test, and I didn’t wait for anyone to give me permission in order to cover video games. I just started doing it. There are very few things in life that you absolutely need to be prepared for. As long as you’re crafty and dedicated enough, you can always get your foot in the door. As you’ve seen above, this is true for the games journalism industry. You’ll find similar stories behind many of your favorite creatives and businesspeople. And it’s the same for becoming a Twitch streamer. If there’s something holding you back from starting your dream, or beginning a new feature on your channel, just ignore it and start anyway. You can always get better while you move forward. And whatever happens in the end, you’ll never regret having tried. 


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Streaming in the Face of Futility



What happens when you find it futile to go live? When every part of you feels you have nothing interesting left to do or say, and you just want to give up? This happens to all of us at various points throughout our Twitch careers. Most streamers experience such a feeling when they’re new, because they might be awkward on camera, often making technical mistakes and embarrassing themselves in front of viewers. Then, once we’ve settled into a groove there comes a time when things are a little too familiar. The act of streaming becomes boring, and there’s no longer any spice left. Once we’re established, we can also let our egos interfere with our broadcasts. If everything isn’t up to its usual quality standard, we shudder at the thought of letting ourselves put on inferior shows, and would prefer not to stream at all that day if faced with the prospect. You even might be in one of these situations on your channel right now. My advice for any of these scenarios is ultimately the same: just go live anyway. 



➢ SHARE YOUR JOURNEY


It’s been a long time since I started streaming, but I can still identify with streamers who feel self-conscious about their lack of experience. While I have thousands of video game shows under my belt, I wasn’t so experienced as an IRL streamer until relatively recently. Even since then, I wouldn’t say I’ve done more than a hundred of those shows, so in the grand scheme I'm still pretty inexperienced. I’m significantly more prone to make mistakes when I’m going live from a phone or streaming backpack, as I do for these broadcasts. And that makes perfect sense, because the entire process is different. Similarly, while I studied art throughout high school and college, whenever I do art streams on my Twitch channel I typically try styles and media that I’m not comfortable with. This requires me to get used to making what is often terrible artwork live in front of anyone watching. A few years ago, I also began livestreaming my Japanese studies on Duolingo. I started streaming my learning from the literal first day of my streak, and of course I had to face the constant humiliation of getting a huge amount of the answers wrong every day. 


All three of these shows forced me back into a ‘novice’ role in different ways, and they have all caused me significant embarrassment throughout my time streaming them. In each of these three categories, I’ve often wrestled with the entire identity of what the shows were. What was I trying to accomplish? Was I teaching Japanese to others, when I could barely speak it myself? Did anyone actually want to watch me fumble through horrible timed figure drawings and environment sketches? What was the point of streaming from a restaurant if I was just eating my food, and not showing the place off to everyone watching? These are all legitimate concerns, but I eventually realized they were merely my self-doubt searching for an excuse to make me quit.

I recently played through the Japanese 
version of Metal Gear Solid as well.

I found that it was enough just to focus on my own self-improvement at these crafts. I would stream Japanese learning not to teach others, but to let others watch me learn. I would stream my art practice and IRL adventures for the same reason. I offered these shows (and still do) without expectation, and respect viewers enough to let them choose what they want to do with it. And then a funny thing happened. I really did get better, right in front of everyone’s eyes. Over the course of a few hundred art episodes, I taught myself about Greek pottery painting and illustrated a whole book in that style live on stream. I took my IRL experience and went to other countries. I’ve learned enough Japanese that I play import games that never even got localized into English. These end results are valuable, but the journey itself is valuable as well. I couldn’t see that when I was starting out in each discipline, but now that I’ve reached these milestones it’s become obvious. It’s important to let others see you grow. Not just to help you, but to inspire them. Viewers have contacted me about my Japanese Duolingo streams inspiring them to keep going on their own language journeys. For myself, I’ve been able to go back and watch my art grow from nothing all the way to finished illustrations. Whenever I try new skills on stream, I try to think about these experiences, and how vulnerable I felt in the beginning. Knowing that the journey is worth it helps me carry on, and hopefully this knowledge will help you too.  



MEET IN THE MIDDLE


As an experienced streamer, my instincts also push back against compromising my production value. As I’ve mentioned in many other entries, I often travel for work. Since it would hardly be practical to lug my games PC everywhere, this means I have to go live from a totally different setup, and do different things on stream. When I’m traveling, I go live directly from an iPad or iPhone, with no microphone attached. The audio is pretty poor compared to my normal shows. Internet fluctuation is also a fact of life when staying in hotels, so my streams will often cut out. And on top of that, I go live for much shorter lengths of time while I’m on the road. These three points scared me to death when I was first finding my stride on Twitch. I used to try everything I could to fight against them. I carried a wired mic around with me in my briefcase. I’d get premium hotel internet and stress when there was any interruption. I’d go live for extended lengths of time, even to the detriment of other things I had to do. 


This was grueling, and my limited mindset about travel streams made business trips, which were often in very interesting cities, no fun at all. Slowly, I began to accept that it was okay to have issues like these appear on my broadcasts. Travel streams could just be their own thing, and it’s totally understandable if they aren’t the same quality as my normal streams. This new mindset has freed me up to try more ideas on stream, go live from different places, and most importantly, enjoy myself more when I’m in interesting locations. 


Not this kind of flying. 

You might not be flying around the country all the time like I do, but you may encounter other similar challenges. Maybe your microphone breaks, and you can’t get a replacement until the following week. Maybe your home internet speed drops without warning, and you’d need to stream at a low-quality bitrate if you want to keep going live. Maybe you just have big plans and don’t have time for a full-length show. Don’t let your pride cause you to miss a day of streaming. Just compromise and go live anyway. Use whatever tools are available to you and make a show. Any show. Later, you’ll be thankful you didn’t allow yourself to lapse. 


If you want to keep a habit like streaming, the most important thing you can do is also the simplest: just continue doing it. No matter what it takes. Sometimes that means powering through your inexperience and self-doubt. Sometimes that means putting aside your ego. Trust in your dream, and don’t listen to that voice in the back of your mind telling you to give up or miss a day. In the face of futility, stream! 


Monday, September 5, 2022

Find What's Important to You About Streaming



As a Twitch streamer, you may face many kinds of challenges. Maybe you need to identify what motivates you to stop procrastinating and go live. You might be having trouble even fitting streaming into your schedule. You could be facing pressure from your own audience to change things you don’t want to change. Maybe the growth of your channel and the success of a particular feature is tempting you to want to focus only on that one thing. Or you could be getting a lot of negative and hurtful feedback. In each above mentioned scenario, there’s one common thing which can keep you grounded and help you find your way. If you find what’s most important to you about streaming, you’ll always know what needs to be done. 



➢ GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN


In the entry Know When Not to Do What the Audience Wants, I went through a few examples of successful people who understood the necessity of not always doing what their customers ask for. Henry Ford turned his automobile into a worldwide icon by finding a design that worked, and then keeping it the same. He knew what was important about his cars, and understood that messing with the design in the early stages of its success would only hurt in the long run. At a time when people not only needed to be convinced to buy his car, but also needed to be convinced that cars (rather than horses) were worth buying in the first place, his adamance helped to usher in a new age of transportation. 


Early computers didn't even have cursors.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs ushered in his own new age, a few times over, in the field of modern computing. You may not be aware for example that there was a time, even after the mouse was invented, that computer cursors were controlled by buttons on a keyboard. A mouse was considered an optional accessory. It wasn’t until Apple computers began including the mouse with the machine, and using mouse-driven interfaces to control the action, that the world began to catch on. 


It’s commonly suggested that Twitch streamers (and anyone else trying to be successful, for that matter) should change along with the whims of their audience. After all, what is a streamer if not a mirror reflecting back what the viewer wants to see? But what if the viewer doesn’t know what they want to see? They might think they do, but they can only envision what they already know. As Henry Ford once said about popularizing the automobile, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Sometimes it’s up to you to dictate where you’re going to take the audience. If you trust your vision, you won’t regret the ride. 



POPULAR KNOWLEDGE ISN’T ALWAYS RIGHT


I’m a huge fan of the Souls games. Throughout this series which includes Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Elden Ring and more, you’re punished for dying more than in most video games. Everywhere your character goes, there are hidden enemies trying to trick you. Many can kill you in one swing of the sword, others can lead you into traps, and of course the terrain itself might spell death if you’re not paying attention. Upon dying in one of these games, you drop all the currency that your character is carrying. Since this currency not only purchases necessary items, but is also the only way to get level-up points to upgrade your character, death can sometimes mean losing hours of hard work in an instant. For this reason, most new players reach the conclusion that ‘not dying’ is the key to success in a Souls game. And while this is partially correct, it quickly creates a negative loop. The game becomes a nightmarish slog, in which every corner might hold a monster waiting to ruin your day. New players often quit after having their first big death while holding a lot of money- they deem the game unfair and trade it in for something more fun to play. 


Don't fight Ornstein and Smough 
without spending your souls first.

But if you stick with the game, you start to realize something. Despite making a big show of your character’s death every time it happens (a massive “YOU DIED” title appears every time you fall), there’s actually almost no consequence to dying in a Souls game at all. This is because, while you can lose the currency you’re carrying on your person, you can’t lose currency you’ve already spent. Items stay with you after death, and your character level stays where it is as well. For this reason, Souls games in reality are about measuring risk and spending your money wisely. If you’ve accumulated too much currency and have ventured too far away from safety, it’s probably time to return to base and spend your money before you can lose it. If you find a boss’ lair, it’s always best to go in with no money on your person. The games all let you go anywhere you want in the open world, so it’s not like you need to fight any particular enemy, or enter any particular area, as soon as you find it. You can accrue enough currency for the next level-up, spend it all, and then fight. 


Playing this way immediately changes the nature of the game. After all, if you walk into a boss’ dungeon with enough money to fund several level-ups (as most new players do), dying even once would of course be immediately catastrophic. But if you walk into a boss’ dungeon with no money at all, you could die 100 times and never be the worse for wear. You don’t even need much skill- you can just memorize the patterns and win through attrition. This kind of philosophy (aside from making you a better Souls player) can apply to many things you might try on Twitch. Just because most people think streaming is meant to be a certain way, that doesn’t mean it has to be that way for you. Don’t like video games? Stream something else. Don’t like showing your face? Stream without a camera. Don’t like going live for a long time? Stream for however long makes you comfortable. 



‘BEST’ IS A RELATIVE TERM


Throughout many past entries, I’ve spoken about how I’ve thrown away many of what most people consider ‘essential elements of Twitch streaming’ from my own channel, and in their place have built something completely my own. What’s most important about Twitch streaming for you? Regardless of what others think, or even what you currently think! Look past all the presumptions, and consider if your viewpoint may have been skewed by your expectations of streaming. Are there pressures coming in from your audience, or from your other streamer friends, making you believe something has to change? It’s possible that, like Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, you need to identify what’s important and not lose sight of it. Or, like with a Souls game, it may simply be about changing your perspective in order to take the pressure off. In the end, if you can find what’s important about streaming, you’ll be much closer to reaching true happiness with your content. 


Sunday, August 28, 2022

How to Prioritize Your Streams



We all share a common passion for streaming. But despite enjoying the act, it can be hard to stick to our intended regimen every scheduled day. Whether other plans interfere, unexpected events occur, or we simply can’t find the energy, the habit of broadcasting is difficult to form. In the past, I’ve explored several ways to combat this issue: improving habits, removing self-doubt, finding little things to love about the craft, and better organizing your days are a few of the topics we’ve gone over so far. One point which majorly helps me with my own streams is deceptively simple: I make them a priority. I fight against demotivation, anticipate scheduling problems, and even take responsibility for the unexpected. In this entry we’ll look at the various ways to prioritize your streams. 



➢ RESTRUCTURING YOUR DAY


Whatever you attach to the end of the 
stick, make sure it motivates you. 

Sometimes, despite having a passion for your Twitch channel, it can be hard to get yourself to sit down and go live. There might not even be any other things you have to do that day, you just... can’t do your stream. This sense of general repulsion from your intended task is what writers, artists and other creatives refer to as ‘block.’ In the entry
Trick Yourself into Being More Productive, I spoke about one of the techniques I’ve personally found most effective in getting my work done: the ‘carrot on a stick method.’ In order to ensure your streaming habit doesn’t fall by the wayside, try denying yourself something else you really want to do that day until you’ve gone live. You’ll find it much easier to go live when your stream is the only thing holding you back from watching a movie, ordering food, building a LEGO set, or whatever other leisure activity you were looking forward to. 


You also don’t need to stream for the same amount of time every time you go live. Sometimes, on bad days, that expected broadcast length might be what’s holding you back. When you’re low on motivation, tell yourself that it’s enough to simply go live at all. Don’t worry about how long the broadcast will be. As anyone who’s built a habit can tell you, it’s more important to simply keep the trend going than it is to do it the same way every time. And as an added bonus, you might find that once you’ve taken the leap and started your show, you have more energy than you previously expected. There have been plenty of demotivated days where I thought I’d do a truncated stream, only to end up doing a full-length show anyway. 



PLANNING FOR INCONVENIENCES


As I’ve mentioned in other entries, I fly around the country a lot for work. On some of those days I have enough stopovers, Ubers and time zone changes that I’d leave in the morning and arrive in the dead of night. In those cases, it would become very easy to fall behind on my streams. I’d likely be tired from traveling and not want to go live that night. And since I go live three times per day, that means I could quickly end up three shows behind. 


In these cases, I anticipate the hectic nature of the trip by frontloading streams before I leave. On the day before I leave for a business trip I’ll often do five or more broadcasts, in order to give myself some breathing space for that next day of travel. I might not technically be doing three streams on the travel day, but the three shows scheduled for that day do get done. I also might not be doing shows of my usual episode length, but again, at least they happen. In this way, I’ve been able to allow streaming to fit around my lifestyle, and not become a burden. No matter how many times you go live in a given week, you can still employ this same basic concept. If you know you have something big planned for the next day, do yourself a favor and simply go live early. By getting your stream out of the way beforehand, you won’t have to worry about it later. 



WHEN CALENDAR DAYS MATTER


Duolingo has become something I look 
forward to doing every day.

I also have the somewhat unusual requirement of needing to do one of my streams specifically on each calendar day. As I’ve spoken about in earlier entries, one of my daily broadcasts is a quick study session in Duolingo. I’ve kept up this streak for over 1,200 days so far, and each one of those daily learning sessions has been broadcast live on my channel. The Duolingo app requires that you log in and complete reviews specifically on each day of the calendar. This means I can’t frontload all of my streams when getting ready for a trip- the video games or other activities can be moved around, but Duolingo has to happen once a day no matter what.


This means Duolingo is the riskiest of my shows, and is a higher priority than my other streams. When that show happens is directly proportional to the nature of my day. If I’m home and don’t have any plans, I can leave my Duolingo broadcast until later on. Since my study habit is very well-established, there’s very little risk of missing my streak if I don’t have anything else to do that day. But if I’m going on a business trip, I always get the Duolingo episode done before leaving for my flight. For the same reason I frontload other streams, I never leave my Duolingo shows to be completed when I arrive at my destination. If I’m on an extended vacation, I’m even stricter with myself about doing these shows. It’s easiest to lapse on your habits when you’re having fun doing something else. Therefore, I don’t let myself have fun until I complete my habit. In Japan, Greece, and any other trip I’ve taken, I didn’t allow myself to leave the hotel until I’ve completed my Duolingo show. This has ensured I could enjoy the rest of my day without having to worry.



TAKE RESPONSIBILITY


Notice that many of the things I’m ‘planning’ for in these cases may never come to be. It’s very possible that my flight would arrive on time during a business trip, or that I’d come back to my room on vacation with time to spare for my Duolingo show. However, it’s irrelevant whether something bad does happen, it only matters how likely it is to happen. Am I more likely to miss my stream on a day when I’m lounging at home, or on a day when I’m flying 12 hours to Greece? Yes, I might be able to get my show done on the day I go to Greece, but because there’s a higher chance I’d miss my show that day, I don’t leave it to chance. This mindset has saved me from missing any of my three scheduled broadcasts for the past several years now, and it’s saved me from breaking my Duolingo streak for 1,200 days and counting. 


The nice thing about all of these strategies is that they allow you to prioritize streaming without having to push anything else out of the way. Typically, streamers are extremely rigid about their schedules and stream lengths. These self-imposed rules not only make it harder to find the motivation to go live, but they can also interfere with your plans to have fun outside your streams. Have you ever canceled plans or turned down an invitation to do something because your stream was scheduled for the same time? Have you ever missed a scheduled stream because you were doing something else during the show’s appointed time? Maybe you simply couldn’t make yourself go live, even without any other plans. If any of these are true, try some of the techniques I’ve described above. It’s possible to have your cake and eat too, if you take the right steps to prioritize your streams. 


Monday, August 22, 2022

Managing Your Home Network



One of the most important technical aspects of streaming is your connection to the internet. It goes without saying that without that connection, you can’t do a live broadcast. There isn’t much you need to know in order to simply go live. Most home network setups allow for some level of basic livestreaming, especially if you use the default recommended settings in your streaming software. But just because you can go live doesn’t mean there won’t be issues. Home networks have a lot of moving parts. We connect to the internet in more ways than we sometimes realize, and many of those connections can affect the stability of our Twitch broadcasts. 


I’ve spoken before about various ways to improve your stream’s connectivity. In the entry Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right, I helped you to understand how your stream is transmitted to the viewer. In Understanding Network Settings for Streaming, I went more in-depth about how to temper your stream’s output expectations to ensure a more stable broadcast. And in the recent entry How Does Your Internet Work?, I elaborated on the very important distinction between upload and download speeds. In this entry, I want to go more specifically into the way your home’s internet allocations are doled out. If you’ve experienced dropped frames or short outages on your streams and couldn’t figure out why, it could be because you’re not properly managing your home network. 



➢ BITS AND BYTES


Not to be confused with Bit from the 
movie TRON.

Before talking more about this subject, I should clear something up. You may have been thrown off in the past about the capabilities of your network, because of two unfortunately similar terms. It’s a bit confusing, but Mega
bits aren’t the same thing as Megabytes. The first, megabits, is used to measure the transfer speed of files. The second value, megabytes, measures how large your files are. Simply put for our purposes, megabits measure speed and megabytes measure size. The measurements don’t directly correspond to one another. Kind of like how an ounce isn’t the same thing as a fluid ounce. They sound similar, and they even measure similar things in practical use, but they’re not the same. 


A video on your computer might take up 500 megabytes of hard drive space, and your stream might transfer at 2 megabits per second. When measuring things on your home network, make sure you aren’t confusing megabits with megabytes. You might think, for example, that if you were to upload a gigantic video file to the cloud while streaming, that would be guaranteed to tank your broadcast. However, the size of a file doesn’t technically have any bearing on whether your stream is bothered. The only thing that matters is the speed at which that file is transferred: namely, megabits are what you should be most concerned with. A small file can cause major hiccups in your stream’s connectivity if transferred at high speed, and a massive file can cause no problems at all if transferred at a low speed. As long as you know how to control those speeds, your stream will be unaffected by competing uploads. 



INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 


Now I’m going to present a simple example to help demonstrate how home networking works. Let’s say for the sake of argument that your internet service provider gives you an upload speed of 10 megabits per second. Let’s also say that your stream broadcasts at 2.5 megabits per second. So in this example, your stream uses one quarter of your maximum upload speed. 


Now, in this example we’re going to use the (perhaps tired, but very convenient) old metaphor of the internet as a highway. Imagine anything you want to upload as a shipping truck driving along that highway. Our example highway will have four lanes. Now, your stream, which we’ve established uses ¼ of your internet speed, takes up one lane of that four-lane highway. Let’s say it’s the left lane. Because the stream needs to continuously use that amount of data in order to stay live, it’ll be represented by a series of trucks riding one by one, all in a big line in that left lane of the highway. Those trucks are clear to continue driving. Each one will arrive at its destination without issue, because there’s nothing else in their lane and there’s plenty of room on the road. 


Don't let anything run you 
off the road.

But let’s say you want to upload a video to YouTube as well, while your stream is running. Even if it’s a small video, this can cause a problem. The reason for this friction is that many upload tools will use as much bandwidth as they can possibly drain from your internet, regardless of whatever else is using it. This is in the interest of getting your content uploaded as quickly as possible. However, imagine this in our highway example. Even if your YouTube video is relatively small- let’s say it’s represented by four cars rather than a series of trucks- it’s spreading itself all across the road, using all four lanes of bandwidth. And because the trucks representing your stream are in the left lane, these reckless cars suddenly barge into your lane and run you off the road. This, in a nutshell, is how a stream drops frames. Something else is coming in and using up more of the bandwidth space than it should, and there’s no more room for your stream to maneuver. 



STAYING IN THE LANE


There’s a way to prevent this issue, however. Just like how you can choose the upload speed of your stream, you can also manage the upload speed of other content in your home network. Some apps, like the auto-syncing Dropbox, give you built-in tools to decide how quickly files get transferred. You can input a value just like in your streaming software. If you set it to 2.5 megabits per second, like our hypothetical stream example from earlier, all four cars representing your uploaded file would stay in one single lane of the highway, just like your stream does. Since they’re now in single file, it will take longer before the full load of cargo is delivered to the destination, but it won’t cause traffic accidents along the way. Ultimately, that's a lot more valuable. 


Sometimes you can’t natively control the upload speed of your files. Most websites, including YouTube, don’t give any option for how fast your files transfer to their servers. There are third party apps you can use however, which can throttle speeds to your desired value. Some web browsers even feature built-in tools to ensure that uploads don’t get out of hand. Depending on what various devices and software you use, look into what apps or tools are most compatible with your setup. 


Some vehicles specialize in offroading, 
but not when it comes to our
streaming highways.

And of course, if you don’t want to go quite this technical, there’s always the easiest option: don’t start to upload anything immediately before, or during, your streams. This works just fine, though many people don’t have that option. The ‘highway’ of your home network isn’t only populated by your own vehicles, of course. Cars and trucks operated by anyone else in your home will also drive by. You want to make sure there’s ample space for them to pass as well. In other scenarios, you may have automatic transfers which can’t be stopped while going live. My work, for example, requires that I upload very large video files to Dropbox all throughout the day in order to stay synced. In this case, it helps that I can throttle Dropbox’s speeds to prevent stream problems from cropping up. To prove that my statement about large files not causing a problem is true: every stream I've done has had a large video file uploading at the same time. However, there are still no dropped frames, because I've caused the video files to upload at a lower speed.


Whatever your home networking setup looks like, make sure to stay aware of the various ways data might be transferred. As long as you leave enough space for other cars to drive along the highway, and you properly manage whichever vehicles you can personally control, you’ll notice a much smoother ride during your broadcasts. Now get onto the road and enjoy the drive! 


Sunday, August 14, 2022

Changing Your Channel



If you’ve been listening to The Twitch Playbook from the beginning, you’ve probably noticed by now that a lot has changed. After all, it’s been over three and a half years since I started this podcast. Every week’s episode is bound to feature a slightly different version of me than you heard the week before. And when you juxtapose week 1 with 189, you see quite a big difference. Just as our experiences help us to grow in life, our experiences help us to grow on Twitch. We learn, we experiment, we fail at some things and we improve in others. And yet, we still keep certain core beliefs which define us. For example, despite all our adventures and misadventures in life, we all still (hopefully) hold in our hearts that it’s bad to cheat, lie, steal or kill. Now, on Twitch, you’re not going to have to contend with moral conundrums quite so grandiose (except maybe cheating- I’ll admit I had a GameShark for my PS1). You will however, need to identify which core beliefs are important to you and try to follow them. Without this kind of internal guidance, someone on Twitch, just as in life, may find themselves lost.



➢ BRINGING IN CHANGE


Looking back at some of the early episodes, there is still much about myself that I recognize. I had a rock-solid work ethic at the time, I cared deeply about finding what I wanted in streaming, and I wasn’t afraid to attempt unusual ideas, whether or not I saw immediate benefits. All of those traits have persisted to this day. But at the same time, looking back at those early podcast episodes I see a rougher version of myself- more rigid and a bit unhealthily committed to the craft. Oh, and I used to narrate the podcast really, really fast. But that’s not really related to what we’re talking about here- it just makes me cringe when listening to those old entries. 


Some of my ideas were good for a certain type of channel, but not for the one I ultimately ended up wanting to make. When I started The Twitch Playbook, I was on a path towards making Twitch my primary income source. This informed many of my decisions about the channel going forward. Because I wanted to grow my following as efficiently as I could, I would spend a lot of time raiding other channels, strategically choosing who and when to raid. I would also carefully plan out my games offering, making sure to have a variety that I could tailor to the amount of concurrent viewers watching a certain game at a certain time. Plus, I focused a lot on designing emotes, merch, and other purchasable items to support my channel. These are all great ideas, even to this day, for someone who wants to make a living off Twitch. 


I took Sonic's mantra of 'Gotta go fast!'
a little too far, and I paid for it.

I took it a bit too far in places though. In the first episode of the podcast, I proudly talked about sleeping for four hours per night in order to advance my dream. I also spent so much time streaming during that part of my life that I ruined some of my closest relationships. I would often be late to appointments, dinners, or other engagements because my stream went long, or because I lost track of time in a raid after my show. I would sometimes be like a ghost outside of my streams, distracted by thinking about what big idea I was going to try next. And though I’d never say it, I often gave the impression to many around me that time spent off Twitch was time wasted. I was not a very well-rounded person at that time, to say the least. 


I knew something had to change, but I struggled for a while to figure out what it was. I saw that the life I’d created was damaging me in some ways, but at the same time I felt I needed to keep hustling if I was going to make Twitch my sole revenue stream. Eventually, I saw the problem. Even in those early episodes I had already reached some of my realizations about where I wanted my content to go. I would speak proudly about breakthroughs where I was able to express myself more on stream, and dare to do less entertaining (but more authentic) things with the games I played. I wanted to move my streams closer to the way I really play video games, but I also wanted to make it into a job. After a while, I started to ask myself why I felt I needed streaming to be my main revenue source. I already made good enough money from the video production work I did outside of streaming, and I liked doing it. Plus, I was starting to begrudge all the time I had to spend doing monetization-related things, which didn’t really contribute to any of the aspects I enjoyed about being on Twitch.


So I turned off all monetization on my channel. I worked to figure out how I could live off of my work outside Twitch, and instead treat streaming as something that only brought me enjoyment. This was a huge burden removed from my back. I no longer had to cater to anyone, and there were no expectations about anything I did, because I didn’t accept anyone’s money. Since I didn’t focus on growth anymore, I also no longer raided other channels. I even turned off incoming raids, which allowed me to focus more on the games I was playing rather than always playing to a crowd. When removing all the constraints of money, I found I was able to be a lot more generous with my time outside my channel as well. I could take more vacations, and do more things I wanted to do with the people I wanted to do them with. It wasn’t like flipping a light switch- I still had to work to build up my new lifestyle- but this change definitely facilitated the improvement.


All of this is not to say that monetization on a Twitch channel is bad in general. It could be great for your stream. The point is that I found that my priorities on Twitch were pulling in two directions. I wanted my streams to feel less and less like work, but I was simultaneously turning them more and more into work. It just didn’t make sense for what I was trying to do. And I’m ultimately much happier for making the change. 



PROTECTING VALUES


In the entry Your Content Should Make You Happy, I focused on a particular issue that I’ve wrestled with in the recent year or so: specifically, this podcast getting bigger than I expected it to. I like to write about my own experiences in the Twitch streaming world, but my interest in the subject ends there. I don’t like the idea of offering direct one-on-one advice to others. Since I disclose my Twitch channel to podcast listeners in the outro to each episode however, that means fans of The Twitch Playbook now enter my streams almost every day. Some may be surprised to find that I don’t offer advice, or even allow viewers to talk about their own channels. I’m always delighted to hear that people find the podcast so helpful, but there’s no aspect of my actual Twitch streams which act as a ‘next chapter’ in The Twitch Playbook experience. I make livestreams, and I like to write about making livestreams. It ends there. 


Street Fighter is a great example of
managing change. There are new
things in every game, but its core
stays the same. 

What I’ve described above is an instance where I have to fight to keep the channel from changing too much from my vision. Now, that may seem completely antithetical to what I mentioned before about having to change things on a channel. But balance is key. It’s all about identifying what’s really important to you, and keeping the content close to those values. I like to appreciate the stories in video games, talk about movies, and work on art projects. Nowadays, a huge amount of people enter my streams with no interest in watching any of the things I actually stream, but know me only as someone who might be able to help them with their streams. With a new group of followers like that, one could imagine I’d start listening to the problems of other Twitch streamers, looking at their channels, and offering my advice. Would this probably help to grow my content? Yes, it’s very likely that it would. But would any of those things help me to appreciate video game stories, talk about movies, or work on art projects? No. Therefore, I don’t do them. This is an instance where it’s taken a lot of willpower to keep my channel from veering off in a direction I don’t want it to go. 



FIND WHAT’S IMPORTANT


The changes I’ve made on my channel didn’t happen overnight. The changes I’ve decided not to make on my channel didn’t happen overnight either. These are decisions which took me months, or even years in some cases, to come up with. And in that time, I went through all sorts of experiments to inch closer to the answer. What’s important on your channel? What’s important in your life? Is your stream guiding you toward those important things, or are you putting them on hold for the time being, because of your streams? Whether you need to do something new, or find the strength to keep something as it is, stay on top of changes to your channel.