Friday, February 25, 2022

Streaming to More Than Just Twitch

In a few of the more autobiographical entries, I’ve mentioned how I have worked on many channels before my current one. And in the past ten or so years, those have spanned across several different livestreaming and non-live services. Then in 2016 I was hired by a company to produce live content on Facebook when the social media giant’s broadcasting tools were only just beginning to roll out. And when I eventually started my own Twitch channel, every Twitch broadcast was going simultaneously to Facebook and YouTube, before becoming exclusive to Twitch. So despite the fact that I’ve only ever spoken about livestreaming on Twitch in this podcast so far, I’m certainly no stranger to the various other streaming ecosystems. So in this entry, we’ll jump into a subject I’ve never covered in the Twitch Playbook before: streaming to more than just Twitch. 


You can make great content whether or
not you sign. But you always have a choice.

Most Twitch streamers aim for the platform-exclusive path. This means they try to grow fast enough on the Twitch platform to sign an Affiliate contract, and eventually move up to the highest rung on the Twitch ladder, Partner. These contracts bring great benefits. You’ll make money off your streams from ad revenue, monthly subscriptions and optional tip-jar style donations from viewers. Viewers get various goodies from your channel as well, like loyalty badges, fun emotes to use in your chat, and any other perks you choose to include for your most faithful supporters. And on top of that there’s always the invisible benefit of focus: I’ve often mentioned that being
really good in one field is typically preferable to being mediocre in many, and streaming is no different. Sticking to Twitch can help you grow very fast, if you learn how to play the game properly. 

But signing a contract with Twitch also limits you in a few key ways. First, by becoming an Affiliate or Partner you’re signing away your rights to simultaneously stream on any other platforms. Violating this is an easy way to have your privileges revoked. You also can’t post your stream anywhere else for at least 24 hours- it has to be exclusive to Twitch in that span. Now, these rules are understandable. Considering Twitch will be the platform paying you, they want to be the place viewers go to see your shows when they’re new. But all these thoughts are just theoretical, right? You hardly have a choice in the matter. How else are you going to monetize if you’re not getting paid by the Twitch platform for your shows? If a Twitch streamer is serious, they have to sign an Affiliate contract. Right?


Depending on what kind of content you make, or the direction you want your brand to grow, you may not want to be exclusive to just the Twitch platform. We’re going to assume that Twitch is always one of the platforms you’re streaming to (this is The Twitch Playbook, after all), but that you just want to add others like YouTube or Facebook to the mix. And if that is the case, it’s important to know that you do have monetization options- Twitch’s contract isn’t the only way. In fact, if you really think about it, many of the revenue streams that Twitch Affiliates create are actually attainable without signing a contract at all. Let’s explore a few: 

  • Merch Stores - This is a great option for those who have a strong brand following. There are plenty of good ‘print on demand’ services out there which can provide you high-quality products to sell without charging any up-front costs. Just make sure to watch the profit margins, because they typically take a high percentage for printing, packing and shipping every item. Using various software integrations, you can even show exciting graphics on your streams whenever someone makes a purchase from your store.

  • Donations - Viewers can donate to you directly through various third-party services, in almost the exact same way they would do through Twitch’s built-in Cheer feature. There are great software integrations for donations as well, which can show graphics and messages on your stream whenever someone sends you money. Depending on the service you use, they may even take a smaller cut from what you make than Twitch does.

  • Subscriptions - The subscription is the bread and butter of any streamer’s monetization strategy. But there are plenty of ways to let viewers subscribe to your content for a monthly fee outside of Twitch. Patreon is a great one- you gain the ability to create more tiers for higher-paying subscribers, and the amount of extra content you offer is up to you. I know people who make a great living through Patreon as a sole monetary backbone for their video offerings. 

Your livestreaming empire might reach
beyond Twitch.

And of course, the best part about a setup like this is that if you’re multistreaming to Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and wherever else you’re trying to build a fanbase, anyone watching any of those streams can buy merch, donate or subscribe. This removes the exclusivity ceiling, though it does also slightly inconvenience Twitch viewers, who are typically used to Cheering and Subscribing directly through the built-in ecosystem without visiting other websites. It’s a give and take, and it won’t be right for everyone, but if your viewers are enthusiastic about supporting you, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

So if you’re interested in adding other platforms to the livestreaming side of your brand in addition to Twitch, hopefully this shows that there are plenty of possibilities. I’ve done it in the past, and I’ve only ever had good experiences doing so. There are lots of people out there on other services who could be interested to watch your shows, comment along, and help to support your content. But there’s no right answer, and you certainly shouldn’t rush to a decision. I’m not saying you should cancel your Affiliate contract and start multicasting today. But as I often do in The Twitch Playbook, I’d like to encourage you to think outside the typical Twitch trajectory, and open your mind to new ideas. Consider whether streaming to more than just Twitch is right for you. It’s possible that there’s a whole world of opportunity waiting. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

How Does Your Internet Work?

The internet is something we Twitch streamers use every time we broadcast. More than that, it’s something that all of us in the first world use for a large portion of our daily routines. Yet many of us don’t know much about all the mysterious speeds and other values associated with our internet. We don’t consider how those numbers affect our connectivity, nor how our own actions impact them. In the past entry Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right, I helped you to understand some of the most critical internet-related terms for a streamer, and in the follow-up entry Understanding Network Settings for Streaming, I went into more specific ideas that a streamer might need to create their shows effectively. This time, we’ll take a step back to explore some more general ideas about the internet which often cause confusion, and a few ways your household’s normal internet usage might be affecting your streams in an unexpected way. In short, we’re going to take a look at how your internet works- at least as far as we might need to know as streamers. 


Apparently, the undersea internet cables
are vulnerable to sharks and other dangers.

The first thing to understand when talking about the internet is how information gets transmitted. There are two directions that data can travel between your machine and the internet: up or down. And in order to grasp how these two directions work, you need only to think about the internet as being constantly above you.
(In a metaphorical sense, of course. In reality, the internet really lives in cables at the bottom of the ocean, but let’s forget that for the purposes of this entry.) Remember in the aforementioned earlier two entries where I talked about download and upload speeds? Those are the two main stats that always show up when you test your internet connection. And they’re the two values we’ll be using for this entry. If you think about the internet as always being above you, then it’s very easy to understand the meanings of these two transfer directions. Anything that you want to receive from the internet would need to travel downwards, meaning you’d require download speeds to do it. This would include visiting websites, watching Netflix, and many of the other things we do in our daily lives. Conversely, anything you want to send to the internet would need to travel upwards, meaning you’d need to use upload speeds. This includes sending files to the cloud, posting to Instagram, and of course, streaming. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, streaming requires only upload speeds to achieve. Despite what many people believe, there is no downloading aspect used for broadcasting a livestream. At least not from your side of things. 

Make sense so far? Let’s break it down and take stock for a second with a quick exercise. Below are two hypothetical scenarios in which one of your two internet speeds are completely gone, and we’ll explore what you will and won’t be capable of doing in those situations. I’m going to use Mbps (or megabits per second) as the metric for this, which I’ve explained in detail in previous entries. For these purposes, I think you’ll get the idea either way. 

  • 0 Mbps Down / 10 Mbps Up: In this situation you’d be able to stream perfectly. However, you would not be able to watch your own stream, because that requires you to pull the stream data down from the internet to do it.

  • 10 Mbps Down / 0 Mbps Up: You would not be able to livestream at all. There is no way for your device to send data to the internet. You could however, watch Netflix, visit websites, or even watch other peoples’ livestreams, without issue. 

Okay, that’s not too complicated right? Now let’s get into a few grayer areas. 


Now that we’ve defined how the internet works for streaming in its absolute simplest form, let’s go a little deeper. There are situations in which you’ll need both speeds for your streams. As I mentioned, only upload speed is needed for your stream to be broadcast to the internet. That isn’t going to change. But depending on what kind of content you make, streaming may involve a more complex use of your network. 

If a 360 noscope happens in a match, 
but there's no internet to upload it, 
did it really happen? 

For example, if you play multiplayer games, those use both internet speeds at all times. In a Team Slayer match in Halo, you’re constantly downloading small packets of information about where the other players are, who they’re shooting at, what the score is, and all sorts of things, multiple times per second. But in order to affect the game yourself, you’re also uploading data of your own at just as constant a rate. This is on top of the data you’re using to upload your actual stream to Twitch. 


You may need to use download speeds on stream for other purposes as well, even if that speed has nothing to do with the actual process of broadcasting. Maybe you switch what you’re playing mid-stream, and your game or console needs to update. Or maybe you want to browse websites or watch videos on stream with your viewers. And of course, most of us also interact with chat during our shows. All of these things use varying levels of download speeds. They’re not related to the literal process of streaming, but they’re things you may do during your streams. 

If you’re streaming an offline singleplayer game however, or oil painting, or broadcasting your hikes, without any other bells and whistles, there is technically no download speed needed at all. 

So let’s go back to our hypothetical two scenarios and just take stock of all this information for a second: 

  • 0 Mbps Down / 10 Mbps Up - Your stream is able to go live. However, you’re not able to play multiplayer games, read chat, or browse webpages.

  • 10 Mbps Down / 0 Mbps Up - You are not able to livestream at all. You’re still not able to play multiplayer games. But you can watch other streams, read chat, download files and updates, or browse webpages.


Now, I hope you don’t run into any situations where it’s a complete 50/50, with either your download or upload speed being completely gone. This Thanos-style network decimation is not a very likely scenario, but hopefully by taking the example to its extreme you’re able to see more clearly what your various internet speeds are responsible for. And the next time you have connectivity issues, you might better understand what’s causing them. Like I’ve mentioned in previous entries, there’s a limited pool of internet speeds within every household. If your upload speeds are 10 Mbps and you stream using an output of that full 10 Mbps, you’re not leaving any room for anything else- you may notice your multiplayer game lagging, or your stream dropping frames. However, if someone on your network is downloading a huge file, it can affect the speed of your Xbox updates but will not affect your broadcast. Hopefully, by better understanding how your internet works, you’ll be equipped to face many more stream problems with a cool head. 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Problem With Buying Before Streaming

Throughout The Twitch Playbook, I’ve often advised against buying things for your channel. I’ve come at it from many different angles, and have perhaps even been pretty convincing in a few entries. But for some of you, especially those who are just now looking to start on their Twitch adventures, this may still seem like a counterintuitive concept. How can we stream without any streaming equipment? In fact, many feel that buying something to start us on our path is the perfect motivator to keep us moving toward our goals. So let’s explore the trajectory of the average hopeful who wants to pick up a habit, whether it be streaming or anything else. 


Let’s say I want to start doing [insert habit here.] First I’ll do some research and buy everything I need. After all, making purchases feels secure. It feels like I’m committing to something. Of course, what could represent commitment more than putting down my hard-earned money? It means there’s no turning back. I’m in it for the long haul. In fact, by making the purchase, I’ve sort of already taken the first step towards my goal. I’ve dipped my toe into the proverbial pool. I mean, it was a pretty large purchase. Maybe I’m actually in the pool already, just by making such a huge commitment! In fact, maybe I miscalculated earlier. Now that I’m thinking about it again, I really did the hardest part by doing the research and buying that stuff, so I might as well have reached my goals already. This is great! I feel really good about myself. Pursuing my passion will be a cinch from here on out! 

But then when it comes time to actually go use that thing I bought, something strange happens. I put it off. “Eh,” I tell myself, “I’m tired today. I’ve already done so much by buying this thing, and then setting it up. I don’t want to overdo it.” Tomorrow comes, but I find I’m just so busy that day that there’s no way I can squeeze in time to put it to use. But of course, having bought the equipment, I already know I’m committed to it. So what’s the problem with going another day without using it? I can use it any time now. After all, I own it!

So this goes on and on. Day after day. Maybe I parade the thing out every once in a while on a lark, but I never really get into a groove using it. And after enough time, I find that it’s been sitting in a corner, collecting dust for years. 

Kratos didn't buy anything and...
Okay, not sure where I'm going with this one. 

This is a story as old as the world. Three thousand years ago, I’m sure some Greek was making the same promises to himself about the new discus he bought to practice for the pentathlon. And one day, archeologists will dig up the remains of a blank stack of parchment, that some poor serf under pharaoh Ramses spent his life savings on. He would have written the Great Egyptian Novel, if only he could bring himself to put down a single hieroglyph. All around us, our friends, relatives and neighbors are doing the same thing every day. They buy expensive cameras to become photographers, home exercise equipment to lose weight, guitars and swathes of accessories for it before ever learning a chord, or a thousand other things. You name a hobby, and sure enough, there’s a major purchase waiting to be made for it. But what does all this have in common? You can almost always start practicing that hobby for free, or at most with a single, much more modest item. If you only focused on what was really important. 


There’s a concept I’ve spoken about before, where telling others about your goals causes you to be less likely to actually follow through with them. As Inc. Magazine described the results of a study performed at a German university, “The researchers concluded that telling people what you want to achieve creates a premature sense of completeness. While you feel a sense of pride in letting people know what you intend to do, that pride doesn't motivate you and can in fact hurt you later on. When you write down or think about your intentions, there's a gap between where you are and where you want to be. The compelling need to close this gap helps you to act on your intentions. But when you let others know about it, the gap closes because you (artificially) feel the same way you should after completing your intentions.” This is why, in entries like Build Your Twitch Channel Like You’re a Secret Agent, I’ve suggested that you not tell anyone about your big project until it’s been underway and going smoothly for a long time. You don’t want to sabotage your motivation before you’ve even started. And as you may have guessed, I believe this exact same phenomenon occurs when purchasing equipment in preparation of starting a new hobby as well. Making those big purchases closes the ‘gap’ that Inc. Magazine described, between where you are and where you want to be. The act of buying gives you a false sense of accomplishment, which can often be enough to dampen your creative spark. 

So if you’re dreaming of becoming a photographer, just take pictures on your phone for a while. If you’re trying to get healthy, work out at home. And if you want to be a Twitch streamer, go live with whatever you already have handy. There are plenty of entries I’ve written already, such as Start Your Twitch Channel With No Money, which can help you do this without any prior skill or resources. Then, when you’ve been streaming for weeks or months without ever missing a day, you’ll be secure enough in your habit to slowly begin adding things to your arsenal without sapping your motivation. Too often, people confuse buying with doing. And while it may seem like you’re making progress by purchasing things prematurely in your streaming adventure, you may in fact be doing just the opposite. So don’t lose sight of your goal. Stream sooner, and leave the purchases for later. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

Survive the Streaming Doldrums

Whether you’re just beginning to stream, or you’ve been on Twitch for a while, there are a few things you’ll always encounter if you go live often enough. You’ll run into every technical hurdle in the book, you’ll make every mistake possible, and you’ll put in lots of work to improve. But as you keep spending time and effort, you’ll notice that your project is actually growing. Among the mistakes and tech issues, a clear trajectory is forming for your channel. Yes, if you keep going at this rate, you’ll be Affiliate, Partner, or on the front page in no time! This is amazing! 

And then, all of a sudden, it happens. The growth dries up. You go live, day after day, and none of that magic is there any longer. There’s almost no one to talk to, or even to watch your streams, and you begin to wonder why you’re even doing it anymore. Unfortunately, when you go live often enough, these moments are just as inevitable as growth. For one reason or another, you’ve found yourself in the streaming doldrums. 


When sails are your only propulsion
method, you live or die by the wind.

Near the equator, there’s a section of the ocean that’s become known as ‘
the doldrums.’ In this belt of sea, trade winds meet each other, and for some meteorological reason above my pay grade, this often results in no winds at all for seafaring ships. Crews dreaded these deadly calm waters, where they could be stranded for weeks on end. Food and water would run low, scurvy could set in, and psychological effects like cabin fever could take their toll. If you were a mariner on a sailing ship in the time before motors and engines, you did not want to be anywhere near the doldrums. 

In streaming, the doldrums can come in many forms, for no visible reason at all. Sometimes your viewers dry up, and nobody is watching your shows. Other times it can be chat, where you can’t get anybody talking. Or maybe it’s you, where you simply can’t perform to your usual standard in competitive matches. Whatever the circumstance, these doldrums can cause a similar effect for your streaming life that sailors would experience on the open sea. 

When you’re caught in this mode of low performance, your supplies begin to run low. But for a Twitch channel, instead of food and water, your greatest supply is motivation. We often don’t realize how dependent we are on the attention and approval of others. For many of us, we not only love to get a good response from our viewers, but sometimes change the kind of content we produce to more effectively cater to our viewers’ interests. But what happens when viewership is dropping, no matter what you do to cater to their whims? This can create an incredible dejection in a streamer, because now you’re not only creating content outside what you’d normally do, but you’re creating it for those who don’t even seem to care. It’s a ‘worst of both worlds’ scenario which can often become a crucial turning point for a streamer’s career. Many in this situation decide that they’ve had enough. If the audience isn’t going to appreciate what the streamer is doing for them, why bother? They take a break, focus on something else for a while, or throw in the towel completely and shut down their channels. But if you’re prepared, there is a way to combat these streaming doldrums. Not to prevent them (because they’ll happen once in a while no matter what you do), but to survive with your channel and enthusiasm intact. 


So you’re caught in a spot with no wind. What’s the best way to get out of it? Use a motor. 17th century pirates didn’t have this option, but fortunately, you do. Think of your Twitch channel as a ship. Viewership, chat engagement, monthly subscriptions, day-to-day performance, and everything else outside of your control is the wind. The wind comes and goes, it pushes you in different directions, and sometimes it goes away completely. When you let the whims of your viewership push you around, change your content, and in some cases dictate whether your channel lives or dies, you’re only asking for disaster. To become a stronger Twitch streamer, it’s necessary to have self-propulsion as well, which isn’t beholden to the fickle and ever-changing winds. On a ship, that would be an engine, and on your Twitch channel, it’s a creative vision. 

Use your creative vision as a means
of propelling your channel forward.

If you have a creative vision at the heart of what you’re doing on Twitch, you’ll be able to see your goals more clearly. It’s still possible to change what you’re doing and cater to the ‘shifting winds’ of your viewers, but you will never stray so far away from your concept that you’ll find yourself lost. Plus, because something you truly care about is at the heart of your channel, you’ll enjoy what you’re doing more. And as I often say in these entries, liking what you do on your channel each day is the best way to weather anything you encounter.

Many of us begin with a strong creative vision but lose our way, and others need to find their visions as they go. Whichever category you fall into, try taking some time to navigate yourself back to the things you really care about. Because if you’re propelled by your passions, you’ll be prepared to face the streaming doldrums without fear.