Sunday, May 29, 2022

Break Free from Streaming Expectations


When you stream on your channel, do you ever feel like your content is missing something? Maybe your shows aren’t getting enough laughs, your graphics aren’t catching the eyes of viewers, or your gameplay isn’t as interesting as you want it to be. I’ve certainly had this feeling at various points in my stream career, and I think it’s common for others to feel the same. In this entry, we’re going to look at three great creators from the worlds of film and video games, and I’ll share how I’ve taken inspiration from each to get myself out of various creative ruts. 


It really was a great opening level.

In 2001, Metal Gear fans were excited beyond belief to get their hands on director Hideo Kojima’s upcoming entry in the series. Using the brand new PlayStation 2’s impressive graphics technology, Metal Gear Solid 2 was going to bring a whole new level of visual fidelity for the always-innovative franchise. Fans obsessively played through the game’s demo in the months leading up to the release, in which iconic series star Solid Snake infiltrated a tanker ship sailing up the Hudson River. Imagine the shock then, when players got their hands on the final product, and immediately after the events of the demo Snake meets with disaster and control is switched to a completely new character for the rest of the game! Kojima is a master at this kind of trickery, even having replaced the new character in trailers and promo material with Snake in order to keep the secret until release. This highly calculated bait-and-switch allowed the series to expand its horizons, and even explore the larger story concept of living up to the impossible expectations of a predecessor- a pressure I’m sure director Hideo Kojima was feeling when making the followup to such a smash hit as the first Metal Gear Solid. While the initial shock divided some fans at release, MGS2 is now typically considered among the best of the franchise, as well as one of the greatest games of all time. 

Throughout my streaming career, I’ve often had fun keeping secrets from my audience and springing surprises on my viewers. Whether it’s an upcoming international trip, a new game we’ll be playing, or a feature being added to the channel, I think this kind of showmanship can really enhance someone’s experience as a part of a community. This is another reason to hold off on telling others about your plans like I described in the entry Build Your Twitch Channel Like You’re a Secret Agent. Aside from the motivational boost such a mindset can give, it can allow you to time announcements in much more interesting ways. 


There’s another creator who’s always loved to turn the tables on us, though he did it for a different reason than Hideo Kojima. Love him or hate him, George Lucas has undeniably made an incredible contribution to popular fiction with his Star Wars franchise. Even from his least-revered entries in the canon, there have sprung unforgettable moments, characters and locations. Lucas began his science fiction megabrand with a humble concept: a new take on the swashbuckling Flash Gordon shorts he loved as a kid. Like with those serialized mini-films, each story of his Star Wars saga would be so different from the next that even when watching them in order, you’d feel you may have missed a few episodes between. 

Not really related, but can we get a
 sequel to this please?

And however we may knock some of his choices, we can’t say that George Lucas didn’t stay true to his original vision throughout his time in control. Upon selling the keys to his kingdom, the series was taken over by creators who no longer had as much interest in pulling from Flash Gordon. Instead they preferred to draw from the well of what Star Wars had already done. And while there have certainly been some excellent films and series created during this new chapter for the brand, it’s generally agreed that nothing can match the pure wonder and creativity of Lucas’ time as caretaker. I think his completely unselfconscious ‘take it or leave it’ attitude about creating is a very admirable trait. In my own streams, I try to take inspiration from George Lucas’ unbridled passion and creativity wherever I can. Sometimes it’s necessary to simply do things because they excite you, without worrying whether others will agree. It’s impossible to make everyone happy anyway. If we’re going to upset a few people no matter what we do, we may as well do what we love. 


In the entry Know What Not to Know About Streaming, I told the story of how director Orson Welles managed to create what is generally considered to be the greatest film of all time. He did this not by learning everything there was to know about filmmaking, and not by mastering every aspect of the craft, but instead by cultivating his ignorance of what could and couldn’t be done. By not knowing the limits, he was able to fearlessly attempt the impossible. And time and again, through this method, he achieved several remarkable things. Whenever I feel I’m playing it too safe on my channel, I try to take a page from Orson Welles’ book and simply stop learning. I watch fewer other streamers, I read less educational material about the craft, and I do my best to forget everything I’ve already learned. This strategy has led me to some of my most exciting and creative ideas, because I’m given freedom to go in any direction with my content. 

What about your stream is currently holding you back? Even if you can’t identify the exact problem, it could be that you’re simply playing it too safe. And whether you intentionally try to buck trends like Hideo Kojima, you look to yourself for guidance like George Lucas, or you forget the rules like Orson Welles, there are many ways to expand your creative boundaries. By breaking free from your streaming expectations, there’s no telling where your shows can go. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Important Growth Concepts for Any Streamer

On a Twitch channel, it can be difficult to manage all the moving pieces. As I’ve mentioned in entries before, adding features can sometimes hurt your content as much as help, if you’re not being smart about how you do it. This time, I wanted to mention a few topics that I’ve found useful when building my own Twitch channel. I believe these concepts can be valuable to a broadcaster of any size, and help them either grow their channel, or grow as a streamer. 


When streaming on Twitch, the most important thing is to continue gaining experience. This means that, no matter what I advise in this resource, as long as you’re actually going live regularly on your channel, you’re on the right track. Never let concerns about how best to stream get in the way of actually doing your streams. But if you’re doing well at maintaining your habit, it’s worth implementing a few optimization tips along the way. My suggestion on this front is to focus only on one type of improvement at a time. If you add ten features to your channel all at once between episodes, it will not only be hard to manage the overall quality of your broadcasts, but you’ll also be unable to isolate the effect each individual feature is giving to your streams. By taking things more slowly and focusing on one new aspect at a time, you can keep track of the response each feature gives, and hone your skills at using them during your streams. There will be plenty more broadcasts in the future. There’s no need to rush to implement everything at once. 

When playing FromSoftware games, I
keep a written to-do list. There's always
so much to do!

In addition to having a ‘to-do list’ for adding in new features on your stream, it’s just as important (if not more so) to maintain a ‘stop doing list.’ I spoke about this a bit in the growth check-in entry called
Simplify Your Streams. Channels can often become bloated through the months and years of adding features, and sometimes those features become obsolete. Whether viewers no longer use them in chat, you don’t like doing them anymore on the shows, or they simply no longer have any use, I’m sure there are a few vestigial components on your channel right now, if you’ve been streaming more than a few months. In that earlier entry I mentioned, I helped you to take stock of every aspect of your channel, and make real decisions about how to separate the wheat from the chaff. I know it’s difficult. There are probably great memories associated with some of those aspects of your streams. But if the feature isn’t working right now, those memories shouldn’t play into your decision. You either get the feature to work, or remove it. By making your channel leaner in this way, it removes a burden from you as the streamer, helps viewers understand your shows more easily, and (depending on what you removed) can even help your stream’s performance. 


As I’ve spoken about before, you shouldn’t worry about being right all the time. You’re going to make mistakes on Twitch, and instead of sulking about them when they happen, or allowing the fear of failure to paralyze your decision-making, you should embrace those blunders! Every time you do something on your channel that isn’t as good as it should be, and you’re able to recognize that it isn’t up to par, you’re gathering valuable data. You’re improving your skill to identify what doesn’t work, and increasing your likelihood of finding the right answer down the road. Think of it like playing Minesweeper. In that game, you’re trying to identify a set number of mines on a large grid. Each tile is blank at the beginning, and could either be a mine or a safe space. But after clicking the first tile (assuming you don’t immediately hit a mine), a large space opens up, telling you about the number of mines adjacent to your newly opened area. In order to win the game, the knowledge of what not to do, and which spaces not to click, is just as important as knowing which spaces you should click. Figuring out both kinds of information, both the positive and the negative, are necessary in order to reach the end without exploding. I like to look at Twitch streaming in the same way. Each time you make a decision or add a feature, it’s like you start another game of Minesweeper. You’re not going to get it exactly right from the beginning, but you’re gaining valuable information about what move to make next. And even if your idea hits the equivalent of a mine and blows up in your face, you can always try again with a whole new approach. 

Connor has made some mistakes, and
he does his best to atone for them. 

Finally, in order to really succeed on Twitch, no matter what you’re aiming for, you’ll need to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. Avoid excuses. It can be comforting to make them, but they only hurt you in the end. Whether you missed a day, want to change the games you play, need to remove a feature, or anything else, just own up to it and keep going. There’s no need to tell everyone about your mistake or make a public apology, just do it right the next time. As I mentioned in the entry How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch, you are 100% responsible for your time. But that’s really true of everything else too. When you’re the owner of a Twitch channel, the buck stops with you. Yes, something out of your control may have happened and prevented you from going live, but that still means the viewer missed out on your show when they expected to see it. Your problem has nothing to do with them. No matter what you say, you can’t change the disappointment they felt in that moment. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how good an excuse is, because no excuse will change what’s already happened. It’s more productive to focus on what you can actually accomplish in the future. 

So consider these concepts the next time you go live. Whether you’re slowly adding features to your streams, removing old ideas, making mistakes or kicking the excuses habit, any one of these things can help your Twitch channel a great deal. Keep streaming, keep learning, and keep getting better. No matter the size of your operation, the concepts laid out here can help you to stream that much more effectively. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Successfully Streaming Without Self-Promotion

When you watch a Twitch broadcast, it’s par for the course to hear the streamer ask you to do things. Whether that involves following, subscribing, buying merch, or just becoming more active in the chat, you’ll quickly find that the occasional commercials aren’t the only things advertising to you during a stream. Nobody really likes watching a streamer constantly remind them of the fact that they can subscribe, and no streamer really likes having to do it either, but promotion is typically considered to be a necessary evil. But is it really? Are there ways to be successful as a streamer without doing any (or, at least, as much) self-promotion during your streams? 


If you played David O’Reilly’s incredible surrealist video game Everything, you’re probably familiar with speaker and self-styled ‘philosophical entertainer’ Alan Watts- he’s the guy whose audio tidbits play throughout the game. When Watts did speaking engagements, he had an interesting way of giving his presentations. He would explore deep themes and offer really profound advice, but he never considered himself a ‘self-help guru.’ 

In the game Everything, you can play as,
literally, everything.

When someone is selling the promise of personal improvement, they usually want something from you as well. To unlock the full secrets, you’ll have to buy their books, attend their seminars, and join their followings of like-minded devotees. But Watts thought of his content in another way. He described his business model as that of a physician, who he said, “is always trying to get rid of his patients.” For him, it was simply about putting his thoughts out there. When someone found value in those thoughts, that was enough. They didn’t have to come back for more talks or buy all his merchandise- if they found something to help their lives then he had done his job. 

Here’s a quote of his that I love: “I am not trying to help you or improve you; I accept you as you are. I am not out, therefore, to save the world. Of course, when a stream or a bubbling spring flows out from the mountains, it is doing its thing. And if a thirsty traveler helps himself, well that’s fine. When a bird sings, it doesn’t sing for the advancement of music, but if somebody stops to listen and is delighted, that’s fine.” This kind of content creation- modeled after a bird that sings purely for its own sake- has gone on to inspire my philosophy on making Twitch streams. I’ve spoken in other places about how this applies to the enjoyment of streaming, but here, we’ll talk about how it relates to selling your streams. 


From the smallest electron to a massive solar 
system, all of creation is encompassed 
in this game.

How are you leaving people after they watch your broadcasts? Are you asking more from them than they are from you? Many streamers get carried away with the business side of their channels, constantly pushing others to subscribe, donate, buy merch, or support in some other way. But not everyone is going to want to do these things. And even if they did, the constant reminders could hurt more than they help. Put yourself in the viewer’s shoes. Would you rather subscribe to a channel you love after being prompted to do it by the streamer, or out of genuine appreciation for their content? In my opinion, it’s best for a streamer to first think about the value they’re putting into the world, and let the benefits come naturally. If viewers really like what you’re making, they’ll show their support. To return to the example of Alan Watts, many people did end up buying more than one book, or returning to hear him speak again. Heck, there was a whole video game created after his death, which was narrated entirely by audio clips from his public appearances. Clearly, he became well-loved for his ideas, but he didn’t need to pressure others into doing it, in order to make it happen. 

In various entries, I’ve spoken about the importance of always offering more value than you ask of others. This principle doesn’t apply only to increasing your view count or making money, it can be put into effect anywhere. This kind of ‘no expectations’ philosophy can be a major help when trying to network on Twitch, for example. Many new streamers think only of themselves when meeting other channels. They wait in the other streamer’s chat like a coiled viper, saying one or two token comments before jumping on the opportunity to mention their own channel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen users who either directly ask for followers, or casually drop comments like “I’m about to do my stream now” to let others know they’re going live. This is not only tacky and completely transparent to the reader, but it’s also very rude. It’s an attempt to siphon viewers and attention from the other streamer’s channel into their own. You wouldn’t go to someone’s small mom and pop store and post a sign that customers could visit your own similar store instead (unless you’re Larry David, I suppose), so why do it on someone's Twitch channel? In the entry 3 Easy Tips to Network on Twitch, I went into detail about how you can create true connections with other Twitch streamers by simply enjoying their content without asking for anything in return. In the style of Alan Watts, benefits can come if they come. And if not, you made a friend along the way. But of course, friends are more likely to help each other out in the end. 

So no matter what you’re doing on Twitch, consider simply being. Create your streams, make real connections, and don’t think too hard about your bottom line. Sometimes that lack of pressure can be exactly what the viewer comes to appreciate about your content. You might just find that removing some of the promotion from your streams brings you better results than you had before. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

One Must Imagine the Streamer Happy

You’ve probably felt self-conscious about your channel at some point in your Twitch career. There’s no shame in it- it happens to all of us. Streaming and self-consciousness just sort of go hand in hand. Because no matter how big you are, there’s always going to be somebody with more followers, better content, a livelier chat, or a more interesting personality. Yet as creators, we’re always putting ourselves in motion, working toward the next goal or the next exciting project. Some of us do so because we want to, and a much larger percentage of others expand because they feel they have to. In this entry, we’ll look at the bigger picture of streaming. We’ll consider how to find more enjoyment in the content we create right now, rather than feeling we need to grow before allowing ourselves the luxury. 


There's always another mountain
to climb.

I’ve spoken before in this resource about how elusive streaming ‘success’ can be if you define success by your channel’s metrics. No matter what target you aim for, the goal will always move further back by the time you reach its original position. For example, let’s say you just started streaming and worked hard to reach 10 followers. But then during that time, you saw other channels with many more active chatters, and all those channels had 50 followers. You might then assume that these two figures show a direct correlation- if only you could reach 50 followers, you’ll also have that amount of people talking in your chat! But once you get there, your amount of active chatters is still nowhere near the other streamer’s. Then you see another stream with 100 followers, which has all these fancy graphics. Maybe if you had fancy graphics, you’d get to 100 followers that much easier? So you have graphics drawn up and add them to your stream, but you don’t notice the needle moving much. Eventually, through the usual slow methods, you reach 100 followers. But you see someone at 200 followers with all sorts of giveaways and donation goals, and they’re making a lot of money! So you set up those same kinds of promotions on your own channel, but you end up losing more than you gain. Why does it feel like your channel is consistently failing where others of a similar size are succeeding?

It’s because in this scenario, you (as many new streamers do) are assigning a lot more significance to the follower count than it really merits. Because the amount of followers is displayed as a nice, big number on the front of every Twitch channel, it’s easy to measure all other things by it. That’s the ‘success’ that streamers aim for, but it doesn’t really correlate to much. The 50-follower streamer in the example has an active chat because they’re personable. The 100-follower streamer has fancy graphics because they like to design logos in their spare time. The 200-follower streamer is great at promotion. They don’t get those results because of the sizes of their channels, they get them by working hard on the aspects of their streams that most interest them. Every streamer likes certain parts of the craft better than others. It’s only by finding those things and focusing on them that we can truly become content with our broadcasts. Don’t look to the size of your channel to give you meaning. If you find meaning right now, you won’t care how big the channel is, and it’ll grow anyway. 


In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was an overly ambitious man who cheated the gods. As punishment, Hades stranded him in the underworld, where he was doomed to push a heavy boulder up a mountain, only for it to roll back down again when he neared the top. He would toil endlessly, without ever seeing his task completed- the ultimate frustration for someone of ambition like him. In modernity, this legend is applied to many things throughout daily life. A ‘Sisyphean task’ can be any endless grind, with no end in sight- going to work every day, being short on money, mowing the lawn, or buying groceries, for example. As soon as these things seem like they’re finished, it’s only a matter of time until they need to be done again. 

Sisyphus would have been a fun
inclusion in the God of War series.

Twitch streaming is another Sisyphean task. There’s really no finish line, only a constant stream of effort. But like any Sisyphean ordeal, your quality of life comes not necessarily from finishing the task, but how you perceive the task. If you rush as fast as you can, with the sole objective of reaching higher and higher points on the mountain of Twitch followers, dejection is likely to set in eventually. There will always be more distance to cover, and even when it looks like you’re near the top, you’ll see that you’re really only at the beginning of another climb. But if you can find a way to enjoy what you’re doing right now, at whatever pace you choose, it doesn’t matter that the task is endless. That’s how you beat the system, whether you’re streaming or doing anything else. As French philosopher Albert Camus famously posited, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” That’s the only way the Greek hero could have escaped the punishment the gods intended- not by finally getting his boulder to the top, but by learning to love the act of pushing it forward. 

Don’t put off your love of streaming in order to grow faster. Look inwards and find what you love about it right now. The task has no end. As long as you stay on Twitch, you will always be pushing the boulder uphill. But if you keep your passions at the center of the streams you create, you’ll look forward to that climb every day.