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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 

Monday, August 8, 2022

Let Twitch Further Your Goals

Throughout The Twitch Playbook, I’ve described several instances in which I improved my overall quality of life, and even achieved major life goals, because of my Twitch channel. In the recent entry Make Your Masterpiece on Stream, I described my biggest Twitch-inspired accomplishment yet: illustrating and publishing my own book, as well as narrating the audiobook version. But how did I get into this whole literary racket? Mostly, I allowed Twitch to further my life goals. 


I should start off by setting something straight. This whole process was not planned out from the beginning. When we look back at all the small achievements and ideas from the present, it may seem obvious that my trajectory was leading toward illustrating a book and publishing audiobooks. But this always seems like the case when looking back. From within the moment, there’s no guarantee of what’s going to happen. And I didn’t have any grand designs for where I was going, either. I simply followed my passions and allowed myself to enjoy the ride. I think this is an important thing to take away from this whole process as you learn more about this part of my story. You don’t necessarily need to come up with grand plans and keep grinding until you reach your goals. All you really need is to follow your genuine interests, and maintain the ability to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. 

I streamed all the Red Dead games
as a cowboy character.

In the entry
Let Your Streaming Passions Guide You in Life, I described my process in first becoming an audiobook narrator. Having long been a fan of podcasts, and then eventually graduating to audiobooks, that love started bubbling to the surface in my content. My channel always revolved around my voice (it’s called ‘The Voice of Nick,’ after all), but that concept took many forms. In the beginning, that name was merely a reference to the fact that viewers found the sound of my voice soothing during my shows. Then, as I mentioned in the entry Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself on Stream, I created a feature on my channel where I would invent original characters to appear on the broadcasts. These became so numerous that one dedicated viewer even built a custom Wiki to chronicle them! Later, I’d go so far as to play entire games in-character. Eventually, I toned down the custom characters and instead focused on reading the books and other written material I’d find in video games while I was playing them. I would essentially do miniature audiobook narrations for tomes I’d pick up in The Witcher, or item descriptions in Bloodborne. 

I loved this aspect of my streams so much that it led me to do a whole other podcast, which I called Books in Games, in which I’d narrate the books found in video games. I would release a new snippet from a game every day which, when combined, would form into a full audiobook of that game’s written side content. And of course, there’s The Twitch Playbook, which I’ve always written, polished and narrated in the audiobook style. Whether on stream or off, I clearly had an interest in the field of narration. 


A few months into the Books in Games project, I started to wonder: what’s stopping me from actually just narrating audiobooks? I had a mic, I clearly knew how to narrate, and I even had experience editing. Could it be that hard to find a book on store shelves that needed narration? Turns out there’s a whole platform built for those asking the exact same question! Audible, the leading audiobook sales platform, has its own backend service which links narrators to authors and lets them create audiobooks together. On this service, called ACX, narrators create a page with sample clips, audition for projects they find interesting, and then have total power to reject or accept the offers that come their way. I didn’t know much about making a full-length audiobook, but I was confident I could do it. 

I scoured the lists of books looking for narrators, built a list of ones I liked, and decided I’d audition for one project per day. The skillset I’d cultivated in making the Books in Games podcast (and by extension, the Twitch streams that inspired that project) really allowed me to stick to this regimen. I also populated my narrator page with things I had done related to my Twitch channel: a few different character accents from Books in Games, along with a Twitch Playbook episode as an example of general narration. After a few weeks of auditions, I signed a contract to work on my first audiobook. I actually enjoyed that experience so much that I re-upped two more times with the same author to do a whole trilogy! 


My new project was all Greek mythology.

My next audiobook project was much more ambitious. I took on the role of publisher and narrator of a text edition of a book, as well as its audiobook counterpart, all myself. The process of undertaking this massive project is laid out in detail in the above-mentioned entry Make Your Masterpiece on Stream. One of the things that I find fascinating about that project though, is the way that my failed or discontinued Twitch ideas led me to eventually be able to create this new thing. In the entry Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream, I spoke about how I always try to stream whatever out-there ideas pop into my head. If it interests me, it doesn’t matter if I think anyone will watch, or if I’ve seen other streamers do it before, I just try it and see how it feels. This philosophy led me toward several quirky stream concepts, some of which I quickly abandoned, others I continued doing for a while, and a few that have survived to this day. When publishing my book, two of these more out-there ideas made contributions so large that I don’t think it would have been possible without them. 

First, my editing streams played a part in making the audiobook. A few years ago, I had a short-lived satellite YouTube project, separate from my main YouTube where I keep stream archives. On this second channel, I would create vlogs and video essays about games I liked. Then, because it’s me, I used to turn the making-of process into streams. Every day, on top of my three daily livestreams, I’d also do a fourth stream in which I edited the newest video for that YouTube channel in Adobe Premiere. Now, I’m a professional video editor, and I already knew how to edit, but I had never edited live on a broadcast before- nor had I ever seen someone else do it. Regardless, I kept doing it for about six months, until I lost interest in making those kinds of YouTube videos. I quietly moved on from that project when it ran its course, like I had with so many other ideas. 

Cut to this past year, when I was making the audiobook version of this new book I was publishing. I had all the rights, and quickly realized I could resurrect that old editing stream, but instead to livestream my audio editing. Many audiobook listeners may not realize that narrations aren’t simply recorded in one smooth take. There’s actually a huge amount of editing that happens in post-production. And that goes double for my story, full of hundreds of ancient Greek names which I had to meticulously verify while recording. So I subsidized the colossal amount of work hours by streaming the audio editing process. My old abandoned YouTube editing concept, which might have been considered a failed stream, suddenly turned into a critical piece of this new project. 

Hopefully my art didn't look like the
Harry Potter PS1 graphics.

In the previously mentioned entry Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream, I developed a show concept where I would color in a coloring book whenever I traveled away from home. As someone who studied art throughout his life until junior year of college, I enjoyed doing this stream a lot. When I got an iPad, this concept eventually evolved into learning digital art. Then, when it came time to create my book, I was able to experiment with doing my own illustrations. This bloomed into a full-fledged feature of the book, and in the published edition there are not only pieces of artwork for each individual chapter, but also access to the playlist of stream archives, which collects the 250+ episodes in which I painted those images live on my Twitch channel. My book is the first I’ve ever heard of which includes its own making-of featurettes. The art streams, a long-running, ever-evolving feature of my channel, became a critical point in publishing my book as well. 


You never know where your streaming journey is going to take you. For me, I achieved many different life milestones, each bigger and more unexpected than the last, simply by experimenting, failing, and staying creative on my Twitch channel. Imagine what wonders you could be creating a few years down the line, if you take a similar approach to your content. If you let Twitch further your goals, there’s no telling what can happen.