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.