Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Streaming as a Solo Traveler

As we all head toward the new year, you may be planning to take some big trips sometime in the next twelve months. You might be going out of state, out of country, or out of continent. You could be visiting someone, embarking on a cruise, or buying a package tour. Your interests may vary, from museums to scenery to local cuisine. Your group of companions may be large or small. No matter what configuration your trip takes, I’m sure you’re going to have a great time. In past entries like How to Stream While Traveling Anywhere I’ve talked about going live while traveling with someone else. In ones like Travel with an IRL Streaming Backpack I’ve covered the various tech options available, and in the entry Streaming from Japan I covered my specific anecdotes as a Twitch streamer in Tokyo. This time, I want to further explore a particular type of trip that I’ve recently come to love: solo travel. And furthermore, we’ll explore how I take advantage of this method's strengths for my Twitch streams. 


This year, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have taken three separate trips outside the US, first going to Athens, Greece and then going to Tokyo, Japan twice. I approached all three of these in the same way: simply arriving in one single city and existing. I didn’t plan to go to any other parts of the countries I was in, despite both locations having numerous gorgeous locales outside their capitals rich in history and culture. I didn’t even look at where others would recommend to visit in those cities, other than a few cursory glances. I’d just get a small local hotel room near the center of town (or near a train line) and figure out what to do as I went along. 

As a solo traveler, you can spend as 
much time as you want, doing what 
you want to do.

I realize that this particular method of travel is a major turn-off for many. Lots of us reason that since we only plan to visit wherever we’re going once in our lives, we’d prefer to see everything we can see in a single whirlwind trip. I certainly understand the logic, and I’ve had plenty of amazing trips of that style as well, but there are some distinct advantages to my kind of unplanned traveling. The biggest benefit is also the simplest: when you have no plan, you’re open to many more things. In Greece I found out from locals about events, landmarks and interesting parts of town that easily became my evening or next day’s objective. In Japan, being able to speak the language I was able to get even more spontaneous. I took someone I met in a bar to their first maid cafe, I went to karaoke with a fellow lover of movie musicals, and met friends on the first trip who invited me to events on the second trip. Since there was never anything on my schedule, there were no limits to what I was available to do on a moment’s notice. 

A fear of missing things can always creep up when on vacation to another country. If I’m in Greece, can I really miss out on the amazing history of Crete or the beauty of Santorini? In Japan, do I not care about seeing Mount Fuji or visiting a hot spring? I combat this anxiety however, by simply telling myself that the trip I’m on is only the first trip, not the only one. With Japan, this ended up coming true even within the same year. Greece is less likely on that front, but even if I never came back I’d be more than satisfied with the experience I had. I saw so many amazing things, and I found a lot of places I wouldn’t have found if I were rushing from bullet point to bullet point. 


My trip to the Mall of America was 
pretty much like this, but with 
fewer zombies.

As a Twitch streamer, it can be very uncomfortable to go live when others are with you, if they aren’t a part of the shows you make. Depending on who your traveling companions are, this may even make you uncomfortable enough not to want to go live at all. Having traveling companions who all have their own interests and desired destinations can also make it difficult to decide what to do and where to go. This can create a lot of tension and indecision among the group, and by the time you’re on the way to wherever you’re going there might not really be enough time for a broadcast. Conversely, as a solo traveler you’re given complete freedom in when you go live, where you want to go and what you want to do. The trip is completely yours, and you can take as much time as you need to fiddle with your stream (something that can be awkward when others are with you and don’t want to wait), talk to chat (outright rude when you’re with a group and having a separate conversation with virtual people they can’t see), and do whatever kinds of show-hosting activities you like to do on stream. 

Interestingly, as I continued making these kinds of shows on my trips this past year, I came to the realization that I conduct my solo travel streams in much the same way that I play singleplayer video games. In an open world game like GTA, Elden Ring or Spider-Man, I’m often more interested in pursuing side quests, appreciating artwork, and reading random text entries that I find than I am in accomplishing the actual objective. My style of solo travel streams allow me the same level of independence and exploration, and that’s why I find them so fulfilling. 


Of course, when traveling alone it’s important to be extra careful. Make sure you know how to call the local police, and take a look online at which parts of town you should avoid. Like with any travel experience, it’s also important to pay attention to how you handle your money, and where you keep your money. Pickpockets and scams are common in pretty much all tourist destinations, and you can find out about some of the biggest issues wherever you’re going with a quick online search. I like to keep a bit of ‘emergency money’ in different places. Most stays in my wallet, but I keep a bit of cash in my streaming backpack, and a bit more cash, along with one of my credit cards, in my hotel room, just in case. That way, if something does happen to my wallet, or even to the bag I’m carrying, I’ll at least have something. 

As long as you’re paying attention and using common sense, you’ll be fine. Travel is such a rewarding experience, because you really gain perspective about how other people live. Especially after going outside the country, you may even end up reconsidering what you think of as ‘normal’ when back home. Most of the tips in this entry have been specific to my preferred method of solo travel as a Twitch streamer. But again, no matter how you like to take your trips, or whether you stream while taking them, you’re going to have a great time. There’s a whole world out there to explore. Go out and make some unforgettable memories! 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Plant the Seeds for Future Streams

It’s easy to think that large, singular ideas are what make the most important changes for a Twitch streamer. This new feature on the show, that new game you’re playing, or a new schedule you announced to your followers. But gimmicks like this only act as a shot in the arm for a Twitch channel. They don’t actually make you any better of a streamer. In reality, like planting a seed and continuing to water it over time, great changes on a Twitch channel are effected by making continuous small efforts each day. In this entry, we’ll talk about planting the seeds for future streams. 


Let’s say you’ve just announced to your followers that you’re going to start streaming on a new schedule. Mondays are for horror games, Thursdays are for sidescrollers and Saturdays are when you play competitive shooters with your community. This is great, and it might even get a positive boost in attention from your community, but this announcement, while exciting, doesn’t represent any actual progress. Not yet at least. What will really decide the excellence of your plan is whether you’re disciplined enough to stick to this schedule you’ve committed yourself to. If you start missing your Thursday shows because you continuously have to work late, your promises for Thursday content don’t really count for much. 

Your plan for playing spooky games only 
matters if you can stick to it.

These kinds of things usually come back to your general discipline. Can you stick to habits once you start them? This is a difficult but necessary skill for anyone who wants to grow as a streamer, or even to keep streaming in general. Once you have built a solid foundation of discipline however, it usually carries over from one thing to another. For example, following your pre-stream setup routine consistently might make you more likely to stick to your live schedule a year from now, and that might make you better at consistently posting your content on TikTok the year after that. These are all different activities, but they all involve the same mindset. You make a habit and you stick to it. In the entry
Solidify Your Streaming Habits I spoke about how I obey the systems I’ve built without question, and this has helped me to improve several aspects of my content, and keep my shows coming out no matter what. 


The book Good to Great by Jim Collins is primarily about business, but many of its teachings apply to pretty much any field. One of the anecdotes that stuck with me (at the risk of now mixing the metaphors of this entry) was his idea of the ‘Flywheel Effect.’ Here’s how he describes this concept on his website

“No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

Pirate ships also have big, heavy wheels.

At first, the massive wheel (which, in his example, is 30 feet in diameter and weighs 5,000 pounds) is so huge that it takes hours of pushing just to make it turn once on its axis. But as you keep going, the momentum you’ve built up with the wheel makes it easier and easier to push. Eventually, if you don’t give up the momentum, the wheel begins spinning with such force that it’s nearly unstoppable. Collins goes on to say, “Now suppose someone came along and asked, “What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?” You wouldn’t be able to answer; it’s just a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth? No! It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction. Some pushes may have been bigger than others, but any single heave—no matter how large—reflects a small fraction of the entire cumulative effect upon the flywheel.”

When you stream on Twitch, you’re pushing your own massive flywheel. Yes, the first push is important in a symbolic sense, but that push won’t create much actual movement in the wheel itself. It’s only once you’ve stuck to your regimen and kept up the momentum that you can truly begin to see results. 


And while your stream as a whole is churning along under the sway of this massive wheel, the individual parts are also influenced by what you do each day, sort of like a garden. There are dozens or even hundreds of little things that get done on a stream each time you go live. Are you committing to good habits when doing these things, or are you taking the easy way out? Even if your work gets done and looks good today, doing it with a bad technique may be planting the seed for negative results to show themselves later. The entry I referenced above, Solidify Your Streaming Habits, talked about something which has helped me a lot on my streams. If I skip a step in my pre-stream setup process, even if it’s not a necessary step for the stream I’m about to do at that moment, I’ll start the whole process over from the beginning. In the past I’ve had habits turn sour, and I realized that it was moment-to-moment leniency which allowed the bad seeds to take root. Like with a garden, you can’t see the results of your work on the same day that you , but they will show themselves eventually. Make sure that on your own streams you’re nurturing only the habits that will yield strong growth. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Read Between the Lines of Your Twitch Chat

Comments from viewers are a big part of the Twitch streaming experience. In the entry Up Your Showmanship on Stream, I spoke about how you can always give a dynamic response to even the least dynamic chat messages. This is a subject worth exploring a bit more, however. Many streamers take chat messages too literally in my opinion. Just because the question someone asked only really warrants a one-word answer doesn’t mean your answer actually has to be one word. It’s your stream, and you can talk about whatever you want. This person’s question is merely a jumping-off point for whatever you want to talk about. In my view, questions on a livestream aren’t really meant to be taken literally, but rather as a suggestion for larger conversations. In this entry, we’ll look into how you can read between the lines of your Twitch chat.

Many people aren’t naturally very talkative, and this applies to Twitch chat as well. Sometimes they can’t express what they really mean. I often try to see the intention behind whatever the person said, and instead of responding to the question they asked, I respond to the question they wish they asked. Even if someone asks what you think of as a stupid question, it’s always within your power to lift them up, instead of pointing out their question’s flaw and knocking them down. The entry How to Flesh Out Stream Ideas touched on how standup comedians use the philosophy of ‘Yes, and…’ to ensure they’re always building on the jokes of others, rather than shooting down ideas. This is a hugely helpful mindset when dealing with comments on a Twitch stream. 


I got a lot of hate when playing 
this one. 

In the past, when I used to work for another company and each broadcast would have anywhere from 100 to 1,000 concurrent viewers, the comments would fly very quickly, and they weren’t always very nice. From early on however, I decided that I would try not to shut down even the nasty remarks. I was trying to help grow the company’s brand, and I wanted to ensure that everyone felt like a part of the show. I also knew that when people say mean things, they aren’t necessarily mean people at heart. So I’d take a comment in which someone said, “You’re horrible at this game. Please stop trying,” and instead of reading the comment word for word, I’d say something like, “[viewer username] sees room for improvement in my playstyle. Definitely let me know if you have any tips!” Not with irony or condescension, but with real genuine interest.

For some reason, people would also get really mad that I had a job where I played video games for a living. They’d say, “This guy is terrible. He’s so annoying. Why did [company] ever pick him to do these videos?” and several much more vitriolic versions of the same idea. This of course hurts to hear, but I’d try to take it in stride. I recognized that these comments often had a deeper unspoken meaning, and I’d respond with something like, “[viewer username] has a great point, I’m lucky enough to get to do what I love each day and get paid to do it!” And then I’d go into a story about how I was able to build a body of work and get hired by a company to make these kinds of videos. I’d give tips for other viewers who might want to start a career doing the same thing. I wouldn’t brag, preach or put down the original commenter, but would actually thank them for bringing up such a helpful subject. 


These kinds of responses would usually have one of two effects. First, they would often get the original commenter to turn their attitude around. Many people on the internet don’t really consider the consequences of what they say, because they feel anonymous. But when you put their comment in the limelight and give them a bit of attention, they quickly realize that they’re having an effect. Believing the best in someone is also a strong motivator for change. Notice that in the above examples, even though the original comments were pretty mean, I wouldn’t treat the commenter like a mean person. Rather, I treat them as someone nice who maybe asked a question they didn’t intend to be hurtful. I ask the question hidden within their question, rather than the question itself. And psychologically, if others see the good in us, we want to meet those expectations. This causes the chatter to come around, start posting other more positive comments, and sometimes even apologize, even though I never said they did anything wrong. 

Paint the chat however you want. 

The second effect of this kind of response is sometimes even more important than the first. Because of the way I phrase my answer, the chat becomes flooded with a higher volume of positive comments than negative. In the first example, I asked for the commenter’s tips for the game. This often gets other viewers talking about their own strategies, in addition to the person I asked, and populates the chat with more constructive comments. In the second example, by talking about my own tips and tricks for becoming a professional livestream producer and video host, people are more interested in asking about how to get into that world themselves. People in the chat are suddenly engaged in talking about something far more interesting, and might even begin to police themselves. If the original commenter persists in being negative, other chatters (who are now more interested in the new topic than the previous negative one) would actually ask the negative person to stop. By creating a topic where positivity is more engaging than negativity, you’re turning that negative person into a minority within the chat. And it’s much more difficult for that negativity to gain a foothold when nobody else is on their side. 

The way you respond to a comment is kind of like planting a seed. If your most recent response is negative or dismissive, negativity is going to grow. But if you plant the seeds for interesting conversations, you’ll soon see the positive effects of that choice.  


Since starting my own personal Twitch channel, these kinds of mean comments very seldom come in anymore. The amount of viewers and chatters is much smaller, and I don’t really have to go out of my way to please everyone watching either. But the same principles often come in handy for me, even at a smaller scale. Whether someone asks a question that only really requires a one-word answer, or they make some unintentionally cruel remark like ‘You look/sound really tired,’ I’m always able to spin it into something more interesting. Don’t forget however, that just because something can be spun into a better topic, doesn’t mean that you have to spin it, or deal with it at all. I put up with a lot when I was working at that high level of streaming, and I found ways to make the job easier to take. But that kind of constant negative bombardment still takes its toll, even if you spin it to make the show itself better. In my personal streams, I don’t care as much whether every single chatter stays around. If someone is being intentionally mean, I will often timeout or ban them. Like I mention often throughout this podcast, stay true to the priorities of whatever kind of show you’re trying to make. And if you want to raise engagement on your streams, try keeping this subject in mind. It’s always better to read between the lines of your chat. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Streaming from Japan

A few days ago, I arrived back in the US from Tokyo. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Nick, weren’t you just in Japan?” You’d be right! I took a short trip two months ago, and then came back again last month for another 18-day stay. Once you’ve been there, it’s a hard place to stay away from! I’ve been to Japan five times now. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on the country by any means, but I’ve been there often enough to have a general idea of what’s right and wrong, and I can speak the language well enough at this point to avoid most major snafus. On top of that, I have the somewhat specialized distinction of having livestreamed regularly from Japan on three different trips. In this entry, I’m going to share some of my thoughts and experiences as an American in Japan, both as a Twitch streamer and as a traveler in general. If you’re planning a trip of your own, hopefully this will help you to avoid some of the larger sticking points for foreigners. 


Japan is one of the tech capitals of the world. When you’re there, you’ll see things that westerners could only dream about. But just because the country in general is responsible for much of the modern world of electronics and video games doesn’t mean that everyone there is comfortable with technology being in their face. As a Twitch streamer creating IRL content in a foreign country, it’s always important to be extra-sensitive to what may or may not be appropriate. Of the kinds of places I’d frequent, there are three locations that are off-limits for filming: bars, arcades and trains. The idea of not filming in bars you can probably understand without me explaining it to you. Arcades however, are probably a bit more of a surprise. Or at least they were to me. I’m not entirely sure about the cultural paradigm here, but it’s generally considered very bad form to film (or even take photos sometimes) in a Japanese arcade. Trains are a pretty obvious one as well. Someone else doesn’t want to be face-to-face with a random livestreamer while trapped in close-quarters on a train. It’s also useful to keep in mind that you’re not really supposed to talk at all on a Japanese train. So depending on what kind of stream you do, you probably wouldn’t want to stream on a train anyway. Having said all this, I’ve filmed in all three locations at different times, keeping in mind basic manners. It helps to know the language in this regard. I’ve gotten permission on entering an empty bar to film myself, I’ve asked arcade employees about shooting video of the game I was playing, and I’ve gotten onto mostly empty trains to point my camera out the window the whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll probably be fine. 

Try to stick out as little as possible.

Like with any IRL streaming setup, the quality of your final video isn’t the only important thing to consider. Your crazy camera rig with numerous massive accessories may create a brilliant looking broadcast, but it’s also likely cumbersome to carry around, and hard to blend in with. People are going to stay away from you, shops will turn you away, and you’ll get exhausted faster lugging everything around. Put simply, the larger your streaming rig, the fewer authentic experiences you’ll be able to have. If you’re planning to build a streaming backpack from scratch, or if you’re thinking of paring down an existing setup, I’d recommend sacrificing small amounts of quality for large amounts of convenience. The less intrusive you can be, the better. In the entry
Travel with an IRL Streaming Backpack, I spoke about the various options you have in that department. 

Finally, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll even be able to stream from the room you’re staying in. The walls in an average Japanese residence are very thin. I’ve stayed in Japanese AirBnBs where you could hear the person sneeze in the room next to you. This meant I had to adjust the way I did my daily morning Duolingo shows, so I wouldn’t disturb everyone around me. If some part of your content requires streaming from your room, keep in mind that you may need to adjust your shows as well. 


On the tech side, there are a few things to be aware of. You thankfully don’t need an adapter to plug your electronics into the wall sockets in Japan like you would in Europe, but they don’t use grounded (three-pronged) power cables over there. Make sure you’re using a two-pronged cable for whatever you use. I personally recommend getting a two-prong power strip with several ports in it. Then you can plug in whatever electronics you have without having to worry. 

One very specific technical thing I’ve noticed is that you might get a strange flickering effect while filming IRL video content in Japan. It took me a while to realize what this was, but I eventually found out it was because the fluorescent bulbs in Japan operate at a different frequency than in the USA. For anyone old enough to have been filming video in the era of CRT tube televisions, this is similar to the effect you’d get when trying to shoot video of a TV screen. Unless your shutter speed was at an exact setting, you’d get a very undesirable-looking static effect. The solution for Japan, as I found out, was to set the shutter speed in my camera to 50, rather than 60. This may already be the default depending on where you live, but it’s useful to keep in mind either way. 


I have a few general travel tips for Japan as well, which have helped me to have progressively more interesting experiences during my time there. First, give yourself chances to explore. Instead of booking a whirlwind trip where you only see the most popular checklist items every day, build a few days into your vacation when you can simply get lost. I grew to like those parts of my stays so much that I’ve recently ended up doing entire trips that way. For my two Japan visits this year, I spent over three combined weeks just in Tokyo, by myself, without a single plan for where to go, what to do, or having looked up anything at all. I’d just pick a direction to walk every day and find places, people and food along the way. Like when playing an open-world game, sometimes the most interesting experiences on a foreign vacation are what you do between your big plans. 

Every street and alley has amazing 
places just waiting to be found.

Second, for food I recommend trying to go to small shops rather than restaurants. Get a feel for what’s popular in whichever part of the country you’re in, and try not to lean too hard into your own preconceived notions of what Japanese food looks like. For example, many friends and relatives are surprised that I almost never eat sushi in Japan, but in the parts of Tokyo I frequent that’s not such a common food. Many dishes that westerners think of as Japanese are not as popular over there as you might expect. Ask waiters what they’d recommend, try going outside your comfort zone, and experiment. You’ll find plenty of amazing foods you’ve probably never heard of that are hugely popular among Japanese locals. Not many Americans would think of barbecue skewers or fried chicken as Japanese specialties, but in my experience these are more prevalent than any other type of food I’ve seen in the major parts of Tokyo. 

Finally, and most importantly, don’t impose your own values on the country you’re traveling to. This applies to Twitch streaming as well as general traveling. Americans tend to do a lot of complaining, and we’ve built a reputation in Japan especially for causing scenes. The cultural difference plus the language barrier essentially makes Americans into ticking time bombs of cultural faux-pas, and many Japanese businesses aren’t equipped to deal with it. Unless you speak the language, you might even get an instant refusal upon stepping through the door. I can’t say I blame them either. As an American myself, I can attest that we’re pretty annoying. I’ve watched with embarrassment as other Americans drunkenly stumbled into a peaceful little Japanese bar, or argued with a small shop’s owner-operator about something wrong with their order. If you’re going to Japan, try to let the culture sink into you, without forcing your own culture onto them. My personal trick before I could understand the language was to simply assume I was wrong in every scenario, and never complain. Even asking questions often makes Japanese people flustered, because they’ll typically assume you’re complaining in a way they can’t understand. Just try to internalize whatever happened and not do it next time. Travel like that and you’ll have a much smoother experience.

Japan is an incredible country, and if you’re planning a trip there you’re going to have an amazing time. There’s so much to see and do, I’m sure you’ll feel the same itch I always do upon getting home, that you need to go back. As an American however, I’ve done my best to respect the cultural differences and avoid becoming a nuisance. And that goes double as a Twitch streamer. Despite making some embarrassing blunders at first, I’ve since carved out a pretty solid set of guiding principles while streaming in Japan. If you’re hoping to stream during your time as well, or even just to enhance your travel experience, I hope these tips can help your trip go that much smoother.