It’s been way too quiet here lately and I should blog a lot more so here is a little update on what I have been up to outside of the writing front. I have another half-finished blog about writing from a month ago I owe some time to, and will get round to finishing it. Meanwhile, I have been a little preoccupied with a new activity: streaming video games on Twitch.
Streaming games has been something on my mind for the last two years. I have been watching lets-plays on YouTube for around a decade, ever since I got bit by the Minecraft bug and played it non-stop when I was not at work. In the last three years, I have added watching live streams to my list of chosen entertainment and have found a batch of streamers who play games that I enjoy watching on a regular basis.
Before I go on, I should maybe explain the concept of streaming to those not familiar with it. Whereas YouTube is an ‘on demand’ system with pre-recorded videos that can be played back to the user, live streaming is exactly that: Live. Using software that can capture the video feed from a game, as well as other sources such as a webcam and internet browsers to same just a few, you can broadcast content from your computer over the internet for others to see live. In the case of video games, a broadcaster creates an account on a website that caters to this content, primarily Twitch.tv, pairs their broadcast software to that account and other people can visit their channel page and watch whatever they send out to the world.
In the last decade, both streaming and recording video game footage has become a successful entertainment medium and is now well considered as a means of ‘influence’ by game developers in much the same way as advertising in a magazine or on TV.
Some people stream games as a hobby, simply happy to have a community of people who watch them in their spare time and enjoy gaming moments together. Some even live stream as a means of assisting other people with gameplay by providing walkthroughs of tough games so other players can emulate their methods. Talk shows, both gaming and otherwise, have sprung up over the years as an evolution of the classic audio podcasting. Then there is a set of streamers who have been able to make a successful career out of streaming. Twitch has a partnership program with a subscription model that lets chosen broadcasters provide their viewers with the opportunity to show their support for a channel with a paid monthly subscription. In exchange, the broadcaster, who receives a percentage of the subscriptions from Twitch, can provide additional benefits to their community such as access to a back library of recorded content. They get sponsorships with companies like Intel and Razer, paid promotional offers from developers like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts and can also gain income from one of many crowdfunding means such as Patreon. Some even work out a line of merchandise like tshirts and mugs and sell them through retail front websites like Teespring.
I could go on about other specifics but I am sure by now you are getting the idea of how playing games can become a job for many people. This is what I want, too. I am new to streaming, and making a job out of it is not something that happens overnight. I need to build an audience, build a brand and build a community. And do all of that in the middle of an already saturated environment. As with everything, you get out of it what you put in.
A couple of months ago I started my first stream, after getting familiar with the streaming software, and had a myriad of tech issues that I patched up and moved on from. Shortly after, I sunk a personal investment, both time and financial, into new equipment. I started with a new webcam, as mine was not great. I played more with the broadcast software until I was familiar with it and began making graphics and overlays to use on the stream. Within the first two weeks, I bought a cheap green screen so I could have a transparent background filter for the webcam and block less of the gameplay screen with a view of my computer room’s wall behind me. And almost right after that, I purchased a professional condenser microphone with an extendable desk-mounted arm complete with shock mount and even a pop filter. I am already eying up a loop station to play soundbites as I stream (cue the Wilhelm scream!) and I recently purchased a control deck with customisable buttons to control my stream output and music from more easily than using a mouse and keyboard. That last purchase turned out to be, for the time being, pretty pointless as the software only works for Windows 10 and I am still on Windows 7. On that note, I am already building a list of current PC hardware so I can rebuild and update my gaming PC which will include an upgrade to Windows 10 anyway, so the control deck is sitting in a box for now. And I am not done there. I need a lighting rig with diffused box lights to even out the lighting on the green screen because otherwise, you get a kind of static effect where a shadow is cast. I will also be investing in a third and larger PC monitor and a triple-monitor mount to attach to my desk so I can have more streaming-related information on the peripheral screens. Finally, I will be looking in the future to having the stream handled by a second PC that captures the monitor feed from the gaming machine, which will make manipulating the streaming software and other production requirements easier on the whole.
Now, the big question anyone who is familiar with streaming will be asking themselves will likely be “Why spend all this money on equipment? It won’t help you be a better streamer, it’s all about your personality.” And they are quite right. None of what I have done until now will have helped me in any real way. I can throw money at this until the proverbial cows come home and it will not increase the size of my audience. That will take time and patience, with a lot of effort and cultivation of my community. So, why spend all this money on equipment? For my own benefit more than anything else. I feel more professional by having that better microphone. Not to mention that a headset with a boom mic is not comfortable to wear for long periods of time and would start to crush my ear after 2 hours. Now I am headphone-free and feel more comfortable to stream for 6 hours or longer. Also, that control deck is more a quality of life thing than anything else. Or it will be, at least, once I get onto Windows 10. And I am building a new PC because… well ok I would do this anyway since mine is getting on in years and does need an update sooner rather than later. This was hinted at recently when my old graphics card bit the dust, and now I have a new one that I cannot even get the most out of given the rest of the out-of-date hardware around it. Finally, I am a pragmatist. My intention is to make something of my stream no matter how long it takes. Sooner or later I would need to spend some money and effort on streaming kit. The question is, when do I do that? At what point in my streaming career do I say ‘OK, I made it this far and have lots of followers, now I am ready to buy a better microphone.’?
There really is no answer for that which applies across the board. It is different for everyone. Being a pragmatist, I reason that I would have to spend this eventually and I might as well get in on the ground floor right now. It kind of falls in line with another thing I want to talk about before I finish off here. And that is the following principle: Start as you mean to go on.
What does this mean? Quite simply, imagine how you would behave on stream, and what you would have as a streamer, once you ‘make it big’ and just start there already. As above, there is no magic number of viewers or barrier of success that needs to be breached before you should start doing things this way anyway. So, just start like that, and go on from there. While this may apply to my getting all this equipment early, it also applies to how I feel I should conduct myself on stream. Having watched streamers for the last few years, I notice that the great majority of those who have made their stream a success fall into one of three styles. Some have a gimmick and theme their streams along the lines of being a pirate, a Viking or a spaceman. There is even a streamer who is a Muppet-like hand puppet on camera, and the actual person is out of shot. There are also streamers who are hyper-energy types and all ‘pro-gamer’ in attitude, and I do not intend this to sound like a nitpick either. I watch a couple of them. And finally there are those with neither of these qualities and simply ‘be themselves’ on stream. Either way, they all interact with their community of viewers and are all entertaining to watch. They simply do not sit still and play a game while looking bored and saying nothing. They talk, they make fun of the game, they get angry (one I follow in particular has broken gamepads and keyboards in anger when a game frustrates him) and they joke around with their viewers or involve them in some way in the gameplay by asking them to make a decision for them or name characters after them in management-style games.
I knew at the start I would need to be entertaining and engaging, and I felt this would be easy. Watching people play games for the last decade in one form or another may have rubbed off on me as I have noticed I have had a growing tendency to talk out loud while playing games on my own. I commentate to no one in particular, mock things said on screen by the game’s characters, joke about something I did and so on. Yes, I know I am admitting to talking to myself and maybe someone should call the nuthouse and reserve me a nice room with a view. Either way, I felt I could carry this across into streaming without any difficulty. And again, even though I would likely have no audience to begin with, I felt it would be important to at least look like I am having fun and am an engaging person to watch. Otherwise, a viewer would load up my channel to see what I am like, see a bored and quiet guy sitting there playing a game in silence, then tune out quickly and be gone.
So, was it easy to just sit there and talk to the empty air for 4 hours at a time? Well, it was not. Not even close. I found that, despite already doing such a thing on my own, there was a mental block to doing so when other people might actually be watching. And then, strangely enough, I found there was an even bigger mental hurdle to leap when realizing that no one was watching at all. The first problem is simply an issue of confidence, the second was more puzzling to me at first. I am still not even sure why it would be difficult for me to talk while I play a game, given that I do that anyway. I did, however, figure out how to get around it and prevent it. One of the pieces of information a streamer has on their Twitch dashboard is the current viewer count which updates every few seconds or so. It is possible to hide this number simply by clicking on it. I felt that doing so would help me overcome the awareness of not being watched and let me settle into a more natural rhythm. And, yes it worked. Now, from the moment I fire up the stream to the end where I click the button to go offline, I have no idea how many people are watching me unless people chat to me in my channel’s text chat. Recently I have had some high volume days where I had four or five people chatting at one time, and my statistics page shows that for that broadcast I peaked at 13 viewers and maintained an average of 7 through the 6 hours I was online. This was quite good for me in just my second month of streaming. The very next day, no one was chatting in my stream, and no one was watching according to the post-stream statistics. Either way, I started the stream with a welcome message and talked about what I was going to do for the day, and I closed the stream out by thanking people for watching. I start as I mean to go on.
Now comes the inevitable shameless plug. I thought to put this at the beginning but it felt tacky so here is the link to my channel: http://ironwolfgaming.net/twitch
I have also changed my Twitter handle to match the brand, moving on from my old EVE Online personality.
So far I have enjoyed my streaming of games and plan to continue. I have even published a schedule on that page, with the intent to attempt to stick to it. After all, I am viewing this as a job now. Even if, at the moment, it is not paying a penny towards my monthly outgoings. So I intend to approach it like a job in the hopes that, one day, it will be a viable income source.
So far I have finished two games on stream and met several people who enjoyed what they saw. It felt really good to have people come back to my channel several times, and they were drawn to my channel by the game I chose to play. These games are around 4-5 years old now but even today people want to see someone play them their own way. Ironically, the current game I am playing has only been out for a week and the two times I have streamed it earlier this week I had no viewers watching me. To be honest, I expected this and knew it was likely to happen. This game was highly anticipated and, as a viewer of other channels myself, I know audiences tend to flock to their established favourites to watch them play it and are less likely to watch someone who is mostly unknown. I just played this game because I wanted to play it while it was new and was more for myself than anyone else. I still have a secondary game on my list and I alternate between them to provide a broader content base. And on future plans, I have some ideas for theme shows that might prove entertaining. Nothing drastic and I will certainly not be dressing up like a Viking. That is just not me and would be too forced, and if it feels that way to me it will come off that way on stream and ultimately not be very entertaining.
I may blog some more about this in the future, especially if I come across something I find really interesting. However, I do want to get back to writing as well. And finishing that half-written blog explaining the lack of content here so far on that front. Now I am settling into a routine again with streaming I hope it will provide me with some personal sense of structure and I can begin rationing my time for writing once again. And, who knows, I may even take my writing brainstorming onto stream every now and then if I gather a sufficient audience for it. We will see where things go and I will report back either way.