As I’m becoming more involved with the whole game streaming thing (though not actually regularly streaming again just yet) and getting more active on various streaming-related discussion boards, one topic seems to unsurprisingly keep coming up time and time again:-
“Why am I not successful at this?”
Sometimes, they’ll add “yet” to the question or dress it up with a thousand expletives and jealous remarks aimed at big-name streamers, but the essence remains the same. I’m not a successful game streamer (by a very, very long way) but as a regular viewer who has run streams before, it strikes even me that there are a few painfully obvious things that a lot of people seem to overlook when they compare themselves to the big-name streamers who do it for a living.
So without further ado, here are my top ten reasons that you haven’t made it to the big time yet.
1 ) Your Expectations are Unrealistic
You can do anything you set your mind to. You can. I truly believe that. What you must be careful about is your expectation of the amount of time it will take.
If you sign up with Twitch in November and start streaming, you’d be nuts to think that you’ll be hitting treble-digit viewer numbers by the end of that year. But some expect that. A lot do, in fact. They sit dour-faced and silent for four hours as the 8,000,000th average-skilled person to be streaming Hearthstone at that exact moment, and wonder why everybody hasn’t instantly flocked to see them.
After a week, they’ve streamed every night and had a few people stop by (who they’ve probably ignored) and are entirely deflated. These are the folks that end up bitter about other people’s success and who let everybody they ever speak to know that the whole streaming thing is rigged in favour of women in low-cut tops or that it’s all to do with corporate shills.
You have to understand that in any line of business, only a very small handful of people (streamers included) get successful quickly. The reason you’ve heard of them and how quickly they did things is because their rise to the top was worth talking about because it was not normal. For everyone else who got to their level, it took weeks, months, years, and sometimes even decades of hard work.
If you’re going to be ready to quit after your fifth night of streaming to nobody, then you might as well throw the towel in before the fight begins.
2) Your Presentation Sucks
Speaking of a professional look, professional streaming isn’t just about playing games and waiting for hundreds of people to turn up to watch.
If you’re sitting on your butt on your couch in your sweatpants and a stained t-shirt, using the Xbox One’s built-in Twitch (or now Beam) streaming app, with your Kinect recording a grainy and barely-audible you from across the room, don’t expect people to be enthralled at the sight. The Xbox One’s built-in streaming software is GREAT and easy to use if you just want to put together a quick stream for a few friends, but if you want to build a career (or even a little bit of one) from streaming, you’ll need to put in a bit more time and effort than that.
Don’t get me wrong, some folks will reach a level of success using bare bones setups, but the simple fact is that they’re less likely to than someone who put in some effort in trying to put together a more watchable stream. Just do a bit of market research. Go and watch a few big-name streamers and see how they do things in terms of presentation.
Check your audio levels. Make sure you don’t sound like you’re broadcasting via a mobile phone from 1989. Test your stream quality. Get somebody else to watch your stream and see if they can provide any feedback with regards to presentation and to make sure it’s all working properly. Remember that all of these things are free to do.
And for the love of all that is good and holy, put a shirt on. One without stains.
The pool at the top is pretty small and there are a LOT of people trying to jump in. You can give yourself a better chance by looking like you actually care about what you do.
3) Your Overlay Is A Turn Off
There is a fine line when it comes to dressing things up though, it has to be said.
A lot of budding pro streamers seem to confuse ridiculous overlays with interactivity. They’ll have a popup that fires when a subscriber enters the chat, another for when somebody follows, another for subscriptions, another for tips, and another for when they hit a certain viewer count. Then they’ll throw a donation goal tracker, the names of the last three followers, their record viewer number, their record donation, the name of the game they’re playing, a logo, a massive 1995-style tribal border, their Twitter handle, their various gamertags, logos of all the companies that they’ve ever bought a piece of hardware from, their YouTube URL, and their webcam.
Oh, and a complete copy of the chat window, embedded over the top of their gameplay because…well, I don’t know. Their stream ends up looking like a 15-year-old girl’s Geocities page circa 1998.
This is not interactivity. This is overkill.
People don’t always stop by to see your game. I get that. They come to “hang out” with you and the game is sometimes just an added bonus. That doesn’t mean that you should obscure the entire gameplay window with things that aren’t beneficial to anyone. Some people WILL be there to see the game. As a rule of thumb, if you have less than 85% of your gameplay visible at any one time, your layout is killing you and you should change it.
Occasional notifications on screen are fine, but maybe cut the 30-second sound clip from Bad Boys II and over-the-top animation that plays every time you get a new follower. If you suddenly get 10 new followers, people will be reaching for the “mute” or “close” buttons.
This isn’t to say that you absolutely shouldn’t have these things going on. It would be pretty dull if everybody’s stream looked exactly the same! But you should use things sparingly. You and your game should be the focus at all times.
If the screen is getting packed, think of alternative ways to do things. Your follower notifications don’t necessarily have to be part of your main screen, for example. “NewFollower1981 is now following your channel” appearing from your chatbot in the chat window is enough to let you know so that you can mention them on the stream, and enough to let everyone in the room know to welcome them.
If you can’t think of anything to cut, consider boxing out the gameplay window and putting your extras around the outside of it, rather than overlaying things on top of the game itself. Whatever you do, don’t have notifications appearing over your webcam output. People won’t remember you if they can’t see you.
Some great examples of what not to do can be found on the @BadLayouts Twitter feed:- https://twitter.com/BadLayouts
4) You’re Begging For Scraps
While we’re talking overlays, if I’m watching a stream and 25% of the screen is covered with a massive advertisement telling you how to donate to the streamer, I’m leaving. That goes for streamers with all sizes of following. Whether you’ve got 20,000 followers or 20, if the most prominent thing you’re streaming is a big red button that says “DONATE NOW” or “LEAVE ME A TIP” then I’m out.
When you walk into a job interview, you wouldn’t say “Please give me this job” before introducing yourself, would you? Of course not. So why shout “Please give me money” upfront on your stream, before you’ve actually turned that casual viewer into a fan?
I’m not saying that tipping is a bad thing. Just that there are ways to do it. Have a !tip chatbot response that gives people your StreamJar address. Have a line of text that says “If you’d like to leave me a tip…” along with a link in your stream description. Just don’t cover half of your screen with what is essentially a begging letter.
The same goes for “Donation Targets” as well. Unless you’re raising money for charity, 99% of people that visit your stream don’t give a damn that you’ve only got $99.50 left to raise of your $100 “new gaming mouse” target. The other 1% is you. To me, if you’re not serious enough about this to invest $100 in a new gaming mouse to improve your gameplay and therefore your stream, why should your visitors be serious enough about your business to hand their hard-earned money over?
(And to the woman on Twitch who was trying to raise $5k for “holiday spending money”, you were blocked just a quickly as I could click the button. That’s just straight out embarrassing, right there.)
5) You’re Faking It Badly
The opposite turn of acting like a small-time beggar is trying to play the part of a big-time streamer when you clearly aren’t.
A lot of professional streamers have sponsorship deals going on. Their headsets are by Turtle Beach. They only use NVIDIA graphics cards. Hell, even their chair is a SweetCheeks™ ComfyButt™ Racing Seat. They’ll let you know that they’re sponsored by throwing logos all over their channel page and overlay.
These deals are generally the result of building up a following. Companies want to get their product in front of as many eyeballs as possible, so if they see 1,500 people watching a streamer every day, they’ll gladly stump up a few bucks in free products so that the streamer talks about their stuff and displays their logos.
However, everybody knows that companies don’t sponsor streamers who have 4 followers. So while it might be tempting to put giant “in association with ASUS” buttons and images somewhere in your overlay or in your stream description because your PC has an ASUS motherboard, don’t do it.
You might think you’re slick and looking like a professional, but the simple fact is that you look small-time and desperate. To everyone.
6) You’re Not Serious Enough To Invest
I’ve read a LOT of guides regarding getting started with streaming and they all say much the same thing: “Don’t spend a bunch of money on equipment when you’re starting out.”
What they aren’t clear about, is what they mean by “equipment.” The reason I’m picking a hole in this is because you SHOULD invest if you want to be a serious streamer. The costs of what you need aren’t nearly as high as I’ve seen some people quoting.
If you’re planning on streaming from console, you can grab a $500 PC or laptop that will be ample as a stream machine. If you’re streaming PC games, then you’ve probably already got that covered. Then you need to grab a capture device, microphone, webcam, and a good set of headphones.
My setup consists of my office PC (I work from home, so that’s handy), a $150 AverMedia ExtremeCap U3 to capture video from any HDMI-enabled console, a $40 CAD U37 USB Studio Condenser Mic, a $30 Logitech HD C310 Webcam, and a set of Turtle Beach XO Four headphones that I grabbed in a sale for around $45. I’ve invested probably the same amount again in cables, trunking, an upscaler, switches, splitters and the like to make things a bit easier with regards to streaming from multiple platforms and retro consoles, but I absolutely didn’t need to do that. Without those extras, for a $265 investment, I can run a stream that doesn’t look like it was recorded in 1972 and that doesn’t sound like someone is shouting at you through a length of tubing.
If you have any inkling that streaming is something you want to make a career out of (or even if you just want to do it as a “professional hobby”) then you should invest money in it.
What you DON’T need to invest in is a $400 branded chair, $200 worth of headphones that sound as good as a $40 set but which have a corporate logo on them, a $150 mic, a microphone boom arm, a green screen, a USB audio mixer, a full-size 4k TV broadcast camera, an XSplit licence (OBS is free), a GoPro, a subscription to Photoshop CC, five 30” monitors, $800 of cool game-branded hoodies to wear on camera, business cards, or boxes of t-shirts to sell to your non-existent (at the moment) fans.
7) You’re Lazy
And of course, once you have invested and have all the equipment that you need, the journey doesn’t stop there. In short, you’ll have the technology (as well as the biggest information resource that has ever existed) at your fingertips, but even with that in mind, some people refuse to understand how to use their tech properly.
You don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of exactly what language your chatbot is coded in or why changing your keyframe interval could have a negative effect on your stream. But you do need to know that Google is your friend.
Go to any forum that discusses streaming services or software and you’ll see a bunch of people asking the same questions.
- “Which chatbot is the best for Twitch?”
- “What bitrate should I be streaming at in OBS?”
- “Tell me how to set up StreamJar notifications. Thanks.”
Ok, the last one isn’t a question, but I’ve included it as I’ve genuinely seen it today. Despite the fact that a Google search for “how to set up streamjar” brings up four step-by-step tutorial videos and a detailed step-by-step written guide as the first five results.
All the information (and I mean ALL the information) is out there and all of it is free. All you need to do is search and spend some time reading and the answers will come to you.
8) You’re Missing In Action
Scheduling is one of the key things that people seem to slip up on. Even if your stream looks like garbage and sounds terrible, you could still pick up a few viewers here and there that could turn into lifelong fans. However, people can’t watch if they don’t know when you’re streaming.
Sending out a tweet five minutes beforehand to your 20 Twitter followers that you’re going to be streaming in a while won’t cut it. People like to plan what they’re going to watch or do. They aren’t usually going to change their whole evening around to watch you because you suddenly decided that you’d be streaming today.
Set up a schedule and try to stick to it. List it in your channel description.
I know I don’t do this well. Shush.
9) You’re 18 Different Brands
Creating a uniform brand look, style, and name as early as possible is key.
Think about this: If Pepsi was called “Pepsi” in one town and “Cokealike Plus” everywhere else, when a guy from the first place went on vacation, nobody would know what he was talking about when he asked for Pepsi. If the logos and style of packaging were different too, he might end up describing the ones that are on sale in his hometown and watching as everybody looks at him blankly. There’s a chance that he might end up getting bored of trying to explain and just ask for water instead.
That’s what’s going to happen to your brand if you’re SUPERSTREAMER on Twitter, SSTR5AMER on Twitch, 5UPER5 on YouTube, xX_BRIANROCKS420_Xx on Xbox One, and your website is at www.brianplaysxboxsometimes.co.uk.
You’re not always going to be able to get the names that you want since someone will have beaten you to it but at the very least, you should try to get as close as you can on as many services as you can. If you like the name STEVEPLAYSPS4 and the only place that name is available is on Twitch, then you should go back to the drawing board and think of another name. Not that STEVEPLAYSPS4 is a good name anyway. What happens when you want to play a game on a different platform or when Sony releases the next PlayStation?
The same goes for logos. Use the same logo for every service and if you can, the same colour scheme, too.
With your brand locked in, when somebody sees their friend retweet you, when a video thumbnail in your style appears on “Recommended for You” on YouTube, or when they stumble across your website, they’ll recognise your branding and therefore remember who you are. Maybe it’ll be enough to check that little box inside their head that says “Oh yeah, I should check that streamer out again…”
As long as these different channels all contain the same branding, you’re ahead of a large percentage of the competition right from the start.
You should also bear in mind — and it should kind of be obvious — that while online on any of the services you’ve branded, you are representing your brand. So don’t put your logo and colour scheme on your Twitter account and then start relentlessly trolling people. Also, don’t go shouting your mouth off via your branded Xbox Live account when you’re playing an online game in your non-streaming time.
In fact, don’t do either of those things anyway. Just don’t.
10) You’re Not Engaging
I’ve left this one for last as it’s easily the most important one.
I decided to check in on a handful of random streams this past weekend. I decided to look for small streamers (less than 10 viewers) and see how they interacted with their audience. Of the 20 streams that I visited, 18 of them DIDN’T SAY A SINGLE THING in the three minutes that I was watching. Some had a relatively decent flow of chat going on in their room, but weren’t acknowledging the conversation. Some were playing action-packed games featuring explosions and stunning graphics, but couldn’t even manage a “Woah!” when something cool happened. Not only that, but even the two that were talking didn’t bother to ever look at the camera.
The result? I didn’t drop any of them a follow. Why should I? They didn’t care that I was chatting in their channel, so why should I do them the service of bumping their numbers? I can also play a game myself on my own consoles without having someone’s miserable, silent face in the bottom corner of the screen, so what’s the attraction in watching channels where the host doesn’t care and there’s no discussion to be had?
The sheer amount of people I see streaming who are sat there looking as if their dog has just died, never uttering a word to anybody, is crazy.
Most guides say that you should talk to your viewers even when there aren’t any and I have to say that I agree. It makes look-in viewers more likely to stay and is good practice for when you do have a decent number of folks on your stream later on.
It may feel a bit silly in the early days but if that slightly awkward feeling is enough to make you want to give up altogether, you probably should.
Harsh? Sure. But it’s also true. However, if you’re just a little under-confident when there are no viewers, the talking to nobody thing is a great way of overcoming that. You’ll be scaling up your confidence as your numbers rise.
If you’re having trouble getting into the swing of things, just remember S.A.L.T. (which is something I was taught on an ill-advised media training course about 15 years ago.)
S — SMILE occasionally. You aren’t that edgy that it’s going to kill you.
A — ANSWER questions like you care that someone has given up their time to ask them. Even questions that seem dumb to you.
L — LOOK at the camera when you’re addressing your viewers.
T — TALK, for crying out loud.
S.A.L.T. is a requirement if you want to at least be close to being memorable enough to get repeat viewers. Whatever you do, don’t slump down in your chair and stare at the screen as if you don’t want to be disturbed. Remember that you absolutely DO want to be disturbed.
Otherwise, you’d just be playing games in your lounge with the cameras off, right?
A lot of these tips may stand in contrast to things that are laid out in other guides. In part, that’s WHY I wanted to write this piece. I’ve read a lot of material related to streaming over the last three years and there are a great deal of informational articles (and entire sites, in fact) out there that claim to tell you how to become a superstar streamer but which then seem to skip over some of the more important points that I’ve covered here.
If you’ve got any more tips for streamers that I haven’t covered, drop ’em in the comments!