Stream Upgrades, Part 3: Me

First, I upgraded the streaming setup at our home. Then, I upgraded the channel’s graphics and overlays. The final upgrade focuses on the most important element: the streamer. Me.

Twitch started off as a platform dedicated to a simple idea: share footage of people playing video games and give users a chat window to discuss what they were watching. It’s evolved over the years a bit. While most of the content on Twitch is dedicated to one game or another, the biggest category (“game”) at nearly any time is “Just Chatting.” A person, a camera, a scene (or a room), and them talking to their viewers. There might be media (songs, videos, etc), or there might be some browser games or background games, but casual discussion is the meat of a “Just Chatting” stream.

There’s a reason they’re so popular. When the game is the focus, the channel itself is largely interchangeable for any other channel sharing the same game. Because the audience is mobile and not tied to the channel, it becomes hard to build any sense of community or continuity. Chatting-based channels are inherently tied to the streamer themselves and the community of people that grows around them. The games provide context to chat around but the draw becomes the channel itself. That’s a hard thing to do unless you’re one of those rare people with the right conversational gifts, comedic timing, and ability to be serious as needed.

I am not one of those people.

Even so, I took the time to think about what I needed to do to make the channel as entertaining as I could make it, while still staying true to the basic purpose: to provide viewers a means to gather and chat around a shared experience that they find interesting, but unobtrusive enough to feel free to divert from as needed. I want my channel to offer:

  • A steady schedule of two or three nights a week; at least one shorter stream and at least one long evening.
  • One afternoon stream on the weekends, since Elite: Dangerous has a strong European English-speaking audience which we might pull some viewers from.
  • A satisfactory visual design that highlighted whatever we were doing, with optional scenes for fun gimmicks, sharing videos, web sites, etc.
  • Quality presentation (different than actual content) from me, meaning clear audio and easy to understand speaking.
  • A minimum of dead time (where nothing is happening beyond the game feed.)

Overall, for a solid month or two, I succeeded. We were regularly streaming not two or three, but four nights a week, with long streams on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, then shorter ones on Monday and Wednesday evenings. After a month, I began to realize that I was overexerting myself and pushing out more screen time than people needed or wanted. I was thrilled as we picked up new followers and viewers, with a steady number of folks becoming repeat watchers. But through it, I felt myself getting tired, especially of playing an unending stream of Elite Dangerous, which was feeling stale.

As we moved into early summer, our first vacations hit and we ended up taking almost a full week away from streaming. I came back and realized that the break had reinvigorated me. I cut one day off the schedule, then quickly cut another, leaving two official scheduled stream days, with the option of adding unscheduled “bonus” streams as I felt motivated.

WiFi: Non-Existent. Cellular: Non-Existent.

Streaming during the summer has proven to be hard, owing the fact that many of my other interests are outdoors based. Camping, for example, puts a crimp in my ability to stream, especially since I often go where I don’t have internet access expressly for the purpose of disconnecting for a weekend.

… but damn, it recharges me.

Through all of this, I’ve tried to focus on my own development. If you want an entertaining exercise, go into your bathroom, look in the mirror, and talk for 30 minutes. Don’t stop. Be interesting, tell stories, jokes, share thoughts. Just keep going for 30 straight minutes. You have no clue if anyone is watching or not, but you have to keep going because someone could be there lurking, or someone may watch the replay video later.

Now go back and do it for another 270 minutes.

It’s astonishingly hard to do, at least for me, and I try to do it for at least 2 hours on short days, and 4 hours on long days. Alcohol helps (really; it loosens me up and makes me less inhibited, which generally lightens the mood) but there’s just no substitute for practice. When I first started streaming, I balked at the idea of having to fill space with what I felt was mindless, empty chatter.

Watching others streaming successfully made me realize just how much of streaming is random noise and chatter coming from the streamer, plus them interacting with the viewers. If you don’t have a lot of viewers or they aren’t very vocal, that leaves it on you. The simple truth is, if a viewer clicks your screen and you’re just staring ahead, playing a game and not talking, they’re not going to stay unless you’re especially attractive (or something else grabs their attention.) I am not attractive and I have a decidedly sparkle-free stream, so that means I just have to keep talking. For my entire life, I’ve trained myself to speak only when I felt I had something important to say or contribute. I’ve had to learn to suppress that and just let myself go. It takes a lot of trust in yourself to just let go and “babble.”

The idea of speaking into an empty room has proven to be one of the hardest things I’ve taught myself, but it’s also showing to be one of the most valuable. The more I’ve done it, the more comfortable I’ve gotten. It now feels as natural as talking on the phone or meeting someone in person. Learning to be more comfortable speaking is priceless, and learning that not everything you say has to be profound has probably made me a bit more fun to be around.

So over the past few months, I got into streaming. I started rough, with basic equipment and no clue. I learned the software and upgraded my gear to solid, good quality stuff. I made some graphics and tried to give the channel a cohesive look. I set and stuck to a schedule and gained a few new friends and loyal viewers outside of family. I’m 40% of the way to unlocking the affiliate level of Twitch, which lets me take subscriptions and bits donations, as well as having custom emoji and VIP ranks.

I say “I,” but when I wrote this post originally, almost every “I” was “we.” To me, it’s not my stream; it’s ours. It’s something I don’t just do to put myself out there, because I don’t WANT to be out there in the dark, by myself, yelling into the wind.

I want us to be out there, dancing together by the fire and shrieking with laughter as we all share the brief flare of consciousness we’ve been graced with against the cosmic scales of time and space.

But more than that, I’ve had fun. I’m going to keep doing it, whether it’s one person watching, or a hundred.

If you want to dance in the cosmos together, you can catch my streams at: https://twitch.tv/big_lanids/

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