During lockdown there’s been many pastimes that people have taken up, like home yoga and baking bread (providing you can buy yeast ANYWHERE). I myself decided to venture into the world of video game streaming on the platform Twitch (give me a cheeky follow on my Twitch channel if you're so inclined).
After some experimenting, I’ve managed to find a niche subject that’s going down a treat. I’m currently doing a recreation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in The Sims 4, complete with a full sized Hogwarts and characters from the series (well, as many as I can feasibly do).
Though I’m still growing and learning as I go, there’s a few takeaways that I’ve learnt along the way that I really wanted to share with anyone else whose thinking of taking up Twitch - though some of this advice will also apply to newbies of Mixer, YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming.
Read up on essential beginners resources
Whilst this guide is a great starting point (cheers for the support) I also have some further reading that you should check out before you hit 'that 'live' button.
I sat down for quite a few hours binging the Twitch Creator Camp. This includes a series of videos and tutorials from successful streamers on a number of different topics, from growing your channel, to marketing your streams and interacting with other people in chat.
YouTube is also full of plenty of videos for whatever you’re struggling with. For making choices on equipment and set-up, I certainly learnt a lot from Alpha Gaming. Quirky Pixel is also a great channel for learning about Twitch from the point of view of a smaller streamer. After all, it’s not like you’ll literally become Ninja on your first stream - you gotta build up.
Once you’ve consumed all the articles and videos you can, there’s no other better way to learn than by doing. If you don’t want to commit straight away, create a dummy account and do a test stream from that account. It may take a little time to get used to streaming, but you’ll improve with experience.
I find having a second account on my phone to tune into the stream really useful - this way you can see how your broadcast appears from the point of view of an audience member. Alternatively, ask a good friend to watch along and give constructive feedback when you’re done.
Prepare your kit
There’s a lot of back-end work that goes into streaming - so you’ll need to think about all the software and hardware you’ll need before you get going.
I would argue that audio is one of the most vital components, as many viewers lurk on streams, often just listening in whilst taking on other tasks. Make sure you’ve got a microphone that picks up decent sound and that you balance your levels right. You don’t need to splash a lot of cash right away, but using a separate mic and headphones rather than your PC’s built-in one is a must at the very least.
If you’re doing video alongside it, check how clear your webcam is. Video isn’t 100% necessary if your stream is gaming focused, but it can make the stream more personal for viewers. Also think about your setup on the camera. Give your room a spruce (no dirty underpants on the floor, thank you very much), and don’t underestimate the power of good lighting.
Think about your internet connection too - if it’s poor you can get lots of lag. I’ve recently switched to an Ethernet cable connection rather than WiFi through a booster, and it’s made a huge difference, so do this if you can.
Once you’ve got all that sorted, you’ll need to pick your streaming software. Whilst you can stream directly from a console or phone, if you’re wanting a more personalised setup on PC I recommend streaming from OBS, and adding on StreamElements for any overlays or interactive features you want.
Finally, be sure to customise your Twitch page to give it a little flair for anyone who swings by. Add an extension panel with any links to your social media platforms (or website if you have one), tell people your streaming schedule, and give yourself a nice header image, short bio line and profile picture. Sell, sell and sell some more!
Find your angle - streaming what you love is a good start
Just because VALORANT and Fortnite are the most popular games on Twitch (well, at the time of writing) doesn't mean that you have to stream them. It's best to stick with something you know well, or that you have an interesting angle on.
I chose The Sims 4 because I'm relatively well-versed in the gameplay style, which means there will be less time of me figuring out what I need to do. As an unashamed Harry Potter stan, it just seemed natural to try and combine this with my simulation gaming chops to provide something new for simmers out there.
This sort of logic can be applied to any game. Maybe you play The Witcher 3, but your niche is that your viewers make the decisions in the game for you. Or perhaps you play Skyrim, but your objective is to wreck havoc within the game. Pick out your favourite games, and try and come up with a spin that will intrigue viewers.
Equally, it doesn't have to be gaming. You can start streaming in Just Chatting and do a more vlog-style stream, or do a creative stream such as making cosplay. This is an excuse to trawl through all the categories and tags on Twitch, and find something that suits your skill set and personality. You don't have to stick with just one thing; try dedicating certain days to different types of streams and see what you find works. Speaking of which...
Remember that some streams will be more successful than others
I’ve been very fortunate to have some very supportive friends - both online and IRL - tuning in and supporting my streams from the very beginning. In addition, I’ve also met some new viewers along the way, and it’s been really rewarding getting to chat to them as I play away.
Of course, some days are quieter than others, and that is completely natural. There are literally hundreds of thousands of Twitch streamers out there - you can’t expect followers to always be free every single time you go live. The most important thing is to not take this to heart and just keep being as engaging as you can, as some viewers may even watch you on catch up on a later date (be sure to check the box that saves your streams in your settings).
You've also gotta listen to your body. Originally I was pushing myself to always do two streams per week alongside working full-time and other bits and bobs. Whilst this was fine at first, a couple of weeks in I went into a stream fully feeling drained and not in the mood, and it showed in my performance.
In reality I should have taken a break that day and allowed myself some time off. Experts do say that sticking to a Twitch schedule is quite important, but equally I think it’s worth reviewing this week by week, and updating your schedule on your social channels if you need to scale your content up or down.
Always interact, both on and off stream
As an improviser, one of the best things I enjoy about Twitch is the ability to chat along with my viewers. Even if for a period there’s nobody watching, just giving a commentary on what I’m doing is likely more enticing to draw someone new in.
As my stream currently crosses over with fans of The Sims and Harry Potter, I’ve tried to keep conversations related to both of these subjects. For example, asking people what their favourite HP character is, or if they’re excited for the latest Sims expansion pack. Chat is also a great way to learn whether or not viewers would be interested in a different type of stream in the future - scope for experimentation.
Also think about how you can tie in your social media channels to your activity on Twitch. If you’ve got past broadcasts saved on your channel, afterwards create ‘highlights’ of moments that stand out. You can then post these snippets on your Twitter, giving people who’ve not tuned in before a taster of what to expect over on your channel.
Equally, interaction doesn’t have to apply to your own stream. Search for games and genres that you’re interested in, and pop in on a stream to see if it holds your interest. Support the other streamer by following, commenting, subscribing and cheering, and get to know fellow viewers in the chat. I’m now a loyal watcher to numerous streams, and I’m doing my best to expand my lists all the time (if you've got any recs, hit me up).
Tech will always f*ck you over
Trust me. No matter how much you prepare, it will ALWAYS bite you in the ass. Whether its the sound not working, lagging on your WiFi, your camera not starting up or even your game crashing, all these things will likely happen.
Just try your best to be patient - inform your viewers what’s going on and do your best to keep the stream going. I even once changed from a game to Just Chatting mid-stream once because things crashed, and it all turned out fine.
I hope that was all useful information for any first-time streamers out there! If you’d like to know anything else, drop a comment below and I’ll see if I can dig out an answer for you, or drop me a line over on Twitter.