OLD MAN TALKS TO SCREEN

I’ve been Twitching for a little over a month now, less so in recent days.

The livestreaming universe is a strange one, populated by all sorts of folks from all walks of life. The barrier to entry is as low as the user’s ability to connect their camera and/or gaming device to the internet, so it limits almost no one from participating. There are superstars with thousands of regular viewers who voluntarily pay hundreds of dollars to support them. There are mid-range stars who make enough to call it their livelihood, with enough of a viewership to earn an income on donations, subscriptions, and sponsorships. Then there’s the newcomers and the hobbyists, folks who aren’t chasing the dream hard enough, don’t care if they blow up, or are in the process of blowing up: grinding hours in front of their machines in the hopes of catching their potential audience’s attention.

I’m not sure which of the last category I fall in to, though I do know that it’s been 3 weeks since my last follower and I’ve yet to have more than a single concurrent viewer with any consistency (much love, Joel). 3 weeks ago I started to get a little worried, 2 weeks ago I was somewhat despondent, but a few days ago I more or less stopped trying and now I’m just letting it ride.

At the outset I wanted to make the stream as professional-looking as I could. I invested a bunch of time and energy into producing branded assets with a unified theme, got my broadcasting environment set up similar to how I used to broadcast way back in the day on CFUV: cue cards, sequenced events, and a standardized opener and closer with appropriate bumpers. I set up a regular streaming schedule, and intended to play the more popular games for streaming.

The trouble with that setup was that it immediately felt like work. I’d underestimated how much effort it took to sit there and play to an audience. It’s really like any other performance-based medium, where it takes preparation, focus, skill, and fortitude just to do your thing. Most streams tend to be long, which is unusual for other kinds of live performance. A live television program, while requiring a lot of preparation, is typically only 22 minutes of focused effort for an actor. A rock concert from a fledgling band could go an hour, but is more often less than 30 minutes. Starting stand-up comedians generally shoot for a 5 to 10 minute set. Only athletes have lengthy, physically demanding performances that go more than hour, and even then there’s rotations where they can sit on a bench and relax for a few. The most successful livestreamers go for hours and hours, anywhere from 4 to 8, with many doing charity streams of 24+. That’s a long time to be “on” for an audience.

In the beginning I shot for 3 hours, and I’ve managed to fulfill that many times. I’ve always felt supremely drained afterward, though, to the point where I questioned whether it was worth the effort. I think part of that exhaustion came from having to play games I wasn’t really all that interested in playing. I can’t imagine the boredom some of the high-profile streamers who focus on a single game must feel some days. I’m sure some of the time it’s fun, but having to play the same game for hours on end 5 days a week must be soul-draining.

So I moved away from playing a set of fixed games to a “variety” stream where I played random games from my collection. This was hit and miss, mostly miss. The live broadcasts got little traction, despite my attempts to leverage my sizable social network, and the video-on-demands (VODs) have almost no replay value.

There's more than a few zero views on the VODs.
There’s more than a few zero views on the VODs.

In recent days I’ve backed off from the aggressive schedule I had planned for the summer (6 days a week, 3 hours a night). I’ve been re-evaluating how to approach the universe of livestreaming, and I think that just streaming when I feel like it and seeing if anything catches on might be the best way to go. I still don’t have a camera that captures my face set up, and I think that’s hurting the initial discoverability. It’s a feature that stream viewers have come to expect, and when browsing for something to watch in the Twitch app/website any stream lacking a face is likely to get passed over. I’ll probably have a facecam set up before the end of summer, and we’ll see how much that goes toward attracting new viewers. Destiny 2 and Fortnite launch soon, and I plan on playing both of those games a lot, so perhaps we’ll find a niche to occupy in there.

If you’re not already following the Twitch channel, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d head over and slam that button. Even if you don’t watch, it helps move the channel closer to affiliate status. If you know people who are into watching livestreams, maybe share this to them. And if you’re like me, trying to navigate the vacuum of the livestream universe, keep doing your thing. Hit me up on Twitter with a link to your channel and I’ll check it out, and if you have any advice I’m all ears.

Until next time, this is Dark Acre Jack saying keep calm, and game on.