Week 14 - Everything I Needed to Know About Video Game Streamers
Video game streamers are only becoming more popular each day. As more story and mechanic rich games come out, more people want to record their gameplay and share it with the world (most hoping to make some money too).
While there are various formats of streaming, I plan to focus mostly on the video game streaming platform Twitch, and the market that it created. So, in this week's post, I am looking at the history of the video game streaming movement and what it looks like to be a streamer today.
Table of Contents
- Day 1 - Twitch Founder: We Turned A 'Terrible Idea' Into A Billion-Dollar Company
- Day 2 - The Qualities of a Successful Streamer
- Day 3 - The (still) uncertain state of video game streaming online
- TL; DR
When Amazon buys your terrible idea for almost $1 billion, you might want to rethink your definition of 'terrible'. To be fair, the whole terrible part came when Twitch was still known as justin.tv, a website founded in 2005 by Justin Kan while he was still at Yale.
Justin wasn't always a constant companion of success though, as his first project, Kiko, never really took off. Kiko was developed as a digital calendar before even Google had entered the scene. When Justin and his team realized Kiko wasn't going anywhere, they sold it on eBay and moved onto their next project - Justin.tv.
The idea behind Justin.tv was to build a platform that lets users stream their lives (essentially giving birth to the lifecasting movement). This idea sprung to life at the same time webcams and internet access dropped in price.
And if you thought websites today looked bad, just take a look at how far we've come.
Justin.tv was no overnight success though. People thought the idea of lifecasting was weird while asking how they could start their own online streams. Another hiccup came when Swat teams and cops would interrupt streams because someone made a prank call.
While streaming on Twitch today can be done pretty easily, that was definitely not the case in 2005. Justin knew of the desire but was limited by the technology of his time - think lots of hardware and complex software. So, he hired a professional video game streamer to come in and make it as easy as possible for the masses on his platform.
Since Twitch's birth in 2005 as Justin.tv, the video game streaming industry has exploded. One of the most popular categories on YouTube is video games and Twitch.tv continues to garner millions of visitors per day. Twitch.tv even falls just behind Google, Apple, and Netflix when it comes to total internet traffic.
Twitch has established itself as the go-to place for video game streaming and has even become a full-time job for many people.
As Twitch continues its dominance in the video game streaming industry, more people are looking into how they can play video games for a living.
The problem is that streamers are a dime a dozen, as the platform is widely accessible and a complete stream setup can be finished pretty quickly and cheaply.
But who cares about how to become a streamer.
The big question is how do you succeed once you start?
You're an Entertainer, Through and Through
Why do people watch other people play video games? Is it because it's a fun, new game with pretty graphics? Maybe.
More likely it's because the person they are watching talk about interesting things, make them laugh, or reward them somehow.
As a streamer, it's your job to not only play a game, but keep your viewers entertained by both your gameplay and commentary. That is if you plan on making any money.
Make a Schedule, and Stick with it
Similar to what I learned in my post on YouTube influencers, successful Twitch streamers have a schedule and stick to it. They build a following that knows when they stream, and give people the chance to look forward to their content.
Not sticking to a schedule, or even having one, is a great way to make sure you don't succeed. The schedule is there to help you, so that doesn't mean you are a slave to it. If you are starting to snowball, ignore the schedule and keep going. Don't lose momentum once you get it.
The Only Thing Stopping You is Yourself
"If you tell yourself a lie long enough, it starts to sound like truth"
Probably some philosopher
When things start to go south for your channel, because at some point they will, you have to know that you can't let it affect your game plan.
Take this classic excuse - "I'm not getting any new viewers because all the already popular streamers are hogging them."
If you're not getting more viewers or you've hit that invisible wall, find a way around it. Successful streamers know their strengths and weaknesses, and use them to come up with some solution in the end. Be a trailblazer and take a new path. Throwing up your hands and saying you just can't do it means you're a child.
When Going Down a Hole, Bring a Ladder
Unless you are channeling your inner Michael Jones, getting (actually) mad and frustrated in your stream will more likely than not drive people away from your channel.
So what do you do when shit hits the fan? Get a mop.
If something can go wrong, it probably will. So make sure you have a backup plan (or four) when you start streaming. Whether that be other games, backup hardware, trolls, or whatever else the world throws at you. Don't get bogged down by a roadblock. Identify it and find out how you can keep moving.
It Can Help to Not Suck
While skills are not necessarily a necessary part of successful streaming, it sure as hell can help. This becomes especially true for common eSports games like League of Legends, Fortnite, Pubg, and Overwatch. If you suck at these games, you better be funny as hell.
In the end, your job is to entertain people. If the game your playing doesn't necessarily involve too much skill, focus on your commentary and jokes. If the game does have some heavy skill components involved, make sure you stand a fighting chance before you dive in. If you can't entertain people, no amount of skill can help you.
Know You're Starting a Business
If you're actually serious about streaming, you'll probably hit a point where it can become a job. The more viewers you get, the more you get noticed, the higher the chance you'll score some deal with some company or brand.
Know the worth of your channel and skills, otherwise you'll get the short end of the stick.
Stay Above the Noise
What makes you different?
All successful streamers know the answer to this question. No one wants to go watch 5 similar streams of the same game. They want to see something unique and new, something creative and funny. As the classic cheesy quote goes, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." People are weird, funny and dumb. If you don't think something is funny or interesting, it's good that you aren't your own viewer.
I'll say this again - successful streamers know their strengths and weaknesses, and use them to come up with some solution in the end. Find a way to stand out, otherwise, you'll drown in the masses.
If you read last week's post then the name PewDiePie will sound familiar. As the most popular YouTuber, his videos reach a wide (and young) audience. While playing a game, he used a racial slur, causing the developers of the game Firewatch to issue a DMCA takedown of his video of their game.
This takedown highlights the power that developers/publishers have over their games while people stream them. For many, it's probably unclear what power publishers have once you buy the game and can become even more complicated if you monetize it in some way.
Companies like Microsoft and Ubisoft seem to be on the side of the streamer, at least more so than Nintendo, who has strict rules for recording their games.
Most platforms and companies didn't want to directly address the issue of streamers and their actions, so this article went directly to hear it from streamer's mouths (and a lawyer).
A streamer and Let's Player who started in 2008 with 39k subscribers. Teleeli looks at both sides of the argument, where the recordings and streams can be seen to be owned by the creator or be a transformed piece.
The content can be transformative because streamers add their own personality and flare to the game, and the viewers aren't actually playing the game.
Think of it this way - people don't watch streamers to see how well the game runs, how balanced the mechanics are, or how pretty the game is; they watch streamers to be entertained by reactions, jokes, and commentary that goes with the game and can only come from the streamer.
While Teleeli does desire some sort of legal middle ground between streamers and publishers, he is also concerned about how easily a channel can be flagged or even removed completely. The hope is that one day, developers and streamers will walk hand in hand, creating a world of peace and unity...too much?
A former employee at Achievement Hunter, Ray left the company to pursue streaming full-time in 2015. With over 400k followers, Ray plays a variety of games and adds both his skill and personality to his videos.
Ray see's streaming as a dual creation from both the streamer and developer and mentions that streamers are providing free advertisement for games. Ray has even been contacted by indie developers to play their game so they can get some exposure.
But not every developer has that mindset, and while Ray has yet to run into any legal problems, he does believe that it is a developer's right to decide to have their game streamed or not.
While Ray believes that what PewDiePie said was terrible, he also said that taking down a video or channel because the streamer says something you don't agree with can become a very dangerous game.
What Does the Law Say?
According to Ryan Morrison, a founding partner at Morrison Lee, streamers and lets players are technically guilty of infringement if they didn't receive a license from the developers/publishers. While you could argue that the content is covered under fair use, you are basically already admitting to infringement. The difference is that you are trying to say why it's ok.
Here's the delineating factor though.
The more originality, comedy, personality, etc, you add to the video, the further it is from an actual infringement case. If you're just silently playing a game and not adding anything, you're going to run into some issues.
All streams, unless given explicit permission by publishers, are breaking copyright laws. The catch is that the industry doesn't really care unless something distasteful happens (like PewDiePie). Most of it is a legal gray area that could swing multiple ways if the courts get involved. The reality is that no one seems to be trying to draw a line in the sand, which depending on who you ask, could be a good or bad thing.
Too Long; Didn't Read
Twitch, originally known as Justin.tv, is a video streaming platform that found its success in video games.
It became the go-to place for easy live streaming, and an easy way to show video games with commentary, giving rise to professional streamers.
While playing video games for a living might sound like a dream to many people, it's no easy job. Your real job is to entertain people, and just playing video games doesn't do that. You have to bring something to the table, like expert knowledge, comedy, skill, etc. Streamers are a dime a dozen. The successful ones find what makes them unique, and then use video games to accentuate that skill and have some fun while doing it.
When these streamers and lets players hit the ground running, the law wasn't even sure how to walk. While there are various laws in place that protect the property of developers and publishers, streamers are able to get away with most things unless they say or do something extremely offensive (like PewDiePie).
Streamers and lets players, unless given explicit permission or a license by publishers or developers, are technically breaking copyright laws. The thing is that no one really cares unless a high profile case makes a splash. Plus, streamers are essentially doing free marketing for games and just giving them general exposure.