Welcome everyone to another edition of Games with Coffee! I hope everyone’s had a great week and is looking forward to the weekend!
As promised in my last post, today I’ll be talking about my streaming experience over the past year and share a few lessons I learned during that time.
Having A Proper Set Up Matters
Honestly, this can make or break a stream. When I first got into streaming back in 2018 or so, I had a budget-friendly refurbished laptop (that I later had to repair because the hard drive failed spectacularly…), a lapel microphone, some basic headphones and an Elgato HD60 Capture Card. I did one, maybe two streams using this setup before setting it aside for a year or so because I felt so intimidated by the whole process.
I revisited this back in 2019 and looked up specifics on what one needs to stream and this is what I found to work: A computer with mid-range specs on power and graphics, a monitor, a microphone and a pair of headphones. One could also get a webcam, but that’s really an optional piece of equipment – there are plenty of successful streamers who stream without ever showing their faces.
As for what software to use for streaming, there are several options. The most popular of them is OBS, which literally means “Open-source Broadcasting Software.” OBS is a robust and fairly simple software to use and there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube to help with the learning process. On top of that, there are several flavours of OBS. The one I use specifically is Streamlabs OBS. It has a clean UI and links your live stream site account (Twitch, YouTube, etc.) with your Streamlabs account. From there, you can add things like animated images for alerts, banners, track donations and follows and a whole bunch of other things.
I used GIMP to develop my overlays and logos. I designed my overlays using sprite backgrounds that you can find all through the internet that I tweaked to suit my preferences. My current overlay for my Sunday stream is based on the large level screen display thingy in Knuckles’ Chaotix, while my Tuesday stream uses classic text boxes from RPGs to emulate a menu screen.
In terms of my equipment, I have a fairly powerful PC with an AMD processor and an older model Nvidia graphics card. I mentioned that this was given to me by my cousin Lee, who is freakin’ awesome by the way! I’ll never stop saying that haha. I use two monitors: an ASUS one which is my main and an old 22” Samsung LCD TV as my secondary monitor. The TV is what I use to connect my older consoles on since it has dedicated A/V, composite and HDMI inputs as well as a separate headphone jack.
I still retained the Elgato HD60 capture card, however, I didn’t use it when I started out; I was still too intimidated by it. I only started using it fully this year to great success and I’ll present a tutorial on how I configured mine in a future post.
Plan On What You Want To Stream
Having a good setup is nothing without having something to play! I honestly found this to be the fun part of streaming – planning what to play during your streams. When 2020 was around the corner, I knew immediately that the first games I wanted to stream were Sonic games, since I officially dubbed it the “Year of Sonic the Hedgehog,” due to my involvement with the “Characters That Define Us” collaboration. So, during the winter break, I compiled a list of Sonic games I planned on playing between February and June and I stuck with it (with deviations from time to time). After I got my list, I then picked a day that worked with my schedule. During a typical week in 2020, I had split my time between writing Mobius VII and spending time with my family. Saturdays were extremely busy but Sundays were not, so I chose Sunday nights to stream. Later in the year, I added a Tuesday stream where I played mainly retro action-adventure titles, like Alundra, Mega Man, Castlevania and Zelda, to name a few.
This habit of planning out what to play helped me be consistent with my streams while also giving me something to look forward to on the days I was streaming.
Run Plenty Of Tests
Retro Game Brews, a good, good friend of mine and fellow streamer, shared this extremely valuable piece of wisdom with me when I first started: Dealing with sound and video issues is a rite of passage within Twitch. Just as it’s important to have a good setup for streaming, it’s also important to test out your stream and adjust settings to suit your audience. With OBS and Streamlabs OBS, you have the option of recording yourself, which is vital for testing your setup. What I did was record myself playing and talking for about 30 seconds to a minute each time and then watching and listening afterwards to see both how the game and I sound. I also took the time to review my visual assets, like layouts and alerts and make sure they were coming out crisp and clear.
I then got into the habit of running tests and checking my stream settings prior to my broadcast. I did this because every game is different; the sound of some games comes out loud while other games are quiet. Sometimes my voice overpowers the game audio while sometimes I’m too quiet for my audience to hear. Bottom line is, it’s worth it to continue testing your setup prior to streaming.
Play What You Want To Play
The title speaks for itself. Don’t be so worried about consistently playing the most popular games around unless you’re really gunning for that Partner status. If you enjoy playing what you want to play, your enthusiasm will show and your audience will recognize that. In my case, playing Sonic games on Sundays helped me grow my audience base since those were the games I loved playing. Things would probably be different if I played a game that I wasn’t wholly interested in, despite its popularity.
Sometimes What’s Popular Isn’t Quite Popular
On the other hand, even playing the most popular games might not garner enough attention from your audience. I did a stint of playing Final Fantasy VII Remake over the summer of 2020 and I noticed that my viewership dropped. It could be that the Remake just wasn’t interesting enough for my core audience, or it could be due to me using my PS4 as an alternate stream setup to play it, but I wasn’t drawing in people like I used to. Though it wasn’t a bad thing because I was able to make a great friend during the FFVII Remake journey and now he’s one of my favourite regulars!
As I mentioned above, I used my PS4 to stream my Remake game session. Looking back, I think I would have had better success if I utilized my capture card. This leads to my next lesson:
Capture Cards are a Godsend (Once Configured Properly)
Now, for most people, capture cards are quite intimidating. On the surface, they’re easy to operate – connect your console to the input side, connect your display to the output side, insert the data cable to your computer and voila! The capture card is connected and Ret-2-Go! (Sorry, I’ve been on a Shantae fix lately…)
Except that’s only half the battle. While the plug-and-play setup lets one instantly stream console games, I found that the Elgato capture card has an in-built latency delay due to the USB cable. That means that if I make a jump in real-time, my viewers will see that same jump about a couple seconds later. If you combine that with a webcam and mic set up that’s configured to pick up streamer audio/visual in real-time, viewers will see a synchronization delay which doesn’t look super professional. I figured out how to solve this sync problem (not without some issues) and so, I’ll be sharing a detailed post in the following week on how I synched up the audio/visual stuff to the capture card. I know this would be a big help for any up-and-coming streamers who are able to secure such a card!
So, the rig is ready, the mic and webcam are ready, the games are ready and the capture devices are ready. Now comes one of the biggest lessons I learned:
Consistency Is Key!
After figuring out the above, this lesson here is the most important – not only for streaming but also for anything in life.
Having a consistent and predictable schedule will help grow your audience. Period. Plan for it and let people know however you can. Share your schedule on social media, put it on your group chats, wave banners, shout it out from the rooftops if possible; it doesn’t matter, just get the word out! I found for myself that initially letting family and friends know that I’m streaming on x day at x hour ensured that I’d get at least a few viewers on my channel. Those views and interactions really helped when I started out!
Sometimes, life does get in the way of your consistent schedule, but that’s OK! If you can fit in a make-up day, go for it! If not, then delay until the following week. Don’t work for the stream, make the stream work for you.
Finally, there will be days where you’ll get a TON of viewers in your stream and there will be days when maybe one or two people show up. It doesn’t matter – just keep at it! Take every stream like you’re expecting a crowd to show up. Little by little, growth will happen!
Speaking of streaming growth, there are plenty of ways to do just that and my personal favourite is:
Seriously, never underestimate the power of a good network.
It does require a bit of legwork, perseverance and goodwill, but it pays off in dividends once it gets going. Networking with others can be as simple as visiting another streamer’s channel and just having conversations with them. Don’t be rude though and be like “Yo, go check out my stream, bruh!” Be genuine and be patient. If the streamer does ask if you stream yourself, then it’s fair game! Share what you play, what you’re about and what days and times you stream and go from there. Sometimes, viewers of that very stream may end up following you, giving you more opportunities to draw an audience.
Two of the many ways I’ve networked were from my work as a games writer/blogger and through participating in streaming competitions. As you know, I’ve worked on a fair deal of collaboration projects with various writing groups. Along with reading some way past cool stuff, I also made a ton of great friends, some of which visit me on stream from time to time to partake in my adventures! To those great people who do so, thank you so much by the way!
I was also fortunate to participate in a few streaming competitions hosted by none other than Retro Game Brews. The first contest I was in was a Sonic 2 speed race within Emerald Hill Zone and it was a riot! Though I didn’t make it to the next rounds, I still had a blast and cheered on the other competitors who were all great sports! I’ve since played other great games such as Kung Fu (NES), Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Outrun (Genesis) and Super Punch-Out (SNES). My run on that last game was beyond epic because I finally beat the crud out of Super Macho Man, my nemesis from the original Punch-Out. Beyond finishing him off, I almost beat the game too! It was exciting!
Super Punch-Out ended up being my most memorable competition as it was the push I needed to reach Affiliate status. As I mentioned before in my last post, it was the best birthday gift I’ve ever received!
However, the best competition I had a blast with was the RGB High Score Castlevania Speed Run contest that occurred last year during Halloween. Though I love Castlevania, I was always intimidated with the first game – I’ve never finished it before and I was nervous about it. As I practiced and shared my progress with the competitors though (who all gave great speedrunning advice by the way!), I felt my confidence build up until I could beat it for the first time. And then I beat it in half an hour, which is pretty impressive when I think about it.
When it came to the actual run, I was gunning for sub 25 minutes as my overall goal. In the end, my best time ended up at just over 16 minutes! Here were my splits for that night:
During that time, I gained followers, earned bits from wonderful streamers and made some great, great friends who stop by either for a chat or initiate a raid from time to time. Bottom line is, networking works! Engage with your fellows in the community and you’ll see results. But networking is only half of the battle.
It Takes A Lot Of Work To Succeed
I may be waxing on about how easy streaming is, but I’ll be honest, it does take a lot of work. I built a lot of my own assets on my own, such as logos, overlays and BRB/Commercial screens. You also always have to be promoting your stream. Even though I’m doing this for fun, for some streamers, this is a way of life for them and so they’re grinding every day to get people to tune into their feed. That grind is something that I respect.
One of the most challenging things I feel that I need to work on more is to be more engaging. Streams live or die by how engaging the streamer is with the audience. I started off by sharing my wealth of Sonic trivia during my Sonic Sunday shows. I then did commentary explaining how I went through certain sections of the game I was playing, starting with Alundra on my Tuesday streams. There were times where I was distracted by the game that I couldn’t respond properly to chat or get my facts out straight without going with long pauses. It’s something I’m working on though.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to make this work is to be genuine with others. It’s difficult to engage with your audience if you can’t muster up some authenticity within yourself. People are perceptive and they tune out if they can’t connect with you. So, talk with your audience! Laugh, cry, celebrate their victories, empathize with their anguish. Connect with them. The way I see it, every stream should feel like a couch session with your good friends and you all talk about everything under the sun while enjoying some good quality games. At least, that’s the impression I try to present whenever I stream.
The last lesson here is to, well, have fun! Enjoy what you play, ignore worrying about what’s popular or not and above all, have a good time with it. I guarantee that people will come to check you out and stay if you’re engaging, relaxed and having a good time with the games you’re playing.
Continuing on the subject, don’t be afraid to be silly on stream! This isn’t some overly professional setting like work (unless you treat it as such), so go nuts! Myself, I wear certain hats during my streams: Sundays I wear my Sonic hat and Tuesdays I wear a Legend of Zelda hat, in celebration of the series’ 35th anniversary.
And those are some of the things I learned during my first year of streaming. I hope this helps you out, whether you’re just starting or if you’ve been in the game for quite some time! Next week, I’ll share how I configured my capture card.
Are you streaming? What have you been playing? Do you have any further tips or lessons to share? If so, drop ‘em in the comments below!
If you want to see me live, be sure to tune in on Sundays and Tuesdays at 9:30pm EST!
That’s it for this post. With that, this has been Ryan, reminding you to Live with no Regrets, Believe in Yourself and Chase the Impossible! See ya next time!