How Twitch is turning ‘always be streaming’ into a career with zero balance

0 Posted by - 17th January 2017 - Technology

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A few changes could remove what little quality of life streamers enjoyed

There are 168 hours in each week. As a full-time Twitch streamer, I’m expected to be live for as many of them as possible.

The only reprieve granted by the general populous of Twitch viewers is the understanding that all broadcasters are human and will eventually break without things like food and sleep. Twitch has just introduced a new directory that might take away that option for many up-and-coming broadcasters.

What changed

Twitch has introduced the “IRL” directory, a new place where broadcasters can share anything from their life, creating the potential to erode the ever-delicate balance of separating life and streaming that many broadcasters find so difficult already.

IRL broadcasts require interacting with your chat instead of just streaming whatever you want, with no interaction, like back in the day on Justin.tv’s platform. “Yes, you must be actively interacting with your audience when streaming in the IRL category,” the official rules state. “Unlike a lifecast, you should be the focus, either as a visible part of the stream or through providing commentary.”

The new requirements didn’t deter anyone from broadcasting themselves sleeping during the first week, but as those accounts are weeded out and the new directory becomes more stable it creates an interesting problem. Should I start giving up more of my time to broadcast or potentially be left behind?

I’ve been streaming full time on Twitch as my career for four years. Growing my channel at the start involved a mind-crushing 12-16 hours of streaming every day, seven days a week, all year, for two years. This was the only way I could maintain growth.

This story is echoed by many folks who have “made it” through grinding out the hours. Some got in early and had that as a growth platform. Others had right place, right time growth. But many, including myself, absolutely overworked ourselves to make it happen. I destroyed every relationship I had with my family and friends for “the dream.” I’m currently working to fix all the damage from it.

The only break I gave myself from streaming during that time was to go work out at the gym and meal prep for the next day. Both of those activities are now acceptable to stream on Twitch; as long as I’m interacting with my viewers at the same time.

Would I have ever given myself a break from the grind if the IRL directory existed when I started out? I know my answer would have been no. I would have devoted the few extra hours each day to making sure my channel was live as much as possible and that scares me.

“Always Be Casting” was a common mantra I learned from one of my streaming mentors ManVsGame before I began broadcasting. It took me three solid years of streaming every day before I chose to take one day off every week to keep my sanity. In truth, I already felt like I was losing control of my channel with only one day off. Sub numbers dropped, follows slowed down and every metric I had been tracking for so long seemed to scream at me every Saturday saying, "Get back online or you’ll throw away all your hard work!"

Those first few months were more about fighting that inner voice than enjoying the time I had together with my wife. I broke that habit eventually and now we get at least one day a week together where we can focus on each other and having fun. It’s kinda like a traditional job, albeit a very demanding one.

The ability to accept and take a day off was a product of the hard work put in ahead of time. I had grown my channel from zero follows to over 400,000 before I “earned” that day off in my mind. The ability to take 24 hours off for many up-and-coming streamers is becoming much more difficult.

I always have concerns when Twitch makes fundamental changes to its service, but this is the first time I’ve personally become worried about a new direction for the company.

Allowing broadcasters to interact with their followers outside of gaming is a great idea in theory, and the ability to compete with Facebook Live and YouTube is a valid feature. But my concern is that the Twitch viewership as a whole might begin to expect even more from their favorite broadcasters, regardless of their popularity.

The once-acceptable answer of “I just can’t broadcast right now” because of travel, family or the need for personal non-gaming time might disappear, leaving yet another avenue for attack from trolls or disappointed fans.

What you give up when you begin to broadcast

The environment on Twitch as a broadcaster is very personal. Viewers are invited into your home to enjoy your favorite hobby with you and each other. This can create a “one-way street” effect with your audience; they know everything about you and your life. As a broadcaster there is a limit to how many viewers you can know on that level, and how often you can be online.

This can set up a situation where many viewers can feel slighted, disappointed or even insulted if you can’t find a way to get online one day. Once you can turn a stream on from your pocket that dynamic becomes more difficult to manage; the reasons for not streaming are being taken away, one by one. “Always Be Casting” becomes a direct reality instead of a goal most of us recognized as being unattainable even as we strived to be online as much as possible.

The true future of the IRL directory and how it will affect relationships between broadcasters and their viewers will start to reveal itself with the launch of the mobile app. Some broadcasters have started second channels to set up IRL streaming so there is no confusion about gaming and non-gaming content, much like channels for vlogging and gaming on YouTube.

The average viewer has come to expect a certain quality, time frame and production value on most channels, and to tune what you expect to be a highly polished broadcast and see a cell phone quality video breaks down that expectation and could result in backlash, turning what should be a fun “walk the floor at PAX with me” stream into a viewer induced rage off about how they hate the new program and IRL directory in general.

Twitch should make those expectations explicitly obvious to anyone tuning into a mobile broadcast, and this has been one of the company’s weakest points with each new product. Twitch tends to launch a new system and then force the broadcasters to do the PR for them on the product, as the broadcasters themselves are figuring it out in real time.

I was part of the “Cheering” beta before it launched globally, and it was a non-stop barrage of questions, accusations and insults over the new product. I found myself speaking more about this “new product” than being able to conduct my stream for the first week or two. It was my job to get people on board, and Twitch itself did little to help us with that challenge in the early days of launch when it came to dealing with the PR for the product.

I feel Twitch needs to take on the burden of championing the new product instead of passing the buck down to broadcasters for the launch of IRL and mobile streaming if they want the launch to be successful. We can only do so much to manage expectations and explain what’s going on without a top-down strategy from the platform itself.

Overall, the changes to Twitch due to mobile streaming and the IRL directory might be small at first. The introduction of Bits, a sort of virtual currency for broadcasters, had people concerned about the effects on other forms of revenue, but they didn’t see much change at first. I’ve since heard that Bits have had a negative effect on the revenue of many broadcasters.

Mobile streaming might not do much to change Twitch immediately, but will it be an expectation of every broadcaster to take their community everywhere in a few months or years? Will they feel the need to go out on a date and make sure it’s on IRL because they know that will get views? Could someone turn their phone on in the middle of a horrible event and suddenly become the top stream on Twitch, while having to “engage” with the audience in order to avoid breaking the rules?

Twitch needs to be careful as it manages its brand with this addition. My initial fear is that those rare days off will never appear for the new generation of streamers and we’ll have to learn to speak with our audience as they watch us sleep. “Always Be Casting” is a powerful, effective way to grow an audience, and the only one who can turn the camera off is the person who benefits the most from keeping it on.


Ben “ProfessorBroman” Bowman is a content creator known for holding a Guinness World Record in Destiny, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities and being one of the organizers of GuardianCon, happening June 30th in Tampa, Florida. You can watch him on Twitch at twitch.tv/professorbroman

http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/16/14240224/twitch-irl-risks-dangers via http://www.polygon.com/ #CIO, #Technology