Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to Be a Video Game Streamer Part 1: Channel Focus and Persona

Is anyone else getting annoyed at the "make money by playing games!" how-to guides cropping up all over the place? As if it's so simple. A number of these 'walkthroughs' fail to mention the time, energy, and start-up capital it takes to get into playing games for a living. Your favorite Twitch streamers and YouTubers didn't get famous overnight. From Markiplier to RoosterTeeth, people spent years, decades even, to reach the level of internet fame that they currently hold. With it comes more money through viewer donations/ad revenue, and more responsibility to maintain quality work. You have to keep up with a tight work schedule to ensure that your videos are produced, edited, and uploaded when your viewers expect them. If you set yourself up to have a Monday/Wednesday/Friday new video release, you better be sure that you stick to it or you will lose your audience. Fast.

I've touched on this subject before, but I think it's time we have a real run down on what it takes to play video games for a living if you plan to go the Twitch/YouTube streaming method. And I'm going to give you the truth. No fancy "this is so easy, here's how!" taglines. I'm going to break this apart and do a multi-post series on how you can start your own gaming channel. No fluff.

Disclaimer: I'm not going to guarantee that you'll gain viewers or make money off this venture. There will never be a assurance (and if a website promises you that you'll make money, close the tab immediately). It is all dependent on you; how much time and work you're willing to put into it. You might see results. You might not. For some streamers, their popularity was through luck. Even then, they had to work at it to get noticed by a game developer, celebrity, or another big-time streamer. If you want to turn your hobby into a career, you'll have to work for it. There's your bottom line. So, no guarantees and no suing me if you don't make money, got it?

So let's begin with Part 1: Channel Focus and Persona

To be honest, I understand why this career route holds a lot of appeal. You don't answer to a big name corporation (most of the time). You answer to your audience and their gaming needs. You work at your own pace. You set your hours. With advertising revenue you can even eliminate certain ad categories that appear on your videos if the content doesn't mesh with your viewpoints. You have control that you wouldn't have in a traditional work environment.

And now you want to jump on board with the trend and make money off of it. First things first is figuring out what your channel is going to focus on.

"I just want to play games."

That's fine. How is that going to make you stand out from the hundreds of thousands of people that now stream on YouTube/Twitch? And among the billions of YouTube videos? How are people going to recognize you, the gamer, as someone more important to watch then Keyboard Cat?

A quick search of the top gamers, you'll find that most of them have a niche channel. Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V are still some of the top choices for streamers - the open-world aspect allows gamers to play and mod in different ways to keep the content fresh. Minecraft can go from building, to an RPG, to an action-adventure with a few button clicks. But you'll also find that these gamers raking in the most dough (consistently) only focus on one or two games within the same genre. They rarely break out. Why? Because they know they will lose money and their audience. People follow them for their Minecraft videos. They don't want to see anything else. And people won't donate if they don't get the videos that they want. Streaming is still a b2c (business to consumer) situation. Your viewers will only pay if you give them the videos they crave.

So that's one avenue: focus on one game to play and produce videos on it. Make sure it's a game that you love. You're going to be sick of it after a few months. The catch is you can't stop playing it. You have to keep making videos for it, even when you hate it. Because that's what your audience wants, and they will stop giving you money if you stop playing. Eventually you'll find the love for the game again. We all do. But those first few months are brutal when you are constantly knee-deep in the same game. Be prepared for that mental battle you will have with yourself.

Another method is to do a review channel, like The Completionist. You play a game and you package together a review for it. There are a number of those channels that exist as well, so you'll have to figure out a way to make your content stand out. Being vulgar or yelling at the screen is not the way to go. Let's Play-like videos are steadily falling behind in views as more of the same content is rehashed with newer gamers. They see JonTron and Markiplier screaming during Five Nights at Freddy's and think that's how all of their videos should be. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the copy and pasting method is becoming tiresome. What makes The Completionist stand out from other YouTube reviews is that he provides insightful, honest, and thoughtful content. It's not about making weird noises and expecting a laugh. That can only get you so far - and when people think you're no longer funny then what?

Like Adam Sandler, if you have a tired shtick, people are going to stop watching. So make sure that the content you produce is worth your time. More importantly, it needs to be content that's worth your audience's time. There are loads of ways to review video games, so read up on them and create a method that works best for you. Do you want to do initial thought reviews after one game session? Or do you want to break apart the game and look at the theory behind the story arc? You've got a load of options for reviewing content so pick what appeals to you.

If you want to have more of an "all gaming" channel like RoosterTeeth, think about how you want to approach it. Are you going to play games at random? Will it be a focus on new titles or classic content? Do you plan to play a game through to completion or give people a taste of each product? What about this method will make YOU stand out? Do you want to do scripted jokes, or just record yourself playing and let the content come naturally?

Have you noticed a theme by now, other then me asking a lot of questions? The big focus is your YouTube/Twitch persona. Ultimately that's what drives people to watch PewDiePie. They are there to watch him. We sit through videos by GameGrumps because we enjoy their perspective on games. We follow Kotaku because we like their editors points of view.

If you are a run-of-the-mill average gamer, no one is going to watch you.

You have to have a personality that stands out. You need to be engaging to the audience. You need to be the person that people want to spend their free time with, instead of searching for cat videos.

What about you makes you worth watching?

This is a big deal, because who you are can make or break your channel! Starting up a gaming stream and hoping people will show, isn't enough. You need to provide content and an experience that viewers can't get elsewhere.

Now I can't tell you what makes you stand out. I don't know you. That's something you have to figure out before you do anything else with your gaming channel. Talk to your family and your friends. Ask them what they think makes you special - look for real answers. Maybe don't ask your parents. They lied to us about the Tooth Fairy after all.

When you decide on your gaming personality (whether it's real or a twist on your reality), the focus of your channel becomes clearer.

For me, I play off of my quirks. I talk to games often. I know they won't respond, but it doesn't deter me. I also spend time analyzing the content I'm playing while I'm gaming. If I'm having to do a fetch quest in Mass Effect: Andromeda, I want to know why. I will take the time to engage in a dialogue with the audience and discuss games in an academic manner. I'm giving the audience humor through my personality as well as in-depth discussions about the games themselves. It's something I do all the time. Is it a ground-breaking concept? Of course not. But through my gaming persona, I have found a loyal streaming audience that visits me each week to engage. And that's what is important. Building up an audience that will return time and again for you.

Once you decide on your channel content and your persona, you'll be able to move to the next step of channel production. But that is enough to chew on for now. See you in Part 2: Setting Up Your Channel. Until then, you've got a lot of homework to do.

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