How to stream video games for fun and profit

What is it that separates a true geek from a wanna-be? In our book, it’s participation. Normies go see superhero movies, play video games, and enjoy all of the fruits of geek culture, but we’re the ones who actually make it. An important aspect of the geek personality is being able to produce your own cool ideas, and in this series we’ll give you all the tools you need to get in on the action.

This week: how to stream video games for fun and profit.

If there’s one thing that you’ve probably been told over and over about your gaming habit, it’s that you’ll never be able to make a living off it. Well, that all changed a few years ago. Now, a thriving subculture of people are broadcasting their digital adventures to the world and making a pretty penny off it. It’s called streaming, and it’s huge. Some of the biggest names in the industry get tens of thousands of viewers during their sessions, and advertising revenue means money goes into their pocket for each and every one of them. Streamers play all genres of games from all eras, and the most popular have carved out healthy niches for themselves.

You don’t even have to be good at games to stream — although it certainly helps! Viewers are attracted to strong personalities, humor, intelligent analysis, and skill as much as boobs. Combine a few of those and you’re well on your way to streaming success.

Supplies

The first thing you’ll need is, of course, a stable internet connection. There’s nothing that turns viewers off a stream faster than lousy frame rate and audio drops, so make sure that your streaming machine is running directly into your modem or router — not over WiFi. Secondly, you’ll need some streaming software. There are numerous options on the market at a variety of price ranges. One popular free option is OBS, which you can get here. Xsplit has a free ad-supported version, and many professional streamers find it worth it to pay the $25 quarterly license fee. That lets you do things like transmit Skype feeds and push to projectors.

A microphone is essential so you can give commentary on your game, react to people in the chat, and build your brand. If you’re using your computer’s on-board mic, wear headphones so you don’t pick up game audio on it. Most streamers choose a headset mic, which you can get at an affordable price. You don’t necessarily need a webcam, but having viewers able to see your face as you play and react to a game can be a huge addition to your stream. People will be watching not just for the games you play — dozens if not hundreds of streamers will be playing the same games — but the personality you bring to the table. If you’re going to be streaming from any console besides an Xbox One or PS4 (both of which support Twitch natively), you’ll need a capture card to transmit that output to the internet.

Finally, you need to pick your streaming service. Right now, the dominant player in the market is Twitch. It has the largest viewer base and the most well-established business model. That said, there are some restrictions on content that may drive you to other competitors like Hitbox.

Before you start

Right off the bat: you probably won’t have many (if any) viewers on your first stream. That’s fine! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was PewDiePie’s Hollywood mansion. Before you go live, though, it’s important to run some tests on your setup to make sure that the viewers you have get an optimal experience.
OBS lets you record sample streams and play them back to test your setup. Here’s what’s important to look for.

  • Audio balance: This might be the trickiest thing to get right. You want to make sure that viewers can hear you over the in-game sound, but you don’t want the feed to just be your voice (or any background noise like crying babies or partying neighbors).
  • Game resolution and clarity: You want to make sure your screen is casting clearly so the gameplay is featured, and you want to make the shot of yourself doesn’t obscure any important part of the gameplay, like the HUD.
  • Game familiarity: If people tune into your stream, they don’t want to watch you struggling with display resolutions. Make sure that the game boots and is playable so you don’t waste anybody’s time.

When you’re ready to stream for the first time, reach out on your social networks to people you know, and ask them to tune in and share. The vast majority probably won’t, but the few that do will form the core of your support.

Islands in the stream

Deep breaths. It’s time for your first live broadcast.

Set up the stream, send out another notification on social media, and then get to it. It’s going to feel weird at first, but there are a few things to keep in mind that will help you through.

  • This is a performance: Remember that. What your viewers are seeing is a performance, not reality. So, consider ways to make it the best performance it can be. You’re going to want to talk a lot.
  • Don’t censor yourself much: Anything that you normally would think rather than say while gaming is worth saying on stream. If you have a cam on, make sure your face is expressive. People are watching to connect with you, so let them.
  • Recognize the audience: That’s what the stream chat is for. People will put all kinds of nonsense in that box, and you want to reward them for it. An engaged audience is a loyal audience. Responding to their comments on the air is a great way to develop that rapport and help you think on your feet.
  • Keep your cool: Stream chat can be a notoriously lawless place, and randos love to razz streamers, especially inexperienced ones. Take their comments with good grace and move on.

Finally, pick a good ending point for your stream. Try to keep it short and sweet, so viewers don’t get bored, but make sure you give them a good chunk of content. Always leave them wanting more – and when you go offline, let any viewers know when you plan to stream again.

Fighting Game Stream

Getting bigger

So you’re up and running with your stream, playing games, interacting with the chat, and having a good time. Now, you want to make people smash that subscribe button and get your numbers up. There are two parts to that equation: acquiring viewers and making them want to stay.

  • Use YouTube as a vital resource: Being able to upload video for free is a gift, and archiving your material is a good thing to do. That’s not saying you should be uploading every single stream, though. Now’s the time where you want to selectively edit out the best moments of your stream to make individual highlights. Keep these short and sweet — under a minute is a good target — and make sure to include your stream information in the comments (and annotations). Several websites do regular roundups of highlight videos like these, which is a great way to get your content in front of new audiences. If you think you have something good, don’t be afraid to send it out.
  • Push alerts to your YouTube videos via Twitch: When your stream is live, use this strategy to alert people that you’ve gone live. Anybody watching your videos can, with a single click, tune into your live feed.
  • Do giveaways or raffles: The prospect of getting some kind of swag is a powerful motivator, and many streamers use giveaways to fill their channels. If you use Google Chrome, there’s even a free extension that lets you pick a random viewer with a single click.

Whatever method you use to bring viewers in, it’s your content that’s going to keep them there. Make sure to put energy and effort into every stream. Think of it like the old days of TV, when getting together to watch a show at the same time each week was a ritual. You want that same feeling from your viewers.

Make some money

The vast majority of streamers do it as a hobby, nothing more. It’s a way to share the games they love with an audience. If you can build up a fan following, though, it’s very possible to turn it into something that pays.

  • Monetize your Twitch account: You need an average concurrent viewer count over 500 people (that means 500 people need to be generally watching your streams at any time), as well as a commitment to stream at least three times a week. However, these aren’t hard and fast rules, and if you can demonstrate other factors that might make you a good investment, they might let you in.
  • Monetize YouTube videos: It’s important to note that some publishers don’t allow you to get revenue from footage of their games — Nintendo is probably the biggest example. Thankfully, most PC publishers are well aware that streamers represent a huge free marketing opportunity and let you claim your share.
  • Sponsorships: Many companies partner with high-profile streamers and pay them to use or promote their products on stream. These sponsorships typically aren’t super lucrative, but they can be a nice way to pull in a little extra scratch.

Most importantly, have fun. If you’re not enjoying your stream, it’s highly doubtful that anybody else is going to. Don’t let the pressure of subscribers and viewers suck the fun out of playing games.

Some useful resources for streamers:

  • /r/Twitch on Reddit is a supportive community of streamers at all levels of success
  • Twitch Tips is a wide-ranging resource that covers capture devices, overlays, and other technical issues

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