The popularity, growth, and impact of Twitch is well-known and impossible to deny. By the company's own numbers, more than 100 million unique viewers consume content on Twitch each month.
It hasn't taken the industry long to jump on board. Indie developers were the first to really embrace streaming. Today, PR and marketing firms are offering "streamer relations" as part of their offerings. Slowly but surely, triple-A devs are seeing the light and putting money and strategy behind working with content creators.
More and more we are seeing developers use platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming to broadcast their own content as part of their marketing and promotions efforts. But producers of first-party streams are playing by a different set of rules than your average Joe streamer. The bar is higher in terms of production quality, and there are several pitfalls devs need to watch out for.
I've been streaming on Twitch since 2011, and have been producing livestreamed fighting game tournaments and event broadcasts for much longer than that. Gleaned from my time working with developers, eSports organizations, and sponsors to put on successful livestreams, here's what devs need to know when setting up their own streams.
Viewer Engagement and Incentives
The average streamer has one major advantage over developers in terms of engaging with their audience - they can stream any game they want, while devs are mainly restrained to promoting their next big game. This means that average streamers can change things up and keep their stream fresh, which helps avoid audience fatigue and keeps viewership high.
"Everyone starts small and it's important to not get discouraged if your first few streams don't get the traction you were hoping for"
Developers who are streaming just one game need to be creative here, and there are a number of ways to do so. Revlo.co is a bot that adds a currency layer to your stream, incentivizing viewers by awarding them currency that they can redeem for rewards and giveaways that you create. Moobot, a chat moderation bot used by Riot Games and ESL, is a good way to engage the chat with polls and giveaways as well.
Generally, you should use tools like these to engage your viewers with Kickstarter style choices. Let them vote on ideas you are considering in your game, and consider rewarding your loyal viewers with beta licenses or even special items within your game. Twitch viewers love shout outs from their favorite streamers, but they love free stuff from their favorite developers even more!
Everyone Starts Somewhere
Pretty much everyone's first broadcast is poorly attended. That's not a big deal! Everyone starts small and it's important to not get discouraged if your first few streams don't get the traction you were hoping for.
If you're having fun on-stream, believe in your game and product, are engaging with viewers, and being creative with what you broadcast, you'll find your audience soon!
Streamers who are excited, gregarious, and having fun transmit that to their audience. If you're not having fun, if you're dry and dull, that's as contagious as laughter (even over the internet). This might seem like a simple tip, but the more fun you have the more fun your audience will have. It can be easy to get caught up in the fact that you're broadcasting your dream project or life's work to an audience of strangers, but I think it's extremely important to not take things too seriously and have as much fun as you can!
Learn from the Best
There are a number of devs and studios that are doing great work on their own streams and channels. When you set out to plan yours, do some binge-streaming to see what you like and what you don't.
"The more variety you can create in your stream the better. Grab your art director to talk creative and show off concept art for an hour. Or better yet, have them create actual concept art on-stream!"
I think that Iron Galaxy does a particularly good job. They put on weekly streams featuring their games and those of the other devs they work with, and their streams during tradeshows are especially fun. I love their laid back attitude. They don't take themselves too seriously, are never overly marketing their games, and just have a strong vibe of "We play games because they are fun!"
Devolver Digital also does a great job with indie game broadcasts. At XSplit we've worked with them a bunch and I think that the streams they put on at tradeshows like PAX are great. I dig the talk show format and as a whole the entire production drips with the irreverence that Devolver has always been known for.
Go Beyond Showing Your Game
Twitch isn't just for gameplay. Some creators spend time on-stream simply answering questions. Cosplayers are taking to the platform too, spending hours on stream talking about their craft and working on their projects with an audience. I've even noticed some developers streaming their development process.
The point is, the more variety you can create in your stream the better. Grab your art director to talk creative and show off concept art for an hour. Or better yet, have them create actual concept art on-stream! Pull in your game's composer to share how the music and sound effects for your game are constructed. And when you want to get technical, bring in game engine designers to talk about the core mechanics and code (if you're willing to be that transparent).
The more creative you can be with your stream, the more attention you will get. If you can carve out a reputation as a developer who puts on a great stream with a range of content, you'll grow a dedicated audience in no time.
Utilize Fan Generated Content
Another way to go beyond simple gameplay in your stream is by focusing on fan generated content. For instance, if your game features multiplayer, have an event that invites players to be a part of the stream by teaming up with you or playing against you if it is a competitive title. Appeal to those who already follow you by having fan art competitions, featuring fan covers of game music, cosplay, and other user generated content so it is not just your own work being presented. Your fans will feel a closer connection to you, and the goodwill will spread to gain you even more fans.
Consistency is Key
The most successful streamers are incredibly consistent with their broadcasts. For a developer, I think it's important to set a schedule of broadcasts and stick to it. Treat your streams like any other aspect of your marketing. Your PR team has a schedule of press releases and asset drops. Your social media team has a schedule of upcoming tweets and promoted posts. Why wouldn't your stream team be similarly prepared?
On top of being consistent, keep your audience informed as well. Make sure you keep your community up to date on your broadcasts and planned streams through your official communication channels - your website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages. This might sound simple, but it's important to treat your broadcasts with as much preparation and strategy as your other marketing initiatives.
Avoid Over Promotion
In most all cases, streaming falls to the marketing/community/PR department and is a tool for marketing and expansion. That being said, making marketing the focus rather than the game itself will alienate viewers, who may perceive your streams as infomercials rather than cool broadcasts to watch and pass the time.
"Remember that this is a two-way street, a platform for engagement that goes both ways. To approach it as simply another communication vehicle for getting your message to your target audience is to miss the point altogether!"
A common mistake I see, even with Triple-A titles, is developers who refuse to answer the most popular questions about their game. If you don't know when you will release, informing your fans about your development process rather than telling them "we will have info soon" is much more effective. If you don't have concrete info, giving approximations on things like how many hours of gameplay, how many characters will be available at launch, and similar is very effective, and your fans will reward your truthfulness with loyalty.
Remember that this is a two-way street, a platform for engagement that goes both ways. To approach it as simply another communication vehicle for getting your message to your target audience is to miss the point altogether!
With all of this in mind, you should be ready to start setting up your own Twitch channel and stream. If you keep these tips in mind, and avoid some of the pitfalls I've identified, your stream will do just fine. Engaging with your fans and players over a stream can be immensely satisfying. Now get out there, start streaming, and have fun!
Victor “Spooky” Fontanez is a pioneer in the fighting game community, having worked for more than ten years putting on livestreams and gaming tournaments. He works at SplitMediaLabs as a Program Manager for XSplit, a broadcasting software for gaming and livestreaming. He has been a streamer for more than 10 years, having started on Justin.tv before Twitch was created.