Get Your Game on: How to Become a Successful Streamer
Let’s walk you through the steps of becoming a streamer and how you can get your cast up and running in no time.
Streaming is an awesome form of content creation. Getting online and broadcasting yourself for the world to tune in has become easier than ever. Today we’re going to walk you through the steps of becoming a streamer. Don’t worry, you’ll be a pro in no time.
There are a few steps you’ll want to consider before you ever broadcast your first frame online. Consider this the pre-production. These parts may not be vitally important to the actual process of getting online, but are important if you’d like to take streaming seriously and garner an audience.
Pick Your Content
With streaming being so prevalent and easier than ever to get started, there are dozens of types of streams you can get into. On Twitch alone, you’ll find popular cooking channels, streamers producing live art, music performances, or even “just chatting.”
Most common, of course, would be the gaming channel. Viewers tune in to watch a streamer play their favorite game and cheer them on while they do it. We’ll be focusing on the gaming channel aspect, but many of these tips and steps can apply to any channel you’re thinking of starting.
Let’s say you’d like to focus on being a gaming streamer. It would be beneficial to focus on either a single game, genre of games, or a specific style of playing. After all, this provides your audience with something to expect and a familiarity with what you’ll be broadcasting. If a streamer hops around to different games, from Mario speed running to Call of Duty to Minecraft, their viewers may not be interested in watching all three games being played. Focusing your genre will garner followers and subscribers and, hopefully, a dedicated fan base ready to tune in whenever you go live.
Find Your Voice/Niche
With streaming becoming more prevalent, there are likely hundreds of other channels doing a similar stream to what you may be offering. In March of 2020, there were 56,000 concurrent Twitch broadcasters on average, and that number has only grown in the last year. It would be a good idea to decide how you’ll draw an audience into your stream and what may separate your channel from others. So, if you’re insanely good at a game or playing the game competitively, that could draw viewers. Playing a game for fun, but being a fun personality to watch and interact with, could be your angle. What will make your channel stick out among the rest?
Lastly, before you get started, it’s a good idea to identify the goals or reason you’d like to start putting your gameplay out in the world for people to watch. This is an important step regardless of whether or not you’re trying to pursue the stream-dream fulltime or just beginning it as a hobby.
So, where would you like to see your channel go, and how do you expect it to grow? Do you have an idea to build a community behind a game from your stream? Or are you looking for a way to monetize your passion for gaming? There’s really no wrong answer, but this process can provide you a path in achieving what you’re setting out to do.
Getting the right gear to stream may be the largest barrier of entry to those wanting to get started. Purchasing the equipment to get your streaming setup started may take a small investment if you don’t already have some of these items. That said, you can start with a few of the essentials. Then, as you grow your channel, invest in the other items to improve your streaming capabilities.
Of course, if you’re looking to stream your particular game, you’ll need the platform to be able to play it. Super Smash Bro’s isn’t available on Xbox and Counter Strike isn’t available on the Nintendo Switch. Fortunately, many games nowadays are available across multiple platforms, so you may be able to utilize an existing platform that you already own for many of today’s popular games (Call of Duty: Warzone, Apex Legends, Minecraft, Fortnite) with tons of titles adding in cross play into future updates.
As an opinion, unless your game of choice is strictly limited to consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo), I suggest making PC your main platform. Depending on your PC and components, you may be able to run several games at higher resolutions, higher frame rates, and control your streaming controls all through one device. Plus, most controllers are also USB or Bluetooth compatible. You’ll even be able to take those over to the PC side, as well. So, that leads us into the next piece of gear you’ll need to acquire . . .
The best way to cast your gameplay and start streaming to the world is through an actual PC. PlayStation and Xbox consoles do offer streaming apps natively, but these solutions aren’t going to be as robust or allow as much customization as streaming through a PC. Through a PC, you’ll be able to fully customize what your stream looks like, interact/moderate chat, integrate webcams, play music, and fully control all aspects of your stream.
If you’re already gaming on a monster gaming machine, you may be able to multitask your streaming and gaming through a single computer without seeing many problems. Demanding titles may require a little more power to stream at the same time, but with many of today’s multithreaded CPUs, a PC pulling double duty is common.
If you’re gaming on a console or lower-end PC, you’ll need to have a dedicated PC to handle the streaming. A stream machine doesn’t have to be a high-end gaming machine, though. Many lower-end desktops or medium-tier laptops will be able to do the trick just fine. You’ll just need to keep the streaming machine nearby to be able to have your hands on both platforms easily. You’ll also need a way to capture the game you’re playing if your PC is separate from where you are playing the game.
To stream your gameplay from a console to your PC, you’ll need to have some sort of capture device where your PC can take the console feed from. Capture devices can come in various shapes, sizes, and formats. Be sure to match the capture card to your specific console’s output. For instance, HDMI input for recent generation consoles, or possibly a composite capture card if you’d like to stick to retro games.
One of the most popular capture devices is the Elgato Camlink 4K. This can take your 4K HDMI signal from any of the latest consoles and plug it (via USB) right into your PC as a 1080p signal. Your PC will then recognize the device as a webcam. Taking your videogame’s feed has never been easier. There are other capture devices out there to record a native 4K signal, as well, if that’s the route you’d like to take. Just be aware that going to UHD resolutions does take quite a bit more computing power to handle. Not many streaming platforms even offer 4K at the moment, so we’ll just stick to 1080p moving forward.
I don’t suggest playing your games through your computer’s screen. You may notice quite a bit of delay between button presses and the action taking place on screen. For this reason, you’ll want to split your HDMI feed from your console using an HDMI splitter. One feed goes to your console’s TV, and the other to the streaming PC. This should minimize any delay and feel as if you were playing prior to streaming.
A prime staple in the streaming world is having a face to tie to the gameplay. This is for more than entertainment value. It allows your audience someone real to connect with, rather than a cross hair or mouse cursor. If you’re hesitant about showing your face on stream, that’s alright. Go without in your first few sessions to get your bearings. But, if you’d really like to take the hobby seriously, grabbing a webcam is top on that list of requirements.
As far as recommendations, there are a ton of quality webcams on the market from just about any of the mainstream manufacturers. I suggest using a webcam that at least offers 1080p at 30fps specs. A couple of my favorites are the Razer Kiyo for the built-in ring light and the Logitech C922x for its awesome picture quality in a small package.
Unless you’re looking to do some chroma keying, special effects, or using the webcam image for a lot of full screen displays, I wouldn’t worry too much about the webcam you choose. It’s important to have a webcam as part of your stream, but one of the areas you could definitely save some money on, if needed.
You may also be able to use a digital camera you already own. Many recently-released digital cameras and camcorders can now be used as webcams via USB or HDMI connection. Check out my write up about cameras you can use for live streaming and how they can be set up as webcams.
Once you have all of the gear set up and the stream planned, you’ll need a way to combine it all into the feed you’ll be broadcasting. You’ll need to run a broadcast software that can properly arrange all aspects of your stream (gameplay, notifications, webcam, etc.) into a single video feed that the streaming platform will take and display for your audience.
The standard software of choice is Open Broadcast Software (OBS). “OBS provides real-time source and device capture, scene composition, encoding, recording, and broadcasting.” The biggest perk is that OBS is entirely free and open source with no premium version available. OBS is the go-to streaming software for most streamers, from noobs to pros. The program is as robust and feature-filled as anyone would need. Prior to going live, give yourself some time to learn the in and outs of OBS and familiarize yourself with how to set up your stream properly. OBS is just like any other video or professional software. It has a little bit of a learning curve, but once you know it, there’s so much you’re able to create.
Everything in the above sections are generally known to be “required” gear when it comes to kickstarting a live stream channel. Once you’ve got your basic setup squared away, there are a few optional accessories that could improve your streaming experience and production quality.
Improving your lighting would be my first suggestion that you’ll see the largest impact from. The standard overhead lights or lamp in your office might have been alright to start, but proper lighting will start to make your stream look more professional. Entry level video lights can be a solid start without breaking the bank. A few starting points would be the Luma Cube Mini, Aputure Amaran Mc, and the Pixel G1s. Any of these little lights can easily fit almost anywhere on a desk or placed on top of a couple books. Each light also has adjustable LEDs, so you can fine-tune the exact color of the light and their brightness. Plus, you can find these lights between $70-$110.
What’s behind you on your webcam is just as important as how you look in front of it. Curating and crafting your background can improve your stream. Having a messy bedroom and unmade bed isn’t really much to look, at if we’re being honest. It would also make me think whoever is streaming may not be too invested in the channel. There are a few options to improve your background.
Consider cleaning up the space with some furniture and collectibles. Having a small bookcase with a few game-related knick-knacks can convey what kind of fan you are of the game you’re playing. Maybe get a little creative with it? Hang up a white board and the latest sub can have you draw something on it, or write up the names of this week’s followers.
Or, try a green screen. Utilizing chroma-key is a lot more advanced and requires a bit more gear, but can provide endless possibilities to not only customize your stream, but interact with your audience. Setting up a green screen could use a bit more space than you initially budgeted for in the room you’ll be streaming in. Check out our resources on how to get a green screen setup started.
Picking Your Platform
Choosing the platform you’re going to stream on can be pretty important. Once you get yourself situated on a specific platform, it can be difficult to switch over to a new service. You’ll essentially be starting over again, so making an informed decision from the start can save you some headache down the line.
Currently, there are three major platforms to consider: Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. Each has their own benefits, downsides, and uniqueness.
Twitch is currently the power house in online streaming. When most people think of online streaming, they’ll think of Twitch. It started off as the go-to for gaming-related streams, but has recently branched out to include just about anything you want to take live. Owned by Amazon, Twitch has a lot of push to be the dominant streaming platform.
- Entirely built around streaming: Twitch has always been about one thing, and that’s streaming. You won’t find additional features that aren’t made to improve the streaming experience and maintain your streaming channel.
- User base: Twitch has the highest number of active viewers compared to other platforms. People will go to Twitch to find streamers to watch and could tune into your channel as a result.
- Partner and affiliate programs: Twitch offers the ability to become an affiliate, and eventually a partner, allowing you to use Twitch as a revenue stream. Reaching affiliate is the first level and can be obtained by most streamers.
- Higher profit: Twitch offers multiple ways to earn money (subs, donations, bits) through their service and offers a higher payout percentage than other platforms.
- Good quality: Twitch offers 1080p 60fps capabilities for high-quality, high frame rate streams. Word has it that 1440p and 120fps may be coming to Twitch soon.
- Culture: Twitch is built around gaming and the internet gaming culture.
- Twitch is only for streaming: If you’d like to offer premade videos or other content to your audience, you’ll need to push your followers to another platform. If you have an already existing audience or fanbase, it may be difficult to drive them from one social media platform to another.
- Small fish in a giant pond: Many of the biggest streamers use Twitch and there are thousands of other channels to compete against. Twitch does have a tendency to promote their largest channels and not the little guys.
YouTube is the largest video platform on the internet and has its eyes set on the streaming market, as well. Streaming through YouTube has mostly been for events and conferences, but is now trying to cater to normal streamers and gamers alike.
- Platform built for videos: YouTube has a lot of tools and resources for video/content makers that aren’t available on other platforms.
- Build a content creation brand outside of streaming alone: On YouTube, your streaming channel and normal video channel can be one in the same. This allows you to create content for streaming, as well as normally viewed content that can live on your channel.
- Highest quality: YouTube is the only platform on this list that offers the ability to stream in 4K. You’ll need a pretty powerful streaming PC to achieve this, but it’s possible.
- Culture: YouTube is not necessarily catering to streaming and the streaming community as a whole.
- Navigation/searching: Finding new channels and specific content can be a challenge.
- Low profit: The ability to make some cash through YouTube is possible, just not as easy or available as through Twitch.
Facebook is pushing their streaming abilities really hard and are trying to make streaming to the general public easier than ever. If you already have a Facebook profile, you can go live in just a few seconds from your phone.
- Existing fans/friends: The best part about Facebook’s streaming abilities is that you may already have a lot of friends or family eager to tune into your broadcasts. Every time you go live, they may automatically get a notification you’re streaming or show up as they scroll along their feed. If you already have a following via a Facebook page, you can go live through that, as well.
- Big fish, little pond: Facebook definitely is trying to play catchup with their streaming services. You won’t be competing with too many established streamers for audience attention.
- Ease of use: Facebook makes it incredibly easy to get online and start streaming. The platform is simple by design.
- Low video quality: Facebook only offers 720p quality for its live streams. You can upgrade to 1080p down the line by being a “gaming” channel and hitting a few other metrics.
- Copyright crackdown: While YouTube and Twitch also crackdown on copyright claims, Facebook is a little more aggressive with their algorithm. Anecdotally, I’ve had content copyright claimed when streamed through Facebook that was performed live by the copyright holder. I quickly found out, there’s little to no way to contest the claim and the video is still up with muted auto for about five minutes.
- Facebook platform: The platform as a whole isn’t catered to video content and streaming. Most Facebook users won’t be logging in to check out a new stream or tune into a gaming channel.
- Low earning potential: The ability to make money through Facebook is low in comparison to other platforms.
Once you’ve chosen your platform, you’ll need to start building out your channel, graphics, and information. Each of these will be for your audience to read, identify your channel, and build a channel identity.
Graphics can be an important piece of the streaming puzzle. Graphics show more production quality, a professional stream, and a little bit of character. Luckily, you don’t have to be a graphics designer or artist to get some sweet looking graphics. Player.me offers a lot of amazing graphics packages for free for use on your favored platform. They also have specific packages made to suit your channel’s style or the game you’re playing. You’ll also have the ability to customize each package so you can tailor it to your unique aesthetics and channel’s functions. Don’t forget to utilize different scene graphics—such as “Be Right Back” and “Starting Soon”—as a way to further immerse your audience.
Be sure to fully fill out all of your channel’s information prior to streaming. Many viewers don’t strictly tune in for riveting gameplay, but as a way to watch someone they like. All of the little info below your channel and in your bio gives your viewers a closer peek into who they’re watching. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with your writeup and information either. Some viewers will want to know what kind of specs your PC is running or what settings you use within your specific game. Adding this information will give them a better glimpse at the person on the other side of the screen.
Don’t forget to link your other social media accounts to further connect with viewers. Having them follow you on Instagram or Twitter creates further engagement and community with your followers. Within Twitch and YouTube, you’ll be able to include simple buttons that can take your viewers right to your other accounts to follow. Take things one step further and create your own Discord channel for your audience to take the conversation to when you’re not online.
Tips for the Road
- Be consistent: When you start streaming, you may only get a few viewers every time you go live and it may be a little difficult to keep going. Streaming isn’t easy. Create a schedule so followers know the next time you go live and can continually tune in. As you begin streaming on a regular basis, you’ll start to grow an audience that will come back to see you live.
- Interact with your viewers: Too often, I see smaller channels simply playing their game and being in front of their webcam. This can be pretty boring for a viewer. Talk to your audience, ask them questions, create a dialogue, connect with them. If there’s no conversation to be had, talk through what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Dead air can kill the flow of an otherwise fun stream.
- Check your stats: A perfect way to see how you’re doing and where to improve is by checking your stream stats. How many unique visitors tuned in? How long did they stay? At what point did they tune out? Each platform has stream statistics which is a smart way to further craft a successful stream.
- Get creative: Streaming gameplay, with a webcam, and a talkative personality is the baseline for a good stream, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Allow yourself to get creative with your platform, the content you’re producing, and how you interact with your audience. Streaming is just the medium in which you’re putting content out there, it doesn’t have to limit the content you’re making. Don’t be afraid to experiment and maybe you’ll create something really unique.
Follow each of these steps and you should be on your way to starting a high-quality stream. Like any other medium, there’s still a lot to learn and is by no means an exhaustive list of what you can do while live. As you start your streaming career, you’ll start to pick up on more techniques and ways to advance your channel further. Streaming takes a lot of work and is pretty easy to get started, but the sky’s the limit on just how far you can take it.
For more streaming tips and advice, check out these articles:
- 5 Affordable Streaming-Ready Cameras
- IGTV: Discover the Value of Streaming Video
- Setting Up a Live Performance Stream: Budget to Professional
- A Complete Guide to Streaming Video Games on Twitch
- How to Use OBS Studio for Streaming and Video Conferencing
Top image via Gorodenkoff.