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Tuesday, 14 July 2020

An Introduction to Streaming!

Today's post is all about streaming, my journey, the how-to, and some advice for everyone out there!

The Intro

So, what is streaming? Well, simply put, streaming is when you record yourself hanging out, playing games, maybe interact with an audience, live. Some of the more active communities are Twitch and Facebook, and one of the most popular activities to do while streaming is playing video games.

In case you're not in that loop, imagine a radio or TV show host, but instead of just focusing on music, reality TV, or TV games, a streamer is playing a game and interacting with a community. That community can be a fan of the streamer, the game, or both! It's a fast-growing industry, and yes, I say industry, because there are ways to make money from it. Streamers can offer exclusive rewards and incentives to subscribers, and the platform earns money through those subscriptions and through advertisements.

Anyway, chances are, you may have heard of streaming. Today's post, is not a general guide on what it is, but a specific one on my journey as a streamer, and some advice along the way.

The Origins

I started streaming years ago, but for an odd reason. I wanted to learn how to edit videos, so I thought I would combine editing with gaming. If I made it fun, it would be easier to hold on to the hobby and push through the growing pains. I decided to focus on the Destiny franchise, since I really enjoy playing it and talking about it.

At the time, there were few ways to capture gameplay footage. I'm on the Xbox, and when I started, the only ways to get footage involved a capture card (an expensive option we'll talk about later), or streaming. For the first 6 months or more, I streamed footage to Twitch, using the Xbox app, downloaded it later, edited it, and reuploaded it to YouTube.

It was a messy way of doing it. My Internet quality wasn't the greatest, nor were my editing skills, so my first videos looked terrible. I did my best to make up for it with decent post-produced audio commentary, and detailed video descriptions.

If you're just getting started, the Xbox Twitch app is simple, but effective. You can adjust a few settings, namely audio and video quality, and you're good to go. It's very easy, once you set up a Twitch account with an email address.

You will want another device close by to read the chat, though. Half the fun of streaming is sharing with your audience, chatting with them, and if you can't see their messages, you won't be as engaging of a streamer.

Eventually, I got a better Internet connection and, since I decided that this was a hobby I would continue, my fiancée bought me a capture card.

Note: if you're on the PC, you don't need a capture card. The entire point of the capture card is to collect footage from your console, put it on your PC, in order to use software to better control and configure your stream. If you play games on the PC, you've just skipped that step.

The General Setup

As I mentioned above, if you're on a console, you can use a built-in app, if one is available. Configure the settings, test your mic, change the title of the stream, and get a phone or other computer for reading the chat, and you're good to go!

If you're on the PC, or using a capture card to collect console footage to put on the PC, you can use OBS.

OBS is the standard software to use, and it's actually fairly simple. There are countless tutorials, but the short version is this:

- Create a Scene - a scene is a collection of things that you want in your stream. It's like a profile. Usually, you have your game audio/video, and your microphone. 

- Configure your Scene - add your gameplay by right-clicking and adding the correct source, whether it's a gameplay window or a capture card. Add an audio source, whether it's your microphone or the gameplay. Adjust the levels. Make sure everything is sized appropriately, and test it a couple of times. You can even record with OBS, to test it out before you stream.

- General settings - you can change what audio channels to use (which audio to stream vs which ones to just hear yourself). You can change the video recording format, and finally, you can connect your OBS to your streaming platform of choice. Each platform will have a key, that you can copy from your platform (Twitch, Facebook, etc.) to OBS, to connect it to your account.

- Go Live! Change the title of the stream to match your goals, test that your sources are working, and you're good to go!

Of course, everything that starts out easy can become quite complicated, quickly. 

I stream from my Xbox, through a capture card, to my PC. 

Why? Well, without a PC, I couldn't add anything to my stream. No overlay of information, no on-screen notifications, and no ability to adjust a camera, if I was to use one.

I streamed for a year without a capture card, and it was fine. Some people like overlays, and a camera, but for me, the experience was focused on the game, and my commentary.

Eventually, I got a capture card, an Elgato, which is a big name in this industry, and it was very easy to set up. Plug and play, mostly. The main challenge I had was the audio.

See, on the Xbox, if you're in a voice party with others, their audio is sent through the console, alongside the game audio. So, finding a balance between their voices and the action of the game was a challenge. Next, since my commentary is not sent back to me through the voice party, I had to collect my audio via a microphone, different from the one I was using to talk with my friends in the game.

My Current Setup

I have the Xbox Stereo Headset, which plugs into my controller, allowing the game and voice audio to transmit directly to me. I can also mute myself and adjust the audio balance.

Next, I have a Blue Yeti microphone for my stream, which I also use for making my videos. A bit of an expensive option, definitely delivering the best quality, but maybe out of reach for some.

If you're just making videos, you could fix some of the audio issues with an audio-editing software, like Audacity. It's free, and very easy to use.

After a year of no overlays, I decided I wanted to add some, and now I use an Elgato capture card to stream. It plugs into my console and PC.

I use OBS, with a scene comprising my overlay, my Elgato, and my microphone. I also made a scene without an overlay, which I use when recording footage for future videos.

Okay, I hear you, "What's an overlay? How do I get one?"

An overlay is a framing device for your stream. Imagine that the gameplay, what you're seeing on your screen/console, is the picture. The overlay will often contain information about the stream, or any element to make the stream more unique and fun. Mine is fairly simple, contains the names of some of my other channels, and includes the name of the last people to follow and subscribe to the channel. When a person does so, an alert message pops up on screen, adding some life to the stream.

Next, I use chat bots and commands. Alongside the gameplay footage, streaming often includes a chat window. Here, your viewers can ask questions, leave comments, show support. Otherwise, they would have no way to interact other than to watch.

There are several chat commands built into Twitch and other platforms, but you can make your own. I suggest Nightbot and Stream Elements. The latter is a bit more inutitive, easier for beginners, but the former is more elaborate, allows you to make more customized commands.

I've got commands which provide links to my Discord (a text-focused forum for my community), YouTube, and other useful information. I have custom commands which provide general or specific compliments, depending on what kind of character a viewer is/plays in the game. I've even got commands which provide useful links (one to this post, actually), and pre-written opinions I have, in case of frequently asked questions. Linking the chat bot to your streaming platform account is fairly easy, and while coding in specific commands can be initially confusing, just go slow, try simple things, do some research, and you'll find ways to improve.

Chat commands are also great because you can customize your channel and create ways for people to interact without requiring your effort, or overlays.

Conclusion, and Goals!

Let me make something very clear. A lot of streamers will insist that you need all of this equipment to stream.

You do not. 

All you need is yourself, and the bare minumum to capture the footage you want. You don't even need a microphone, if your only objective is to capture footage, but a mic will help with interacting with people.

In the end, you should decide why you want to stream, and what your goals are. Knowing the answer to those questions will help focus you on your path forward.

Are you a hobbyist, just doing this for fun? Do you want to learn more about the business/industry? Are you trying to become financially successful here?

Personally, my primary goal is to build a community that upholds respect and tolerance. A place to help, and a safe place for people to come & go, and relax while they're here. I also want to learn more about the industry, and use it to help improve my audio/video, and presentation skills. And, to have fun! Really simple.

Knowing that, I have allowed myself to slowly pursue and improve my knowledge and application of this hobby over time. Finding ways to improve the audio/video quality, finding ways to address the biggest questions so as to use my time most effectively, and finding ways to connect! So far, as of the time of writing this, I have helped in two charity fundraising events, all because I have taken the time to learn and grow with my community!

In any case, I am enjoying the hobby, and will be live at as often as life will allow. I hope you have found this guide helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to leave some comments here, message me on Twitch, or Twitter, or in my Discord if you're a part of it.

Thank you all very much for your time, good luck, as always, be safe, be kind, and I'll see you all next time!

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