Hanging Up The Beanie
I’m done streaming video games, in any sort of semi-serious nature at least. It was a fun run, and a learning experience not only about myself but streaming culture and its inhabitants. I’ve gained a handful of great friends and have no regrets, but there are a lot of things about streaming that really put me off. I’m not quitting because the etymology of streaming ‘language’ is abhorrent to me, or because of all the stupid buzzwords and fake personas of ‘successful’ streamers floating around. It’s not because I don’t have a good gimmick or because of the haze of sexism and vape smoke that hangs heavy in the air. It’s not even because of the poisonous, belligerent, and drama-filled nature of some streaming communities. I’m done because the sheer act of doing it brings me to embarrassing heights of internal struggle.
Let’s Back Up A Little
I started streaming around March of 2013, figuring it was yet another way to expand my nerdy endeavors. I was in the beta for Neverwinter and actually got to chat with the devs on stream, do some key giveaways and some other fun stuff. I also did some live unveiling / flipthroughs of D&D 5e core books which were popular. Being that most of my content was D&D related, I retained a good portion of my blog audience in these endeavors. Enjoying streaming so much, and having always been a PC gamer I soon decided to branch out and stream some of the games I was regularly playing. I played a lot of survival games like DayZ and H1Z1 and gained a small community largely thanks to my Dustin Snyder (@Wolfstar76) of Baldman Games who was kind of my catalyst for streaming more to begin with. At this time I moved from Twitch to Beam, because I like rooting for the underdogs, and because Twitch is full of awful people.
Companionship & Community
It was nice to have a small gathering of people to ‘hang out’ with while playing games. Streaming surely does take that lonely couch scenario of a single player game and brings it to a whole new social level. I drifted through this for quite some time before trying to get more ‘professional’ about my streams. Schedules, themes, planned events, planned games, etc. I had some relative success too, especially during the month where I was unemployed and could do it every day for long periods.
Recently though, all of the things that have been silently tugging at me about streaming have all caught up to me and I’ve decided to give it a rest, at least in any semi-serious nature. Mainly because Streaming makes me unhappy, it sucks the marrow from games that I enjoy and just adds pressure to something that is supposed to be escapism for me. Like anyone, I have enough stressors in my life, and the level of cognitive dissonance that streaming generates for me is simply not worth it. Here’s why:
“I feel like streaming! …but what do I stream?” Something I was met with constantly while streaming was getting that itch, that urge, like “hey, maybe I’ll stream some today!” it would get me very excited and I’d sit down to begin setting up. Throughout that setup though, I’d be met with the 500+ games at my disposal and begin to think “but what will I play”? For a long time I played what I thought other people wanted, and that way lies misery. After a while I just played whatever I wanted, and it felt better, but it leads me to my next bit of cacophony.
Enjoying a game for yourself, versus enjoying a game for others. Normally when I really enjoy a game, I do it very silently. I read all of the dialogue, gaze into the artwork, appreciate the voice actors, read the little bits of lore scattered about the world in the form of books, notes, what have you (which is actually a really lazy way of providing substance to a game, but that’s a post for another day) and none of that normally involves ‘speaking my thoughts aloud for the sake of internal transparency’ – which is precisely what is required to be a streamer. Now, I can be very vocal about games that I don’t like while I’m in the moment playing them, but streaming purely negative content isn’t something anyone (including myself) wants. It’s fun for a one-off, or for charity or something, but my blood pressure can’t take playing anime “graphic novels” more than a few times a year.
Separate Save Games? For single player games, do I have one for the show and one for myself? Do I play through the story while I’m not streaming? I want to, but should I? I’m not a fan of doing things twice if I don’t have to and so this is something I wrestled with constantly and still don’t have a good solution to.
Play popular games, or play the ones I enjoy the most? Let’s be honest, if you want fresh blood to enter your stream you’re going to want to play games that attract people. This means popular competitive games, new releases, or whatever is getting lots of coverage in the gaming industry currently. These boil down skill, time (and time invested to increase skill), and money. It’s hard to keep up with. Yes, popular and bigger streamers will tell you “play what you like, just be happy” but that’s easy to say because they already have a following. The reality is, if I wanted to stream Baldur’s Gate 2 from start to finish, as I read through every dialogue, book, and item description – nobody would give a shit. At that point, I begin to ask myself ‘why am I even bothering streaming this’? To which the answer has never had a positive tone. Which brings me to my next point.
Putting on a show, as opposed to being yourself. Yes, the entire point of streaming is putting yourself out there. I don’t have a bubbly personality, I’m just a pretty chill guy with some rough edges and strong opinions. People who watch streams go to unwind, to relax, and I don’t blame them because I do the same. I just don’t think my personality is conducive to many titles that I enjoy playing. You either stream because you’re very adept at something, or because you’re very entertaining or funny. I fall somewhere in the middle. I can be funny, but I can’t guarantee that I can be funny every time I stream. I am good at a few games, but not great. Most of my humor comes from derision, and again, that’s not what most people want.
TLDR: I’m not for everyone, which is counter intuitive to being a successful streamer. Sterilizing myself for the sake of viewership is something I’ve never done or been comfortable with. I’m just real, and I don’t think being real works well in the streaming scene. I’m not going to feign enthusiasm or approval of things/people I don’t enjoy. I chose all of my raids very carefully and chose who I tried to help cross-promote with too. Kissing the asses of ‘the big guys’ was never my thing.
Timeslots Matter. Time matters, if you want to gain a following you either need to stream during the day (typically 9-5 work hours) because most people work-lurk at desk jobs, or in the evenings around dinner time. The late night streamer is plagued with viewership issues, it’s hard to pull ahead in that time slot, it really really is. For me, I have a wife, 2 children, a full time job and I write part-time-ish to do freelance stuff, which leaves my streaming time slots to be very sub optimal ones.
Content. If I deviated from video games, I could totally stream things like my freelance projects, writing, design work, brainstorming, GM prep, etc – but the problem with that is typically whatever I’m working on is a secret until it’s released, or it’s for a publisher that probably doesn’t want me opening the guts up of their processes to the world. Also, I’m fairly certain most people could care less about these things.
Lack of Consistency. I don’t have “my game”, something that is a consistent go-to for me and my audience. Variety is the spice of life, and being a variety streamer is hard because the crowd you pull in is mostly unpredictable. Coupling not having a consistent game, without having a good time or consistent time slot is a recipe for not being a successful streamer, and I’m a 5 star Chef.
Being a perfectionist, in a constant state of worry. Oh boy is this a big one, the constant obsession about audio levels, production values, framerate, audience interactivity, commands, bot configuration, currency systems, perfect verbiage on my profile, site, and donation pages is a never ending battle for me. When I write something and hand it off to a publisher, it’s out of my hands. These things though, these are 100% in my control, which means I can obsess about them nonstop. It’s not good, for me mentally, as a streamer, or for an audience.
Incessant Self-Scrutiny. Why did that person come and then immediately leave? Why did they only stay for 5 minutes? Was it something I said? What is wrong with me/my stream? The culmination of basically everything I’ve talked about here begins to weigh down on me. At least with writing there is a process, time to refine and re-refine what you’re producing before you turn it over. With streaming there is no do-over, no rewind, no CTRL-Z. I cannot even begin to put to words the cyclical throught process that bored into me here.
All of this boils down to: If I do things, I like to be good at them. I like to put forth quality and ‘professional’ content. I don’t like to do things if I’m not good at them, and to me being good at something means relative success in the form of either social or financial currency. I’m not good at plenty of things, and I don’t want streaming to be just another item to add to an already long list. I can do freelance writing and in return, I not only create something fun to play in which serves as a shared experience for all who partake in it but I also gain a response from the gaming community. I’m also getting paid for my time and efforts. Comparatively as far as my pastimes go streaming feels relatively fruitless. Not so much in that I’m not getting paid, but in that it feels like a waste of my time. I don’t fit in with the crowd and I don’t like to feel like a fraud or trying to ‘fit in’ to some culture that I, at this point, believe I honestly don’t belong in.
If I were to have ever gotten to a point of relative success, I’m not sure I could have handled it anyway. On the days when I had 20+ people in my chat is was very hard to keep up, I don’t know how people with hundreds or thousands of people in their chat do it. Even with moderators I’d still try and read it all, which would likely lead to some next-level mental breakdown scenario.
Most of the things I’ve discussed here have simple explanations that work for most people, some are easier said than done but still, there’s answers out there. I just don’t want to take the time to work on them because I still have no desire to really be that serious about streaming. While I was laid off people said “stream full time!” Which is flattering, but ultimately insane for a family man who needs medical insurance and y’know…groceries. Lots of people can stream without any of the mental hurdles I encounter, I know that it’s my own neuroses it but at least I’m being honest with myself here. Writing this post has actually been pretty therapeutic.
I’m going to be filling this gap, hopefully, with a gaming podcast that covers tabletop games, video games, and ludology as a whole with my awesome wife and some friends and a rotating guest. I feel it’s a more natural fit, and something that I’m confident in doing. My last podcast won a few awards and I’m very comfortable discussing/debating games more than I am playing them for a live audience. The podcast may be live, it may not, I’m not sure yet. Also, I will still stream (video games) whenever the feeling arises, but not on any regular basis, or with any assumption that anyone will watch, mostly for archival purposes when playing with friends (multiplayer games, WoW dungeons, shenanigans, charity streams). I however, will find a time slot to do some tabletop content on a regular basis and resurrect my YouTube channel. This should leave more time for blogging and writing again, at least I know that’s something I have some proven success in.
Sorry for the ‘woe is me’ / personal post, but I’ve really wanted to get this stuff off of my chest for a while, maybe see if I’m not alone? Until next time, dear readers, game excellently with one another!