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A Full, Extensive, Thorough Guide to Streaming Video Games for Beginners

streaming video games
There's no secret. Streaming video games has caught on with many gamers like wildfire. The technology has finally adapted so that anyone, young or old, can start a streaming career even with basic equipment. Some streamers have seen success even with a one-monitor setup, while others who have gone all out on purchasing loads of equipment haven't seen much success at all. It proves that equipment—green screens, high-end sound equipment, multiple monitors—isn't the key to success.

So, then what? How does one get from point A, just beginning a stream, to point Z, developing an audience that actually pays you money for entertainment? It's honestly never an exact science to tell you the truth. A lot of it has to do with personality, who you network with, who you support, and what to expect from all of that. But I would argue the most important thing of all is never get discouraged with streaming video games. Millions of aspiring content creators all have the same idea—you want to create content that nobody has seen before. You've got great ideas! You want to plan out everything and start growing your community, and you know you can do it well.

I don't mean to discourage you. The road ahead is long and tiring. But you can traverse it if you put your mind to it and don't let up.

Thus begins the guide you need to start streaming video games. I can give you the keys, show you the door, and maybe even open it a crack for you. But you have to pull that door open the rest of the way, and nobody will do it for you. 

Where to Start? Get Your Equipment 

The good news is that some of you may already have enough equipment to start streaming video games and you don't even realize it. The PS4 and XBox One have built-in streaming capability along with camera support (if you have them) so you don't really need to concern yourself with bitrate, resolution, keyframe settings, or anything else that might be too confusing. I remember when I first started streaming and I was overwhelmed at all the settings—I started off with the wrong resolutions and didn't realize how shit my streaming setup looked until I actually got the brains to bring up a stream feedback.

Regardless, streaming via console isn't a bad idea to start because it can get you some kind of exposure. You don't even need a separate monitor or TV, although I do recommend you get a headset so you can hear the game audio without it repeating through an external microphone. I can't tell you how many streams I've heard where there's a very obvious echo from an external speaker and microphone that isn't on a headset. It's low quality and people will be turned off from it.

If it's your desire to start investing in some equipment, welcome to intermediate streaming. I would definitely recommend getting a second monitor, one to view your game on and a second to watch chat, have a stream feedback up, audio controls, and of course your streaming program. It all depends on what you want to monitor though—I run three monitors and a television which honestly is overkill for me. I try to fill up screen real estate only to recognize I don't even need the windows I have up.

Generally, you only need to be concerned about one of two programs. Those would be OBS and XSplit, the latter of the two I prefer. OBS is free, XSplit is paid. I just prefer XSplit over OBS because the UI is a little cleaner and the function terminology makes more sense to me. Most people I know use OBS, but I'd recommend trying out both to see what you think about either of them. I won't go into detail on how to set these up because that could take a lot more blogging. Instead, I've written a guide on how to stream using XSplit. It's a little outdated because of hardware upgrades, Amazon servers (I'm on Mixer now), and other factors, but should still hold true for anyone wanting to stream on either program.

A capture card is next. The two most selected brands for capture cards in the streaming universe are Avermedia and Elgato. Elgato is known to have fantastic customer service, Avermedia is known to have better hardware. I own both and I can attest to that. Pick one, I don't think you can go wrong. Some people go with higher-end capture cards because generally "gamer-related" products aren't worth the actual money, a lot more of the money pumped into them is just spent on marketing to gamers (coughrazer). But for these specific capture cards, I think they're actually worth it.

If you get an external card, be aware there will be wires. Many of them. Especially if you have multiple consoles, which brings me to switches.

Switches are nice pieces of equipment for video game streaming. I know plenty of streamers that have multiple consoles attached to one switch, and some of them detect their power so they automatically "switch" (ha) to the powered console and so there's no fumbling with buttons or trying to remember which console is on which output. It's just a matter of convenience so you're not fumbling with unplugging wires. Keep in mind that if you're using a switch to manage video output to your capture card, you will have a LOT of wires. I hold all my consoles in one ventilated hutch to keep clutter down. Clutter will happen if you decide to go this route.

Streaming started getting more popular around the time Intel Sandy Bridge processors released, so the technology has definitely developed so a lot of modern machines have the capability to handle on-the-fly video decoding to send to your stream servers. With that being said, you don't want to get anything meant specifically just for email and word processing. Generally, anything for streaming video games will take an i7 processor, especially if you use the x264 codec for streaming video games—that forces your processor to do the video encoding. Or, you can use NVENC if you have an NVIDIA card for your encoding, which is all in your streaming software settings. NVENC is a heavy drain on video cards, so if you're using a 1-PC setup running Call of Duty: Black Ops IV I would highly recommend an extremely beefy-ass PC, possibly with multiple video cards.

Going the 2-PC route is ideal, however. That's my current setup. I have two keyboards and mice and swap between the two when I need to control one or the other. Think of a 2-PC setup just as if you had a console plugged into your switch, only you control it through a keyboard and mouse setup instead of a controller. This is when your wires can get particularly nuts, especially if you run a KVM switch. I do not recommend a KVM switch, because it is cumbersome to have to switch between control sets just to change things on your streaming PC. Try and get two sets of a keyboard and mouse. I promise you it will work better.

A few last things on equipment: some people prefer using the Elgato Stream Deck which I think is a fantastic piece of hardware, but you can similarly just get a 10-key pad and map scene transitions to it. Do your research on decent lighting. And if you want to invest in really damn good sound, I'd recommend reading TransientGamers' extensive audio hardware guide. He recently hit partnership with Twitch, and he also does sound design for (I think) motion picture. Take a look.

I Can Stream...Now What?

Congrats on moving on with equipment! There's plenty of things you need to keep in mind when you start streaming and while you're streaming. I'll probably start with one of the most important things I've learned in the time that I've streamed.

Always be aware of what you say and do in the eye of the public. I've had numerous incidents where I've let something horrid slip, or I showed something I didn't want to show to an audience of people. What people tend to forget is that everything you say and do can be taken out of context, so even if you say or do things that are intended to be harmless, they can be used against you for harm. There was one time I let something slip on accident and around the same time a very prominent YouTube celebrity was under the scrutiny of the media for saying something similar to what I said. Thankfully, my current audience understood my intents and they laughed at my blunder. But remember, you are being recorded and anyone can copy what you've said to use it against you while you're streaming video games.

Second. Try to think of your stream as a television show. It might be hard to think of it as such a thing, but I've seen far too many people with dead air or constant chair stream where there's really no entertainment value. Remember, one of the biggest aspects to viewer retainment is to be entertaining. Otherwise, why would anyone bother with watching your stream? Television shows hide the politics and focus on the "relaxed fun" atmosphere.

Third. When you start off streaming video games, it's good to have a few scenes already set. Your first scene should be some kind of "Stream Starting" deal with something moving. You never want an entirely static stream. Ever play a video game that just says "Loading..." and doesn't show any indication of movement? Maybe it's the case that the game froze, or the computer locked up? You won't know unless you have something moving. A timer works great for this too, although I wouldn't recommend it right off the bat—if you set it for 5 minutes and don't have enough time for a full setup before the stream begins, either you'll start unprepared or you'll piss off people that come into your stream. Have something moving.

Another good scene to have is a motion-based "BRB" screen. There are plenty of small video clips and animations online you can purchase for cheap and just put a text source in it to notify others you're human and you need to pee sometimes. I've seen some people literally put up a BRB screen and go eat dinner for 30 minutes—it works. Others I've watched literally stop the stream. No. Don't.

Of course, there's the main stream scene. This should include your game. If you haven't thought of that part already, then maybe streaming isn't for you. Typically they include the webcam, sometimes a few stream stats, and other widgets to show on screen. Here's what my main screen looks like, although I've just recently moved to Mixer as I outlined in the previous blog post. Some people prefer the pure, simple webcam/green screen/game look, others might prefer a ton of different flashy things on their streams. It's up to you and what kind of audience you might want to attract.

The Not-So-Fun Part

So now we consider what you want to do with your stream. If you want to turn it into a business, you're going to have to network. A lot. One of the things I say constantly is if you want a partnership, or perhaps some kind of viable money, it's important that you are known. If nobody knows who you are, you don't get support. It's pretty simple. There are some methods of getting "ahead" that are very legitimate, such as signing up to do charity streams. Althouigh the intended result with charity streams is to raise money for good causes, a welcome side-effect is that you get publicity. Pursuing charity streams for the intent of making a business out of streaming video games is...well, fuck you if you do so. 

Keep in mind that with this day and age of broadcasting platforms, people tend to question the legitimacy of stream viewer counts. If there's 500 people in your channel, the channel lists only 30, and barely anyone is talking, this should raise a red flag for many, many viewers.

In other words, don't viewbot or try to get ahead by using some external hosting service. You will lose support. Partnership isn't everything, and neither is money. Pardon my french, but fuck you if you viewbot. You deserve no support.

But, as before, network. Stop by streams similar to yours. Say hello to people, even if you don't know them. You need to service people before they service you, and sometimes you get serviced, so return the service. You'll eventually find someone you click well with, and use each other to network. 

If you use people to get ahead...well, you get the idea.

Attend cons if you can, find local groups, reach out to people on social media, and stop by their channels. Sometimes even boring content creators turn into your viewers, so don't be afraid to stick around someone's channel for the sole purpose of gaining a viewer. Visit channels on Discord, check out new channels from time to time, but I would advise not to automate any kind of social media. I used to put up auto-DMs in my Twitter and I would drop a link for people to check out. That never worked. 

What did work is when I would engage in conversation with them. I'd stop by their channel, host them a few times, and maybe even donate and sub. Eventually, a broadcaster can turn into a viewer if you play your cards right. And if they don't, stop supporting them. That's it.

Also, do not go into another person's channel and announce "Yo streamer, I'm going to be streaming X game today!" That's a blatant advertisement of your own stream, and you're likely to get kicked or even banned if you pull that. Always be cognizant of the rules of anyone else's stream, and read them thoroughly before you even say anything. I've learned the hard way with that.

As before, network. Find the legitimate people you enjoy. Figure out who you can network with, and establish relationships with them. Eventually, you'll build something where some of your users are shared and some of their users are shared, since your audiences tend to like the same kind of humor, and birds of a feather flock together

Lastly on this topic, although you may have made friends in some sense, recognize these are working relationships. However you treat whatever platform you broadcast on, recognize that some people will be trying to take advantage of you. Be amicable with people, but remember some people are out solely just to make a career playing video games and don't care who you are. I'm not much of a "magnetic" person, unfortunately, and I've been in the seat before where suddenly many, many people I didn't know had a strong interest in me. It's a weird feeling, and there were times I let it get to my head. 

Don't. Having a large ego in this business will only cause you to lose support. I would know.

But, with all that said, I would caution you, reader, that at the first sign of someone doing unethical, shady things, do not pursue the relationship further. I wouldn't say burn the bridge, but keep your guard up with the particular person. Being used is never a fun thing.

A Business? Or a Hobby? Or Both?

This is always a hard question to answer because it feels like both often times. There are some ethical issues I've always had with it, so I try not to pursue too much with it. However, if you're able to distinguish between a business and a hobby, I have some tips for you with the former selection.

I started a spreadsheet (or many) that tracks the following: Profit and Loss, Preshow, Postshow, and Weekly Checklists, "extra" benefit recipients (for Patreon, Gamewisp, others), User Acquisition (how people came to your site and how you get them to stick), content timelines (internal and for your viewers), SEO, and whatever might come to your mind if you are really serious about streaming video games. I would definitely try to put effort into marketing your own self constantly. Truth be told, there are some aspects to content creation that are not fun. When you're not streaming, and for many that's about 6-8 hours a day, you have to dominate social media channels.

What exactly do I mean? I mean spread your name as far as the eye can see. Share your channel and its content as much as you can. Make sure your YouTube channel is up-to-date on clips. Make sure you use tumblr. Get those social signals and hit them hard. I've heard of pretty rough stories of 16 hour days of streaming, social media, content creation, blogging, networking, and pretty much doing whatever else is necessary to spread your brand for streaming video games. Generate your Discord and be sure to plug it regularly so you can build your community. But remember to take time off, too—never let this difficult career path affect your health. It's not worth it.

Also, if you decide you want to stream for the money, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Streaming video games for a living takes more work than you think. It's a fun job, but expect your time to be limited and your significant others to dislike you. Or maybe even leave you. 

En Conclusion

That's what I have to say for now, for part one. I've been streaming video games for 5 years, but there's plenty I don't know. As before, I can show you the door and open it a little, but you have to walk through. It's your channel, your business, and you need to take the lead. There will be a part 2 soon, discussing sponsorships, free games (and how to handle those), and other matters of streaming video games.

Thanks, and see you online soon.

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