A Guide to Twitch, From a “Millennial Boomer”
Explanation and suggested etiquette for viewers and streamers
It is easy to forget that video games have only existed since the 1950s. Physicist William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two and Inventor Josef Kates' Bertie the Brain are noted as some of the first in this medium, and the first commercial home console, Magnavox's Odyssey, came out in 1972. Video game sales in 2022 were estimated to be $184.4 billion in revenue, a dip from the 2021 figures that benefitted from strict lockdown and social distancing enforcement.
Gaming is a major part of the cultural zeitgeist, and content creation and streaming have become related industries and a new career path for many. Twitch is the biggest gaming-focused streaming platform, leaving even attempts by Microsoft (who famously signed big-name streamers like Ninja to their short-lived Mixer platform) to fail.
Twitch is the current king of streaming platforms, though, like the industry at large, it took a significant dip after an enormous surge in interest from Covid-related lockdown. It may now have its first viable challenger to the throne with Youtube Gaming, a service that curates video game-related on-demand content with live streaming and chat UI. It still needs the draw Twitch currently has, but this industry is rapidly evolving, and who knows what could happen even a year from now.
I'm a woman in her mid-30s, so I'm not the target demographic for a video game streamer in most cases, especially if they are looking to do this for a living. I fully acknowledge that my viewership and money are partially going to an Amazon-owned company. This is the nature of the beast, and there are similar issues with platforms acquired by corporations in other relatively new content-focused fields like podcasting. Still, over the last two years, I have watched a lot of streaming content on Twitch and have found a sense of community in gaming that I didn't have since using primitive gaming forums in the early and mid-2000s as a teenager and young adult.
Even within this vast platform, there are a plethora of streamers playing niche content (in the gaming world) and have provided communities for the like-minded. I also decided to try Twitch as a hobbyist back in late November 2022, mostly because I wanted to get over my inability to play games in front of an audience (even if it's just one person). This improved my ability to demo a game and allowed me to check out Twitch's UI, and honestly just have fun. Contributing writer Jake Martin wrote a piece on SUPERJUMP of expectations in streaming as a hobbyist, and I highly suggest checking that out.
Do I have to pay to watch it? Should I hit the subscribe button?
The short answer: no. You aren't required to even have a Twitch account to view, though in that case, age-restricted content won't be available to you, and you won't be able to use chat functionality. You can easily make an account, and if you like a streamer your options are to Follow or Subscribe to their channel. Following a channel will let you know when that person is streaming, you'll be able to chat, but you will still see ads. Following a channel is still beneficial for a streamer, especially if they are just starting out and have dreams of becoming a Twitch Affiliate or applying to be a Partner.
Affiliates are streamers that meet Twitch's bare minimum requirements to be able to monetize (this took me less than a month, only promoting on a few Discords when I went live), allowing them to take subscriptions to their channel. Partners usually do the streaming thing as a full-time gig, and potentially a full source of income, because they get better (still not great by any means) payout percentages from Twitch. It takes an actual application and often a good bit of lobbying to make it to Partner. Then there are the Ambassadors, the most exclusive rank that consists of the "A-List" streamers, the ones Twitch tends to use for marketing.
Whether or not you decide to subscribe to a channel is totally up to you, and that involves payment. Think of it as a recurring charge like it would be for any streaming service, with slightly better pricing if you purchase three months at a time as opposed to monthly. With subscription access, you won't have to deal with ads and have access to emotes from that channel that may be available to use in other channels, and there is often a subscriber-only Discord server. You can subscribe to a channel at three different price tiers, and sometimes there are benefits for subscribing at a higher tier for more money. Hopefully, the Streamer should have this information in their "About Me" section.
I do have a few streamers that I am subscribed to at Tier 2 and Tier 3. Whether or not you spend money is a personal choice, but as someone familiar with paying for paywalled podcast content, it is a non-issue for me. I have the means and like to support people who provide entertainment or even background sound while working or sleeping.
There is also a high chance that you are paying for Amazon Prime, which also provides you with one Twitch Prime subscription monthly. Use it to support your favorite Streamer or check out new channels before deciding to spend money.
What are Bits and why is there a PayPal donation link in the streamer's "About Me" wishlist?
Consider Twitch's Bits your in-game currency for "cheering", which is essentially tipping. You'll usually get thanked by the Streamer (don't expect a shoutout from someone with thousands of viewers for 100 bits, though), and if you spend enough, you might get access to unique channel emotes. Cheering also allows you to have a message read aloud to the Streamer and viewers using Text to Speech if they have that enabled. One of my most watched streamers is known for having and allowing non-stop TTS (as long as it's not in violation of Twitch's TTS and with common sense), but generally, it isn't something I've seen allowed or encouraged.
The best way you can support a streamer is to directly tip using their Paypal donation button, especially if it will be more than $5 since this bypasses Amazon taking a cut of it and will have only taxes for the Streamer to worry about.
Some streamers have wishlists, which is a good idea for the streamer and an easy way to support them if you're a viewer who is so inclined. If you are a cautious streamer worried about doxxing, have lots of viewers who want to send you stuff, and generally want a healthy separation from streaming and your real life, set up a wishlist. You can format it so that viewers will not see your personal information or address. You can curate it so you aren't potentially getting gag gifts (crap that will collect dust), scary perishables that may or may not be infused with bodily fluids, or a shrine made out of hair. Someone might have the pockets to help fund a new graphics card or other large purchases, but remember wishlist items can't be written off on your taxes.
I haven't seen a Streamer beg for money in my two years of watching Twitch, but I know that happens. I will see viewers begging other viewers for gift subscriptions (another way to support the Streamer), but sometimes it is best to not feed into this behavior, and some streamers with tight moderation might ban anyone begging for a gift subscription anyways.
Read The Streamer's "About Me"
Since I'm mentioning Paypal donation links and wishlists, let's talk through the About Me section. It's a good idea to make this one of the first things you look at on a Twitch channel, though you'll find some are out of date or neglected. Besides getting a general feel for the channel, this is where the Streamer will outline their rules for participating in the chat. Listen to that before taking my advice - all streamers have a barometer for what they will tolerate as long as it fits within Twitch's Term of Service. The biggest thing I see in most rules are various ways to say "have some common sense" or "don't be a dick" - so obviously, use common sense and don't be a hateful monster. It would be best if you still read it to get a general understanding of the community you're inhabiting; some are very laid back, while some have intensive rules.
You'll also find information on whether or not the channel is "family-friendly" (in other words, hold off on the potentially "blue" jokes), their streaming schedule, system specs, chat commands, and typically a small bio and links to their other social media platforms.
For streamers reading this, be sure to take advantage of this section. From a viewer and consumer standpoint, putting some effort into this will stand out and help you, and that's not the tryhard writer in me. If I had this platform, I'd express myself as much as possible here while giving safe social media links for people who might want to follow you a bit too much. I have subbed to people based on a good profile, often without seeing any of their content. This section is part of your pitch, and welcome to my hell. You and I are pretty similar; we ultimately pitch and sell our content.
Also, if you stream and have a lot of engagement with your viewers, this is a great place to put relevant command prompts. One of the streamers I watch is Rob Kovacs, a musician and video game composer. His "About" best exemplifies how this section is utilized to its fullest since his stream also highly depends on viewers using Commands in chat.
Trauma Dumping: The streamer is not your therapist & neither are viewers
So, you had a bad day? Do not take it out on the human streaming in the form of excessive trauma dumping or being an antagonistic troll. They are also entertainers while typically performing a task, depending on the level of their viewership and moderation team. More than ever, in a world that saw a global pandemic, they also can be thrown into being untrained social workers. The streamer and their chat shouldn't be your place to unload and ask for advice from someone not trained to do it.
It would be tone-deaf and classist of me to tell you to find a therapist. Still, Twitch isn't the outlet to disclose to a streamer about every life tragedy that has occurred to you, even if your entire family and beloved pet turtle passed away in a freak hot air balloon accident or something decidedly as heavy but not absurd. You can search out channels with a "Mental Health" tag, but remember that some people use that with irony. Suppose you absolutely *need* help in the form of Twitch. In that case, you can check out Dr. Alok Kanojia at HealthyGamer GG, an actual psychiatrist who focuses his content on legitimate mental health discourse. This is still no substitute, but it's something better than asking mental health questions to someone who is seven hours deep into speedrunning Persona 5 Royal at 3 am.
On the flip side, a clip of a streamer recently made the rounds where they directly asked a viewer where they had been. That viewer responded succinctly and honestly, not dramatically, that there had been a death in their immediate family. This led to an embarrassing (for the Streamer) tirade about how this one person ruined "the vibe." If you are asking directly about the absence of someone in your community, expect that you might get bad news, and don't berate them.
You're in the Passenger Seat: Do not "Backseat" (unless allowed!)
Do you go to anyone who works a skilled trade or other job and give them unsolicited advice on how to do it? If so, are you one of the clients I have "fired" from my day job? This term generally applies to gaming streamers but it can happen to anyone streaming content. Since 98% of my watched streamers are playing games, I typically see it as an unruly crowd yelling text at the streamer and telling them how and what to do. They only need your help if they are asking for it. A tag does exist that indicates the stream allows backseating, and I don't see it often. You could also unintentionally spoil a storyline of a game's first playthrough for this streamer and the chat.
Boundaries: We Can't Stop Here - This is Parasocial Country!
Most streamers go by an alias for a reason: they need a life and work balance and don't owe you any information about their personal life beyond what they want to share. Don't press them for details you would feel uncomfortable sharing with a total stranger, and picture yourself as an entertainer on top of all this. Twitch and Parasocial Relationships, a perceived friendship with an entertainer that is one-sided and not reciprocal, go hand in hand. No matter how much you support them monetarily, they owe you nothing at the end of the day. If you need a sense of friendship and want to be in a community, subscribe to a streamer with a private Discord where you can make friends with people with the same interests as you. Discord server access is typically a perk of paying for a subscription to a streamer., and they might pop in but don't expect it.
Appearance: You are not the new judge on Twitch's Next Top Model
Commenting on a streamer's appearance in either extreme is weird and unnecessary. If you're going to Twitch to make fun of someone brave enough to play a game or do anything in front of an audience, congrats, you are Lord McEdgeLord, and I hope you feel proud of yourself for doing nothing constructive. On the other hand, don't be a thirsty horndog and sexualize a streamer to the extent you can see them become uncomfortable. I find both extremes objectively offputting, but I'm thirty-five years old, and I got doxxed by 4Chan at the ripe age of seventeen over print media. I'm not a monster: some chats have inside jokes, but get a sense of the vibe before you blurt out something unhinged, and if it's allowed, at least try to be funny. I know this is painful common sense, but I've found that common sense is a hot commodity sometimes.
Also, streamers, this applies to you. I use my actual picture on Twitch and on Discord, and one time I did have a streamer say hello to me on stream after I typed in a "hey, hope you're doing well" or maybe even just "Hi, ______!", then proceeded to tell an audience of 800-1000 viewers that I have a "voluptuous" figure. That many people interested in watching Hearthstone don't need prompting to check out the fact that I am visibly well-endowed.
Eric from HR streams Hitman?: Discovering someone you know streams
One question I've always had for streamers who have audiences in the hundreds to thousands of concurrent viewership is, "what it is like to potentially deal with a baffled former co-worker, someone still working a job that involves clientele, or a relative that might discover that they stream"? When I mentioned at Thanksgiving to my immediate family that I had recently bought a green screen, my younger sister was quick to conclude that I was getting into streaming. I knew she wouldn't buy white lies like upping my Zoom meetings' production value, and she knew what an El Gato capture card was. My best advice? If that person hasn't mentioned it to you, and they are having fun as a hobbyist, or taking it seriously, depending on your relation to them, leave it alone. No one will stop you from viewing, and a big part of Twitch or interacting on the internet is that you are granted anonymity.
I'll end this with one personal anecdote. One time I did give my number to a guy from a dating website and only thought a little other than if he searched my number or name, he would see what I would see, which didn't bother me. One night I was streaming Fortnite (a very hard turn from God of War Ragnarök and Pentiment) and was generally goofing off. I sometimes try to have funny stream names, and I got a text commenting on how funny my stream's title was and that I had a nice voice. I pretended my streaming software crashed, disabled my face camera, and ended my stream early. Granted, this text was prefaced with "not to sound stalkerish, but" - it still felt that way and generally unnerving. The link to my Twitch stream had only been posted by me in two Discord servers for promotion, and this was found by finding a banner a friend made that just had a username on it from a month or so prior, buried in my Twitter account.
Stay safe, and remember that your ancient social media can be connected to your cell number. There may be a point in your life where you have to explain why you are playing as Vegeta with cute bright pink strawberry skin on a machine gun in Fortnite.
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