Improving The Stream

AKA What I've learned from a few days of streaming and commentating MWO, and my next few projects as a result.

I've mentioned it in passing before (I think), but my alter-ego "Wayde Willson" which I may or may not be retiring depending on PGI's name change policy plays for the cReddit Expendables and I do some webdev and some casting for them because I enjoy the game and like my fellow cRedditors.

A few months back I realized that the striking visuals and fantastic art of Mechwarrior Online, let alone the team play aspects, could make for an interesting casting community around an already dedicated player base from the proud BattleTech universe.

Now, it may seem the easiest thing in the world to download OBS, get a twitch account and start sharing your point of view and commentary with the world and that's more or less what I've done. The hard part is making it something that people want to watch!

Despite my aspirations, MWO draws relatively few views on twitch.tv. I intend to experiment with the twitch API and try to collect some exact data which will appear in its own post, but I've never seen a MWO stream with more than 15 or 20 viewers at one time. Meanwhile the major Starcraft and League of Legends streams can draw hundreds of views even for pro players doing their thing with no commentary. What's the secret? What are they doing right that I'm doing wrong and how can I (and the rest of the cReddit Stream Team) improve?

Points of work

  1. Timing & Predictability. "Viewers" for lack of a better term have a schedule and can (and will) make time to tune into scheduled broadcasts. Random broadcasts at unpredictable times will have necessarily poorer outcomes because the majority of the target audience won't hear about events in time and won't be able to make time to watch as a result. The 1v1 and 2v2 format matches which the cReddit Expendables specialize in are scheduled weekly for Monday nights, and I just need to get my stream into that groove. The rest of the Stream Team is probably already there but that's one point.

  2. Publicity. "Viewers" find content somehow. In order to achieve any sort of mass appeal or audience, we need to make sure that we are making public in a consistent manner all the content which we intend to offer. This means that we routinely have a post on r/mwo, a post on the official MWO forums and live twitter coverage. Now I'm a statistics nerd as is the Doc, and while publicity is great, it is also important to be able to profile our efforts. Twitch (for whatever reason) doesn't offer a way to gather information on how viewers reached your page. This is, as you can imagine, critical information because it provides an indication as to what our most successful PR efforts are and who our viewers are as a result. The traditional solution to this problem is to use a redirect tool which allows you to meter traffic through your redirect. I will be developing a tool to provide this service this weekend. More details as they exist, but the goal is to allow us to track clicks on a by-link and by-post basis.

  3. Stream Quality. "Viewers" want to see high quality video played smoothly as though they themselves were playing the game. This means that those casting cannot for any reason cause the video to lag or stall. I made the mistake of alt/tabbing a few times tonight and I had an average loss of three viewers due to the resulting video stall. Don't friggin mess up the stream.

  4. Continuous Gameplay. "Viewers" don't want to see my desktop for five or ten minutes straight while we hang out bullshitting on chat. They want to see nonstop robot on robot violence, or at least get as close to it as possible. I had an average viewer loss of 10 for the time intervals that we were dicking around between matches. This means that it's imperative that we cut the inter-match lag to the bare minimum. There is a limit on how much streamlining we can do when we're attempting to keep track of match results for our duel format but I suspect that if I and the other casters (who by definition are at present not playing) kept paper track of the results that we could really reduce the lag by moving results entry off the critical path.

  5. Caster Involvement. I'll be honest, I did a whole lot of sitting around bored last night during the arena because I allowed myself to be killed so that I could spectate from the POV of one of the combatants. While I appreciate the first person camera view which this allows for it's boring as fuck for me because I'm just sitting talking for the duration of the event. Also it means that in order to get any real camera work we would have to compose several streams. Now I got pretty close with being able to jump back and forth between the combatant's POV and some of the spectators who had a good view of the fight but it's still suboptimal. YOU HEAR ME PGI? WE NEED A SPECTATOR MODE. rant over. But seriously, I would rather take a spider or some other mech (suitably marked for high visibility) and try to get close to the fight or back off for effect than be dead and bored.

Making this happen

I'll be putting together the redirect system for myself this weekend. It'll likely be quite modular and I will be adding it both to my blog and to mwo.arrdem.com for use by cReddit. My basic outline is that you will be able to paste in a link and enter several sites where you intend to post the link. For each one of these sites I will generate a goo.gl shortened URL suitable for pasting which will proxy through my sight to the target thus providing us with a statistics gathering opportunity.

I started playing with the twitch.tv api tonight and it isn't that involved at all. I intend to perform an experiment where I track the number of channels and total viewers for MWO streams over some period of time and will post a graph of my findings along with top channels & some other info. This should provide more insights both to myself and to the cReddit leadership as to what is being done right both by us and more importantly by others and how we can improve our offerings.

It is my perception that Twitter has become the defacto broadcast medium for talking about video games and advertising live streams. I know that many of you "don't tweet", but this is a publicity effort and volume counts. Alaric and I shouldn't be the only ones spamming @TheGarth, @MechwarriorF2P and #mwo with cReddit related material.

I'm sure I've missed some stuff and I welcome any and all feedback.