In my podcast interview with David Graham, we discussed the rise of livestreaming in the video game community over the past five years or so, and the prevalence that the technology has achieved today (here, you can watch two Polygon editors argue why livestreaming will only continue to rise in popularity in the coming years).
I’ve watched plenty of livestreams over the past few years, whether they be tournament competitions, speedruns or even charity events. It had never occurred to me to try it myself, but I figured, for the sake of “going native” to learn more about this online mode of communication, I would give it a shot. So, Tuesday night, I hosted my first-ever livestream, the #wecf13 VVVVVV Livestream for Learning!
Once you find the resolve to start a livestream, you have to figure out, well … where to start. Little did I know I would soon learn that there are many moving parts — technical, fiscal and intellectual — for broadcasting a successful livestream. Foremost, you need a game to stream. Because I have an ‘09 MacBook Pro that’s on its last legs, I decided to play a graphically non-intensive game called VVVVVV. I purchased this game for a few dollars earlier this year on Steam, a digital distribution platform that you can download for free.
So, what next? Well, then I needed to find a service from which to broadcast my video. Since Twitch TV is the most popular platform for video game streaming, I decided that would be an appropriate venue. Signing up for Twitch is free and easy. The next hurdle, much to my surprise, was that there were still more hurdles to overcome. Unfortunately, once you sign up for Twitch, you’re not quite ready to stream yet. Next, you need to download software to capture your video feed, then Twitch can broadcast your play experience for you. Twitch offers some suggestions, but I decided to go with WireCast, which is compatible with Mac and offers a free demo version.
Still, I wasn’t out of the woods just yet. Because I was using the “freemium” version of the software, a “Wirecast” watermark appeared on my broadcast window every 30 seconds or so, accompanied by a female voice saying “This is a demonstration of Wirecast.” If that weren’t bad enough, I still had to figure out how to use the damn thing. Thankfully, I found this incredibly helpful Youtube video that demonstrated how to set up the software and integrate it with a Twitch channel. The user even explains how to create a small facecam window, but I had to do without it because it slowed down my processing power far too much.
So, then, now that I had Wirecast open and recording and had VVVVVV open, I was ready to record (big thanks to all who joined to watch and chat!). After brief introduction on the game itself, I soon discovered just how difficult it was to engage the audience (talk) and play the game at the same time. My brain couldn’t negotiate between the two different tasks at once well, so I can only imagine that performing an enjoyable livestream requires a lot of practice.
Something you might notice about the stream archive (an affordance of the Twitch.tv architecture) is how choppy the video is. The framerate was very poor, and I can only imagine that’s because of my hardware. To reliably stream big games like Dark Souls or League of Legends, nevermind lil’ old VVVVVV, you’d need a relatively recent PC or gaming-dedicated laptop with impressive specs, which could easily cost you thousands of dollars (or, if you have the patience, you can build your own and save some money, but that requires some more technical prowess). But, we have to make due with what we have, right?
In the end, my inaugural livestream wasn’t the smashing success I’d hoped it would be, but it was still a valuabale, illuminating experience in just how much dedication is required to make this popular, commonplace gaming phenomenon work. I can’t embed the Twitch archive on this page, but you can view it on my Twitch page if you want to watch me crash and burn. I played a bit of the main story mode, explored a fan-made stage and even tried to build my own (spoilers: it didn’t go well). Please skip to the 34-minute mark unless you want to watch me fumble with my computer for a half hour. Thanks for watching!
[Featured image credit: aditmo.com]
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