Welcome to a game I played today. Ever as a kid I've was enticed watching other kids play video games on their Amiga's and Philips MSX's. I had no choice really; I've not really been in a position to own such pleasure boxes myself. Well don't get me wrong. I had a NES and later a SNES from the get go. But at the same time I didn't. Let's not dwell on that. It was fine, I enjoyed watching my friends play games just as well. And sometimes I even got to play a game myself :)This blog post is about a video stream website I've started called Played.Today and various details around recording and publishing video streams.
Later I always figured that a tv-show with just people playing games and commenting on them would be something I'd enjoy watching. I actually "envisioned" running a network that just aired people playing games. Of course back then tv still mattered.
Fast forward a bit. Enter Twitch. 2011. Twitch is actually great. Too late for me, but great. It was the near perfect manifest of that idea. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying they stole my idea nor do I mean anything related to that. I think it's great that they managed to do something I've been wanting to have since I was a kid. Of course the thing I don't have anymore opposed to when I was a kid is ... well, time. "The time! The time! Who's got the time?". And so I never really hopped on the Twitch band wagon. Neither as consumer nor as producer. Not exactly for lack of opportunity I suppose. But mind you I was working full time professionally by the time Twitch launched.
So while I may not have been part of the streamer world, I've kept playing games. Too much, probably, but no regrets. In 2012 I discovered the world of game bundles. This was in the near-post-flash gaming era. The basic gist is you pay 1 to 4 dollars for about 3 to 10 games. Your mileage varies of course. While the games were good indie games at first, that pool quickly depleted and now you're left with the bottom of the barrel. With the occasional good game of course. In the course of three years of buying bundles I've amassed over 2000 games in my Steam library. Just sitting. Waiting. Nearly never to be played. Aside from a handful of "obvious good ones" of course.
This year I've started to watch some game streams on a regular basis. Well actually mostly "Binding of Isaac:Rebirth" streams. Best game ever.
And only by two streamers, who shall be unnamed because who cares. I enjoy it. I know most of what there is to know of this game and I still think it's one of the best games I've ever played. So I enjoy watching those runs, much like I enjoyed my friends playing games when I was a kid. Sometimes you learn something new. Sometimes you can teach them something new. Mostly I just enjoy watching them play.
I guess this kind of inspired me to make the move to record myself. While I had contemplated this move for a while, I just ... didn't do it. You know. So when I came back from our holiday this year I made up my mind and just got a crappy microphone and started recording a random game. I picked a catchy domain (ended up with "played.today
") and created a simple website for it. And that was that. PlayedToday was born.
Basically there are two ways of recording video game streams. One is "offline" and the other is "online".
Offline means you're talking to your public, your viewers, in general and nobody in particular. You comment on the game, what happens in the game, or just arbitrary stuff unrelated to the game. The entertainment value is up to your viewers, of course. To each their own.
Online is what you more commonly call "streaming". As in, you're pushing a stream of you playing online as you are playing it. Platforms like Twitch add support for chat rooms and other interactions. Online streaming generally means interacting with your public directly. And there are many people that enjoy that kind of interaction with a player, mind you. It's a business model for a reason.
Online streams can also be published offline for later viewing. Though personally I tend to enjoy those less because you get only half the communication unless the streamer first repeats what's being said in chat. It's not so bad when a streamer actually does that, though. But there's something to be said for "well, then you should've just been there".
The way income works is quite simple; advertisement, donations, and subscribers.
Platforms share their advertisement revenue with the content creators. I guess this is something that evolved in recent years and details are sketchy at best.
Donations is obvious; viewers that reward the players with arbitrary amounts of money, though usually in the sub 25 range each. Sometimes people will set certain goals in a live stream and the people that join tend to donate small amounts to motivate the streamer to continue, or to reward it for completing said goal. I'm not too fond of this model as it tends to put the streamer in a groveling mode, being overly thankful every time somebody donates a dollar or two kind of becomes a hollow remark at some point. Especially when the next donation is a 100 dollars and your thanks are not significantly different. I mean, I get it, but at the same time I think it makes you look a bit meh.
Subscriber income might be a little less known, but certain platforms like Twitch require a viewer to pay a certain amount of money to "subscribe" to a streamers channel. (Youtube on the other hand doesn't.) These platforms will pay the streamer a part of that subscription fee.
It's all hot air of course so the platform makes tons of moneys this way. All these things are not super relevant on their own, but with thousands of viewers and subscribers it can add up quickly. There are plenty of players that have gone pro and live of the income of their channel. Though for many it's more like a holy grail. And therein lies a problem.
Come 2015, the space for game streaming is super saturated. I mean it is saturated to the brim. I suppose it's a combination of factors. Recording software like OBS
is free, cross platform, and super easy to use out of the box. Desktop recording has never been easier.
Recording hardware can be super cheap, but even medium or higher quality of hardware can be had for about 150 dollars tops. That's not bad for a one-time investment that can last for years. It may be a lot of money for a kid, but once you get a real job this kind of money is not exactly "a million dollars" anymore.
Online platforms are easy to find since they're practically begging for new users. Yes, you are the product, but most of these people care naught for these kinds of matters. A free platform to publish your videos and maybe get money for it to boot? What could go wrong there?!? So yeah, many people have taken up their mic and perhaps cam and started recording themselves playing games. And the age will range anywhere from 8 to 40 years old. All for similar reasons. Not all for money mind you.
So the saturation fact was not news to me. The feasibility of being a pro streamer has been in decline for a while but hey, I don't have to do this for the money. (And good thing I don't ;)
) I record these videos in my free time and don't really have to worry about viewer or subscriber count. On top of that I don't do "online" streaming, for now anyways, and just publish offline streams. Doing online streams would have a higher chance of binding viewers to my channel. But it's a three or four month "offline" experiment for me and I'll see how it goes.
Right now I'm about two months in and I can say I'm enjoying myself doing the whole thing. I have to say it's much more work than it seems. When I considered doing this I thought it would take me about 30 to 45 minutes a day, tops. Okay okay, maybe some games would take an hour if I'd really enjoy myself. But after that you move it to youtube and never look back (tm). So, no.
Time to record
A recording typically starts with picking a game. That's usually not so hard. But then you have to prepare, download the game, make sure it works, setup graphics to make sure it's HD, fix that damn dual screen fullscreen mode (some times
), check the microphone, make sure the background audio is about 75% of your mic volume, two or three test recordings to check the audio and while restarting the game in between because you can't quickly mute the audio from the game, and everything before you can even start the recording. Recording typically lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. Post production is another ... half an hour? That's not even editing the video but just doing a short write up, information, upload, filling in all the forms, preparing to publish, publish, announce on a few networks, update website. So a single recording of a game that I played for about 45 minutes will have taken me between 1.5 and 2 hours in total. Back to back recordings are slightly more optimal because there's less time wasted in setup and after-care, but it's marginal. Series of the same game take less time because preparation and post-care take far less time, just copy paste the details.
There's no point denying it; I totally underestimated this. So where you may think recording and publishing these videos takes about as much time as they are long; not quite. Even so, I enjoy doing this. The website (played.today
) is (re)generated with a nodejs script, so everything is served as static content. The actual content consists of a large JSON file and some templates. The site currently boasts 67 videos. So 67 different games I've played, covered, and recorded. And except for I think 2 videos, they're all 30 minutes or longer. On top of that I've also uploaded some long plays; Paper Dungeons is up with 15 videos. The Stanley Parable is currently going but has a few videos. And Teslagrad will start soon after. So thus far the project cost me about 67*105=7035=117 hours of free time.
That's quite time consuming. But at the same time, I've covered games that I would otherwise not have played for more than 5 minutes, if at all. So you know, it's serving its purpose; I'm playing games. Of course I had hoped to go through my 2k+ library a bit faster than one game a day. But at the same time I've been away the past two weeks and had to prepare a video for every day. And I have. One of the goals of this project was to play through my list and that's what I'm doing. Albeit slowly.
One interesting concept that manifested itself is the "when your hobby becomes your work it becomes less of a hobby" kind of thing. Ok so you can substitute "work" for "obligation". Even so, that's never been a real problem for me in terms of programming. But I do notice that there's a little pressure in the duty to myself to publish at least one video every day. Especially when I know I'll have no time, like being away from home for business for two weeks, there's a higher pressure of producing enough content to keep on publishing on those days. Combined with somewhat constrained recording possibilities (making my work hours, environment availability) it's actually not all that easy to keep up. Possible, but not easy. Of course once I find a "moment" to record, playing the game is no problem. Another issue is that I'm stopping myself from games I want to play because I want to record them instead. But again, I'm limited in when I can actually record so I have to hold off playing the games I'd really like to continue playing.
Content ID match
Then there's content ID match. Ermahgerd such hell. So in case you don't know; when you upload a video to Youtube (and I guess most large video platforms) an automatic algorithm checks your upload for both the video and audio and tries to match it against a gazillion pieces of video and audio. These pieces are given to them by supposed content copyright holders. When such a match is found you get a warning and you won't be able to "monetize it". Or possibly worse yet, some random company gets ownership of your video in terms of advertisement and any revenue your video would have made you now goes to them. Now don't get me wrong; I understand the principle of this mechanism. It had good intentions at its core. But for streamers it's a pain in the ass. Simple as that.
So far I've had about four videos which had a content match. Three of them concerned audio and seemed valid. My solution was simple; strip the audio from the background track for the duration at which a match was made. This is possible after the recording because I record my videos with separate audio tracks; one with all the sound, one with game sound, and one with microphone sound. Usually only the main track is used (by default by Youtube). But when I need to slice out background audio for content ID match, I can do so because I'll have these tracks separated as well. This works great, it just takes some more work because you have to re-upload your video and fill in the forms again. Youtube doesn't allow you to replace your video inline, even when it has not yet been published. So you can't really upload a "fixed" version quickly. But at least you can delete a video and upload a fixed version to get rid of these claims.
The content matches were "valid". Or at least the descriptions you get matched the content. I mean, the hell do I know whether they actually own the copyright. One was an Xmas song
. You'll notice that the background disappears soon as the fight starts. It was a jingle bells cover playing. I actually "sing along" with this track but you'd never know. One was ambient background music, easy to slice out. And one was weird
, it matched part of the introduction. I'm guessing it was a radio playing in the background. That one was unfortunate because I kept silent during that part as it was voice acting. But of course I sliced out the voice acting so now it's 30 seconds of awkward silence :/
My beef with matches is that you do get a description of the offended content but not a reference to the source. That means sometimes you still don't really know what actually matched because you can't compare. And of course you still don't know whether or not you can successfully file a dispute. This is the most worrisome part of it all; I have no idea what happens when I file a dispute and lose. I think this whole thing falls under fair use but IANAL
For one game I got a video match, so based on graphics not sound. Those are even a bigger pain. It was for my playthrough of Type:Rider
and I still don't really know what it actually matched on. Super weird, unless it matched some art in the background. At first I sliced out some parts of the video, but that proved fruitless as it would just match something in the next part. Oh yeah, Youtube only tells you about one such offense, not all. So it's a bit of trial and error. I went to the forums and simply asked
whether the devs knew what was up. They said no and that I could file a dispute. I did and the claim was released within the hour (with a weird "automatic resolve after 30 days of no response" message, what's up with that). A later reply
in the same topic suggests I was lucky there because anothers claim was denied... :/ Quite a fickle system in desperate need for more human interaction.
I'm always a little anxious to upload a new video because you never know when these content ID matches show up. Luckily it hasn't happened too often so far but I rue the day when I have to discard a whole recording because there's no other way.
Content ID matches also take up a lot of time because you have to investigate, slice out, and reupload.
Another thing that can take up similar amounts of time is recording problems. There's basically three ways I've encountered so far.
One is accidentally pressing the wrong button and ending the recording. That only happened once and they're easy to fix by simply merging the two splits. Takes a little more time to get the timing right so the viewer doesn't notice and of course you'll have to be lucky that this is even possible in the first place.
Second way is when something happens in my background, messing up the recording. Somebody that talks through the microphone because that person doesn't realize I'm recording, for example. If at all feasible I'll try to slice that part out. Again, very handy to have different audio tracks or this would be more ugly and noticeable. Now I can just cut in the microphone track and you won't be missing much if I played it right. Sometimes I just don't bother, like when a door slams shut. Just not worth it.
The third is something requiring my attention to go AFK. A phone ringing for example, or worse yet, one time I had to jet outside to take care of something and left the video recording running. Later I had to splice out ten minutes of idle recording. The tricky thing there is that when you get distracted in the first place, you tend to not pay attention to making cut-able start/end parts to glue together. So you'll have to cheese it a little bit and hope that it works. That's assuming this happens in a part that actually allows you to idle at all. And not, like, die.
Of course this is just my situation. I don't post edit my videos beyond patching problems. Post production could take anywhere between an hour and a day depending. I see the added possible value to post production but I'm just not the right guy for doing this.
Okay so I underestimated the time a recording would take. What about the recording itself? Well... So I watch basically two streamers on a regular basis. Both Binding of Isaac streamers. One is very chatty and often derails on random subjects for a floor or two, while still playing said floors. The other doesn't really do this and sticks to the game. Now, I'll say that playing the same game on auto-pilot, like you could do Isaac after a while, is different from playing a new game for the first time. Regardless I have a new found admiration for going off on random subjects while playing the game. I seldom find myself able to do so, anyways. And even if I do I'll quickly get back on track by something that happens in the game, forgetting about the side track I was talking about. I usually notice when I look back, if at all.
I imagine this side tracking to be similar as getting lost in a thought while riding a bike home, when you do this every day of the year. By the time you get home you'll often realize you didn't even pay conscious attention to riding the bike, it's just auto pilot because your mind was somewhere else.
I think I do fine in the commentating department in general. I'm not super happy with my pronunciation but I guess you always hold yourself to a much higher standard. And of course English isn't my native language, which is always a little dangerous in these cases. But I'll be screwed if I start doing this in Dutch. Ew.
Anyways, talking about the game while playing it comes fairly natural to me. However, it's easy to get lost in a puzzle and forgetting to spill your train of thought. Or when you're in a pinch you can get so nervous you'll forget to speak. I think I'm doing quite well in this department, though sometimes... well... :) I think it's less relevant in first plays because there's generally less on the line. After all, odds are you won't play the game again after the recording finishes. It's probably different when doing a 200 stream in Isaac on half a heart. On the other hand, those are the streams I enjoy and admire most.
I'm planning on doing Isaac runs myself. The plan so far is to do a review on the original flash game (well, the expansion
), and the Rebirth one
is released. Then I basically want to record Afterbirth 100% playthrough and the new dailies. Of course this next to still posting at least one game a day. We'll see how it goes. I do have to work and participate in this thing called life, as well :p
One thing I may have to consider is moving where I record. I work from home and most of my setup is in the living room. That means I record in the living room (in my spare time
) as well. And while the noise of our bird doesn't bother me so much, it's just not realistic to record while my wife is watching tv. Or doing anything at all really. And at the same time I really don't want to claim the downstairs just to myself for this thing. It shouldn't hamper her movement at all and so I try my very best to prevent this. I mostly record when she's at work, sports, or sleeping. And so far that works out fine. But I do think I'll have to be able to record in "our office". On the other hand that may be a good reason to get a decent Windows machine to record on, because it turns out the box I currently use for that is too old and there are only so many Linux games to cover.
Achievement and goals
For now this project is just something on the side. Something for fun. Something for non-profit. In the long run it'd be ... interesting to make this more profitable. But I have no illusions about this department. If it happens it happens and otherwise that's fine too. In the past two months I've given this project little attention beyond posting on Reddit and Steam reviews. So most views are organic. According to youtube analytics that resulted in 422 views totaling 1367 minutes of watched content yielding... 0.02 cents of revenue. Oh and let's not forget a shout-out to the 5 subscribers! Yeah, let's not quit my day job just yet ;) But again, keep in mind I'm not exactly putting the channel "out there". I don't do live streams so there's less contact with potential audience. I'm not joining or spamming the channel in other streams, commenting, or that sort of astroturfing tactics. I'm still "finding my way" myself. But more so, I'm just a producer less a consumer of content. That's how I treated Twitter. That's how I treated this blog (-> no comments). That doesn't mean I don't consume. But just, less so.
The low figures are fine with me. I wasn't sure what to expect, at all. I'm happy people are watching at all and do feel I still have to practice to improve the way I cover these games. It's easy to randomly bitch about games. It's hard to be constructive. It's also hard to be objective about a game you dislike. Obviously I'd love for it to snowball into thousands of subscribers but I'll be happy to just double it :)
For the next month I'm going to cover games I've been holding off on covering and games I've been wanting to play for a while. These are games I've 100%ed and loved or look like it. I figured it'd be a waste to cover them while I was still learning to do this thing. And let's face it; popular games attract more viewers. Though something can be said about covering a niche of unpopular games. Though they tend to be less popular for a reason.
Another tactic one could employ is buying games on their release date, cover them, and try to post a Steam review as soon as possible. First posters on Steam simply tend to get more attention. Once you're at the top of "helpful" reviews you're bound to stay there. Of course you could go and ask for keys from devs. I've heard this tactic works but I feel like I don't really need to do that since I could either just pay for the game or have plenty of other games to play.
I don't think the Reddit r/LetsPlayVideos
sub really works, it's just too popular there, drowning in a sea of other videos. But it's a simple thing to submit to.
I expect to push a bit more games than the past month because I'm not away for two weeks, so I don't have to queue up a bunch of videos meaning I could nearly double my output. It probably won't be double but you know what I mean.
So yeah. I record some of my game playing and add my commentary. It's not original but at least I'm doing it. This makes it feel less of a waste as it otherwise may have been. In the end I'll at least have a nice website with a bunch of videos I can point to saying "well, that's at least something I've been doing". I have no plans to quit my day job over this though, but they mix and match quite well so I don't anticipate a problem there. I don't have long time goals for this project. I'll evaluate it again in a month or two and see whether I want to see it through. Could be a do, could be a won't.
Well, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for watching. Bye bye.