#53: Bijan Stephen [Internet Culture]
Digging into internet culture and what it takes to stream on Twitch
Bijan Stephen is a writer, editor, and video correspondent based in Brooklyn, NY. He covers Twitch and Streaming at The Verge and a music critic at The Nation.
Independently, he co-hosts a show on Twitch called One Time On The Internet, streams, and is a character on an actual play podcast called Fun City.
In this episode we talk about Bijan’s experience in journalism, why he decided freelancing wasn’t for him, the differences between gaming and streaming, what it takes to get started streaming, and a whole bunch of other things internet culture.
Bijan Stephen is a writer, editor, and video correspondent based in Brooklyn, NY. He covers Twitch and Streaming at The Verge and a music critic at The Nation.
His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Wired, and elsewhere. Previously he was an editor at The New Republic and a culture correspondent on Vice News Tonight on HBO.
Independently, he co-hosts a show on Twitch called One Time On The Internet, streams, and is a character on an actual play podcast called Fun City.
click to view episode transcript
Bijan Stephen 0:00
Your first stream, you're gonna have a lot of support, comparatively speaking, and maybe like five people show up. That's exciting. And then once people realize it's the thing that you're going to continue doing the pressure to view, to watch you sort of drops off. And that's when it's like you hit this place where it's like, well, I'm streaming to like two people. Is this worth it?
Jay Clouse 0:22
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Hello, my friend. Welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. I won't let you inside my head here today for a minute, because over the last few weeks, I've been struggling with my identity as a creator. If you look at the guests that I've had on the show, almost all of them have their thing, meaning a topic or an idea that they've really gotten known for, or they've leaned into. And it's become kind of synonymous with who they are as a creator. We talked about consistency all the time on the show in terms of publishing on a regular basis. But consistency also applies to the type of work that you're putting out. And I know that if I were more consistent in terms of what I talked about, across my social media, my writing, my podcast, that I'd probably grow a larger following much faster. But it just feels so limiting. And I can't bring myself to do it. The Internet presents so many options and ideas to explore, and to close myself off to almost all of them in order to grow an audience. It just hasn't been a sacrifice that I've been willing to make. But when I do interviews on other podcasts, the hosts often struggle through my introduction because I'm just doing so many things that they aren't sure how to put me into a box. I bring this up because today I'm talking with be Bijan Stephen, who is someone that I feel like I really relate to Bijan is a writer, editor and video correspondent based in Brooklyn, New York. He covers Twitch and streaming at The Verge, and he's a music critic for The Nation. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, Wired and Elsewhere. Previously, he was an editor at the New Republic and a culture correspondent on Vice News Tonight on HBO. Independently, Bijan co host a show on Twitch called One Time on the Internet, he streams and he's a character on an actual play podcast called Fun City. Fun City is a cyberpunk narrative play RPG podcast set in a post climate catastrophe New York City in the year 2101. And if you're not really sure what I just said,
Bijan Stephen 2:44
Say it's a podcast with super high production value that's like we're telling like a radio drama story together, like at a table with dice.
Jay Clouse 2:52
That's be Bijan. And as you can tell, he does a lot of things, and projecting my own fears and insecurities onto him. I asked him how he self identifies with all the creative work that he has going on.
Bijan Stephen 3:04
I think the the answer is the the one thing that pulls all these things together is just you know, I'm a writer, that's the thing I do. Well, I've done a bunch of other different things, you know, like host a TV show, as a correspondent as like, you know, I do a bunch of tabletop role playing game podcasts, you know, like, there are things like, but through all that I think the main thread is I got started as a writer, I can't help myself from writing when I go on vacation. It takes me about a week before I'm like, Okay, it's time to it's time to write something, write something new. But yeah, I don't know, I am really interested in making things online. And I think, you know, like, like, I do a couple twitch shows. And it's like, those are those are fun, because it's like I'm doing researched things that are for like comedy purposes. And it's like, I feel like I get to dabble in all of these different areas. It's really nice.
Jay Clouse 3:49
I love that perspective. We hear time and time again on this show that writing underpins the work of so many creators, regardless of message or medium. And that excitement about dabbling in different areas is something that I want to lean into without fear. So in this episode, we talk about Bijan's experience in journalism, why he decided freelancing wasn't for him. The differences between gaming and streaming, what it takes to get started streaming today in a whole bunch of other things, internet culture. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram @JayClouse. And if you're not already in our listeners community on Facebook, I'd love for you to join. I also put out the question in today's episode, if you think there should be a Creative Elements live stream on Twitch, reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and let me know. But now, let's talk to Bijan.
Bijan Stephen 4:45
I remember the first time I was ever asked to write something seriously, you can seriously consider what I was trying to say was like in English class, it's like a senior in high school. And I realized I really liked that. I realized that like, you know, I had all these thoughts that I could also like, articulate and figuring out Way to articulate them was fascinating. And so you know, you know, I went to college and didn't major in English. But I did work on a bunch of publications. And so I think that was, that was the point where I was like, you know, this seems pretty cool. I would like to try doing this, I will try doing this as, like, I'll try doing this for real as soon as I have an opportunity.
Jay Clouse 5:17
Love that. Actually, that's a super similar story to mine. I got into writing in AP English in high school, because I loved seeing like the prompts, and then break it down. Like, here's what I think this means. That was literally like the test to get a scholarship into college also was to do that exact exercise. And then I kind of found my way into journalism the first couple years in college. So how did you get into writing for publications? Why did that become the path that you took in college?
Bijan Stephen 5:41
To be clear as college publications, I was wanting to write music reviews. So that's where that's sort of where I started. Although, before that, actually, sorry, I take it back. The first the first piece I ever published in like a thing that wasn't like for a class was a brief interview with the guy who created the Pokemon theme song for the anime, because he was upset because Nintendo paid him like two grand and he kept he kept suing them over the years for royalties. And he keeps losing because he's just a guy. And it's like a giant corporation. And there isn't like a theme there. But I was like, wow, this is a fun. This is a fun story. Like I just I found this thing, and I want to write about it, I will talk about it. But that's sort of the reason I got into it was that and because one of my friends was like, he seemed like he would be pretty good at this. You should try it. And she happened to be the editor. And they were also looking for bodies, because the magazine was not doing so well. It was a gossip magazine.
Jay Clouse 6:30
Now. Hold on, we're talking about I want to be very best.
Bijan Stephen 6:34
Yeah that guy. Jason Paige.
Jay Clouse 6:35
That guy made two grand on that.
Bijan Stephen 6:37
Something like that. Yeah, I can't, I have to go back and look for that fucking interview. It was digitized at one point. And then they changed the website. So I have no idea where it is.
Jay Clouse 6:45
Read the contract folks.
Bijan Stephen 6:46
Yeah, read the contract seriously. That is actually if there's one piece of advice I could give to anybody, any writer, any like any aspiring film person, anybody who does anything that involves other people read the contract. And if you can't read the contract, get a lawyer read the contract, it will always pay off.
Jay Clouse 7:02
Always, always pays itself off.
Bijan Stephen 7:04
And if you can't get a lawyer, just threaten to get one and you'll see the term sometimes change.
Jay Clouse 7:09
So how did this you know writing music reviews telling us fantastic story? How did this become the work that you do now, at The Verge.
Bijan Stephen 7:17
Long, winding road, I have written for an editor at a bunch of different publications. So I think getting to The Verge was was really nice, because I in you know, before then I worked at Vanity Fair as an assistant, and went to the New Republic after it sort of was rebooted for the first time under Chris Hughes, as an editor, then went to Vice, I did TV there, and then I left and I was freelancing for a year. And it was it was really interesting, because I feel like, you know, working in like print digital broadcast, and then freelancing, I feel like I'd gotten sort of a whole picture of the industry. And I was also like, freelancing is great. But I'm like, I'm not I'm not living, right. I'm not I'm not out here living correctly. And so I found I was, you know, applying for jobs. And I found a job at Vox as the first weekend editor. And then at the verge, because I tweeted at one of our I tweeted at our managing editor after they posted a job position, he was like, you should apply. And so I did. But like the writing wise, I think that that's like the general sort of career thing. But writing wise, it was just like, it feels sort of a natural fit. Because some of the stuff that I've been thinking about all the stuff that I care about, hasn't changed all that much, because I think all of it again, ties back to the internet. And like the one of one of the main things that I think about a lot. Like even what I'm not being paid to is what I mean by a lot is how millennials and Gen Z are the first to generate like millennials specifically grew up alongside the internet transition, when things went like when the internet went from being a thing that nerds used and rich people use to a thing that everyone had to use. And it's been really interesting, because I think what I'm really interested in is internet culture, and internet history. And I think, you know, like music is maybe like sort of tangential to that. But I think at the verge I write about Twitch, my first beat was internet culture. But before that, I like publications earlier, like GQ, and Esquire, whatever I was writing about people who like moved culture forward, and there was always there was always an internet dimension to them. And it's, I mean, obviously, it's like, if you're talking to somebody in Hollywood, chances are they're young person who grew up online now, you know, they have a popped Instagram account, because that's just how culture has changed. But it's like, I think the through line is like, how the internet is changing and deforming culture and how we are remaking the internet in our image. So those are like that's, that's sort of the like, the space that I've been occupying mentally for, you know, most of my career.
Jay Clouse 9:30
I can't wait to dig into that. But I have to take one step back real quick and ask you about you said, when you're freelancing, it felt like you just weren't living the right life. Can you talk more about that? Because a lot of listeners of this show are probably freelancing right now.
Bijan Stephen 9:42
Yeah. I mean, I think freelancing is really hard. And I was stupid because I sort of got sucked into the thing where it's like, I tried to make all of my money from publications, which you should not do if you can get a copywriting job, get a copywriting job, it does not make you less of a writer or less real of a you know, an author or something. It's just there. There is a lie. prestige. And I think it's like, I feel like I should have known this going in because I was an assistant at Vanity Fair. And I remember, I was like, how are you guys living on this much money, I think we're getting paid like 27 grand a year or something was ridiculous. And I was I was only there for like, eight months, because I was like, I can't keep doing this. And I, you know, was I got really lucky because my, my friend in this media slack asked me to write first newsletter and it blew up. And so like, a lot of filler was turned out, like, you know, 14,000 media professionals are reading my writing every day, which as it turns out, is pretty good when you're looking for jobs. But I mean, as for freelancing, you know, like, after all of this stuff has happened. And, you know, I felt like I'd gotten I'd been through the wringer. I was pitching all the time, I was writing all the time. And I was like, I think I was mentally happier. Just because I didn't have a boss, I just could work whatever I wanted to. It also meant that every day was a working day, there were no weekends, there were no And I mean, I don't have to explain to anybody freelances, this is like sort of par for the course. But it was a really, really difficult time, I think emotionally because it felt like, you know, you play some big piece somewhere, and it lands and like 100, people care about it. And then you have to do it again. And again. And again. And then it feels like the returns diminish. And even if you're writing great stuff, it's just like, the grind is endless. And so I felt like I was burning out. And I had burned out like all of my personal relationships. And it was just like, it was really unhealthy. And I think, you know, I think part of that was just buying into this, this myth that you know, you had, like you couldn't write for the times if you'd written for, I don't know, anything, advertorial in the last year, which is like, I don't even know if that's true. But I remember I heard it somewhere. And I was like, Oh, this has to be true. I can't, if I want to write for the New York Times, I have to, like, do this stuff. And that it's like, Don't don't ever do that. It's not worth it. So yeah, I wrote for a bunch of places, I did a bunch of stories that I really liked. And I wrote for a lot of editors I really loved but on the other hand, I was stressed all the time, drinking too much. And just like a sad sack of shit to be around, I don't recommend.
Jay Clouse 11:51
I feel that I really, really do. And I'm always in awe, I got kind of off the journalists train when I was in college, because I thought I wanted to do sports journalism. And Ohio State, I got to cover the Buckeyes. And I looked around the room around me, and everybody was 30 years older than me. And I realized, oh, after I graduate, I can't do this again for another 30 years. And I'm just in awe of, especially tech journalists, how prolific they are in putting out so many stories during the week, I just I can't imagine the volume of writing and the reporting that goes into it, because people don't realize that reporting on this stuff and interviewing sources like that takes a lot of time too.
Bijan Stephen 12:27
Yeah, it does. I mean, I will say one of the good things about having a beat is that like, everybody around your beat knows that you're the person that you're they're supposed to talk to. So the reporting at a certain point does become a little bit easier. Because you know, you have people that you could, like you get on the phone with people are like, hey, let's talk about this thing. And they're like, yeah, yeah, I know, you're gonna call it like, let's make the sausage or whatever. But I think tech is at least tech is interesting, because to me, it feels like it's like, it renews itself every year, like, I mean, a lot of this stuff is incremental, but like some, you know, like, you have some things that are just wild and possibly wildly stupid, like juice era, which everyone had a really good time with. Or, like, magically, which is like, unclear if that's still a real thing or not. But there are these things that like, you cover people and think products that run the gamut of human sensibility. And it keeps the keeps the journalism kind of new. And I think, you know, for me, at least in my niche over on Twitch, and you know, like Internet creators more generally, there's always like, people are doing wild stuff, it feels like my job is just finding the coolest people and then asking them how they do the thing they do. And that feels amazing. It feels like a privilege. You know, it's that's, that to me, keeps the job sort of, like, easier. Like it keeps it going. And it's like, even if I like don't want to do something, if there's somebody interested in that I can like, you know, watch on Twitch and then be like, hey, well chat. Tell me what your deal is.
Jay Clouse 13:40
After a quick break Bijan and I dig into the world of gaming and streaming in the differences between the two. And a little bit later, we talk about what it might look like if I got into streaming. So stick around, and we'll be right back.
Welcome back. I wanted to follow up on a comment Bijan made a little bit ago about millennials and culture. As millennials Bijan and I both grew up alongside the internet, but I often wonder what it must be like to be in Gen Z, and grew up with the internet fluid almost from birth. So I asked Bijan if he had his choice. Would he choose to learn the internet as a millennial or Gen Z?
Bijan Stephen 14:18
Poor boy, that is a tough that's an impossible question, because and I'm glad I don't actually have to answer IRL but like, I think I think the difference between millennials and Zoomers is pronounced I feel like they're I don't know, I think I think I feel like in a lot of ways, the two generations are more similar. And also generations are like a marketing construct. Let's let's be honest, tellers, and I think these two aren't, it's because the internet shifted everything dramatically. And that was an inflection point in human history. But I don't know I think I would still probably want to be born a millennial just because it's like, you like having the experience of like seeing the old forums and stuff like as they were is really fascinating. I know. That's like there's a concurrent mythology happening right now. I'm sure about like, discords And, you know, subreddits, or whatever, that will be super influential in the future sometime, but it's like, I got it on the ground floor. And I like that feeling. And it feels like, also, it's not that like, I feel like I've been able to keep myself at a remove from platforms if I want to, whereas I don't think any Gen Z, or has that choice.
Jay Clouse 15:19
Kind of feels like we can we can unplug for the matrix if we want to. We've been on plugs before.
Bijan Stephen 15:23
Yeah. And it's like, I don't, I don't think it would, it wouldn't have to mean anything. You know what I mean? I feel like if you're like, a younger kid, and you know, all of your friends are on social media, whatever. And like you've grown up there in these spaces online, it's like harder to disconnect. Because there's like no roadmap for doing it. And it feels kind of like a statement where it's like, I don't know, if somebody quits. And I'm like, Oh, yeah, they just didn't feel like dealing with Twitter. It's not like you don't I mean, I am maybe I hope I'm not projecting and please, Zoomers, if you're out there, listening to the show, send me an email about why I'm wrong. I think part of it is like, it doesn't have to be a statement if you want to quit Twitter, or Facebook or whatever. And I think it's harder for people whose entire social lives have been constructed around these platforms from the beginning to get away from that stuff, even if they feel like they need to get out of it more. Another one of the theories that I've been working on, it's not even a theory, it's just like the idea that you can trade clout for money, which is most powerfully illustrated in the GoFundMe example, where it's like, if you have a certain amount of Twitter followers, you can probably turn some of that into cash when you really need it. It's like, I think there is like a pressure to stay active on these platforms. Because, again, building your following means building, possibly a real revenue stream, like a real like source of income. And I think that is really important, especially is like, you know, the larger economy is kind of devastated. There aren't any jobs. We're in a pandemic, like, I'm lucky to, like, be taking, like my lunch break to talk to you, being active online can lead opportunities, and you don't even know what those are. So you feel like you have to be active all the time. So I think it's tough, it's tough for kids.
Jay Clouse 16:50
When did gaming and streaming became something that was interesting to you, and that you started following more closely.
Bijan Stephen 16:56
Streaming specifically, it was, it was like, a few years ago, I was just, you know, I was interested in space, because I had a couple friends who were streaming. It's really I mean, it's just really fascinating I was, I was really intrigued by the codes of like Twitch and how the have like the economy worked, and how like, actually, there are these places outside of the twitch channel that people congregate who are fans, it's like, there's a whole I felt like I was just discovering a pocket of reality that I'd never seen before. So I was like, that's pretty fucking cool. I want to I want to get into that I want to I want to see what that's about. And I started streaming myself, which is like, kind of the best way to learn how that stuff works. But it's for gaming. You know, I grew up playing video games. My first editorial internship, unpaid, of course, was at Kill Screen magazine, rest in peace, which is like a literary take on video games. And it was really fascinating, because back then, the question of whether video games were art wasn't quite settled yet. Which led to a mean is like a lot of boring debates and whatnot. But it was really I mean, I think it was really a fruitful time for games journalism.
Jay Clouse 17:56
Well, I just kind of lumped gaming and streaming into one idea, and you very quickly separated them. So for people who are less familiar with that separation, what when you talk about streaming, what does that mean to you?
Bijan Stephen 18:08
Yeah, so streaming is specifically I'm referring to like people broadcasting themselves live online. And there is like a sort of codified format, like most of the time, it's like I wrote, I actually read a piece about the standard last year, where I said that everybody's a streamer now, because like, we're all just doing video chats. That's basically it. We're streaming is except you're playing a video game, and you're talking to people who are watching you play it. That's the basic form. There are many different variations like, yeah, streaming is performing for an audience online. And it's, you know, you can do whatever you want.
Jay Clouse 18:38
Why does streaming on Twitch feel so much different than live streaming on YouTube? Or going live on Instagram? They feel extremely different.
Bijan Stephen 18:48
Yeah, yeah, exactly what you're, what you're identifying is, I think, a quirk of platform design and architecture. Because they are different, like the odd. I mean, like the thing about streaming on Twitch is like you're getting the twitch audience. And the twitch audience is like people who want to watch video games mostly, or like people just vlogging live, which I mean, just chatting is the biggest category in Twitch.
Jay Clouse 19:09
And so when you say just chatting, that's literally just a streamer live on camera saying, Hey, guys, let's talk people are typing in the chat. you're responding to them. It's just a conversation.
Bijan Stephen 19:18
Yeah, that's like the biggest use case. Yeah, but the difference between Twitch and YouTube is smaller than than the difference between Twitch and Instagram because Instagram is like, it's it's handheld. There are it's like there aren't any great ways to like, do the video production yet. I mean, I'm sure they'll open up their API at some point but there's just a different culture around it because it's like it's the use case is very different. And YouTube live streams are separately different than those other two things because like YouTube live streams take place on YouTube, which is a platform for filmed recorded videos. And when you're doing a live video on a site that is about recorded videos you haven't it just feels very different. I also fun fact once asked YouTube, press person how They're going live notifications work. And they were like, I don't actually know. It's unclear, like, who gets served those notifications. And I think it's just like there are things like that where it's like the just the platform sort of decides the form of the content and the feel of the content.
Jay Clouse 20:15
So what's the proportion on Twitch of people actively gaming and streaming that game and talking to people following that versus other use cases?
Bijan Stephen 20:24
I don't even know. I mean, Twitch is huge. It's like billions of hours or watched, I think they cleared a billion hours a month, last year. And it's just like I did this scale is like unprecedent. I think if you looked at the biggest categories, as I mentioned before, the just chatting category is like the biggest category on Twitch by numbers. The other five biggest, like below it are games. So it's like, you know, there, I think the answer to that question is, I think a lot of people are watching games, I think there are also a lot of people doing other things. And also, the categories aren't immutable, just because like, you can start a stream in one category and end in another. Like, if you start like, for me, like, for example, when I'm streaming I like, I like to start in the just trending category, because I'm just chatting with my viewers. And then when I start playing a game, I transition into like, whatever the game category is twitch logs as hours differently. So the categories are immutable, but I would say it's like I think more, more people generally are playing video games. But the thing about Twitch and websites like Twitch, your experience is totally individual, you get to make the thing, like the kind of thing you want to see and find the channels that you actually like.
Jay Clouse 21:26
Well, you mentioned, like how you got into streaming, and it felt like a different pocket of reality. And then you talked about like, you have the Twitch audience and it's just a different type of person. So describe who is on Twitch in when should I think about well, maybe I have an opportunity to be on Twitch.
Bijan Stephen 21:42
Who is on twitch? That's a good question. I feel like it's everybody, a lot of a lot of different kinds of people. I have read some demographic stats, like Twitch is, mostly male, although I don't know the proportion. It's just I think leans male, and it leans white. Obviously, there are thriving communities all over the site. But the average twitch user, I think, is a person who has a few favorite streamers that they watch, you know, maybe it downtime during work or like on the weekends. And sometimes they you know, donate subs, or bits or whatever, but they're just like a normal person who like likes the internet. And I think they're more interested in games, I would say but like, basically, it's just like, it's like, if you support a Patreon, or any like any Patreon, like that is basically just like bait like Twitch is Patreon for gamers and streamers. It's like, it's there's not really a difference. Although Amazon takes half of all of the subscription and bits revenue.
Jay Clouse 22:33
Bijan Stephen 22:34
Jay Clouse 22:35
Bijan Stephen 22:36
It lets you monetize faster, and easier. I mean, there it's like, it's there's there. As with everything, read the contract, it's in there, there is a trade off. But again, like most I mean, a lot of like full time Twitch streamers have patreons, and a think they have patrons, they take subs and bits. But they also have donate buttons, where you just donate to them directly. And that's like, you know, so it's, it's, I mean, obviously, it's a cross pollinating ecosystem. But I think there's no average Twitch user in the same way. There's no average internet user. It's just like anybody. But it's like anybody who's ever paid for content online. If you've ever like spent money supporting somebody, you could be a Twitch viewer.
Jay Clouse 23:09
There's something that's just like, almost cozy about watching a Twitch stream. And and watching somebody that you know, do this. And I haven't spent a lot of time on it. I haven't ever streamed on Twitch myself, but it feels like an opportunity that I'm kind of ignoring or missing out on because it does feel like this is a really natural place to just build relationships with people who like your work.
Bijan Stephen 23:30
Jay Clouse 23:31
I guess I'm just trying to tease out like, when should somebody consider Twitch as their platform versus saying like, well, I guess I'll use Periscope or IG live.
Bijan Stephen 23:39
Okay, well, that's a bigger, that's a much bigger question. I think if you're like, if you're big on Instagram, use Instagram. If you're big on YouTube. I would try Twitch before I would try YouTube Live. But the The answer is like, it depends on what sort of vibe you want. I think, like, I feel like Twitch is like a good thing to have in a portfolio of diversified internet creative interests, which is maybe the most annoying thing I've ever said. But I've been watching the GameStop stock thing happen from the stands. And I think it's very funny. But yeah, I think I think when if you if you're interested in streaming on Twitch, you should definitely try it. I will say I've written a guide to this on The Verge. But I will say it is incredibly technically difficult to start streaming, there is a barrier to entry, not just in equipment, but just in like technical know how and like getting around the software that most people use. There are, I mean, obviously, it's like they're easier and harder ways to do this. And, you know, if you look at you look up stuff on The Verge, it's all there because I've done all the research for you. But I think to consider Twitch your main platform is a different thing entirely. I think, you know, Twitch streamer is an identity and in the way that it's like making your money on Twitch requires you to like contort yourself into a slightly different shape than say like, you know, running a Patreon for a podcast. So like I think on Twitch, you know, it's a lot of community interaction. It's a lot of like building a community around your streams, but also Like you know, that means like building a Discord. It means like holding like sub game nights it means like doing things for your most ardent fans and also trying to get new people in. It also means, you know, a lot of pushovers make YouTube videos because the common wisdom is that YouTube drives more traffic to Twitch than Twitch does. It's unclear if that's true, I think I think it might be just because like you Aigis video, it goes viral it keeps it's like a thing that stays online for a long time. Whereas a stream is somewhat ephemeral unless you're saving your streams and uploading them to YouTube, which you can do, which is what a lot of the bigger streamers do with you know, video editing magic. I will say I think as far as being an internet creator, being a twitch streamer is hard, like it's hard in the same way that it is hard to make things online consistently for an audience.
Jay Clouse 25:42
When we come back Bijan and I get even deeper into the nuts and bolts of streaming and why the technical challenges may be bigger than you expect, right after this.
Welcome back to my conversation with internet culture connoisseur Bijan Stephen. Bijan. And I actually do create somewhat similar things I write, I podcast, so I asked Bijan if he thought I could make a move on to Twitch, or if there's something that I should fundamentally understand about my audience before making that commitment.
Bijan Stephen 26:12
It's funny because I think the conversion rate from like Twitter to Twitch is low. But I mean, it depends on who watches you and who listens to you. Because I think I think podcasts are actually a pretty natural fit on Twitch like so my, the show that I cast member on fun city is we do streams occasionally, like we've done trivia streams, we do collaborative streams with other actual play narrative podcasts. But it's kind of a natural fit, because we got a bunch of nerds, and we love our like, you know, like, and turns out, a lot of nerds are on Twitch. And it turns out, you can get a lot of people to show up to your Twitch stream, if, you know, they like you. So it's like there are three different sort of things working in tandem there. But I think I mean, look, I couldn't hurt, right. And it's, I think you should definitely do it if you're interested in it. Because I think, you know, podcast audiences are definitely definitely more engaged than most. And I think, you know, like, if you're listening to a show, it's a very sort of intimate experience, right? It's like there's, there's a person in your head or person that you listen to a lot. Why not go chat with him for a minute, you know, it's like that's, it's kind of nice.
Jay Clouse 27:08
And even though getting up and running on a stream is technically difficult for the streamer. Yes. It's not technically difficult for someone who's interested in tuning in to start
Bijan Stephen 27:16
No, no, no, it's just that the user experience is a little miserable. But it's pretty easy. You just click on a click on a link. And if you find the chat, and you're good to go, like, as long as you're logged in, you're good to go.
Jay Clouse 27:27
Alright, listeners, this is the call to action. If you think we should do a stream, you got to tweet at me. Okay. Well, one more question that I'm going to dig into how you use Twitch yourself. I'm going to link to the the article and The Verge, we talk about the technical know how and challenges but at a high level, can you explain why it is challenging?
Bijan Stephen 27:43
Yeah, for sure. Basically, it is broadcasting live video to the internet, which means it's like you're doing television, but with your computer on your own. So I think the most challenging thing to learn is just like the piece of software that everyone uses, which is called OBS Open Broadcaster Software, it's an open source program that is amazing. It does all the things you want it to do. It's hard to look at and hard to, like get, like, you have to learn what it's trying to, like get to learn its language relate to like, you know, in the same way that you have to like, learn what all the buttons in Photoshop do. And you know, like, you can customize each of those tools to what you need them to do something for, but it's just difficult to like get everything set up correctly. And it's difficult to figure out like what kinds of pieces of gear you might need, like you have a microphone, you have a DSLR you're like ahead of like, 90% of people just having that. And you could pipe those things into your computer. But you have to think about like if you're gonna play a game, okay, like, do I need Am I gonna play this game on my computer that is also streaming, which might slow down your CPU such that the stream is unusable because your CPU can encode video while it's also trying to do all this other stuff? And does that mean do you get a console and if you use a console to play the game, do you need a capture card to get the video from the console into your computer as a video source that you can then add into OBS to then mix together and send to the world. And you can just keep spiraling out like that, like so the most common actually, you know, I I reviewed ninjas book a couple years ago for The Verge, he actually has a pretty decent explanation of how like streaming can get really complicated. But basically most most streamers have two PCs, their gaming PC and their streaming PC. So the gaming PC has the games, the streaming PC has, like all of the like the discord if you're going to talk to somebody or like it has the broadcasting stream, it's got your camera, it's got your microphone, it's like and both of these have to be you know, fairly beefy rigs, right? Like you have to have like a pretty decent computer to get this stuff out there. That said if you're gonna do just chatting stream, you know, it's that's that's much less work than say, you know, trying to do high level gameplay. Or like if you want to do a live podcast episode that's like, it's easy until you have to figure out how you're routing the microphones. Like where the audio is going cuz you know, it's virtual audio. It gets kind of difficult.
Jay Clouse 29:55
So many inputs and I played around with OBS too. And it's like wow, this is so cool. I can make all these different views where I have my my camera stream in the bottom right and I have my screen here and now I can have this overlay and wait, why isn't any of this recording at the right frame rate end?
Bijan Stephen 30:07
Yeah, yeah, and recording is just a different beast entirely. Like it's, again, the barrier to entry is low but getting your stream to like the like the minimum decency that you see most streamers doing like that's a really high level of streaming even people yeah like I mean even people who don't have that many viewers like I don't have that many viewers I'm a small streamer, let's be honest but like it's interesting because you have to like you don't have to look professional but you have to like look like you're trying.
Jay Clouse 30:35
Do mostly streamers or even casual streamers? Are they using customized PCs like Alienware or do people use Mac?
Bijan Stephen 30:42
Yeah, you can trim off a Mac. Alienware is Alienware, I think a lot of PC people have feelings about it, I think most people just use what they have. And I think that's usually good enough, especially if you if you've bought a PC, like I think also a lot of people might have PCs just laying around from a couple years ago, or whatever better just that you're not using for whatever reason and forgot to like trade in for like a better PC or like send to ewaste. Like those can sometimes run a stream. Like if you just do all the other stuff on a different computer and like pipe the video in the right direction.
Jay Clouse 31:09
So talk to me about your aspirations. As a creator, you mentioned these podcasts that you're running and some of the gaming in the stream that you do yourself, like what are you shooting towards now?
Bijan Stephen 31:20
I don't know if I have an answer. I think I make stuff online because I want to and I like to do it. Whether that's like a blog post or a YouTube video or a stream. I'm definitely more interested in streaming right now. Because I feel like it feels more casual. Like I'm not like, it feels like more like hanging out then, you know, making something which I really appreciate. Because like, I think part of the draw for me is that it's it's like, it's something I can do that I like doing that doesn't necessarily take a lot of brainpower, unless I want it to you know what I mean? It's like, I can sort of dial in or dial out, depending on how I feel. But yeah, I don't know, I am really interested in making things online. And I think, you know, like, like, I do a couple Twitch shows, and one is actually launching on Sunday. But probably the thing I'm most proud of making online right now. And the thing that like is has been running almost the longest is Fun City, or like Game Master, who is a brilliant audio video producer. And you know, a person who was like, he was the host for PBS Idea Channel, Mike Rugnetta, who some of you might know, working with him is like, we're like creating, like a real story that's really beautiful, I think and it's like, you know, I don't think we could do it in any other form. And it's it's one of those things that I'm really like, really, you know, like, that's the kind of work I want to do is like working with people to make something amazing online.
Jay Clouse 32:29
I love that. I don't know why we don't see more narrative style podcasts.
Bijan Stephen 32:33
A lot. It's a lot of fucking work. That's why.
Jay Clouse 32:35
We have like these entertainers who are getting into podcasting. They come in strong. You got Conan O'Brien, you got Dax Shepard, yougot Anna Farris like, these guys are well suited to just be like, Hey, how about we just do a narrative style show? And I want to put hair and makeup. And we just make this awesome? Why not? Why don't we see that?
Bijan Stephen 32:51
I don't know. I mean, that's that's interesting. I mean, it's it's it's an interesting question to answer. I feel like that was like Prairie Home Companion. Right. But I don't know, I think it's an open question. I think also like, the internet is uniquely flexible to be able to take this kind of stuff. And you can just put out, you can put out whatever you'd like. And like it will find an audience and let you know if it's if it's if it's good, and you think it's good. My favorite example of this is Tim Rogers, who left Kotaku pretty recently, when he was a video producer there, but he is one of my favorite creators online because he now makes just like his last he makes YouTube videos. His last YouTube video was six hours long, it was a six hour long deconstruction slash personal essay of this video game tokimeki Memorial from 1995. That's only really it was only released in Japanese. And it's like, he was the point of the review, slash video. The point of the video was that like, this is like the Rosetta Stone for dating simulators as a genre. And it's like, it's the thing that like it like, it's like the point to which you can trace many, many other like more influential games back to, like, between the developers and the designers, and the writers. Some of them worked on like Castlevania Symphony of the Night. And it's just it was just like, I had the distinct thought while watching it, that this could not exist anywhere else or in any other format. And it's like, in that way, I think it like sort of moves itself into the realm of art, just because it's like, it's supported totally by the people who like his videos. And it's one of those things where I was just like, wow, this this could only exist online because in no other way, shape or form, would anybody want to see this.
Jay Clouse 34:23
No organization is going to pay you a salary to make this.
Bijan Stephen 34:26
You're gonna spend three months making a six hour video about a video game no one's ever heard of.
Jay Clouse 34:30
The interesting dichotomy between Twitch and streaming, for example, from like this highly produced podcast that you're talking about, or a highly produced video, the cost of equipment and getting into it seems really high and complicated. But as you're watching it, like it doesn't feel quote, unquote, highly produced. It feels like very long form very natural. And it's so interesting because people who talk about podcasts, they mostly don't want that in a podcasting world. They want like, tight, highly produced, and so the creator in me is drawn this idea of like, you mean, I could just build the same quality relationships with people and not slave over cutting out a second of dead air? How do you reconcile that? why doesn't everybody just stream?
Bijan Stephen 35:13
Well, I mean, a lot of people do. I mean, a lot of podcasters do it's like, you can do both. But I think I think one drives the other. And I think, you know, if the point, if your goal is to get a bigger audience, why not do it on two fronts, but I think I don't know, I think I find different pleasures in podcasts. And I do streams, because like, for me, I watch streams, because I like the people who make them. I like I like watching these streamers. And I, you know, like, I've been streaming long enough now that I like to sort of build a community of streamers that I like that, like, you know, we like read each other's channels. And like, we like, you know, I show up in the chat. And like, I'm just like, Hey, what's up? And it's like, I'm checking in with people that I like, and it feels like that's the kind of relationship? Yeah, it's like, if television were a podcast, that's what streaming is, except you could talk to the TV? I don't know, I think I think it's, I think they're just different forms. And I think the value proposition for both is very different. I think streaming actually takes a lot of energy. Because you're just live in front of an audience. And you know, anything that you say, can be clipped and spread to the entire internet, other things on Twitch tend not to go viral, because the site is not conducive to virality. But it's like you can't, you know, it's just like you have to be on the whole time. Whereas with podcasting, like you get do overs, that's the main difference to me. But also like, again, just do both, like, it's the same equipment.
Jay Clouse 36:25
If somebody is listening to this, they're like, okay, I want to get into the streaming game, what's like your shortlist of here's what you need to do next,
Bijan Stephen 36:32
you cannot have an ego about it. I say that I say, and I feel, I tell myself this all the time. Because the reality is, if you stream it, you tell everybody about it, all of your friends on social media, whatever, your first stream, you're gonna have a lot of support, comparatively speaking, and maybe like five people show up. That's exciting. And then once people realize is the thing that you're going to continue doing the pressure to view to watch you sort of drops off. And that's when it's like you hit this place where it's like, well, I'm streaming to like two people. Is this worth it? And so I think the first thing I would say is don't have an ego, because again, odds are, you're not going to be immediately successful at it. And the second thing I'm going to say is you should find some personal satisfaction in the act of streaming. You know, like, even if that's just playing video games, right? The third, I think, you know, be like, very mindful of your channel. And it's, it's like moderation policies, because the thing about Twitch is, Twitch, by and large is not moderated. It's not moderated at all, because moderation is on a monolith. But also they've offloaded moderation duties to individual channels. So you set that as as the streamer, you set the tone for your channel, it is vitally important that you ban things that you don't like and ban users that you don't like and make sure that there are norms established, so that people aren't shitheads. And so you can also like, get people in that, like, you know, like your stuff and aren't just there to troll you because that sucks. Like, why would you want that? I think those are the three main things. I think the fourth thing is also troubleshooting is going to happen and you were going to do it live on air. So get used to it.
Jay Clouse 38:00
Well, if you were to bring out your crystal ball and talk about the future of culture in streaming and Twitch, where do you think that platform is going so that people might be able to coordinate like, their their future plans with this medium?
Bijan Stephen 38:12
That's a good question. I mean, I think the answer is, so I think I think last year, the first year of the pandemic really changed a lot of things about the internet. One of the more interesting things it did is that it took gaming influencers earned a basically transmitted all influencer into just like one thing. So like, it doesn't matter where your influence comes from, or like, what what field you built it in, like you are now just like a person online, that is famous for something, what I think is going to happen with Twitch, especially is like, it's just gonna be more, it's gonna become way more mainstream. Like that's like sort of the naked goal of the company right now. But also, like, it's a video platform that people can use from home when we can't do anything else, you know. And I think the other thing is, like, it's part of the internet becoming real life again, you know what I mean? It's like, I think that's the main thing, like, Twitch and stream will become more popular because more people will be doing more stuff online. Like, that's just the future. So, I don't know, I think it's definitely important. And I think, you know, I feel really lucky to be able to cover Twitch as a job because like, you know, it feels like I get to see in the future a little bit.
Jay Clouse 39:22
This was a fun and casual conversation with a guy who I just really relate to Bijan's interests are wide ranging and he leans into that he makes stuff on the internet that he wants to make, he follows the trends that he wants to follow. And that's that, as I shared in the intro, I've been toiling for weeks trying to better define the thing that I do in the person that I am, and Bijan's approach of just doing the things that make him him, even if it means he builds his audience a little bit slower, really speaks to me. I've linked to several of Bijan's projects in the show notes including his streaming guide from The Verge. Thanks to Bijan for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork For this episode, thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show into Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you like this episode, you can tweet @JayClouse and let me know. And if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.