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Learning to Livestream: Aesthetics

Larry Everett
Larry Everett|@Shaddoe|March 8, 2013 12:00 PM
Learning to Livestream Aesthetics
We hear the phrase "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" all the time, right? Unfortunately, our first streams always seem to be the most buggy and give us the most trouble. I know if I had it my way, I'd rather have my audience catch my stream now rather than when I first started. Of course, we don't have that luxury all the time. What can we do to give that first impression an extra boost?

In past Learning to Livestream articles, I've addressed the issues regarding the quality of the stream itself. I won't rehash that. Instead, I will talk about one of my favorite subjects: graphics. The first part of my college and professional career was in graphic design -- mostly for print -- but in today's market, graphic designers cannot help but at least dabble in web and television graphics. It should come as no surprise that I did the same. Before you go thinking that you have to have some outlandish art degree to create graphics for your stream, finish reading the rest of this article. I'll show you a few tips to better your stream's first impression.

Learning to Livestream Aesthetics
Splash screen

When considering first impressions, we have to talk about the very first thing your audience members see when they tune into your stream. A splash screen presents a fun and fast way to not only give your audience an idea of what your stream is going to be about but also give them a great first impression. Thankfully, many games have their own sets of graphics and artwork to pull from. Feel free to use any of that. Massively contributing editor and livestreamer Mike Foster makes excellent use of the art given out by DC Universe Online (above). It's simple, anyone can do it, and it's crisp. We have a series of graphics that I did for fun that adapted the Massively logo to fit the different games that we streamed. I use that logo as the introduction to my Star Wars: The Old Republic stream.

Learning to Livestream Aesthetics
The splash screen needs to answer two questions off the bat: Which game are you streaming and who's streaming? Since I stream for Massively, you'll see that name instead of mine, but definitely put your name on the splash if it's appropriate.

If you stream on Twitch, then you know that to support the service, every stream starts with a 30-second commercial. I use the splash screen to wade through that so the audience doesn't miss anything.

Learning to Livestream Aesthetics

Streamer David "Psykopig" Desi introduced us to his general plan-of-action when he streams last week: "For instance, I start with the Massively logo, then my logo, and then my face as I intro the game, and then I play." Although all of our streamers don't show their faces in the streams, I feel it's very important because it's adds to the humanity of the presentation.

I also suggest that you don't just show your face. Streamer Jasmine Hruschak introduces her streams with her face and a graphic at the bottom. The graphic is important. Again it adds to the professionalism of the stream, and as Jasmine shows, it can lead your audience to your other important sites, like your Twitter feed or YouTube page.

Learning to Livestream Aesthetics
Simplicity is bliss

Now, you're streaming. The game looks beautiful; it's running smoothly. That's all you really need. But adding graphics to this part of the stream can add that extra level of awesome.

There's something to be said about minimalism. Remember KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. I don't always adhere to rule, but some streams look amazing when people do. I'm not a huge fan of Pew Die Pie's YouTube channel (probably because I'm old), but I was struck by his Let's Play presentation. The vast majority of his screen is filled by the game, and in the corner sits his webcam shot. He added a simple frame around his webcam picture. Surprisingly, it looked amazing. Jasmine does something very similar. The game takes up most of the frame, but at the bottom sits her webcam feed and a list of places you find more information about her or Massively -- simple, yet effective. I love it.

If you're not a graphic artist, then I suggest a simple, professional style. Make a 432 by 243 pixel black rectangle (or 324 by 243 if you have a 4:3 webcam) in a graphic editor (in MS Paint if you have nothing else). Set that graphic about five pixels from one corner of your stream. Then plop your webcam on top of that. Of course, you'll want to shrink down the size of your webcam enough to give it a pixel or two border (421 by 237 or 316 by 237 works well.) I think you'll be surprised by how much a simple thing like that adds to your stream.

Learning to Livestream Aesthetics
Over the top

I'm a special kind of nut-job. I like to really dress up my streaming pages. I also do some wacky things like streaming from two computers at the same time and give my streams a complete graphical presentation.

When I started streaming SWTOR, I created a PNG overlay that served two purposes. First, it was designed to integrate the default UI with my webcam presentation. Secondly, I wanted to cover both the chatbox and group frame so that I wasn't broadcasting everyone's user name to the world. I also added a complete border to the screen because I find it extremely annoying to see black lines on the edges. The border allows me to cover up those black lines if they happen to appear.

Learning to Livestream Aesthetics
My pièce de résistance of graphical achievement in livestreaming has to be my Free Realms setup. I don't expect anyone to do what I did here, but just in case you're wondering, I'll break down that setup. First, I have an underlay that is simply a gradient of Free Realms' blues. Then I placed all the cameras and game feeds in the appropriate places. I have two webcams feeding into my computer, then I have an HDMI splitter feeding off the second computer. One line, obviously, feeds into the monitor for that computer. The second line feeds into my Elgato Game Capture HD. The Elgato is then set up as an additional camera in XSplit. The next layer consists of borders for the webcams, then finally a layer that adds a border to everything.

The key to livestreaming is to have fun. I enjoy it every time I sit behind a camera and talk to the guests in our chatroom. I hope this livestream series has been educational for you, and I hope that it's inspired you to create your own stream. If you ever have any question about livestreaming, catch me on the Stream Team or send me a tweet. Happy streaming!
Learning to Livestream: Aesthetics