Make money from video games: how to stream on Twitch

Updated on 20 November 2015

Love money? Love games? Then you’re going to love the idea of earning money by streaming…

Is it possible to make money by playing video games?

If you’re a gamer then the chances are you’ve wished you could simply play games for a living. Or at least, you’ve wished you didn’t have to go to work on the day of the big new Halo release.

A small core of elite gamers are actually playing games and earning a salary. How? By streaming their gaming for an army of online fans.

Make money from streaming on Twitch

A large number of the monetised gamers make use of Twitch – a social video platform that was only founded in 2011, but which has seen its community explode in popularity. Each month, more than 100 million people use the website to watch and chat about video games, and there are more than 1.7 million users who broadcast their gameplay and other content to fans.

This is not some weird gamer sub-culture; it’s an emerging entertainment form that is rapidly developing a huge fan base. In February last year Twitch was ranked as the 4th most popular website in the US, showing what a massive platform it has become.

Broadcasters or ‘creators’ can stream their own games, make their own content and build an online fan base. They then earn a cut of advertising revenue, money from subscriptions and even tips from fans who want to reward their hard work.

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Do people really watch someone else play video games?

It’s easy to understand why someone might look at a video of a level or task of a video game that they are finding particularly hard to beat, but why are people paying for the privilege of watching someone else play, sometimes for hours at a time?

A spokesperson for Twitch explains: “People have ALWAYS watched others play video games; when consoles first launched, one person would play and everyone else in the room would observe. Even more gathered around a single player in the arcades. People inherently enjoy watching others who are the best at what they do when it involves a shared interest.

"It was the ubiquity of broadband that made Twitch possible and revived the spectator element. With Twitch, people around the world were finally able to seamlessly broadcast and view live high definition long form video game content.”

We spoke to viewers who leave their favourite Twitch broadcaster on all day, much like the radio in the background, highlighting that Twitch is more than watching other people play games. It is live social video that relies on audio and chat to let broadcasters and their audiences talk about everything from gaming and pop culture to life in general.

How does it work?

Don’t dismiss streaming as simply video. Its fans and creators describe it as an entirely new medium with no rules and no fixed way of doing it. Some broadcasters use software that allows them to stream footage of their game play alongside their voiceover.

Some edit together footage in advance, some broadcast live, while others combine video play with studio-standard filming.

If you’re entirely new to the medium then don’t panic. Twitch has an excellent guide to broadcasting PC games that will cover all the basics. And once you know the rules, you can start making your content stand out by challenging the norms.

First, you’ll need a Twitch account. Once that’s been created, you simply enable broadcasting and you’re ready to go. Successful broadcasters will need a moderately powerful computer and broadcasting software. There’s a lot of choice, but the most popular ones include Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), XSplit and FFSplit.

Then it’s a case of practise makes perfect. Your Twitch dashboard will allow you to view your output and also the chat room, letting you monitor your success.

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How much can you make from streaming video games?

Streaming success is not just down to good gameplay. It’s about working hard to build a following and having an engaging persona that fans want to connect with. We spoke to one broadcaster who has worked for several years to reach the point where Twitch brings him in a decent income.

Twitch introduced us to Tim Mines AKA SpamFish, describing him as one of their most popular UK broadcasters. He is certainly one of the most hardworking, streaming for as much as seven hours straight most days.

He describes himself as earning “above minimum wage” if you look at his income versus his hours, but says the money is enough. “When I first started I earned below minimum wage. I’m at the stage now where I have paid off my student debt, but it’s not a lucrative career. I’m at the bottom end, compared to the big stars.

“I see it as a hobby that pays rather than a career. Although it’s getting really competitive now and people approach it as a career. They have Hollywood-level production values and I’m starting to fall behind. But then it’s probably the middle-class hippy in me; I’ve never wanted to earn money, I’ve never wanted to be rich. It’s the second motivation of making people happy, I get messages about how I have inspired people or made them smile and that’s more profound.”

Okay, but middle-class hippy or not, how is he making any money? Tim explains that his income is derived from four main sources: “There are subscriptions on the channel, where people pay $5 a month to subscribe; then there’s ads played for which I get a cut; and then there’s tips from fans. They used to be called donations but that makes it sound like charity which it isn’t, so tips is more accurate. Then what I’ve got recently is promoted streams, where companies sponsor the content and pay me.”

Do you have to be talented?

So what skills are needed to be a successful Twitch broadcaster? Unsurprisingly, it’s far more than just a talent for video games. Tim says: “In terms of skill level I am not an expert. I have been playing games every day since I was four and growing up I’d rather play games than go to the pub. But I’m not a top player by any means – what I have is a passion for the artistic medium of games.”

And a large part of his success is clearly down to his ability to share that passion. His voice is mellow but excitable as he describes his trade, and his enthusiasm is both clear and catching. It’s easy to understand why subscribers might leave him chatting away in the background while they get on with their day.

“I’m lucky I’m good at talking, I’m very gregarious,” he acknowledges. “Am I like a radio host? Well, a lot of people say they don’t watch the gameplay they just listen to the voice and 80-90% of viewers won’t talk in the chat room, they just watch.

“But that’s okay because this is a whole medium. One of the most exciting things is that in TV, radio or film there are set rules and roles, but because this streaming thing is so new you can define your own process and set your own expectations for what you offer.”

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