The process of streaming is generally a solitary experience in front of the webcam. You get your game feed and one webcam feed with the streamer playing the game. From there, you play the game while engaging with the chat as best you can. I’ve grown accustomed to that process and enjoy it. There’s something cool about being able to have these quasi-direct conversations with others in the chat that you’d never have otherwise. However, there’s a magic that happens when you bring multiple people together face-to-face, or at least voice-to-voice. As if making a regular stream wasn’t hard enough, it’s even more difficult to put multiple people from different places in the same window.
With more than one person to verbally communicate with, you feed off the energy of others. You can have a fluid conversation. In the spur of the moment, you can inject your sense of humour, go off-topic, or get heated in order to really convey how you feel. Even in the audio-only Recurring Bosscast from the Splitkick days, having Jason and Mat to talk to gave my video game musings a very different and more natural context when spoken in a conversation versus carefully thought out words posted on this site. The energy on our current Boss Rush show is amplified by being able to see each other’s facial expressions while being able to speak to a common visual element, whether that’s footage, images, or a game show.
Creating an environment where all of this is possible proved to be easier said than done. For one, I wanted everyone’s face on the screen at all times arranged in the order I wanted. Our first episode used the standard Google Hangouts functionality, which ran smoothly, but gave me none of the layout options I wanted. In order to get my desired effect, I needed to set up a video chat, crop everyone’s heads, and then place them into my OBS streaming layout.
Where things get really tricky is generating the ability for everyone to look at what’s on stream in real time. I can’t speak to how other tools handle it, but I use OBS VirtualCam. Once configured, the group could see my stream in real time, versus trying to follow the Twitch stream that will always be at least a few seconds behind. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a StreamLabs OBS equivalent, but if you know of one, please send it my way!
It largely works as advertised, but there are limitations to this system. For one, pulling in multiple video feeds from around North America adds strain to the already data-intensive process of streaming. On top of that, in order for the Boss Rush crew to see the stream in real time, I now have to broadcast a separate feed of my stream to them, essentially doubling the amount of data I’m uploading. Even after optimizing the stream to the best of my ability, it will still hitch from time-to-time. Anything short of me spending even more money on an already premium data plan makes this a harsh reality of trying to stream this way. Game streaming amplifies the strain even more. Take all of the data whizzing about and now add all the game data passing through the same ethernet cables. Picture quality takes even more of a hit and it’s still prone to hitch.
The most intense setup we’ve done yet is the co-stream. Together with Double Jump, we both streamed our shared gameplay across our respective channels, while having our audio and heads appear on both. This way, we can either broadcast the same gameplay to our respective audiences, or in games where we have separate views (like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe), viewers can watch both at the same time for the full view. Now we need two full broadcasts going with two webcams per side in order for our faces to appear on all channels.
Getting a regular stream up and running is tough. Making a show like Boss Rush or co-streaming is even harder. And for now, the overall fidelity of the broadcast takes a hit as I try to maintain a steady framerate. In the end though, all of the sacrifice and effort is worth it. Without it, we don’t get the rollercoaster of emotions that came over us as we watched the ball freeze above the goal line in Rocket League. Or Laura’s hilarious insight into her relationship with Jason. Or my embarrassing inability to read complex Venn diagrams. Or all of the hilarity that surrounds the Boss Rush championship belt. Or my mic stand falling apart mid-stream, forcing me to abandon Kris while she got beat up in River City Ransom by multiple enemies. Gaming alone on a stream is cool, but streaming with friends opens the door for great stream moments and greater memories that won’t happen with just me on screen.