What makes for a good streaming overlay? With streaming as a medium still in its infancy, the answer is rapidly-evolving and highly-subjective. Once upon a time, overlays weren’t a thing. Then we moved into a phase where streamers filled the screen with design elements and widgets. These days, the new wave is a larger camera view within your gameplay scene so that viewers get a better view of the streamer.
Furthermore, overlays aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. As one example, I greatly prefer the look of streams that put the camera overtop of full-width gameplay. However, that particular presentation style doesn’t work for speed-runners who display their time splits on the side or for retro games that are presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Based on my experiences of watching Twitch and tinkering with my own overlay, here are aspects of overlay design that I like. There are links to every streamer I reference in case you’re interested in checking them out. I’m by no means an expert on overlay design. Just using this post to share design elements that I appreciate!
Cropping your camera view to focus on you
Oftentimes, streamers will present their camera view with a 16:9 aspect ratio. In many ways, it makes sense. Many cameras output a signal at that ratio by default. Most overlay packages one would buy from a third-party store like Nerd or Die or Own3d will also come with camera view borders in that ratio.
That said, 16:9 doesn’t make sense when most of that space is being used to show off your blank walls, the awkward gap between you and your monitor, or your messy bedroom. Instead, I greatly prefer seeing streamers crop the camera to focus on them, even if they do so in an uncommon aspect ratio. Doing so allows viewers to focus their attention on the streamer’s face and body language, which is why the camera is on in the first place.
The latest design trend is the “vertical” camera. This allows streamers to showcase themselves from the torso up versus just their faces. I like this view a lot, as you get a better view of their body language as they react to the games and to their audience.
Large intermission/Just Chatting camera view
Even for streamers who don’t specialize in Just Chatting, I really enjoy it when streamers put the controller down and directly engage with their audience. These types of streamer/viewer interactions are what the medium worthwhile for most.
Having an intermission scene where the streamer is the focal point is something I like to see. Bonus points if the camera goes full-width. Not so much because I want to gawk at the streamer’s looks, but because it makes me feel like I’m video chatting with a friend vs. watching a streamer doing their show.
Minimal On-Screen Widgets (Or No Widgets At All)
There was a time when overlay designs was to have some sort of on-screen callout for every possible metric. It’s nice to give your viewers a nod, but I don’t think it’s necessary for widgets to take up a sizable portion of the screen, if at all.
In recent times – particularly in the Call of Duty space – the presence of widgets highlighting followers and subs have been greatly minimized. Instead of taking up a prominent amount of space, these metrics are embedded in the camera border itself, allowing for a cleaner overall presentation.
One more clean one from Arden Rose. I found that in the Animal Crossing space, many streamers are still using gaudy overlays with tons of different elements to them. Her layout by comparison is incredibly clean. All she has is her camera view with rounded corners, a border, and two clouds that animate in a message and her socials. There’s beauty in simplicity!
Modifying third-party widgets to better match your brand
The vast majority of streamers don’t have the resources to create fully-custom widgets and alerts. Most resort to third-party solutions such as StreamLabs and StreamElements. They’re totally fine and I use both for different things.
However, one of my big pet peeves is that many streamers don’t bother to edit the widgets to better match their branding. Even the biggest streamers in the world use the StreamLabs default font and white/green text on their alerts and it drives me nuts! They’ll go so far as to create custom overlays with animating backgrounds and shoot emotes all over the screen when someone subscribes but can’t be bothered to just use a different font or match the colours of their branding?
Above is a great example of what to do from TaliesinAndEvitel. The StreamLabs event widget is one that many streamers use, but he adjusted the colours of the boxes to match the neon lighting in his background. Perfect! In most of these cases, all you have to do is simply adjust the values for text and colours. Just do it!
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have multiple cameras. Many don’t even have one. But if you have two or more, use them! Even if the second camera sucks, you can find a way to make it work.
Above is an example from Fire Dragon. Using his phone as a second camera, he opens card packs. With the two-camera setup, you can see the cards up close while also seeing his reaction as he opens them.
Even if you’re not running a specific segment, extra cameras help tighten the connection between you and your viewers by giving them an better sense of your surroundings. For added punch, decorate your space with cool art, plushies, and other visual Easter Eggs that viewers will appreciate!
No camera? No problem! Find another way to give viewers a visualization of who you are.
Some people don’t want to put their face on the internet. I get that. But the reality is that we as humans want to put faces to voices. This is why cameras have become the standard and why almost every top streamer uses one.
If you still don’t want to use a camera, there are other ways to map a face to your voice. You could go the V-Tuber route. One notable example of this is in the Tetris community, where one of the most notable figures is a tiger. You could go motion-capture and virtual world like CodeMiko. You could use an animated GIF of your avatar like Pokimane does sometimes. Even a static image of an avatar would be better than no camera at all, as it still gives viewers something to attach your voice to.
If your camera isn’t on top of your gameplay, keep the chat display on
One of the reasons I’ve grown to prefer camera overtop of gameplay is that placing the camera and the gameplay beside each other creates a lot of empty space that is difficult to fill. Streamers will oftentimes fill this with large widgets, pictures, logos, and even avatars that walk along the bottom of the screen.
The most common one I see is the chat widget. Having the chat appear on screen not only allows VOD viewers on different platforms to follow the chat, but is also a sneaky good way of using that extra real estate. Just make sure the chat is configured so that the messages are persistent and don’t disappear after a few seconds. Otherwise, that space may look awkwardly barren for most of your stream.
Tasteful uses of emote walls
One of the most recent innovations in the streaming space is the emote wall. This displays all of the emotes used in the chat on screen. Emotes are a big part of the culture on Twitch and it’s great to see them more prominently. However, I can’t stand the look of emotes just flying indiscriminately across the screen all the time.
I find most implementations of the effect tacky, but Miss Molly Makes crushes it. She has a green screen backsplash in her kitchen and the emotes only appear within the backsplash. They disappear as they scroll off of the backsplash or when she walks in front of them.
Again, I’m not an expert in overlay design. Just sharing my opinions based on my personal experience as a streamer and a viewer. What aspects of stream design do you like to see?
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