A very good friend of mine recently became an affiliate streamer on Twitch (Gameswithjames01), and watching him stream has got me thinking about the technology behind the scenes. While I wouldn’t class myself as a hardcore gamer, I have found myself involved in a startup developing a gaming device, so I do have gaming on my radar so to speak. With more and more people turning their love of gaming into a side-gig, the demand for streaming gear is increasing, and this creates opportunities for those looking to innovate in the market.
For an affiliate streamer, the name of the game is keeping viewers engaged with their content. More often than not this goes beyond simply playing a game and providing some interesting commentary. Responding to chat messages, adjusting audio levels, and handling scene transitions - these are all part of a streamers bread and butter. Juggling these tasks effectively creates an engaging viewer experience.
Streamers have several tools at their disposal. The biggest of these is Twitch itself, which distributes the content via it’s online platform, and provides the interface for viewer interaction. Audio/visual tasks are handled by software such as OBS, which is installed locally on the streamer’s PC or laptop.
While a standard mouse and keyboard are sufficient to use most types of software, there are instances when more specialised hardware can improve user workflow. Two good examples of this are DJ software and CAD software: DJs use rotary controls (jogwheels and potentiometers) to precisely synchronise tracks and adjust the mix, and mechanical designers use 6D mice to easily manipulate parts and assemblies. These tools improve the interface between the user and software by providing more tactile control over some or all of it’s features.
This is the same basic concept behind a streamdeck, which improves the interface between a streamer and their software tools. The streaming tasks described earlier - responding to chat, adjusting audio, and handling transitions - are all tasks that can be performed with a normal mouse and keyboard, but a streamdeck compartmentalises all these functions and improves usability as a result.
My streamer friend (James) is always looking for ways to improve his streaming setup, so it wasn’t too long before he stumbled across streamdecks. Like myself, James has a keen interest in the engineering aspect, as he is currently studying for an engineering degree and is keen to get a few projects under his belt. Therefore, with a new lockdown looming we thought it would be a fun project to design our own streamdeck.
A survey of streamers
To get a feel for the current consensus on streamdecks, James put together a survey and posted it to his Twitter feed (A lot of his subscribers are fellow streamers). The results are summarised in the graphs below.
Cost appears to be the biggest factor for those in the market for a streamdeck. This makes sense given the device isn’t strictly an essential streaming item, and thus the ROI from one isn’t as clear cut as for other purchases. This, coupled with the fact that over 70% of respondents would buy a streamdeck ‘kit’, certainly got my product design juices flowing. One of the startups I am currently a part of - unmnd - spends a lot of time building kits.
The results from the survey provide a good signpost for the project’s next steps. A kit based design places function over form, so prototypes will be easier and faster to build (making a good looking prototype can be incredibly time consuming). Likewise knowing which software tools are most used, and how many controls are needed, will both help the integration process later on.
For the next stages of the project I’ll be looking at existing streamdecks and how they fit into the streaming landscape. I’ll also be doing some research into some of the technical aspects, and how these might shape the overall design process. I’d also strongly recommend you check out James’ Twitch if you get the chance!