My Content Plans for 2022 and Beyond

I Google Image searched “The Future” and I mean, how could I not use this?

If there’s one thing I can say for sure I’m not good at, it’s quitting stuff. When I’m interested in something, I tend to go full tilt or not at all, often well past the point when something’s become a sunk cost and a negative force on my life. If you know me well, you’re already nodding.

My girlfriend and I have decided to make 2022 a “reboot year”, where we’re going to come up with reasonable but ambitious goals for ourselves and really make a commitment to them. As part of this process, I’ve spent the last several months pondering what I do with content, what I want that to look like in the future, or indeed, if I want to keep doing it at all.

I’ve been doing YouTube since 2013, streaming regularly since 2017, podcasting since 2018 and maintained this blog off and on well before all of that. And none of it’s been what most would call successful. My stats for all of them are very poor, while many who have started only recently have skyrocketed past me.

However, I still have been exposed to a great deal of what makes the content creation world taxing. The endless drama, the hordes of fake people, regularly being taken advantage of and unappreciated by people and organizations I go out of my way to help, having to choose between supporting evil companies I despise or limiting my options and perhaps worst of all, learning that luck and immutables mean far more to your prospects than making quality content ever will.

On the flip side, content creation has brought many boons, even at my small scale. I’ve made some great friends from doing this. I have indie developers hooking me up with cool games, often coming to me first and saying they really appreciate my efforts. My community has raised $27,703US for my local children’s hospital. It’s taught me technical skills that have translated to my IT career and provided incredible social benefits. I can now easily talk to groups of people, something that once petrified me. I can directly thank my content efforts for that. Plus, just getting to express myself about things I’m passionate about.

People often ask me what I consider success at this to be and I’ve never been able to give them a clear answer. Do I want to do this for a living? Definitely not. Alright, so what’s the line where I think I’ll be big enough to justify the effort? I honestly am not sure, but I know I’m not there yet and that as time goes on, it looks less and less likely that I’ll ever get there. It’s getting harder to justify the time, money and mental demands it takes to keep making content regularly at this level.

Some of the other goals I’ve set out for myself this year include:

  • Getting a new dog.
  • Getting my diet and exercise back on track.
  • Playing more games for fun only.
  • Starting to learn electronics repair.
  • Making several improvements to my new house, including planning a “retro lounge”.
  • Finding more charitable and volunteer things to take part in.
  • Completing a lot more training for advancement at my job.
  • Maximizing the huge promotion I just got and justifying the faith my employer has put in me.

What’s the one thing all of these have in common? They need time and lots of it, something that’s becoming a rarer commodity for me. I’ve thought about quitting content outright several times but when I do, I think about the things I’d be giving up and I remember that I do still enjoy this and that though small, my audience enjoys it too. So, what to do?

For now, my decision is that I’m not going to quit making content. However, the way in which I do so is going to change and become a lot more unstructured.

Among the mountains of advice other creators will offer–which is typically guesswork at best, BS at worst–is that you have to make content on a consistent schedule. Well, I’ve been doing that for years and it hasn’t helped at all. Meanwhile, I see very successful creators who release stuff basically at random, often months apart. So, I’m going down a similar route, plus making some other changes too. Here are the highlights:

  • Streams and videos are going to a “when I can and feel like it” schedule. I still intend to do them regularly but if other things come up, especially related to my goals above, those now take priority. As always, people interested can follow my schedule on Twitter or Discord.
  • I’ll be cutting back the number of games I request code for, both to focus on titles I’m really interested in and to make sure I don’t take codes for games I can’t get around to covering.
  • I’ll be making retro games a bigger part of my streams, as well as co-op stuff with friends. I also have some other, non-gaming ideas for streams that I think could be fun.
  • Indie Showcase is getting renamed to Indie Ramble since the former is used by many others channels. Hopefully, it will stand out more now.
  • Retro Flashback is coming back as either Retro Ramble or something else and will be used for not only showcasing retro games but also modernizations of retro titles (for example, the recent releases of classic shmups on modern consoles I’ve been covering.)
  • I’m going to experiment with uploading my videos to Odysee, in addition to YouTube. If you’re willing to make an account there, I’d appreciate a follow.
  • I want to expand the charities I support with my content. I’m not sure in what way yet, but I want to broaden beyond Extra Life and I may finally retire from that event entirely.

I believe this will better balance my desire to make content with my other goals and make it something I enjoy again, rather than something my brain treats as an obligation. This is an experiment and could change again. I may ultimately decide to give it up or maybe I’ll end up wanting to do it more. We’ll see what happens, but this is the plan for now.

I hope that this hasn’t disappointed anyone in my community. Whether you support this or dislike it, please sound off on Discord or in the comments and let me know. I welcome feedback as always.

I want to thank those of you that have stuck around for all this time to watch, to chat, to give ideas, to be friends and who have made my charitable efforts such an incredible success. You truly are what drives people like me to do this and without you, I wouldn’t still be here trying. Your support means more than I can express and I hope I can continue to make things you enjoy.

I hope everyone has a wonderful 2022. There’s more to come from me, count on that!

Posted in Extra Life, Live Stream, Personal, Podcast, Video Games | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Real Talk for Mixer Part 2: The Feedbackening

Mixer and I talked for a bit.

I intended to write this while on a 4 hour layover on my way back from PAX South but the night before we left, promptly got a big ol’ case of PAX Pox. I’m still hacking up my lungs as I write but it’s time to stop putting this off.

When I wrote my last post about Mixer’s issues, I expected to publish it, go to PAX and never have it brought up again. Boy is that not what happened. It started making the rounds among other Mixer streamers, then partners, then I got a ton of great comments, then it got picked up by OnMSFT and then a staff member invited me to talk to them about it at the booth. That conversation turned into 3, including with people who have been with the organization since it was called Beam. I went into the show very apprehensive about its future and my place in it and came out feeling that while they still have a lot to do and prove, that things have a chance of finally turning around. I’d like to explain what I learned as best I can so that when people are deciding their own futures in streaming, they can hopefully have a better idea of what’s coming.

Before I begin, some ground rules. I won’t be naming the people I spoke to and while I wasn’t told anything was off limits to repeat, I will be generalizing it a bit as I’ve no interest in getting people in trouble who were generous with both their time and insider knowledge. Rest assured, I will still be conveying the weight of everything I was told. If this makes you question the trustworthiness of what I say, that’s unfortunate but those who know me can vouch for my integrity and if you read through the post, you’ll see that I don’t take every assurance at face value. Cool? Alright, let’s get rolling.

To my great surprise, I learned that not long after word of my post got around, it was forwarded to the entire Mixer team and most of them read it. I really didn’t expect that and honestly, that knowledge made me a lot more nervous. However, the conversations never felt tense, nor was I made to feel like I’d insulted anyone. I have been spun to many a time in my life and know what it sounds like. I can smell a phony a mile off and have no concerns with telling truth to power (ask my boss if you don’t believe me.) Not only did I never feel that way in my conversations, 2 of them were with people who don’t work in public facing roles and aren’t trained in such things.

The people I spoke to all said my criticisms were valid and they didn’t disagree with any of them, nor that it’s taken too long for most of them to be addressed. If there’s one thing that was very clear to me from their tone and expressions, it’s that the staff are just as frustrated as we are, particularly those who have to face the brunt of the complaints. However, we’ll break out communication issues specifically later on.

Agreement’s good and all but it doesn’t help get anything fixed. I said that the big concern many of us have isn’t just that progress on development is slow, it’s that it seems to have all but ceased. I honestly expected pushback to a lot of these things, sort of like “Well yeah but don’t forget that we’ve X, Y and Z.” That didn’t happen, not once.

From what I gathered, the main issue right now seems to be one of the Microsoft org chart. Those of you who’ve never had to work in a large company (count yourselves lucky) might not know what that is or fully understand just how slow big companies tend to move, even wildly successful ones like Microsoft. Very basically, an org chart shows where different business units or people fall within the corporate pecking order, who reports to whom and who has authority over what. In publicly traded companies, this is vital and is taken very seriously, even having potential legal ramifications. A simple org chart might look like this:

Cheers to for the example. 🙂

Since it’s acquisition by Microsoft, Mixer has reported under the Xbox unit, meaning that Xbox is “in charge” of Mixer, even though Mixer has their own managers. This makes sense when you first think about it. Mixer’s primarily a gaming focused streaming service and Xbox is Microsoft’s gaming division. Indeed, I’ve said before that I think Xbox head Phil Spencer is one of the best executives in the games industry right now and someone who actually gets this business and its customers.

However, upon further consideration, these two businesses are actually fairly distinctive with very different needs. Mixer needing to get everything approved by Xbox is to put it politely, inefficient. Plus I don’t know if you’ve heard but Xbox kind of has their hands full with this little thing they’ve been working on. This makes for a very slow moving operation in an industry that demands the exact opposite. I don’t need to tell you how fast the streaming world moves and even the gaming division of Microsoft isn’t built to move that fast. Console cycles are measured in years, streaming trends are measured in what feels like minutes sometimes.

Since the co-founders “left” a little while back and even a little before that, Mixer has had a new General Manager in place. She came from another large company and her role involved working with small businesses and business units that needed to adapt and become more agile. In other words, exactly what most of us think Mixer needs. She’s been head down and working away since she started and it sounds like she’s purposefully stayed out of the public light in order to focus on that. The team believes in her and also that she’s the right fit for Mixer. It was also confirmed to me what I had theorized in the linked podcast above was largely true, that being Matt and James were mostly figureheads and consultants since the acquisition and weren’t really leading anything. My understanding is that one of the new manager’s first goals is to get Mixer’s place in the org chart changed so that they’re much more in charge of their own decisions.

Where Mixer currently sits.
Where they want Mixer to sit.

The latter is also how Twitch sits in relation to Amazon in their org chart. They’re a wholly owned Amazon subsidiary but operate with their own C-suite executives and leadership. They’re accountable to Amazon for their decisions but make them on their own. That’s why they’re able to move at the pace they do and it’s what I think we can all agree Mixer has needed for a long time as right now, Mixer can’t make their own decisions and has to run everything through Xbox.

This may seem like an easy change to make but in a large public company, it’s anything but. It requires tons of approvals and consultations with legal people. In a company like Microsoft, every I has to be dotted and every T crossed because if not, it can mean big problems later. Should they have done this a lot sooner? Absolutely but for various reasons, that didn’t happen at the time.

On the subject of communication, those I spoke to were also frustrated because like everything else, those have to go through Xbox as well and by the time they get approval to address a thing that’s upsetting the community, it’s already too late. I said in my last post that in the absence of a meaingful official explanation, people will substitute their own. The staff are acutely aware of that but are hamstrung by current structure and policies. One told me that several times, they’ve just wanted to go on Twitter and tell everyone what they know to quell the frustration but had to stop themselves because they knew to do so could mean their job. The reason no one responds to the UserVoice page any more? No one’s assigned that role and thus, can’t speak there in an official capacity. I told one of them that if they needed someone to fill that role, I’d happily take the job. I was only half joking.

In order to implement all the things people are asking for, they need developers and plenty of them. Microsoft does have a number of Mixer specific job postings up right now and most of them are for developers and engineers. A lot of the original developers are not there any more and Mixer is still a very small team in relation to the product they’re maintaining. Online video is also its own beast of a niche, plus it’s a buyer’s market for software engineers right now, meaning the number of open positions in the industry greatly exceeds the talent out there to fill them. Mixer is hiring and when they get some people in, they can start making bigger changes but again, all this takes time. Even in an industry that moves as fast as streaming does, the realities of software development are still present. It may sound strange but finding millions of dollars to buy over some big Twitch partners for publicity was probably a lot easier for them to do than quickly recruiting video specialized software engineers in the current market.

Some will say that too many people give Mixer a pass against the competition by saying that Twitch had such a head start over everyone else in the streaming world. I can both agree with this and not. Twitch was doing this many years before anyone else was and like it or not, that gives them a huge leg up. They were a lot bigger and more established than Mixer when Amazon bought them (which I should add, is believed by many to have been necessary because they were rapidly running out of cash) and the acquisition was structured in a way that allowed Twitch to be more nimble. Twitch has a lot of problems of its own, some of which you can argue is due to a lack of proper oversight but I don’t think anyone can deny that Microsoft treated Mixer as another product acquisition and didn’t understand what its needs or the market’s needs were when they bought it. If they did, things might look a lot different now. While that’s obviously not what happened, the vibe I universally got from those I spoke to was that the lesson has been learned and steps are being made to correct it.

I also said in my last post that Microsoft does nothing short-term. The OnMSFT article (which while I thank them for the traffic, I think was poorly written with a bad core thesis), equates Mixer to the disaster of Windows Phone. I think that’s ridiculous because if you know the history of Microsoft, you know that’s an exception and not the rule. I’m a guy who did a corporate rollout of Windows Phone once upon a time. I know first hand just what a mismanaged cluster of an otherwise great potential product that was. The people who oversaw that (including the CEO at the time) are also no longer at Microsoft. The company lost billions (some say as much as $10 billion) on Xbox before it started to turn a profit about halfway into the 360’s lifespan. Thanks to the inept launch of the Xbox One (led by another person who was shown the door shortly after), they looked almost DOA in this generation but have turned it around into a fairly strong success, despite still being a distant second to PS4. Again, this is not a company who typically does things in the short-term and to claim otherwise because of one exceptionally mishandled initiative shows a profound ignorance of their history.

Compared to both of those initiatives, Mixer is a rounding error to Microsoft’s finances. I actually think that’s a good thing because it means they can keep investing in it without irking shareholders. Everyone I spoke to told me that Phil Spencer and CEO Satya Nadella regularly visit the team and do town halls with them. They said both executives strongly believe in Mixer and its potential and sees it becoming a serious competitor in the space.

Consider as well the Mixer booth itself at PAX South if you were there. I went to the show all 3 days and even on the Sunday when the floor was oddly quiet, the Mixer booth was heaving. Not just with partners and staff but just show goers who wanted to see what it was about, meet streamers and learn about it. It was often wall-to-wall people. For all its problems, that there was this much interest speaks volumes to me.

If your first response to all of this is to go “That’s not a good enough reason when partners and non-partners alike have been screaming and begging for answers for over a year.”, I agree with you. The candor and lack of spin in my conversations with Mixer staff was both surprising and very welcome but don’t think I’m also taking it all on face value. They have a lot to prove and despite making promises for years in some cases, have failed to deliver on many of them. I do believe that things have the potential to be different this time and that the core issues behind their sluggishness are being addressed but the proof will be in the pudding and there’s no pudding yet.

Many people have already called me a fanboy and that I’ve bought into spin because I didn’t come out of my conversations more cynical than when I went in. I think that’s a bullshit way to look at things and that those who make such accusations have already made up their minds and just want validation. I’ve put many hours of my time into this to try to impact change for the benefit of everyone. We shouldn’t need a lesson on the inner workings of Microsoft to know why Mixer has issues but knowledge is power and I’m attempting to provide that. I’m not a partner (if anything, being this open about my criticisms has hurt my chances of becoming one) and don’t plan to be a career streamer, yet here I am. I could have kept my mouth shut but things don’t get better by saying nothing and frankly, what I’ve done seems to have made a greater impact then just screaming on Twitter, which I used to be well known for as well. None of these staff members had to talk to me and I didn’t expect them to but they came to me, I didn’t seek them out. Hell, if anything, more people leaving Mixer means less competition for me but I’m trying my best to encourage people to hang on just a bit longer, not just for my benefit but because I think it will be better for everyone in the end.

I’m not here to tell you what platform you should be on, whether you should consider abandoning Mixer or whether you should be upset. I think everyone is right to be upset about the platform’s stagnation and frankly, even if the organizational changes happen, they’ve got to motor and soon if they want to right the ship. We’ve all been way more patient than we should have had to be and I can assure you, no one is more aware of that than the Mixer team themselves. They’re out of a job if Mixer fails and they’re not hanging around because they expect it to.

If that’s still not enough for you, then here’s my own position as bluntly as I can put it: Despite the frustrations of the last while, I personally believe in light of my conversations that 2020 is the year Mixer will get its shit together and start moving forward. I said in my last post that I’d quit streaming before I start over somewhere else and I hold to that. This year will be my 10th year of doing Extra Life. It’s an important milestone for me and one I intend to see through. That gives Mixer the rest of 2020 to show me that change is being made for the better. If we go through this year and things are still stuck in the mud after Extra Life, that’s the time I will likely hang up streaming for good and most certainly, many will head out the door before I do.

I’m a nobody in the grand scheme of Mixer. I’m fully aware of that and I don’t pretend to share the same struggles as those who are trying to make a living at this. However, if you’ve been grinding like I have to build a community and you know how hard it is to start over again, I do truly believe that a bit more patience will be rewarded and that things are different this time. I don’t have an incentive to tell you that, it’s what I believe. I might be wrong and you don’t have to take my word for it but if you’re considering leaving Mixer, I would suggest at least just multi-streaming for now and see what happens before jumping ship entirely. If you think differently, I welcome your comments below and am always up for a respectful debate.

Mixer, the ball’s in your court now. Don’t fuck it up.

Posted in Live Stream | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Real Talk for Mixer from a Loyal Streamer

Mixer, we need to talk.

Note: I’ve written a follow-up post you may also want to check out when you’re done this one.

Mixer’s been my exclusive streaming home since 2017 and I have no plans to change that. I love the near-zero chat lag and I especially love the community. I’ve stuck with the platform through multiple exoduses, confident in them because it takes time to find your footing when your competition has such a head start and because Microsoft never does anything for the short-term.

However, the current exodus that’s still underway at time of writing is I believe, rooted in some very real concerns that at least on the surface, appear to have gone ignored for far too long. I believe it’s time the platform and its management (whomever that is since the founders “left”) get some real talk. I love Mixer, want it to succeed and want it to be the best place it can be for streamers and viewers alike. It’s with that determination and love that I write this.

At present, I can’t blame any long-time user of Mixer for thinking that development of the platform has all but ceased. They’ve spent rumoured millions to bring over some massive streamers but resources for improvement seems to be a dry well. We have features that are still in beta, others that were announced forever ago that have never materialized and others that have been broken for going on two years now with no fixes in sight. Many are also complaining of stability issues, though I thankfully haven’t had any myself.

Rather than exhaustively detail all of the concerns I and many others have, let’s just rapidly bullet-point a bunch of the common ones, in no particular order:

  • Why is the API still so unreliable? Sites like KeyMailer that I rely on for developer relationships still often aren’t notified of my streams. For that matter, third-party tools like CouchBot and SmartHost often have functions break because the API doesn’t respond properly.
From SmartHost’s management page. This shouldn’t be a thing.
  • Despite repeated assurances, why is Mixer still not making more effort to promote true variety streams or just anything beyond the latest releases and the same few Battle Royale titles?
Top Games. Top Games never changes.
  • Why are analytics still broken and unreliable after almost two years? They have improved a little bit lately but I still can’t count on them to be reliable when sections are still demonstrably broken. This makes approaching game developers and potential sponsors very difficult.
My analytics page at time of writing. Note the two sections on the right.

That’s only a rough list of the most common issues. If you ask around, you’ll hear plenty more. In fact, leave yours in the comments if I missed them! You’ll also notice a lot of those items are links. Like all Microsoft products and services, Mixer has a UserVoice site, a place where the community can request features, comment and vote up the ones most important to them. In theory, this is supposed to help drive Mixer’s development priorities but Mixer hasn’t responded to anything posted there in at least a year if not more. Most of the top voted ideas haven’t even been acknowledged, must less actioned. This gives the appearance of at best apathy and at worst, disdain towards the needs of the community.

This ties into a greater communication problem from Mixer. Their social media presence has become bare bones. No one is told anything of future plans or kept up-to-date with goings on at the platform. Maybe partners are but that’s kept behind NDAs. If we do get something announced, it’s often a pie in the sky idea like FTL over RTMP that fizzles into the ether. From the outside, we’re seeing a platform that appears to be stuck in development mud, a wildly imbalanced ratio of streamers to viewers and increasing dismissal from the wider streaming community. Are things set to improve? We don’t know because you won’t tell us.

I regularly approach game developers and PR agencies who either still don’t know what Mixer is, only vaguely know of it since you got Ninja or think it’s “an Xbox only platform.” I am certain that I’ve been denied opportunities I might have otherwise gotten because I’m on Mixer and not Twitch. Nothing has been done to counter these perceptions within the games industry or among the streaming community at large. We want to advocate for your platform but right now, other than FTL and the community, I can’t think of a compelling reason why someone should focus on streaming here instead of somewhere else. That hurts me to say.

When problems are witnessed and no meaningful explanation is provided, people will substitute their own. It’s happened before, that’s what’s happening now and it’s why we’re on at least our third exodus event. To be fair, none of the major content platforms are good at communication but that’s not a cliff Mixer should be happy jumping off of with everyone else.

Please understand, I don’t say this out of anger. Frustration yes, but not anger. I love the core values of Mixer and even with everything I’ve stated above, I would sooner quit streaming than try to start over somewhere else, especially Twitch. It stings to see the platform stuck where it is and to see streamers I respect have to announce with sadness in their voices that they have to move on if they want to continue growing. With the resources and brand awareness of Microsoft and Xbox behind Mixer, there’s no reason you can’t make a massive push and become a formidable force in the streaming world. I want you to do that and so do so many others.

I implore you, please say something–anything–to us. Let us know what’s coming, let us know that you’re listening to us and let those of us who continue to be stubbornly loyal know that our patience is going to pay off. I’ve worked damn hard to build up what I have on your platform and I don’t want to lose it. Please let us work with you to make this place the kind of awesome we all know it can be.

What you do guys think? Are you a fellow streamer on Mixer or just a concerned viewer? Let me know what you’d like to see Mixer improve in the comments and please share this with your communities so Mixer staff have a better chance of seeing it.

See the follow-up to this post here.

Posted in Live Stream | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

2,000 Mixer Subscribers & Looking Ahead

It’s a classic for a reason.

Some time over night on November 24, I hit the coveted 2,000 follower mark on Mixer. I actually hadn’t been paying much attention to my follower count lately so I didn’t even know I was close. There wasn’t much buildup but my mind was still blown the next morning.

I dabbled in streaming in various places for a bit before committing to Mixer in 2017 and I’ve also been running a YouTube channel since 2013. When I started making content, I didn’t really know what I wanted to come from it. I just looked at a bunch of other creators I enjoyed and went “I want to say things these guys aren’t saying and I’ve always wanted to learn video editing so, why not?” My YouTube channel never had notable success (7 years on and it’s barely bigger than my Mixer channel) but I kept working at it because I enjoyed doing it but also, my small audience was devoted and engaged, to the point where indie devs started taking notice and offering me press codes. That continues to amaze me.

For many different reasons, I’ve always been shy, awkward and introverted. I’ve had friends, jobs and romantic relationships but none of them came to me as easy as for others. As I kept making more stuff, people started to notice a change in me outside of that. They started to say that I felt more confident, especially when speaking to groups or to people with authority. I never noticed this in myself before but I knew I had the content I made to thank for it. Even if it’s through a camera, you still talk to a crowd when you make stuff like this. This has only continued through my time as a streamer and even people who have only known me for that time, tell me I’m like a different person from when they first met me. Last week, I had to deliver an improv presentation to my entire company about a new initiative and several told me I nailed it. I have streaming and YouTube and all of you to thank for that.

Why is 2,000 a magic number on Mixer? Regulars will know that I now meet the minimum requirements to apply for partnership. So, is that my plan? Yes, but not right now. Not to rain on my own parade but a lot of the 2,000 (like 700+ of them) are the result of two contests I ran where following got you entries. 99.5% of those people have never tuned into a single stream and likely never will. The expectation when you get followers through a contest like that is that most are “zombies.” That skews the stats somewhat and Mixer will see the two abnormal spikes with the relatively stagnant concurrent viewer count and probably think that’s not a good fit. I wouldn’t blame them for that either. Even the biggest channels only have a fraction of their followers show up to most streams so this isn’t uncommon, even if the ratio’s a bit further off in my case. I have work to do to get more organic growth and while that’s happening slowly, it is happening and I would rather grow a great community slowly than a mediocre one quickly.

To my goals, partnership is about access. Even though tons of developers and PR firms are willing to work with small fish like me, many of them (even some smaller ones) won’t even give you a second glance if you don’t have “Partner” in your title. I don’t like it but it’s the way the business works. Getting partnership opens doors to more cool stuff and opportunities I can share with people but if I get it, I want to get it legit, through hard work, not through running contests and bribing people to give me their fleeting loyalty. I’ve said before that if I attain partnership, any money I raise with either get reinvested or more often, donated to charity. This isn’t about fame or money to me and never has been.

What I’ve also realized is that obtaining this organic growth isn’t going to happen by doing things the same way I have since 2017. I’ve always said that if I can’t grow playing what I want, then there’s no point in doing this. I’m not going to fake a smile and pretend to enjoy Fortnite just to juice my numbers, get partnership and have that audience vanish when I stop playing it. I pride myself on honesty and I’ll never change that. Growing as a variety creator is bloody hard, especially when you can’t stream during the day and while I’ve often seemed publicly discouraged and regularly have crises of confidence, it’s a challenge I’m still up for. However, I think I can do a better job at choosing what I stream out of the crazy variety of things I like.

I enjoy a lot of AAA games but streaming the new shiny doesn’t help you as a small channel. Most people go to the big dogs for that stuff. I have a burning passion for indie games and believe showcasing those are important but I can’t stream those all the time either as people often want to see a name they recognize when they’re browsing the channel list.

You may have seen me tease a couple of new initiatives I’ve been trying to launch for several months. I kept delaying these because other things largely unrelated to streaming kept getting in the way, then it was Extra Life time. I’m really hoping I can get these launched in December or January at the latest but rather than keep teasing them, I’m just going to explain them now.

The Deep Backlog
I’ve played a lot of games but there are some glaring omissions that would make many a hardcore player’s jaw hit the floor. I not only want to stream myself filling those gaps but since some of these are considered classics, I think people might enjoy watching me play them for the first time.

This is the current and ever-evolving list of games for The Deep Backlog. I’ll be starting off with Super Mario 64 and Chrono Trigger but I’ve also developed a neat MixPlay system that will allow people with a certain channel level to spend sparks to vote up the game they’d like to see me tackle next. When I’m done the game I’m on, the one with the most votes is next. I’m not promising I’ll finish every game I start (especially if I end up not liking them) but since the community will help choose, you’ll hopefully be more interested in watching. I’m really excited about this!

More Gaming With the Community
This means community in all respects, my friends, theSHED and more. I like single player stuff and will still be playing a lot of it but in having less time to game these days and devoting a lot of that to streaming, I haven’t been able to play as much stuff with people as I’d like and they’d like. I want to make a point of doing that more, not just when I’m streaming but definitely then too because everything’s better with friends. Mudda Russia, our ridiculous co-op Spintires series is going to be making a return (I mean come on, they’re releasing a Chernobyl DLC), we’re looking into cool ways to use Steam’s new remote two player feature for all kinds of stuff, I’m going to try to do more things like theSHED’s Nintendo Monday, Cruise Night and way more besides.

Gaming with friends is something I really enjoy and which got lost in the shuffle of trying to grow a channel when I have an otherwise busy life and that’s not what I wanted and it’s something I think can be a part of this as well.

Indie Showcase
I still love indie games and get access to a lot of them but the live format Indie Showcase first impressions show wasn’t working. People weren’t interested and didn’t come out for it. A little while ago, I said I’d be taking the show to YouTube and it’s been doing alright there. I’m going to keep doing that but trying to up the show’s production quality a bit more. Certain big indie releases will still get their own streams and I have ideas for additional indie focused content I’d like to produce but that’s a ways down the road and I’ll talk about it then.

I’ve been terrible at promising timelines this year and not delivering on them so I won’t say exactly when these changes will happen but I am hoping to do it soon. Despite my slow growth and increasingly busy life, making content is still very important to me and it’s something I intend to keep finding time for.

More than anything though, I want to thank those of you who have believed in me and continue to do so. My incredible mods, the developers who have taken a chance on me, the amazing community at theSHED, the other streamers who have offered wisdom to me. But most of all, to those who show up for my streams time and time again, when you don’t know what I’ll be playing or if you’ll like it. Who watch my YouTube videos, listen to my fledgling podcast and engage me with thoughtful discussion on the topics I ramble about. Who keep offering encouragement and support when I’m down, frustrated and when my depression starts to get the better of me. Who have enabled me to raise over $17,100 and counting for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario through Extra Life over the last 9 years, an average of over $1,900 per year. Sharing cool things and experiences with my community and doing a little bit of good for the world are the driving factors behind why I make this stuff.

A content creator is nothing without their community and even if I had to give this all up tomorrow, the friendships and bonds this hobby has given me would make all the time, money and effort I’ve put into this worthwhile and then some. I don’t want a huge community, I want a good one and what we all share together is among the best things I could ask for. I may do the streams, make the videos, record the podcasts and whatever else but you’re the ones I do it all for and you are the ones helping me meet the goals I’m hardwired to be so focused on. I can’t properly express how much that means to me or how thankful I am.

Mixer is far from a perfect platform (more on that in a future post) and YouTube makes me want to rage quit it almost daily now but I don’t intend to jump ship on either and plan to keep on because you’ve shown me why it’s worth it and why it’s fulfilling in many aspects of my life. I started doing this stuff as a lark and the times I’ve thought of quitting, I see the void it would leave behind and how ingrained it’s become. You’ve all made that possible and I will be forever thankful for it.

There’s a lot to do and I’m not sure how to do it will yet but we keep pushing ahead and it’s onward and upward! Thank you for your support and stay tuned cause more cool things are coming.

Posted in Live Stream | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Down My Content Survey Results

I’ve been streaming on Mixer for about two and a half years now and plugging away at my YouTube channel for about six and a half (I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that one), plus poking at that podcast experiment of mine. While I still love making stuff, my growth has never been stellar and I’ve been suffering a plateau lately, at a time when many others seem to be thriving. While some of this is due to things beyond my control, I’ve also been trying to look more inward and figure out what I can do to improve. I’ve tried to change things up here and there and nothing’s really worked. Then I realized, why don’t I ask you all? You’re the ones I do this for after all.

I put out a simple, anonymous survey on Google Forms to try to get some feedback so I can figure out how to improve. Why anonymous? Firstly, I get that providing honest criticism of someone, even–or especially–if they’re a friend and even if they’re asked for it, is often not easy. Secondly, I wanted people who knew of me but either haven’t watched yet or don’t any more to also be able to have a voice. This obviously creates vectors for abuse (which a couple of idiots availed themselves of) but it also brought out the kind of brutal honesty I asked for. The survey consisted of a few multiple choice questions and two optional essay questions. I won’t be posting those answers to avoid risk of being identifying but I will address them broadly.

Even though I only got a little over 20 responses (after 2 clearly trolling ones were excluded), the insights I gained were fascinating and the comments were valuable. Thank you to all of you who took the time to help! I’m going to break down the results, discuss the comments generally and see what lessons can be taken for them. Will this get me out of the slump? Who knows, but it’s worth a try!

With that said, let’s dig in:

Question 1: Does Indie Showcase (first impressions of several new indie game releases) interest you?

The answer here is clear and this makes me happy as I really was hoping for it. Indie games are very important to me, especially as I find the AAA industry is putting out fewer and fewer titles that interest me. That you all largely want to see them too is great.

Question 2: Is Indie Showcase something you prefer to see live or is just on YouTube sufficient?

This one actually surprised me a bit but in a positive way. The majority opinion is that I should continue to do the show but not live. I see this is a positive because honestly, doing live impressions of several games in a row is exhausting and I find that the games at the end of a long Indie Showcase session end up getting worse commentary. Doing it on YouTube allows me to better pace myself and give each game the quality of coverage it deserves.

Would you all want me to continue the segments the way I do (maximum of one hour per game with my face cam) or should I change that formula up too? Leave a comment and let me know!

Question 3: Do streams of retro titles interest you?

I’m glad the majority voted yes, though I was hoping for a stronger yes. This is something I plan to do regardless and I am thinking of a cool way to involve you all in the process of choosing what I play. More details soon!

Question 4: Do you care if I’m regularly streaming new major releases?

This one honestly makes me really happy. Many people will say playing what’s in the zeitgeist is a sure way to get more viewers but in my experience, that’s just not true. I’m glad that you all don’t think it’s important for me to be playing what’s new all the time. That’s not to say I won’t be playing new releases when I have strong interest in them (I’ve already booked three days off work for the release of Cyberpunk 2077) but I’m glad it won’t impact whether most of you watch.

Question 5: If I start playing a game on stream, should I finish it on stream?

This one I’ve struggled with personally for some time. I have a weird compulsion to finish what I start (hence why I finish almost every game I play) and that often extends into my streams. I’ve put off finishing games I really liked for months because I couldn’t find time to squeeze them into my streaming schedule but felt I was letting people down if they didn’t get to see the whole thing. Spider-Man was a perfect example of this.

While the majority of you don’t appear to care whether I finish a game on stream or not, almost a third of you do. It’s going to be tricky to find a balance there but maybe it will come naturally. I probably should have attached a conditional question for people who clicked Yes that asked if they just wanted to make sure they saw the ending on stream or the entire game. Feel free to drop a comment and let me know your preference.

Question 6: Do I spend too much time talking over the games I’m streaming?

Well, the answer here is pretty definitive. I’m acutely aware of how verbose I tend to be. It’s a symptom of both my ADHD and my anxiety. While it’s something I’m working on, at the same time, talking is a big part of a streamer’s job so finding a balance is key. I still need to learn to shut up during cutscenes but I’m glad most of you enjoy my verbosity.

Question 7: Is my voice too loud or “booming” for your taste?

Speaking of definitive. In addition to being verbose, I have a voice that carries. I watch a lot of streamers who are more soft spoken and often feel that I come across as too overbearing in the nature of how I speak on stream, even though I use VoiceMeeter to apply compression. I still think I can better refine my speaking style but this answer makes me feel a lot less self-conscious about my cadence.

Question 8: Is my current schedule (Tues./Thurs. @ 7:30pm ET, Sat. @ 1pm ET) a good fit for you?

Oh myyyyyyy. This one’s really tough. I would love to be able to stream more during the day. I know a lot of my viewers are from Europe and that makes it hard to watch on my normal schedule, plus the few times I’ve streamed during the day have just been a boon to viewership in general. However, the schedule requirements of a full-time day job don’t allow me much flexibility on that. At one point, there was talk about instituing shifts at my work and I was going to volunteer for a later shift at least a couple of days a week to try this out but that idea seems to have fizzled.

Once again, I should have put a conditional question on this, asking those who chose No what their preferences were. Leave a comment and let me know if you’d like.

Question 9: Would a show of casual interviews with game developers and other industry types interest you?

Many of you probably don’t know but I once had a short-lived series on YouTube called Behind the Games, where I had casual conversations with indie game developers about their games but more about their journey to and through game development. It shared similarities to theSHED’s POWER HOUR but was more focused on the developers themselves.

I’ve always wanted to bring this show back but in a live format where the audience could also participate in the conversation. That interests almost two thirds of you and that’s awesome! I have no idea when this will happen and honestly, it’s probably a ways off but I’m excited to plan it more, now that I know you folks are into it.

Optional Question 1: Are there games or genres I’m not streaming that you’d like to see me stream?

Of those who answered this question and not with jokes or just a simple “No”, the responses were a mixed bag. Here are the specific games that people said I either should play or that they’ve liked seeing me play:

  • God of War
  • War Thunder
  • Rocket League
  • Paladins
  • Realm Royale
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Cube World
  • Rust

Quite an eclectic mix there. I’ll be honest, while I enjoy Rocket League and think Paladins and Realm Royale are alright, I don’t know how much I’ll be streaming them because lots of other people already do and most people who tune into those streams want to see people play them at a high level, which I most certainly don’t. The occasional night of Rocket League with my community does interest me though so we could make that happen.

As for the single player stuff, I adore cool, solo games with good stories and worlds. People really dug God of War and I do intend to play more stuff like that, including doing my “death to humanity run” in Detroit: Become Human, as well as playing through Last of Us again before the sequel comes out early next year. I’ve already beaten South Park: The Stick of Truth but do have its sequel The Fractured But Whole on my backlog so we could certainly do that at some point too. Sorry to say but survival games like Rust just don’t interest me and I’m staying away from the newly reincarted Cube World until that dev fixes it.

Another respondant also wrote that they wished I was playing games with my friends more (I know who this person is but won’t be calling them out.) The plan this past month was to make doing exactly that a bigger part of my content but then my new PC nightmares happened, plus I had a number of other impediments to my plans. I promise that I haven’t forgotten about that and while this month is going to be focused a lot on getting my Extra Life stretch goals from last year done (more on that separately), that plan is going into full force after that. Mudda Russia will return!

Optional Question 2: Any additional feedback (good or bad) you have about my streams, content, presentation, schedule or anything else (brutal honesty is encouraged.)

An even more eclectic mix of responses came to this question, which is great! There were a few that were variants of “you’re doing great” and I just want to thank those of you for the compliments.

As for the critical comments, I’ll give a general phrasing of them and my thoughts:

Stream with viewers or friends more often – I couldn’t agree more and after Extra Life this year, I’ll be making a point of that.

Don’t keep repeating explanations of the game I’m playing every time someone asks – This is a good point. If you’ve been watching for a whole stream, I totally get how this can be annoying. I’m going to try to limit myself to just saying the game and I can answer more questions from there if asked.

Bring even more random variety into the mix, like the first game I ever bought on Steam or some random free-to-play MMO no one’s heard of – These are cool ideas. The catch-22 of course is that if one is trying to improve their viewership, picking a random free-to-play MMO probably isn’t going to get many people’s attention. That said, streaming is always more about the streamer than the game so maybe it doesn’t matter much? Certainly couldn’t hurt to try once in a while. I will say that my plans for tackling my backlog and retro titles will involve the community a lot more.

You’re too focused on growth/trying to make it big – I want to address this point because I can see why this is the perception. I am not trying to “make it big”, at least not in the sense this respondant may think. I don’t want to turn streaming into a job and don’t plan to abandon my successful IT career for it. I would like to attain partnership with Mixer but mostly for the access opportunities it brings and to be able to do more good. I’ve stated publicly several times that if and when I am able to make money on my content, anything I make will either get reinvested in said content or donated to charity. For that latter reason in particular, I am very driven to get myself to the point where I can do that.

Those who have known me for a while know that my personality is extremely goal oriented and that if I choose to get into something, I never do it half-assed. That’s just who I am and honestly, having goals is not a bad thing. I’m only able to stream two to three times a week right now and most of the days I’m not are spent doing other unrelated things that I’d have to do regardless or just chilling out to destress. Unfortunately, my current job is extremely demanding, plus I have my side business, a home I’m maintaining by myself (which is way more work than I thought), two pets, a new relationship and I’m trying to spend more time with my friends, which I already don’t do enough. Streaming is and will always be a hobby but it’s a hobby that’s important to me because of many benefits it brings outside of that, some of which are why I have the good job I have now.

A solution to this may be found in either changing or reducing my streaming schedule. I’m not sure right now but it’s something I’m thinking a lot about. I understand that you can’t please everyone and unfortunately, with this focus comes the potential alienation of some. I don’t take pleasure in the thought but I think my actions show that I do try to do a lot of things to benefit others and focusing on one’s own goals sometimes isn’t a negative either.

You’re too angry when you’re not streaming – This is honestly a source of frustration for me (ironic I know) because disregarding the number of frankly toxic personalities I see doing very well for themselves in this ecosystem, I just don’t agree that this is the reality. One respondant cited my recent saga with MSI and how much I tweeted about it. Another said I am driving friends away with my “insistence on being right on Twitter.” I don’t have an insistence on being right but I also don’t state an opinion without researching it first and won’t concede a point until someone makes a compelling argument. I can be convinced and sometimes am but it doesn’t happen often because I go into a debate prepared. I mean Hell, look at the name of the blog you’re reading.

I put in a lot of time, effort and often money trying to be a good person and helping out those around me in need. People did that for me in the past when I needed it and now that I’m a man of means, I think I should do the same. I don’t do it to be showered with praise but it would be nice if people could also remember the good I do instead of just point at the times I’m angry (or rather appear it) and criticize those. Sure, I am brash about issues like MSI’s customer service or the Epic Games Store but aside from having good reasons for those, I’ve also provided a ton of pro bono tech help to other streamers and was the #1 Extra Life player for my local hospital last year. The occasional call out for those things would be nice too.

As is so often the case, Twitter is generally at the heart of this. I’ve long professed that Twitter is a cesspool that it’s management encourages to be that way and that I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t have to. It’s dated limitations disallow nuance, people can–and often willingly do–misinterpret what you say or how severely you meant it, context is easily distorted, mob mentality is encouraged and it’s a terrible place for discussion or debate. The problem is, you can’t be a content creator and not use it. You network with it, developers and PR use it to gauge your reach and your audience uses it to see when you’re live or have put up something new. You also can’t just use it for the latter because your account has to be active and you have to be engaging with people for it to be considered useful. A few creators are able to avoid this without setback, 95% of us are not.

Contray to what one other respondant claimed, I don’t act or play a part with my content (well, other than Bad Russian which people love.) I’m not a fan of that style. What you see of me online is what I am like in real life for the most part. Until recently, this has extended to Twitter as well but clearly, my personality isn’t compatible with it’s limitations as a platform. So, I’m going to cut back what I post there, if not in volume, then definitely in subject matter. I’ll be keeping my more contentious opinions and experiences to here and more often, to my podcast, which people can listen to or avoid as they desire.

This shouldn’t be the way of things but it is so I can either adapt or get held back by it. I choose the former and continue to hope that one day, Twitter will just fail as a company and humanity will be better off for it. Facebook first though. 😉


This post took a lot longer to write than I planned but I’m glad I had a chance to break down the responses. I’ve taken a lot of valuable lessons from this that will help me going forward and I want to once again thank all of you who took the time to fill out the survey and also write some constructive comments. You all are the reason I make this stuff and your feedback can only help going forward.

If you are one of those who wrote a comment to me and would like to discuss it further, feel free to hit me up on Discord. Even if your feedback was strongly worded, I won’t bite your head off and would enjoy an opportunity to hash things out more. Maybe we can each learn something. If you just have some feedback based on what you’ve read here, hit me up there too or better yet, leave a comment. I might do a shorter follow-up survey with some additional questions about scheduling and such but we’ll see.

Whether your feedback was positive or negative, I thank all of you who watch my stuff from the bottom of my heart. My audience is small and I’d like to change that but those of you that are here are passionate and loyal and warms my heart to know I’m able to bring some joy to your lives. I’m very glad I did this survey and hopefully, positive change will come from it.

Stay tuned, the best is yet to come!

Posted in Live Stream, Personal, YouTube | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My MSI Experience

No company this big should be this bad to deal with.

When it comes to computers, I often say hardware brands are like wines. They tend to have good and bad years. In my experience, barring a few exceptions, no brand has a flawless, nor a fully flawed track record. Loyalty to vendors that have done well by you isn’t a bad thing but it’s important to be able to look at your experiences objectively and not be afraid to switch your loyalties when you need to.

Let me regail you with the story of how I went from a loyal customer of MSI for nearly a decade to one that may very well never deal with them again.

I recently built myself a new third generation Ryzen desktop for gaming and streaming. You can see the full specs here. My friend Syncrosys built a similar machine around the same time. When choosing what motherboard we wanted, we had to do a lot of research. Most X570 boards were either cheaper and lacking features we wanted or wildly overpriced and full of extra stuff no one asked for, largely to take advantage of (i.e. rip off) early adopters. The MSI MPG X570 Gaming Pro Carbon WiFi (seriously, who names these things?) was one of the only launch boards that struck the middle ground we wanted. Good quality VRMs, no extra features we didn’t want (except Wi-Fi), generally good reviews and the price was as reasonable as X570 can be. We both grabbed one.

Syncrosys has mostly had a good experience but if you follow me, you know mine has been anything but. The first board I put in the machine had a VRM literally catch fire when I first powered it up. I sadly didn’t record it but a flame equivalent to that of a lighter is what I saw. Needless to say, the board never worked again. I took it back to the excellent RB Computing where I bought it from but they didn’t have any more and supplies were backordered indefinitely. They offered to send it back to MSI for me and also to give me a new one if a shipment came in first. MSI has a Canadian RMA facility and I was told they usually turn over fast.

Two and a half weeks later and I had no board and MSI had no ETA on when they’d get more. Typically, manufacturers keep some stock back to handle RMA requests. MSI didn’t appear to or they got so many returns, they ran out. After almost a month of waiting, they actually e-mailed RB Computing and told them they had no idea when more would come in and offered to refund the wholesale purchase, something RB Computing said had never happened in over 20 years of doing business. They said something seemed fishy about the whole situation but had no details beyond that. At time of writing, these boards are still hard to come by while other brands and models are plentiful, yet I can’t find anything online that indicates a widespread issue that would have caused them to stop shipments. Thankfully, I was able to find another one in stock elsewhere.

The new board arrived and didn’t catch fire but it had other problems. At first, it was just that the hard disk activity LED was stuck on at all times (a minor issue to most but monitoring disk activity is important to me.) Shortly after that, I discovered Wake-On-LAN didn’t work (again, unimportant to most, important to me) and about a week after using it, the chipset fan (which isn’t supposed to spin at all under low load) was constantly spinning at an ear-piercing 4,000RPM and wouldn’t respond to any PWM commands.

These are often problems that can be solved with tweaking or at worst, a BIOS update. I was already running the latest release BIOS so I took to MSI’s forums and found a thread of other people with the HDD LED issue. Most of them had no answers but one person said they were told by support that it was a known BIOS issue and a fix was coming. I opened my own support ticket to inquire about this, which anyone with the link can see. I was told by the representative to update to a beta BIOS that was on the web site and after that, an newer one that wasn’t even on the site yet. Neither of these fixed anything, though the unreleased BIOS did cause my system to randomly boot loop until I downgraded it and repaired Windows 10.

As you can see, I informed them that the solution didn’t work and at that point, they ghosted on me. I waited 5 days with no response so I requested an update and still didn’t receive one. I tweeted at MSI’s support account several times and received no response, even during times when they were actively replying to others. I sent their publicly listed Canadian support e-mail a message asking what was going on with my ticket and have never received a response.

Finally, I decided to call their 1-800 support number. After calling six times before their phone system would actually pick up as opposed to just ring endlessly, I was finally transferred to a representative in California. This person proceeded to provide me some of the rudest, most condescending “support” I’ve experienced in a long time. He wouldn’t look up my ticket and just kept wanting me to explain the issues. I did so, along with explaining what I’d already tried at support’s instruction. No word of a lie, his response was to ask me if any of these issues were really that big a deal. I told him that defects are defects and their severity is irrelevant if a nearly $400 motherboard (or a $50 one for that matter) isn’t doing what it was advertised to. He had no solutions to offer and just told me to send it in for RMA, at my expense of course. When I told him the last board was gone for almost a month before MSI gave up and refunded my supplier, he said he had no knowledge of what their stock was or not but that if these issues were so important, that’s what I had to do. He wouldn’t even entertain any other potential solutions to the issues. I hung up in disgust.

Shortly after, I ordered a recently released equivalent motherboard from ASUS, a brand I had previously avoided because of some of their own prior quality issues. It cost $30 more and doesn’t have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth but I’m writing this post from that computer right now and everything is working perfectly. I’ve sent the MSI board back for a refund.

It’s well-known that unfortunately, nearly every computer component manufacturer has terrible support. Indeed, I’ve experienced support for all the major players and with the exception of EVGA, there are none I would even consider not awful, much less good. However, I’ve never experienced support this bad in all my years of working with computers and certainly not for a premium product, sold at a premium price. MSI is not nearly the world’s largest motherboard manufacturer but according to Wikipedia, they’re a 33 year old, publicly traded company that did $3.55 billion in revenue in 2017. Small they most certainly aren’t. However, in that same page is a link to a article, which lists MSI as having the worst support of any of the component vendor in 2019. Worse still, this is for support of their laptops, which sell for a lot more than motherboards. It’s clear their support is a cut below even the normally low standards of this industry.

I’ve used MSI motherboards exclusively for nearly a decade and used their GPUs for some of that time as well. I’ve sold many of their components (and even laptops) to clients and recommended them to friends. I take my reputation seriously and don’t recommend brands unless I’m confident in them and would use them myself. Indeed, MSI’s product quality was so good, I’d literally never had to use their support before now. Many X570 boards were rushed to market as the rumour is, AMD didn’t give manufacturers industry standard lead time and they had to get them done fast in order to make the launch of Ryzen 3000. I think the sheer number of BIOS updates most X570 boards have had bears that theory out. However, having one board catch fire, it being in RMA limbo for nearly a month, the replacement having all these other issues and then topped off with this support experience (one that’s apparently been common with MSI for years?) I feel bad for ever having trusted and recommended them.

Needless to say, MSI is on my Do Not Buy list for at least the next few years and even if their product quality improves, I won’t touch them again until they’ve been demonstrated to have fixed their nightmarish support. Other companies have figured this out already, one as big as them has no excuse whatsoever.

I just wanted to put this out there for people’s consideration when considering what components to buy in the future. If you get a good product from MSI, you’re golden. If you don’t, strap in for a wild ride.

Posted in Computers, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to CD Projekt About Cyberpunk 2077 Collector's Edition Pre-Orders

Dear CD Projekt,

To say I’m a massive fan of everything you do would be an understatement. When the first Witcher game came out, I imported a very expensive boxed version of the European Collector’s Edition because Atari decided not to sell one in North America.

When you launched GOG, I immediately loaded my account up with DRM-free retro PC games and have continued to do so because I believed in what you were doing with the service. I purchased The Witcher 2 and 3 at launch, both on GOG and bought The Witcher 3’s Expansion Pass before we knew a single thing it would contain. The Witcher 3 is in my top 5 favourite games of all-time. I’ve gifted more copies of your games and others from GOG than I can remember. When I was unemployed a couple of years back, I seriously considered applying for a job at GOG, even if it meant moving from Canada to Poland.

My GOG library stats.

When you announced Cyberpunk 2077, I instantly became excited. Cyberpunk is one of my favourite genres of fiction and though there’s been a deluge of games with the theme recently, there weren’t many at the time and certainly none in the AAA space. From the moment I saw the first CGI trailer 6 years ago, I knew you were making the game I wanted most in the world. I’ve never been more excited for a single title in 35 years of playing games. I committed to my streaming audience that I would take a week off work to play it every day when it launched. When the outrage press was spreading fake news about your team being transphobic and racist to generate clicks, I and many others stood alongside Mike Pondsmith in calling them out on it. I was and am all-in on this title. The Keanu Reeves reveal at E3 was just icing on the cake.

I normally couldn’t care less about collector’s editions but when you announced the $250US (an eye watering $325CDN) edition for Cyberpunk 2077, I was all-in for that too, in part because of my hype for the game but also because I wanted to support one of my favourite developers, making what I can already tell will be one of my favourite games, before I even touch it. I skipped buying one of the console editions when you announced to the great delight of the PC community that one was coming for us too. On the planned pre-order launch day of June 20th at 1pm Eastern, I sat with the sites of your three partners (Amazon Canada, Best Buy Canada and EB Games) all open, with my credit card ready to go.

1pm came and went and we all kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.
This tweet is still up.

You tweeted that pre-orders were available but not only was there no stock, there were no listings even created yet. People called your retail partners, only to be told that had not received any word from you or your North American distributor Warner Bros. Interactive, of the existence a PC collector’s edition. Eventually, someone on Reddit revealed that people in your official Discord had found the Amazon listing (which was designated as being for Windows Vista for some reason) but you could only get to it via a direct link or searching for the exact title, which didn’t match with the console versions. By the time word got out, they were gone.

Best Buy Canada’s listing didn’t go up until the next day. When I tried to pre-order, I received an error that the item I was trying to purchase was not available for shipping, which isn’t the same as it being out of stock. I called their support and the rep told me his previous three calls in a row were about the same issue and that there was something wrong on their end and we’d just have to keep trying until it was fixed. When I was supposed to be working, I kept refreshing the cart until the item showed as available. By the time I made the two clicks necessary to confirm my purchase, the order was aborted because it was already sold out.

At time of writing, EB Games (who you still list an an official partner for the PC collector’s edition), still doesn’t even list it. Perhaps even more hilariously, your own web site was never updated to show the PC collector’s edition as being available and still hasn’t been.

The official Canadian PC collector’s edition pre-order page.

eBay listings for $500 or more are already up in droves and the prevailing feeling among the community is that you both grossly undersupplied pre-orders and that of the ones that do exist, the majority were scooped up by scalper bots before most legitimate buyers ever had a chance. On top of this, the questions and cries of your most devoted customers have been met with silence. We have no idea if there will be additional pre-order waves and what will be done to make sure this is handled better if there is.

Your most devoted fans are pissed. I’m pissed. And we have every right to be.

Pre-orders are a solved problem in 2019, or at least they’re supposed to be. You picked the three largest gaming retailers in the country to be your middle men, a wise choice given the scope of this product’s launch. Yet somehow, these three massive, seasoned companies, all completely screwed this up. They launched late, with broken listings, one hasn’t launched at all and it appears apparent that they let crooks hoover up all the copies instead of your most ardent supporters. You’ve said nothing, offered no apologies and not given us even a sliver of confidence that there’s still hope any of us can still get this without spending what amounts to the monthly payment on a really nice car.

Fanboys are already saying this isn’t your fault. It’s Warner Bros., it’s the retailers, it’s the scalpers. I think they’re all to blame here but at the end of the day, this is your game, it’s your name on the box and you are the ones who have been communicating–or rather not–about this promotion. People cheered when you reversed your decision to not have a PC collector’s edition as another sign of what a consumer friendly company you are, something gamers really need to be assured of in the era of EA, Activision and the Epic Games Store. In the end, what should have been a straightforward pre-order campaign was handled with a level of incompetence and disrespect that I’ve not seen in perhaps decades. Your biggest fans were ready to drop an obscene amount of money on you and instead, you disrespected our time, our loyalty and to this day, have still not so much as said a word about it.

Will I still be playing Cyberpunk 2077 at launch? Of course I will. If I can’t secure a collector’s edition, I’ll still be buying it from GOG because I want to see an amazing AAA cyberpunk game succeed so that more will hopefully get made. However, I will say without question that this has sapped away a lot of the good will I had towards your company and on that, I know I’m definitely not alone.

You can fix this. Own the screw up, don’t just blame your partners, apologize to the community, do another run of collector’s edition pre-orders for all platforms and either don’t limit inventory or insist that it be fulfilled in a way that doesn’t allow scumbag scalpers and their bots to screw over the community.

More than all that though, just say something, anything. You have more good will than any developer or publisher in the industry right now and possibly more than there ever has been. It takes years to earn a great reputation and moments to lose it. Don’t do so when your magnum opus is less than a year away.

Your fans want you to succeed and we deserve better than this.

Parallax Abstraction

Posted in Business, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember the Geek Bravado Ramble? It's back, in podcast form!

If you’re one of those people who has been crazy enough to stick around my content for a while, you may remember that way back when, I used to do a series of videos on my YouTube channel called The Geek Bravado Ramble. It was basically me well, rambling my thought process before I wrote a post for this blog. The idea was to help flesh out my opinion by giving people an idea into how I came up with things. It was never very popular and I eventually shelved it.

As time has gone on, I’ve written less and less on this blog. Not because I didn’t want to but because I’ve been leading an increasingly busy life and putting stuff on here took the most concentrated effort of anything I made and got the least amount of interest from people. One of my original goals with Geek Bravado was to do two things: Improve my writing skills and do it while saying what I wanted to say about things, even if those things weren’t popular. The first goal has unquestionably been accomplished, as can be demonstrated by comparing some of my original posts to my recent ones (for the love of everything, don’t do that.) The second goal though? Well, I miss that a lot and I’ve been thinking of a way to keep being able to do it while still being able to accomodate my busy life and my other content like YouTube and Mixer.

Well, I found my solution and it’s this: I’ve bought back The Geek Bravado Ramble as a podcast! I recently discovered the podcasting service, which allows you to record podcasts in myriad ways (including from your phone), hosts them and handles putting them on every major podcast service and does it all for free! It’s not perfect but it’s pretty damn good and so far, it’s impressed me a lot. I have a lot of commute time during the day where I’m doing basically nothing except sitting in traffic and I thought “There must be a way I can do something productive with this” and this came to me one day. I can record these podcasts on my phone as I drive, they sound pretty good and I can upload and publish them almost immediately and as often as I want.

Each episode is relatively short (usually under 30 minutes, often under 20) and will be me rambling on a topic of the day I have something to say on. It will often be on gaming or tech but can also be on the news, politics, mental health or whatever else I feel like talking about. Like Geek Bravado as a whole, my opinions are as informed as they can be but are also unvarnished and often, won’t jive with popular opinion. However, you’ll always hear what I really think, I’ll never use scummy clickbait tactics and I always want to hear feedback and debate. You can hit me up on Twitter (though I reserve the right to take debates to DMs) but the best way is to join my Discord, where I have a dedicated podcast discussion channel. I have a great small community there and people will be respectful as long as you are. I’m happy to hammer out points and am open to having my mind changed, as long as you can do it intelligently.

I’m still going to write longer-form posts here on occasion. I still have some stuff I want to talk about that can’t really work in a quick podcast where I’m doing a stream of consciousness. But in the mean time, this podcast still allows me to talk about things I find interesting and get that stuff out there in a timely manner. I hope you like it and as always, I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions as this experiment evolves.

If you do enjoy the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen. Reviews help it get more attention and hopefully more listeners. Thank you for your continued support of my content. It means a lot and I hope this can be a big part of it going forward.

Posted in Coverage, Culture, Government Policy, Humanity, Internet, News, Personal, Podcast, Politics, Predictions, Technology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some thoughts on the recent "Mixer exodus" (Spoiler: Don't panic)

Their motto is “Streaming is better this way.” So, why are seemingly so many people leaving?

Mixer is where I’ve been doing my live streaming for well over a year now. After finding no success on Twitch and also having no luck restreaming to multiple services, I was convinced to move exclusively to the burgeoning and at the time, newly Microsoft owned platform. I liked it’s FTL technology that allowed near real-time chat interaction and I really loved it’s sense of community, which led me to groups like theSHED team, where I’ve met some of the most supportive streamers anywhere, many of whom are now good friends. I’m newly over 1,000 followers as I write this and while I certainly haven’t grown as fast as some, I have grown much faster than others and had been feeling good about things over there.

Lately, things haven’t been as rosy for me and quite a few other streamers on the platform. Despite making my content in the same way that had been relatively successful for me, my average viewer and new follower count has gone down a lot. Many other channels (including several big partnered ones) have seen similar drops and all while Mixer is reporting record user growth overall. To make matters worse for worryers like me, a number of streamers have announced–often very publicly–that they’re leaving Mixer and either going back to Twitch, starting up there fresh, or at the very least, restreaming to both services now. This has caused a lot of drama in the Mixer community and it’s also caused many people to think that an exodus is taking place because of things these people know that we don’t.

I was concerned about this because not only is Mixer my home but if something were to happen to make it no longer viable as such, I would sooner quit streaming than go back to Twitch. I have no desire to start building a new audience from scratch again and frankly, I can’t stand Twitch’s tech, web site design or what is frequently considered “community” over there. So, seeing where I’ve chosen to plant roots having a lot of its once vocal supporters jumping ship–when the exact opposite was happening only a few months ago–made me more than a little worried. However, being someone who likes to gather as much information as possible before drawing and acting on a conclusion, I asked many of those who were leaving if they could expand on why. The only reasoning most of them offered in their public statements was that they “didn’t like the direction Mixer was going.” The vast majority either ignored my requests or outright refused to elaborate, which immediately made me suspicious. However, like all content platforms, Mixer is terrible at communicating with their creators and has said exactly nothing to allay anyone’s fears, causing the common effect of people reaching their own conclusions and using social media to spread them as gospel in a modern version of the game of Telephone. A couple of people did respond with their reasons and I also managed to talk to a few partners who are far more informed than I am about what goes on behind the scenes. While none of them broke their non-disclosure agreements, I am still not going to name them or any of the people leaving that I spoke to, out of respect and a desire to avoid further drama.
Some of the reasons I got made sense, a few of which I actually share. Some of them bordered on Alex Jones levels of conspiracy theory, supposedly coming from people in the know but which were just impossibly ludicrous. I’ve compiled what seem to be the most common and grounded ones:

  • Mixer’s front page has become full of either brand/tournament streams or the same handful of “golden partners” playing either Fortnite and the latest release published by Microsoft Studios. Variety streamers (who already have a hard time growing) are no longer getting promoted and having your channel randomly featured basically no longer happens.
  • The Mixer platform is not evolving fast enough. Tech issues are still too common, new features are very slow to appear and key things like a partner sub button on Xbox are still nowhere in sight.
  • The vast majority of the Mixer audience is kids on Xbox, who pollute chat, just want to play Fortnite with streamers and who often follow and never come back because the Xbox app is bad at showing when streamers you follow go live.
  • Unless you want to play what’s hyper-popular, you’ll grow better on Twitch just because of the sheer size of the audience there compared to Mixer.
  • Viewership appears to be down for many channels, no one knows why and Mixer won’t tell anyone.
  • Partners are being told what games to play by Mixer and if you get partnership (which is the goal of many, myself included), you no longer have freedom over your content and have to do what you’re told or risk your partnership.
  • Streamers aren’t being given enough ways to monetise their content and can’t make reasonable money on Mixer. It takes too long to attain full partnership when they can start making money as a Twitch affiliate much more quickly.

I’m a variety streamer in the truest sense of the word. I play games from all over the spectrum of size, scope and features and rarely am I playing the same title for long stretches of time. I know as well as anyone how hard it is to grow as this type of streamer. I accept that because I’m not going to do this if I can’t play what I want to play and well, I play a lot of stuff. I have no desire to make a career of this so I don’t mind growing more slowly. That said, I do have goals and put a lot of time, money and effort into this so when I see my numbers going down and not up, I want to know why because if it’s due to me or my content, that knowledge will help me change for the better. If it’s the system that’s at issue, I want to know that too so I can either work within its constraints or lobby to have them addressed.

After talking to my sources, my conclusion is that I think jumping ship right now is a panic-driven overreaction and that those of us who play the long game will ultimately benefit from doing so. Mixer has problems–many of them in fact–and I think they could be doing a much better job of keeping us informed but also, I think many people don’t have a good understanding about just how long it can take to make changes on the level they ask for, especially from inside a monolithic company like Microsoft. Since I’ve stated the most common points, let me know respond to each in kind with what I’ve learned:

  • Having looked at the front page a lot lately, one can’t deny there is truth to smaller and variety streamers showing up there a lot less. It’s almost always either e-sports tournaments or a bigger channel playing Fortnite. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my channel featured 3 times but haven’t in months now. Here’s the thing though: Being featured doesn’t actually help you much. I would guess that probably about 200-300 of my current 1,000+ followers came from those times I was featured. You know how many of them are now regular viewers? Maybe 1 or 2 and they probably would have found me anyway. The vast majority hit the follow button, never to return again. Those people might as well not be following me at all. I’m not saying Mixer shouldn’t be featuring more smaller and variety channels but if you’re reliant on being featured to drive your growth, your content is probably not as good as you think it is.
  • Tech issues were a near constant problem for several months but they have improved substantially. We still get them on occasion but comparing where the platform’s tech is now to when I started streaming is night and day (remember when Mixer basically didn’t work on Chrome?) A large-scale live streaming service is monumentally complex technology that those not in the know can’t fully appreciate the scope of. I agree that new features could be coming faster and the lack of things like an Xbox sub button seem baffling on the surface. However, there are very complex backend challenges that make these things complicated to solve. Mixer is still a small team and in the scope of Microsoft or even Xbox (which they report under), they are miniscule. They don’t have the massive staff that Twitch or YouTube have and problems and features have to be prioritised to where they think the most benefit will be achieved. I totally understand why partners consider an Xbox sub button to be critical but Mixer might not feel the same and at the end of the day, it’s their platform, not ours.
  • While huge, the Twitch audience is primarily PC based. One of Mixer’s greatest advantages is that the service is on the home screen of every single Xbox One. That people somehow see this as a bad thing is confounding to me. Yes, a lot of Xbox users are kids and yes, a lot of them are using chat with a controller and can’t contribute much. But a viewer is a viewer and if you can’t follow the rules of my channel, you get banned regardless of what platform you’re on. I can assure you, I’ve given the boot to many a PC user as well. If many people are coming in from Xbox and asking to play Fortnite and then bouncing out when you say no, the couple that stick around are still new viewers and followers you didn’t have before. Getting exposed to a greater audience is not a bad thing and while we all want less chat toxicity, you can’t claim on one hand that you aren’t getting enough viewers but on the other hand, complain that you’re getting too many new viewers that just aren’t the kind you want. Aside from making it easier to get notified when streamers you follow go live, you know the best thing that could happen to Mixer? If it finally got a PS4 app as well.
  • The argument that Mixer is focusing more and more on what’s already hyper popular is one I can actually agree with. That was a big reason why I left Twitch and it does frustrate me to see them endlessly promoting Fortnite, a game that most certainly doesn’t need the help. I can see how if you want to play more obscure stuff (which we as variety streamers often do), that you might do better on Twitch, where there’s just such a massive army watching, some more people are bound to trip over your channel. Personally, that was never my experience but maybe it’s different now. From what my sources told me, this is a problem Mixer is aware of and is one they’re working on. A lot of it has to do with how their algoritm analyses trends, tries to promote based on those and how it was never originally designed to handle games like Fortnite, which rose from nothing to one of the biggest games in the world almost overnight and which has stayed there longer than anyone ever expected. This is another thing that requires changes on the backend that won’t happen overnight but are apparently in the pipeline.
  • My sources have told me that the drop in viewership to many channels when Mixer’s overall audience growth seems to be exploding can largely be attributed to my last point. The platform is driving people towards a select handful of games at the expense of many others and as many new viewers just click on stuff from the front page rather than go digging, people who don’t play Fortnite are not getting seen as much. Again, I agree this is frustrating but it’s apparently being worked on.
  • I can say that the point about partners being told what to play is just straight up false. I know multiple partners who never play the games Mixer is actively promoting and their partnerships are perfectly healthy. You will sometimes be told that if you want certain dash slots as a partner, that you’ll need to play a certain thing in those slots but that’s opt-in and never forced on you. Dash slots are often promotional in nature and like it or not, Mixer is a business that needs to generate revenue. If you don’t want to take part in that, you don’t have to and many partners happily abstain and do just fine. Plus hey, a lot of the games Mixer will ask you to play are ones a lot of these partners actually want to play.
  • If you’re successful enough to obtain partnership with any streaming platform, you should immediately be looking at ways to diversify your income. Relying solely on your cut of subscriptions or ad revenue is a quick path to disappointment. While Mixer gives you a couple of ways to make money if you become a partner, it’s not their job to come up with new ones, that’s on you. You can try to maximise what they give you but if you expect that to provide you a living, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you have any desire to make a business of streaming, you should be better informed of that well before you apply for partnership. The only reason Twitch affiliates exist is because they were getting so overrun with partnership applications, that they had to come up with a lower tier to stem the tide. While becoming an affiliate looks enticing, it’s a terrible deal and is designed to give you enough of a carrot that you stick around, continuing to slog away at a full partnership that 90%+ of channels have no hope of achieving. I applaud Mixer for not going this route and for encouraging people to work hard to attain a full partnership.

Every problem I’ve mentioned above exists on Twitch and is magnified many fold. Sure, they have a larger overall audience but they also have all the same issues and unlike Mixer, have shown no interest in doing anything about them. Everyone is free to make their own choices of where to stream and while I’ve made it clear what I think of Twitch, I don’t fault you for going to where you think you have the biggest chance to grow. Indeed, a couple of those leaving that I’ve spoken to have given a lot of thought to their choice and in a couple of cases, I actually think they might fare better on Twitch and I wish them all the best. Could Mixer be quicker at reacting to these issues and could they be a lot better at if not telling their creators what’s coming, at least reassuring us that they’re aware of the problems and working on them? Absolutely they could and I’m not letting them off the hook for that. It drives me mad but at least for now, the industry has collectively decided that being as tight-lipped as possible with their creators is the smartest strategy. I don’t agree but it’s the way it is.

That said, a lot of the recent exodus seems to be people who saw a couple of well known partners jump ship and bandwagoned on that, figuring that if a partner did it, they must have a good reason based in hidden knowledge we aren’t privy to and it makes sense to follow them. One thing that I’ve learned in the last year is that many partners are no less lacking in self-confidence, impulsive, reckless or dare I say, even entitled than many new streamers who get upset that they don’t have a massive audience within a month of starting out. What did our mothers say about jumping off a cliff just because someone else did? Partners often do know things we don’t and they often can’t talk about it but that very reason is why you should not just blindly follow when one or two say they’re bailing with some vague statement about “direction” as their justification.

One of my sources actually told me that they think the term “partner” is a bad one to use to describe that role because it makes a lot of people feel like they have some sort of ownership over the platform and an entitlement to a voice in the decision making process. That’s not at all what partnership means and while a lot of that is on creators who let their egos run away with their better sense, I do wonder if the weight of that term has something to do with it. Ironically, while “affiliate” is a term used to describe a lower tier of that concept, I think it’s probably what should have been used all along.

Live streaming is an incredibly crowded, brutal space where only a tiny fraction of people will ever find large scale financial success. It should be hard and it should always be something you do as a hobby first. In the very early days of streaming and YouTube, it was a lot easier to get big if you got in quick enough and just worked hard. Those times are long gone. I won’t say I haven’t had plenty of days where I’m demotivated. Recently I played Star Control: Origins for a week, a game that was the #1 seller on Steam at the time and where I had the developer tweeting out every stream I did. Virtually no one showed up and I was super bummed about that, especially when I saw people on Twitch playing it for an audience of hundreds. However, my instinct was not to abandon Mixer and go where I saw a higher number, it was to find out why no one was watching me here and try to figure out how I could fix that.

Every time you jump ship to another platform, you not only are effectively starting over, you’re showing the platform you left that you’ll bail the first time things get hard. How do you think that’s going to look if you decide to come back again and eventually apply for partnership, especially if you left in a huff? Mixer isn’t a perfect place and there’s a lot they could be doing better but there is no utopian service and there are always going to be things you don’t like. In the real world, we have to either work within those constraints or try to change them for the better. Running away because the going gets tough shows weakness, not strength and while a brand or platform is certainly not owed your loyalty, you’re also not owed the same level of consideration as someone who toughed it out through the difficult times and worked to improve things.

There’s a lot of real talk in here but I think it’s something a lot of people need to hear. The bottom line of this long post is that after talking to a lot of people who are more informed and often, much smarter than me, I am still confident that I made the right decision to make Mixer my streaming home and plan to for the foreseeable future. I believe those of us who choose to play the long game and grind through the challenges we currently face will come out the other side benefitting from that and that many of those who ran back to Twitch will come to wish they hadn’t. Indeed, Twitch had many of these same challenges not all that long ago and many who hung on benefitting from that commitment. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe Mixer isn’t going to get any better and if it doesn’t, I’ll have to evaluate how much more I want to put into streaming at that time. Right now though, I’m still fully dedicated to this platform and am going to put in all the effort I was and more and I think if you do too, we’ll all end up the better for it. Every platform has its challenges and as many of us are self-doubters. It’s understandable to be wary, believe me I understand and you should absolutely voice concerns in a productive way when you have them. However, jumping around when the going gets tougher rarely works out for the best in the end and sometimes, a little extra dedication goes a long way.
Keep calm and stream on Mixer friends.

Posted in Live Stream | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

So I found out some interesting brain stuff this week

This friggin’ thing…

I’ve long been of the belief that one should be open about mental health. Aside from wanting to help end the stigma and ignorance around it, I’ve always thought telling others what you’re going through not only lets them know they aren’t alone but can provide insights into their own struggles and maybe, give them a basis to start figuring them out. The human brain is nothing if not insanely complicated and we’re all too often left to try to parse all the weird things it does ourselves.

Three days ago, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD and Major Depressive Disorder. Both of these come in numerous variants so for those curious, the official diagnoses are Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder – Combined Presentation (DSM 5 Code: 314.01, Mild) and Major Depressive Disorder – Recurrant, In Partial Remission (DSM 5 Code: 296.35). In addition, while I did exhibit certain symptoms of ASD or what is also commonly called High-Functioning Autism (formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome, a term now deprecated in the DSM), I did not exhibit enough of them and they did not combine into a significant enough detrimental effect to warrant a formal diagnosis of that. I do have the formal report I was given by the therapist and while I’m not going to post it here as it would in many ways be doxing myself, I’m happy to provide a copy to anyone I know personally who is curious. I am not ashamed or afraid of posting what I am here. Indeed, more people should be able to talk about this without fear. Anyone, whether a friend or an employer who will judge me negatively for this is someone I don’t wish to know.

The layman version of those two things are that I have ADHD but a version of it that doesn’t constiture a major detriment to my ability to function as an adult. It’s clinically considered “mild” but the therapist said the three stage scale they’re supposed to use is a system she doesn’t agree with and I shouldn’t pay it much mind. It doesn’t mean my life isn’t being negatively impacted by it, just that I can get by with it if I had to. I had been formerly diagnosed with depression and anxiety already so that was no big surprise but this more granular diagnosis means that I am prone to major depressive episodes (can confirm) but that they are less frequent than they were before I started treating them with medication (can also confirm.)

So now that all the doctor speak is done, what’s all this then? Back in early 2017, when my ex and I decided to end our relationship, I was getting some remote therapy with a Psychologist through my work’s Employee Assistance Program. We were talking about various things during one session and the therapist said “Out of curiosity, have you ever been tested for ADHD?” I was kind of taken aback because I’d never considered that before. I said no and asked why he thought that and his answer really threw me: “Well, I’m diagnosed ADHD and I can tell from our interactions that you exhibit many signs of it. It might be worth looking into.” After that, a good friend who has two kids diagnosed with it said “I never thought it was my place to say but I could tell within 5 minutes of first meeting you that you had it.”

I’ve always been a very fidgety person. I often talk a lot and hate silence in conversations. I have issues with eye contact and can come across as socially awkward, even when I’m comfortable with someone. I’m also extremely introverted and heavy social situations are draining for me. I will make almost any sacrifice to help those I care about but I also decide very quickly after meeting someone if they’re a person I want to care about and I don’t tend to give second chances easily when I’ve been burned. I’m easily distracted and passive activities like reading and studying I have very hard times with. Most of all though, my brain always runs a mile a minute, trying to process 10 thoughts at once, usually going nowhere fast with 8 to 9 of them. I have major issues with focus and have found that gaming is one of the only activities where I’m able to shut my brain’s multitasking down and just “think normally.” It’s a big part of why gaming is so important to me, even taking into account my love of the medium in general. I have a cousin with ADHD (with a big emphasis on the H part) and much like when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety some years ago, I always assumed “There’s no way I have that, I’m sure it has to be way worse to even come close to being clinical.” Never assume.

For all the good and security our public health care system in Canada provides, mental health is always one aspect where it’s fallen very short. Psychologists and assessments of this nature are not covered at all, something that’s always frustrated me when you look at some of the things that are covered. While many corporate benefit plans can help, my employer offers a miserably low cap for mental health every year. They’re looking at rectifying this in some way but it hasn’t happened yet. To get a professional diagnosis from a well-regarded clinic that specialises in this kind of thing was between $1,800 and $2,500 when I researched it. The clinic I chose (one that’s considered excellent and also happens to be near me) was on the high end of this scale, partially because they also suggested we test for ASD traits as well. I make a decent living but not enough to just have that kind of money lying around. I ended up scrimping and saving for a number of months and even then, was only able to do this so soon because of a major freelance tech job that came about earlier this year. Thankfully, I’ll be able to write some of this off on my taxes but I still won’t see that for a while and this wasn’t chump change. I consider myself very fortunate I was able to make this work and it really bugs me that so many people who could use it, can’t because our system doesn’t take mental health seriously.

A key thing to note is that despite the high cost, I wasn’t going into this expecting to come out with an ADHD diagnosis. While many signs pointed to that being the case, I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to be prepared to accept the result, even if it was that I didn’t have anything and was just someone who overthought things and stressed out too easily. If you’re convinced of what you have from the get go and are just going for validation of that, you’re doing it wrong. You have to go in with the mindset that you’re asking for a diagnosis but you might also just have it confirmed that you don’t have what you thought you did and it’s going to cost the same either way.

Getting diagnosed consisted of a couple of very long interview sessions, 3 to 4 hours each. In many ways, it’s like going to a Psychologist for general therapy for the first time, where they’re mostly getting to know you and your history, except condensed into two long sessions instead of several short ones. The therapist I saw was very kind, understanding, patient and a pleasure to deal with and I instantly felt comfortable relaying my extensive mental health and life history to her (if you’re in Ottawa and want to know the clinic I dealt with, leave a comment with an obfuscated e-mail address or DM me on Twitter.) I was also asked to provide a copy of my high school transcript for her to analyse as obviously, ADHD can have a major impact on education performance. She had a short phone interview with my Mom and we were both asked to fill out some lengthy and detailed questionnaires. I also did some longer electionic ones in my second session.

My life growing up and indeed, throughout much of adulthood was not a simple or easy one. Though it certainly could have been far worse, I had a lot to make her aware of. Since ADHD is a neurological disorder that you’re born with, we went back pretty much as far as I could remember and worked forward from there. She took a phenomenal amount of notes and was writing something down with just about everything I told her. We talked about my home life, childhood and adult friendships, school experiences (both academic and social), romantic relationships, employment history, life goals such as children, and hobbies. A lot of this involved explaining a lot of past unpleasentness but thankfully, I’m at peace with most of it. She didn’t just want to get to know me, she wanted to know how the ways I handled many key aspects of life could have been influenced by ADHD and other things.

She was not a gamer and didn’t understand the hobby much but was very curious to hear about it, my content efforts like YouTube and Mixer and in particular, how those have benefitted my mental health and why I feel gaming has been the only hobby I’ve found that can truly let my brain focus. My content has paid phenomenal dividends in terms of making me feel at ease talking to crowds and interacting with others and she was interested to hear about how that all works. I told her my theory of why gaming works so well for calming my brain, which is the non-passive nature of it and how being in control of what’s happening and having to manage that while also observing it, keeps my brain more occupied than a more passive activity like watching a movie or reading can. I can do those activities but will always uncontrollably have many other thoughts going at the same time, which can not only diminish my enjoyment of it but also impact how much of the experience I mentally retain. With gaming, that’s far less of an issue. She agreed that seems a likely reason but also agreed that there’s probably other things that could have a similar impact that I just hasn’t discovered yet. Indeed, I’d like to find other hobbies I can enjoy as much as gaming and I hope I can at some point.

Once the interviews are done and the questionnaires are filled out, it takes 4-6 weeks for the report to be completed. It seems like a long time but like with most things, I’m very much of the belief that it should be done right, not fast. They don’t just hand you a printout and bid you good luck, they actually sit down with you for another 90 minutes or so and go over the whole thing in detail, including what next steps might be involved. The therapist and I already had a great rapport so she knew I just wanted an accurate diagnosis and wasn’t going to be upset at anything she told me.

I kind of spoiled the big reveal up top but there were some interesting details in the report that helped determine the diagnosis. Firstly, my academic performance was very telling. Overall, I was an exceptionally average student. I squeaked by in the majority of subjects and the ones I did really excel in were those that involved less direct absorption of information and more hands-on tasks, such as Computer Science, Creative Writing and Stage Crew. This really didn’t surprise me as I’ve never been good at studying, something that’s continued to haunt me to this day as I’ve found studying for IT certifications much more difficult than they should be.

We also discussed a lot of my social quirks, like how I ramble to avoid silence in conversations, issues with prolonged eye contact. and strong introverted tendencies. It was those things that led to the decision to also test me for ASD (high-functioning autism) as they’re common with that. The conclusion was that while I don’t have ASD, the ADHD can definitely be contributing to those and treating it could help alleviate them.

She also detailed something that threw me a bit. I’ve often referred to myself as “solutions oriented to a fault.” Since I’ve had to overcome many challenges in life on my own, my first instinct when I see a problem or difficulty is not to seek pity or comfort but to immediately figure out a way to fix it. Indeed, this is one of the reasons I’m so good at my job in IT. However, this instinct also kicks in when I see someone else in distress. I’ve always found it difficult to just let someone be upset or vent about something. I always have to pivot into a discussion about what they’re going to do about it. In my mind, I always go “Well, the faster we can solve the problem, the sooner it’ll stop upsetting you.” This may often be the most pragmatic approach but it’s certainly not always the best, especially as a lot of people just need comfort before looking for solutions. What threw me though, is that she said even though this approach can be interpreted as cold by others, she said I’m also extremely empathic and more attune to the emotional state of others than many people. My solutions oriented approach may be overly practical at times (as oddly contradictory as that sounds) but it’s done out of genuine concern and empathy because I see it as the quickest path to providing relief to someone. It was put to me that it’s not a fault per ce and not something I should stop doing, I just need to be better at understanding when someone just needs comfort and to check my want to always fix things and just give them that because the solutions can always come later. This probably sounds rather elementary to many of you but it was a revelatory thing to hear.

When we started this process, I was asked what my end goal was. That was always to find out what specific afflictions I had that were impacting my life and figuring out what to do about them. Like I said above, the key thing is go to into something like this not to have your exising self-diagnosis confirmed but to be open to whatever is told to you. It turns out that my self-diagnosis was broadly correct but there was a more nuance to it and learning how it affected specific elements of my life was very eye-opening. In particular, I was told that untreated ADHD can often lead into things like depression and anxiety and while those things could also be operating independently for me, dealing with the ADHD could suddenly make those far less prominent as well. That’s something that can only be found out through treatment.

So why did it take until I was almost 40 to finally have this figured out? I worked with several mental health and learning disability specialists when I was in school try to to boost my academic performance and the concept of ADHD was never raised once, something my Mom confirmed. The answer unfortunately is that much like Autism, ADHD has only really become understood and more clinically identifiable in recent years. When I was in school in the early 80s through the late 90s, only the most extreme cases were considered for diagnosis because that’s just how the disorder was treated back then. Even now, my case is not considered severe. I can be frustrated about that in retrospect and sometimes am but it doesn’t really matter.

On the flipside, there was also a period until recently, where any child that was fidgety, had any kind of difficulty concentrating or in many cases, was just being a freakin’ kid, was considered to have ADHD. The common medications for it were wildly overprescribed and the disorder was being used as a catch-all for any overprotective parent who thought their less than perfect little angel was that way not because they’re simply human, but because they had to be sick. It’s not unlike the current but diminishing trend of everyone assuming they have gluten intolerance, only much worse. These two extremes both happened in my lifetime and are why I really wanted to know for sure what I had and to have a professional be the one to tell me. I hate how overmedicated our society has become and am determined not to take anything that I don’t have someone who knows better, tell me is necessary.

That said, what is my treatment anyway? Well, at least to start, it’s you guessed it, medication. I already take an anti-depressant (plus I have a stronger on-demand one for when it’s needed) and have for a couple of years now. It has evened out that element of things somewhat but it’s not perfect and I still have depressive relapses (I’ve been dealing with one for about a month or so now.) It also does nothing to help with the focus issues or social ticks. The therapist was a Psychologist, not a Psychiatrist, so she didn’t have the ability to prescribe me anything. This involves me having to talk to my family doctor, which is a fun time in and of itself but that’s another story. I’ll likely end up being prescribed one of the two major medications for ADHD. I’m not going to name them here but trust me, you’ve heard of them.

Here’s the really interesting part though. I had always assumed that since these medications alter brain chemistry, they worked the same way anti-depressants do. If you don’t know, an anti-depressant is a process. You have to build it up in your brain when you start taking it and for a period of time, your symptoms will feel significantly worse. A similar things happens when you need to change your dose or get off of it. If you don’t wean yourself down, things can go very bad because depression is nothing if not a treacherous beast. It turns out, ADHD medication enters and exits your system so fast, you can take it on demand, much like an off-the-shelf painkiller. Some people take it daily, others do that but stop on weekends and holidays, others only take it when they need to. You’re able to experiment and find a method that works for you, all without worrying about sudden side effects. This blew my mind and actually makes me kind of excited to try it and see what happens. I had no idea this kind of thing could be so flexible.

The therapist also advised continued therapy if I could manage it. She said she enjoyed working with me and would be up for continuing to. I certainly would be as well and it’s honestly something I’ve thought I needed for a while but sadly, the diagnosis ate all of my measly benefits for the year. I’m hoping that once a raise kicks in at work, I’ll be able to budget a least a session a month with her and hopefully more if our benefits improve. Others have suggested things like daily meditation as well. I’ve always wanted to get into that but having a brain that won’t shut up made it never stick with me. If medication can help me focus, I can easily see it becoming part of my routine. Exercise was also recommended, a no brainer I also really need to start doing as after several years of achieving decent weight loss, I put almost all of it back on in 2017 because of stress and my tendency to emotionally eat.

So after this lengthy story, what’s the the end result of all this time and expense? Though it may sound clichĂ©, it’s a sense of hope, one I’ve not had in a long time. Will treating my ADHD fix my depression or even lessen it? Will it finally allow me to focus to the degree I need to make up the knowledge deficits that have been holding my career back? Will it allow me to finally enjoy hobbies and activities not gaming related the way others do? Will it just shut my damn brain up and let it do 1 thing at a time well instead of 10 things half-assed? I honestly can’t tell you right now. However, getting this diagnosis and knowing there’s a path to treating it has for the first time in my life, made me think that yes, I can take control of what I know has been holding me back and yes, I can overcome obstables that I thought were just going to be there forever. This isn’t a one-stop fix and I’m always going to have struggles and difficulties that many people won’t experience. However, I’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges in my life to get where I am now and though my brain often tries to tell me otherwise, where I am now is pretty damn good. I can only imagine where things could end up once I’m in even more direct control of my mind and by extension, my future. Was that worth $2,500 that it took months to save up? No, it was worth far more than that.

I know this post has mostly just been a lengthy retelling of my diagnosis and I don’t know if it’ll really help anyone or not. However, if you’re someone who has struggled with this stuff, I hope it makes you remember that you’re not alone in your quest and that it inspires you to seek help and guidance if you’re able. I know depending where you are, getting this done isn’t a cheap endeavour. Don’t forget though, you may have benefits better than mine and it may not be as expensive as you think. Even if it is, if you have the means to make it a goal, I can’t recommend it enough. And of course, anyone who needs to can always reach out to me for help or advice and I’ll offer whatever I can from what I’ve learned. Just remember, I’m solutions oriented to a fault.

Our brains are amazing but they can also be real jerks sometimes. When they’re sick, they’ll lie to you, get in your way and make you feel like you can’t do what you know you can. With the right tools, you can fight back, smack it in line and when you can then realise your full potential, it gets a lot easier to keep it that way.
Thank you for reading and good luck and good fortune. You deserve it.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments