Getting Famous By Streaming Games: Is It Luck vs. Skill?

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Becoming a professional streamer is a dream come true for many gamers. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to play games all day? With the money comes recognition, fan adoration and, in all fairness, a great deal of negative attention. How realistic is it to reach this level? If you are a hard worker, good at games, and have a decent personality, what are the odds that you will “get it right”?

The reality is that becoming a professional streamer not only takes a huge amount of skill, but also a lot of luck. Not to crush your dreams, but before you spend a ton of time and money, you need to know the reality of the situation. Whether it’s becoming a streamer, a TikTok star, or even a musician, there has been a lot of research on the balance between luck and skill.

An expert in this area is Duncan Watts, professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a social scientist in computer science, which means he studies human behavior in systems and analyzes large-scale data. He has conducted many experiments to see what makes things popular, and one of his most famous studies in 2006 looked at what makes songs popular. Watts and his team used over 14,000 participants to see if there was a way to predict which song would be a hit.

To conduct the experiment, they created a program that hosted a playlist of a variety of songs and allowed users to rate them. You would expect that if there was an objective way to determine which song would be a hit, you would see that most of the contestants gave the same song the highest rating, but it wasn’t. More often than not, the results were completely random. But after that first set of experiments, they tested a few other variables, and there was one in which they found they could accurately predict which songs would perform the best.

In a variation of the study, they added additional information besides the group and the song title, namely the number of downloads. This number of downloads was created by the researchers, and they found that the songs with the most downloads would consistently be the highest rated by participants. If they took a song at the bottom of the charts and gave it more downloads, people would rate it higher and it would stay at the top of the charts.

Why did this happen? We are a social species and we often look to others to see what is “good”, which is why these results have been so easily manipulated.

Now, it’s important to note that there is a basic standard required, and popularity doesn’t depend entirely on existing success – if it did, no one would ever get there. On average, there are 7.4 million people streaming each month, so you need to stand out first and foremost, whether it’s being amazing at the game you play or having a charismatic personality, you separating from the pack is important. And never neglect marketing and all the little things you can do to increase your numbers.

But the data shows that luck plays a big role in how things move at the top.

In order to better understand what’s going on and why it’s so hard to break into the streaming world, you need to know The Matthew Effect. This social phenomenon takes its name from a Bible verse, Matthew 25:29, which states: “To every one who has shall be given, and he shall have plenty; but he who has not will be taken, even what he has. Basically it means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the realm of success, that means bigger streamers get bigger.

Sociologists theorize that the Matthew effect occurs for the same reasons Watts found in his musical study. We look to others to see what is good, and we follow their example. So when a streamer has hundreds or thousands of people watching them, if someone doesn’t know who to watch, they’ll assume that person must be awesome because they have such a big following. Then the next person comes in and thinks the same thing, and so on.

Now you might be thinking that there is no chance that you will ever become a successful streamer, but don’t give up just yet. While it is impossible to control your luck, you can definitely improve your odds. In his book, The luck factor, psychologist Richard Wiseman provides research that explains what makes people lucky.

In one study, researchers gave participants an impossible puzzle, but beforehand, they asked people to take a questionnaire. What they found was that the people who said they saw themselves as lucky worked on the impossible riddle longer than those who saw themselves as unlucky. Other research he discusses shows that “lucky” people are always looking for opportunities they can capitalize on.

If you are trying to become a successful streamer, remember to be realistic, because there isn’t much you can do to control your destiny. Considering the balance between luck and skill, you can perform a simple risk analysis to see how much time and money you can devote to it without suffering serious consequences. For many, it would be a bad idea to spend thousands of dollars on high-end streaming gear, and it’s much safer to start with an affordable webcam and free software.

Even though it is difficult to become a full-time streamer, it is entirely possible. Keep an eye out for opportunities and stay consistent. As we learned from studying impossible puzzles, if you don’t give up before the competition, you will increase your chances of getting that lucky break.


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