Fishing for pre-feedback, and how it hurts your product

Today I’d like to start a series of posts where I examine some of my pet peeves when it comes to content creation. These posts will attempt to deconstruct bad habits and common mistakes I see made, as well as provide decent reasoning for thinking them a problem.

As a disclaimer:

This article is not based off of anyone specific, nor is it meant to be passive-aggressive. This is more to help explain my methodology when it comes to making content, and pass on some of the stuff I’ve had to learn the hard way.

I’ve been guilty of every point I’m about to write about in the past; all I can say is that I’ve come to view them as mistakes.


Part 1: Stop fishing for pre-feedback

Fishing for pre-feedback occurs when you make a post about something you’d like to do in the future with the intention of seeing if “anyone would read/watch it.”

Here’s the thing: asking that question hobbles you in a number of way that outweighs the focus group testing that you think you’re doing.

For starters, it makes you look like you aren’t confident in your own product. No matter what your level of success it, your direction should be your own. You should know whether something is going to be received well or not – if it’s something that won’t be, but you want to do it anyway, response should not dictate whether you take the plunge.

Putting what you do in the hands of random people on Twitter means you are sacrificing your identity to those who can be fickle, misguided or selfish. In short, you need to be doing this for you as much as you’re doing this for them, because the passion you bring to your project bleeds into it. Something created with interest and drive will turn out better than content that isn’t.

It also causes a problem where it creates expectation in the finished product. As many of us know, starting something new is a process of compromise: we have a vision in our heads, but sometimes you need to be able to change things as needed.

For example, if I asked my Twitter following if anyone would like the concept for BetterDota, there’s a good chance that some people would respond positively. However, if I over-promised and wasn’t able to deliver, people would remember.

Originally, BetterDota was going to be a lot more ambitious, and only telling a select few people of my idea allowed me to gauge interest and tweak it when I realized that five videos a week would be a little too much work.

Sometimes, privacy is project planning is liberating, because if you’re going to mess up or drastically alter an idea, doing it without people noticing allows you to lose fear associated with trying new things. It allows you to eventually launch your product with confidence, knowing it’s something that you can handle because you’ve set the terms and experimented.

In short: do something because you want to do it, not because other people are hyped for it. When you eventually do make your idea public, having something tangible to present rather than just an idea creates a much better first impression. I can tell you from experience: having someone ask what happened to a project you hyped up and then abandoned sucks.

Lastly, and perhaps most dangerously, when you fish for pre-feedback you run the risk of satisfying your ego to the point where the work never gets started.

Many writing teachers I’ve had fight over the idea of whether telling an audience about an idea is a good thing or a bad thing: on one hand, you become committed/responsible once that idea is in public, but on the other, your ego can get stroked enough to kill the drive to actually follow through. It’s important to remember that your audience always remembers being lied to: they will likely only stand this a couple times before calling you out on it.

You also owe it to yourself to knuckle down, create, and then release. You owe it to yourself to be consistent, improve yourself, and earn that praise. It builds resilience, habit, and an organic audience.

While your self-worth should never be determined by the amount of views or follows you get, your brand and progress are built with shipped products, not ideas. Ideas count for nothing if they don’t get made.

Part of building a brand and respect as a creator is doing the leg work, having a vision, putting something out there to getting torn apart, and then doing — like DJ Khaled says so eloquently — another one.

Working in eSports is a grind, and as gamers, we know that experience well. There is a lot of work that will never be seen by a larger audience, and you will rarely get a pat on the back for the time spent learning, experimenting and failing.

However, I can assure you that failing fast and failing often allows you to truly get a feel for your identity and what sets you apart from other content creators. It keeps you from becoming a copy of someone whose success you envy, but will never achieve yourself. It keeps you from becoming a meme machine Facebook Page that rips peoples’ stuff off for hits.

It builds a pride and confidence that allows you to stop caring about what other people think, which is more than a high school platitude: it is probably the single most important quality to have in terms of maintaining motivation, drive and mental health.

The grind makes you stronger. Seeing an idea you had take off is one of the best feelings in the world.

However, half-assing it (or let’s be real, not trying at all) means you’re admitting that you don’t deserve that success in the first place.

Get out there, put your head down, and work.


Matt Demers has written about eSports since 2012. You’ll be able to find another instalment in this series soon — and yes, it will get made. Follow him on Twitter.

Writers, here’s why you should learn Markdown

As a writer, I’ve become painfully aware that we don’t get many “toys.” Artists have stores devoted to different tools of their trade, while we have… keyboards — maybe some fancy notebooks.

Over the past couple years I’ve come to appreciate Markdown as something that makes my writing more efficient and better for the web. Markdown is a language that parses formatting a lot easier, and makes it simpler to type in code.

Why is this important, you might ask?

Let’s put it this way: the less time you have to worry about how a post is going to look on a site when you’re done with it, the more time you have to work on actually relevant things. Markdown lets you write in plain text to avoid all the stupidity that comes from copy/pasting from a Word or Google Docs document, and lets you control exactly what shows up while being easier to type than HTML.

The other thing about Markdown is that if you use Reddit, you’ve already used it: apart from some syntax that Reddit doesn’t like (namely, inline images), Markdown is the main tool for post formatting.

I simply like it because it minimizes the amount of keystrokes you need to do something, and because it allows me to make posts with confidence, instead of needing to worry about what will copy over.

If you want to make text bold in Markdown, you would surround that texts with two asterisks on either side. In HTML, you would need to type out <strong> tags on each side, and remember to close. Four keystrokes for Markdown (all the same key) versus 17 for HTML.

**Bold text**
vs
<strong>Bold text</strong>

Simple, right?

This gets even better when you either work with a CMS (like Anchor, which this blog uses) that supports Markdown; since the syntax is easy to remember, you can craft a whole post in Notepad and then just copy-paste it over. On CMS’ like WordPress, there are tools (like Showdown & Highlight) that will quickly convert your Markdown to crisp, clean HTML, so you can post it to the source.

The above paragraph, in Markdown.

Limitations

Like any other system, there are going to be some drawbacks with Markdown. The main things for me are images and HTML options.

Images, since they aren’t being integrated into your CMS, need to be added in WordPress, or hosted somewhere beforehand. Since Anchor’s image system doesn’t work very well, I host all the images for this blog on Imgur and reference them with Markdown. However, because of the next problem, I need to make sure they’re the exact dimensions to show up properly on the blog.

HTML options like <a href="http://google.com/" target="blank"></a> or <img src="http://i.imgur.com/008NFf8.gif" width="100%"></img> aren’t possible in Markdown, so you need to go in and manually do them. It’s nice, because any HTML you add to a Markdown document will be translated as normal, but if you’re counting on your CMS to do this stuff for you, you may have to do some memorization.

These shortcomings don’t really keep me from writing every post I do in Markdown, because there’s just a good feeling in knowing that what you write down is what’s going to show up. If you press Enter twice to get to a new paragraph, you will know that it will be surrounded by the proper <p> tags, instead of two <br />‘s.

While that last bit sounds ultra nitpicky, it’s something that tends to matter when you want your blog or site to look consistent and work across multiple platforms.

I’m a big fan of Tinyletter for newsletters, and one of the things a friend brought up to me was that the editor was absolutely terrible for inputting text. Every “Enter” press would be a line break, not a new paragraph, and it could break depending on the platform viewed. With Markdown, I never have to worry about how bad a CMS’ editor is, as long as I can paste HTML somewhere.

This kind of freedom helps so much when it comes to knowing I can write anywhere, and have what I format carry over with no questions asked.

If you’re a writer or blogger, I really urge you to learn Markdown. It will speed up your writing, and give you a degree of control that you probably never knew you valued until it’s taken away. Go nuts.

Word editors that support Markdown:

MarkdownPad is a free Windows program that I use and love. The paid version will even upload images to Imgur for you and fetch the link to use automatically.

Byword for OSX ($5.99) does many of the same things as MarkdownPad, but allows for greater syncing with Dropbox.

Markdown support can be added to Sublime Text for people who use that in their day-to-day.

Showdown & Highlight is a simple Javascript port of Markdown, and is amazing for beginners because the right pane can show you a cheat sheet, a preview of what your text looks like, or the HTML code for easy copy/pasting. Great for converting Markdown to HTML for your blog, if nothing else; doesn’t allow saving, though.

Dillinger.io takes elements of Showdown & Highlight and allows you to save/sync with Dropbox, which might be useful for people on the go. A bit more difficult to get the HTML conversion of a post, though, so I don’t really like it.


If you liked this guide, consider following me on Twitch, YouTube and Twitter. Cheers!

Tutorial: Free telestrator for Open Broadcaster Software

One system I’ve definitely wanted to use in analysis is the telestrator, or video marker. For those not familiar with the term, it’s what sportscasters will use to take a free-frame of an instant replay and draw own it. We’ve seen it used by Riot Games and other eSports companies as part of a smart TV, but that can be expensive: I wanted to try to find something free and usable in a home/casual environment.

The big problem is usually making sure what you draw is visible to streaming/recording; usually, these type of programs will project a drawable layer on top of whatever you’re annotating, and sometimes, depending on the capture, this can be hidden.

I’ve found ZoomIt, a freeware program, that works with Open Broadcaster Software as long as certain conditions are met. Here’s how I got it working for my Dota analysis on Windows 7:

Step 1: Download ZoomIt

ZoomIt is a freeware program created by Mark Russinovich. You can download it here on its home site, or on the mirror I made on Mega.nz.

After installing it, you should see a window like this.

What you’re looking for is under the Draw tab. I have the hotkey set to Ctrl + 3.

From here, any time you hit Ctrl + 3, the game or window will freeze, and your cursor will turn into a drawing cursor. You can change the colour of the marker by pressing the “O”, “Y”, “R”, “B”, “G” or “P” keys on your keyboard to change to orange, yellow, red, blue, green or pink, respectively.

You can then draw on whatever you want to show off. You can hold down shift while drawing to draw a straight line, and hit ESC to erase what you’ve drawn. Hold down CTRL and scroll up or down on your mousewheel to increase or decrease the width of the brush. Press T and type in order to get text.

ZoomIt essentially lives in your taskbar minimized, like similar screenshotting programs like Puush. I usually close it when it’s not needed, as the hotkeys tend to conflict with others.

Step 2: Set up Open Broadcaster Software

OBS is a software that lets you capture multiple elements and arrange them for streaming or recording. I’m assuming that you know how to use it already, as there are multiple other tutorials for setting it up.

However, the important thing here is that whatever game you are running will need to run and be captured in windowed mode. This includes in OBS, where you will add a source for “Window Capture”, not “Game Capture.” The good thing about this is that if it’s scaled properly, most people won’t know the difference, as it usually captures the Inner Window by default.

This is because when the game is in Fullscreen or Windowed Borderless mode, the game gives priority to the cursor as it behaves inside the game. However, when in Windowed mode, it allows for a greater degree of control by outside forces like ZoomIt; when you trigger your Draw command, the game will freeze and continue in the background. When you hit ESC after drawing, the game will go back to “live.”

This process is likely not to work for console games streamed via capture cards, as those are piped in as separate sources to your PC, not as a window that’s influenced by the Windows OS. This system would likely work on emulators, but for console play you would likely need to have recorded videos.

2017 Update: This method doesn’t seem to work on certain games when it comes to Window Capture; it WILL work on Display Capture, which means you can use it for YouTube/VLC.  Might just be a Windows 10 thing, so it’s kind of up to you to see if it works for you.

Step 3: Workflow for Replay Analysis

In games with replay systems like Dota 2 or Starcraft, or with videos like YouTube or VLC, the standard workflow is to pause the game where you want to annotate. Then you would draw, explain your analysis, clear the drawings with ESC, then unpause the replay/video and continue on.

Note: I generally recommend using VLC as a video player for VOD analysis without a replay system, as you can hit the “E” key on your keyboard to advance the video by one frame to the future. This is an improvement over loading videos up on YouTube, as they tend to lack the fine frame-by-frame control that is often necessary.

By streaming this sequence with OBS, you will be able to provide analysis of moments to your audience in either a live setting or recording for local editing.

Hopefully, this will allow for a more easy jumping-on point for those of us who want to analyze both pro and personal play. By using free tools like OBS and ZoomIt, the barrier to creating broadcasts with value to the viewer should be smaller.


 

If you liked this guide, consider following me on Twitch, YouTube and Twitter. Cheers!