As it rapidly1 transitions from summer to fall, I’m reminded of just how busy a summer I had 😅
- The Zeal Archives wrapped up its second season—almost 3x more work than the first
- The Race Against Time ran for its 6th iteration nearly exceeding every metric set for it
- …and Fanthropological continued into it’s 5th year, now at more than 150 episodes of fandom goodness
Let’s focus on one example, the Race Against Time4 ⏱
The Race Against Time is a livestreamed video game marathon to
- Raise money for charity; and
- Beat Chrono Trigger and all of its endings in under 24 hours
The inception of the event and that we continued to run the event after the first year are, by all accounts, a sort of happy accident because, by almost every measure, we sucked!
Flashback to 2015. A friend of ours had gotten really into streaming and in particular using the power of twitch.tv for good. He had been streaming regularly and had successfully done a number of different 24-hour charity streams with admittedly some questionable donation incentives 🤔
Regardless, he asked us to join him for one of these streams and, the good friend that he is, offered to let us pick the game and the charity. With not a ton of forethought, or any experience with streaming, we decided on the Alzheimer Society of Canada for the charity—my grandfather had passed some years earlier due to complications of Alzheimer’s—and Chrono Trigger for the game—a game very familiar from our collective youth.
And as you might expect with no experience streaming, no practice, no particular following of our own—and no experience staying up for 24 hours straight—it went… not entirely according to plan 😰
We did have a lot of fun, and raised some money, but it was also a bit of a disappointment…
- Most of the money we’d raised came from our friend, the host (🤣)
- We only managed to get the bad ending of the game (out of 13 endings)
- We got stuck for a long time in one particular spot
- There weren’t a lot of folks watching (especially in late-night parts)
- …We were all super tired, even though we did some shifts to avoid staying up for 24 hours straight 😩
But, even though it didn’t go great, we did a couple unrelated streams with him and decided to try it again5 a year later.
And the year after that we tried again. And again the year after. And so on.
Each year trying new things, failing, learning, and growing 🌱
Let’s dig into the actual learning and growing bits with all the data I have to date6
|Year||Endings||Average Viewers||Followers||Funds Raised (CAD)|
Across the board, there is growth going on here; It’s not all consistent, but it is happening!
This was probably the easiest area for improvement because it’s something that we can control: while there is a small amount of randomness involved it is mostly a fixed sequence of events and decisions.
In 2016, the obvious improvement was to just play the game beforehand to remember what to do. Shocking 🙃
In 2017, we’d realized that the various endings in the game happen depending on when you face the final boss7, and if you save before facing the final boss, you can load the save file after completing an ending and continue the story to the next ending.
Put differently, our sequence of events before this realization looked like this (with rough times):
Game Start > Ending 1 > Game Start > Ending 2 > Game Start > Ending 3 ...
And after, looked like this:
Game Start > Ending 1 > Ending 2 > Ending 3 ...
… Being able to pick up from the previous ending instead of the beginning of the game was an absolute win.
In 2019, Nick G and I started the Zeal Archives, an audio drama / discussion podcast about the world of Chrono Trigger. As we did research for the podcast, we also learned more about the intricacies of the game. This knowledge of small ways to speed up the game—like how to run away from most fights instantly—along with remembering boss weaknesses, plot details, and combining with our previous iterations meant it was the first year we managed to get all endings! 🥳
I can’t speak for the rest of the crew, but speaking for myself I’m a bit of a coward. I want to be vulnerable around new folks and make friends, but I tend to close off and avoid meeting new people.
That’s not a great place to start in person or online, especially when trying to grow an event. You need to feel comfortable talking about the event in-person, and online, and work with other folks to promote it. You’ve got to build a community.
Heck, it wasn’t until the 3rd event when someone reached out to us that I really felt comfortable starting to build a community!
And while I’m definitely not an expert at social media, community building, or marketing, I’d like to think I learned something about building an audience considering that the fourth year of our event—and the first time as our own twitch channel—we had an average of 15 concurrent viewers.
For context, a lot has been said of how many streams have 0 viewers. I tried to find percentile or ranking data but the best I managed to find was TwitchTracker which ranked us in the top 100k of Twitch streamers (top 1.5% percentile)8.
How we got there was probably a lot of luck, and definitely an application of small, consistent efforts:
- Talking about the event on our podcast, on discussion panels at conventions, and in small communities like on discord
- Reaching out to potential guests to join us during the event (in-person or remotely)
- Streaming (mostly) weekly, and participating in other folks streams
- Buying prizes for the event, and crediting the creator whenever we share prize details
- Reaching out to folks for prizes or other assistance, even though they had no obligation to help
- Having some amazing cheerleaders and help via friends like SMZeldaRules and Epic Film Guys
All of those things helped to build our own community, which was especially useful since we effectively built a Twitch following from scratch 😬
Where gameplay is dependent on personal performance, fundraising is a result of a lot of external factors: audience size, generosity, incentives, and motivation… to name a few.
Or a different example: timing! ⏱💨
The first three years we ran the event, it was 24 hours in a row. Even though most of our audience was in North America—and even moreso in our same timezone—we ran the event into the wee hours of the night. Sure there are night owls, but late streams means a smaller audience, and a smaller audience means less donations.
On top of that, there’s the small logistical problem of sleep. However you do it, some folks need to rest and recover, and even folks who are on stream aren’t at their best after being up for so long 😪
Addressing the audience size and sleep problem was easy: run the event for the same length of time (24 hours) but break it up (2x noon to midnight).
…But without a lot of promotion or fundraising experience, the convincing people to donate part was the harder of the two problems to solve. We tried:9
- Donation incentives, like karaoke requests or, uh… masochism??
- Auctions for big ticket items, like a Super Famicom with Chrono Trigger
- Guests, like the guy who little wrote
thea book about Chrono Trigger
- Activities on stream, like a short Pathfinder game with Chrono Trigger characters
- Giveaways, like Chrono Trigger merchandise or uh… well…
…Early attempts at prize selection were very experimental due to our prize budget ($0) and discomfort reaching out to potential prize donors. One year we managed to get the assistance of Christian Potenza and some other voice actors who all generously donated memorabilia related to the shows they worked on… which unfortunately didn’t have a lot to do with Chrono Trigger 😰
Honestly, we made a lot of little changes to try to encourage more donations, and I don’t think it was any one factor. I think growing our audience, changing the timing, and offering more relevant giveaway prizes probably helped a lot.
So there’s been growth, and we have a better understand of how, but what does that mean as far as future improvements.
In the broadest sense, all I can say is to focus on the things that worked and don’t worry about what didn’t.
For example, things that worked and helped us to grow:
- Making small improvements and iterating
- Trying lots of different things and running experiments
- Failing a lot, and in different ways (but never the same way more than once)
There were also a lot of things that I enjoyed, and took up a fair amount of time, but probably didn’t matter too much as far as our success goes:
- Equipment: Each year we stepped up our game as far as the tools to run the stream starting with tools almost exclusively on the computer (emulator, Yeti microphone, a headphone splitter and a ton of tangled headphones) to tools outside the computer (USB mixer, multiple cameras, fancy XLR microphones). Lots of people stream with worse and have no problems growing an audience or fundraising
- Fancy Overlay: I really like programming so it’s no surprise that I couldn’t just use a basic image for an overlay, and instead had to make widgets for the current on-stream party, giveaways, and so on. Again, lots of people have really simple overlays (many have just the facecam and some alerts) without any growth issues
I also didn’t get the chance to mention our choice of charity. I don’t think the choice of charity particularly helped or hindered our growth of the stream, but what it does do is make it easier to talk sincerely about the stream.
Up until 2020, we chose the Alzheimer Society of Canada, and while it’s a worthy cause (as many are), it just didn’t resonate in the same way as when we started. Given all the things going on in the world, it was important to all of us that we pick a charity that really feels like it is doing good in the world right now. That’s why this year we picked Trans Lifeline—a crisis line run for trans folks, by trans folks. 🏳🌈
Changing the charity allowed us to be more in tune with our values and help us to feel like we’re making a difference, regardless of our performance. Put differently, the choice of charity gave us more intrinsic motivation! 😄💖
Wow, I had a lot to say about the Race Against Time!
All of that is to say that the future of the event is looking bright, and that all sort of projects can give an opportunity for growth… even if it’s over a long span of time!
I still have more to say about some of my other summer learnings but that is definitely a post for another time. 🤔💭
- Locally there’s been a drastic shift from hot to cold in a very short span of time.↩
- Something I don’t do often enough 🥺↩
- One could also make the point that folks need not be defined by their productivity and can just be… but I kind of also want to toot my own horn.↩
- I have plans to talk more about the Zeal Archives in a follow up blog post which will be more podcast-centric.↩
- I’d like to think that it was at least partly out of spite, which is a powerful motivator that should not be underestimated.↩
- The first three years we ran the event under our friend’s channel before creating our own. While I believe I have data from those early years, it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.↩
- Technically, you can beat the game at almost any point, but on your first playthrough, you probably lack the necessary equipment and strength to beat the final boss. Completing the story once reveals a ‘New Game+’ mode where you can carry over your character’s levels and equipment, and—once you’ve passed a certain point in the story—face the final boss at any time.↩
- …When I wrote this article. At least once since this article was published, the ranking / percentile just didn’t display, probably because of the account’s temporary inactivity.↩
- Honestly, I take a lot of inspiration from the amazing Desert Bus for Hope (for the children!)↩