Tiny Teee & the rise of Twitch for creators

Tiny Teee

Tiny Teee is a keycaps maker who videos her art process on Twitch, the live streaming service that evolved out of Justin.tv and is predominantly used by gamers.

Tiny is in her twenties and lives in the Bay Area. She earns her living making keycaps – custom designed key covers for mechanical keyboards, which are high quality keyboards with switches under the keys. Mechanical keyboards are popular with gamers, in part because you can hit the keys faster and they’re more durable.

Tiny’s keycaps

If you’re like me before this interview, you aren’t overly familiar with Twitch. I discovered it has a young demographic, roughly 80% male, and most of the live streams are of video games and eSports. But Twitch is also increasingly being used by creatives, like Tiny.

Oh, and Twitch is owned by Amazon.

A quick recap of Twitch’s history. It started in mid-2011 as a spinoff from the popular Web 2.0 live streaming app, Justin.tv. But Twitch soon eclipsed its parent, having a reported 45 million unique viewers by October 2013. That piqued the interest of big tech companies, leading to Amazon acquiring Twitch in August 2014 for a cool US$970 million. The Justin.tv brand was dropped that same month.

Twitch currently has 1.282 million average concurrent viewers, who watch 4.5 million monthly streamers. If anything, it’s growing even more rapidly now, as these charts from twitchtracker.com show:

Source: TwitchTracker

As for Tiny Teee, she uses Twitch to show off her keycap creations. In this interview we discuss more about her work and why she uses Twitch, instead of more mainstream video platforms like YouTube or Facebook.

CI: Firstly, how did you get into making keycaps for mechanical keyboards? Do you have a background in art?

Tiny: I first got into mechanical keyboards as a hobby and then began collecting keycaps a little while after. It’s actually only a small percentage of the bigger mechanical keyboard hobby, but I really admired and appreciated the art form. 

I felt inspired to start making my own after seeing other artisans’ journeys into keycap making. Most of the artisans back then used resin for their caps, but I started out making customized clay caps (clay sculpted on a keycap base).

I don’t have a background in art, but I did really enjoy the art classes I took in grade school – especially ceramics, go figure!

CI: You’re active on Twitter and Instagram, but Twitch seems to be your primary communication channel with your fans. When did you first start using Twitch, and what attracted you to that platform?

Tiny: I started using Twitch a couple of months after I started making keycaps [a few years ago]. I was actually quite inconsistent with my keycap making. I would make a bunch in one sitting, then not do anything for weeks.

I had recently started watching AnneMunition, and was really impressed and intrigued by the concept of curating an online community through Twitch. And then I discovered the Twitch Creative category (no longer a single category; it’s now different categories like Art, Makers and Crafting, and Music). It had artists and creatives doing anything and everything, from glass blowing to wood working to traditional art.

So I decided to start streaming my sculpting process, as a way to keep myself consistent with my art.

Tiny on a recent live stream.

CI: Twitch is a service I’m not overly familiar with, despite being a webhead from way back (although I was familiar with Justin.tv). I know Twitch is popular with gamers, but also I’ve seen media about how it’s trying to get more creators involved. Can you tell us a bit more about why Twitch is a better option for you – as a creator – than, say, YouTube or Facebook video?

Tiny: To be honest, I haven’t tried out YouTube or Facebook video, so I can’t say from personal experience whether or not those are better or worse for my kind of content. 

I personally believe Twitch is the biggest platform for live streaming at the moment and has a lot of potential. It also caters to gamers, although is now expanding into more than just video games.

Since gamers often have mechanical keyboards, or are more likely to purchase one, I feel like that gives me a more specific and targeted audience.

CI: You have 9,365 followers on Twitch; how long did it take to reach that level and was there a tipping point or two along the way (for example when something you created, or one of your videos, went viral)?

Tiny: Mmm, this has taken over 2 years of streaming. It’s been more of a gradual and slow increase, with occasional spikes – from streams where I’ve been hosted on the front page, or have done larger events. 

The ebb and flow of follows is largely based on Twitch, because there have been changes that have decreased visibility across all of Creative [the categories].

Twitch streamers have a lot of fun with their viewers.

CI: And how many people on average watch your streams live?

Tiny: Maybe 40ish on average? Stream viewership is a bit hard to average. I took a month long break in December and have recently had a change in schedule, when I moved half of my streams to a different time. 

CI: You’re also listed as a “Twitch partner” – how did that happen and what does it mean, other than I assume Twitch giving you promotional assistance?

Tiny: Being a Twitch Partner means I can monetize my channel. People can subscribe to me, I can play ads (I don’t think I’ve ever done this voluntarily though), and receive ‘bits’ (which is a built-in Twitch tipping system). 

I get a couple more perks too; like being invited to the Twitch Partner party at TwitchCon.

CI: I see you have ads running in your Twitch stream, and elsewhere you say you’re sponsored by @kono.store & @novel.keys. Roughly how much revenue does that bring in for you annually, and how does it compare to the income you make from selling keycaps?

Tiny: I would say I earn around 20% of my income from Twitch and 80% from sponsorships and keycap sales.

CI: Finally, I’m curious about how much Twitch is used by your generation. Is it more beloved than YouTube or Facebook? Do you and your friends use it every day, like Instagram or Snap?

Tiny: I would say a lot of my friends do not watch Twitch, but it’s because they aren’t in the typical demographic – e.g. they don’t play video games. The friends I do have who use Twitch typically use it to watch big streamers.

I have friends who watch YouTube videos regularly, but not live streams. I haven’t heard of them watching Facebook as a streaming service.

It definitely feels like Twitch is the most popular platform for live streaming amongst my peers.

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