Nick Wolny is senior editor of the financial independence vertical at NextAdvisor, in partnership…
The computer science professor finishes preparing his coursework around five o’clock every weekday. Then, after a short break, the live broadcast begins.
“The rule of thumb is I need everything done before 7:00 PM, because once I’m live, I’m live from 7:00 PM to midnight,” says David Cherry, a professor of computer science at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Online, Cherry is better known by DataDave, his username on Twitch, where he has 62,500 followers. His first broadcast, however, was to an audience of one.
“The first time I streamed, I was playing a video game and there was one viewer,” he says. “But that one viewer was chatting with me as I played, making suggestions on what to do next. We chatted about all different types of things while I played. We connected.” Cherry was hooked.
Top streamers on Twitch – mostly gamers – have long been considered superstars, and when a leaked document of creator payouts in October 2021 began making the rounds, it confirmed what many have long suspected: there is a lot of money flowing through Twitch. The platform is also not just for gamers anymore; artisans, creators, and other professionals have flocked to streaming in recent years to earn money, and many have turned their efforts into extra cash every month.
From donation buttons to channel subscriptions, aspiring creators are curious to know how to make money on Twitch and establish a successful Twitch channel. We spoke with successful Twitch streamers about what it takes to earn money doing what you love on the platform. Here’s what they had to say.
Acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million in cash, Twitch is a live streaming platform that hosts 8 million unique creators every month and sees over 31 million visitors a day, according to data provided by the company. Esports and playing video games are what made the platform popular, but not all successful Twitch streamers want your attention all the time.
You don’t have to have a webcam to get started on Twitch, but most users like to see the person who is streaming so they can interact with them in real time.
“About 80% of my Twitch audience is people I would call ‘working lurkers’,” says Christopher Knotbusch, a sculptor whose Twitch channel has 97,700 followers. “These are people who like to have a stream on in the background while they work, something to create some background noise.” Knotbusch sculpts his commissioned art pieces in real-time broadcasts five times a week, has been on Twitch since 2011, and says his paycheck from Twitch is more than enough to cover his rent and other expenses each month.
In figuring out how to make money on Twitch, the strategies used by many Twitch streamers fall into one of the following five buckets:
The donation button and other in-platform monetization features only unlock once you’ve enrolled in the Twitch Affiliate Program. To be eligible, you need to have at least 50 followers. You also need to have broadcasted 500 total minutes or more in the last 30 days, gone live for at least seven of the last 30 days, and had an average of at least three concurrent viewers over the last 30 days.
However, there is a workaround for the donation button: on your channel, you can add a panel that is text or an image and has a link. Many streamers use this approach to link to their PayPal, Venmo, or CashApp account to make money on Twitch and receive tips from viewers. Twitch affiliates emphasize that donations allow you to get paid immediately and keep all of your tips (minus processing fees), which is not the case with other monetization tools.
“The best way to get paid [on Twitch] is definitely donations,” says Rebecca Ramirez, a streamer who goes by the name oxillery and has 24,300 followers. Ramirez started streaming on Twitch in 2020; she was a college student who worked as a cocktail server when the pandemic arrived.
“I’m a pandemic streamer – there are a lot of us,” she says, referring to users who joined Twitch when COVID-19 lockdown protocols were first implemented. “[I] was a cocktail server, doing that until 2:00 AM every night. I was also doing some modeling gigs; I was always doing two jobs.”
Ramirez kept her same schedule, broadcasting well into the night most evenings, and broadcasts in Spanglish – conversationally combining Spanish and English – which has helped her develop a global audience. She notes that Twitch is more about cultivating a sense of community and belonging, and that overly sales-y approaches to earning money on Twitch usually fall flat.
“You don’t wanna seem like a money-hungry streamer,” she says.
Bits are a form of currency that is unique to Twitch. Users purchase Bits with money (and can also earn Bits), then use them to tip or cheer on their favorite streamers during their Twitch streams. Users can spend their Bits in a streamer’s live chat to express their support (And to get some attention themselves, as Bits are often shown as animated emoticons). A Bit only equates to $0.01 in income for the streamer, but users often tip hundreds or even thousands of Bits at a time, which start to add up.
Bits are nice because they make the experience more native to Twitch and less about money. To reap the financial benefits of Bits, your Twitch affiliate status needs to be active. Bits are one of the most entertainment-adjacent strategies for how to make money on Twitch.
If you’re enrolled in the Twitch Affiliate Program, you can also unlock Twitch subscriptions for your channel. Viewers support your channel with monthly subscription payments, and you as the creator can define different tiers, as well as what perks you’d like to give your paying subscribers at each tier of support. Perks for users include special emotes, badges, and ad-free viewing on your channel. Subscriptions can also be gifted.
If you’re a Twitch affiliate, it’s important to note that you’ll only see 50% of your subscription revenue in your monthly payouts – Twitch keeps the other 50%. Subscriptions are often a volume play, and are lucrative for popular Twitch streamers, but may not generate much revenue for you if your Twitch channel is very niche or has a small audience.
If a Twitch affiliate wants to run ads during their videos, they will receive a percentage of the advertising revenue. Twitch ads play similarly to YouTube videos, and they incentivize Twitch streamers to broadcast entertaining content people want to watch. The ad revenue generated for a given Twitch channel varies, but enabling this feature will help you make money streaming and is an easy add-on option for how to make money on Twitch.
The previous four monetization strategies all take place on Twitch, but remember that you could also direct viewers off the platform and over to another website where you promote affiliate links, products, programs, or services. For example, some top Twitch streamers choose to develop their own branded merchandise, such as t shirts. Others, like Knotbusch, link to their website so that interested parties can contact them about potential commissions.
You can make good money as a Twitch Affiliate, but there’s also a higher tier of status called Twitch Partner. Twitch Partnership Program requirements are more rigorous: you need to have 25 hours of streaming under your belt, and have averaged at least 12 broadcasts with an average of at least 75 concurrent viewers over the last 30 days. Your progress toward joining the Twitch Partner Program is visible at any time from your Twitch creator dashboard.
Twitch doesn’t offer specifics on what the prerequisites are to become a partner, but according to a statement from the company, they’re looking for “Partners who can act as role models to the community.”
“I was flown to an event for Hispanic Heritage Month as a Twitch partner, and also got to attend the Super Bowl,” says Ramirez. In true Twitch fashion, Twitch employees announced her Twitch Partnership acceptance live, on Twitch, in the middle of one of her streams.
Twitch Partner Reaction: @Twitch Staff Came to Surprise Me on my Partner Acceptance. <3 Really Happy and Shook! <3 Still Can't Believe it! Thank You Everyone! <3 pic.twitter.com/OtkWALqIMJ
Becoming a Twitch Partner isn’t right for everyone, though. Knotbusch notes that both the affiliate program and partner program require an exclusivity agreement: to unlock these perks, you agree not to stream on any other platform (Though you can still have other social media accounts). This helps contribute to Twitch’s unique, underground feel.
“One other perk that not a lot of people know is that, as a Partner, you can apply for a spot on the front page,” he says. Knotbusch became Twitch partner #127 back in 2011; there are now over 27,000 partners. He says being in one of the first featured videos on the home page can equate to thousands of additional views on your stream. Streamers earn money from having an engaged audience, so if you’re wondering how to make money on Twitch, pay attention to how your audience grows and do more of what works.
Cherry’s pro tip for getting started on Twitch is surprising: Get very used to talking to yourself.
“That’s all you really need to get started,” he says. “You don’t necessarily need a webcam, but me personally, I like to see the person [who is] streaming, and I feel like a lot of other Twitch users prefer that, too.”
As with other platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, building an audience and making money on Twitch comes down to whether or not you create content users actually want to engage with and follow.
To grow their audiences quickly, some streamers like to do “sub-a-thons”: Marathon streams that promise no end in sight as long as more users keep subscribing to the channel.
“Some streamers end up doing streams that are 24 hours long,” notes Cherry. “That seems unhealthy.”
When it came to final words of advice, all of our experts said the same thing: have no expectations.
“What people need to do when they’re getting into streaming is eliminate any expectations and just go for it,” says Knotbusch. “That’s exactly how it was for me; when I started streaming, I didn’t think anybody would want to watch sculpting, and here we are.”
Rather than stream what you think will be lucrative, cultivate passion for the art of streaming instead and you’ll go far.
“I could stream for ten hours in a row, easily,” says Cherry. “I love streaming. I can be live all day.”
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How to Make Money On Twitch – NextAdvisor