Ruby Rails (not her real name) got fed up a couple of years ago when the boss at her virtual reality company told her to change her purple hair. She was tired of the “corporate” life and decided to quit to become a streamer and social media maven. Now, she’s making a living at it.
I ran into her in the summer at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and interviewed her at TwitchCon, the massive streamer event that finishes up today at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California. Rails doesn’t have a ton of followers like Ninja, the esports star who is stellar at Fortnite with 11.9 million followers. She has 1,625 followers on Twitch, 13,800 followers on Twitter, and 154,000 followers on Instagram (where she’s got some racy pictures). She also makes decent money through her Patreon account, where she goes by Stark Suicide. She likes to scream during her matches, and that is what makes it fun. While she knows how to program in languages like Ruby on Rails, the Los Angeles resident has left that world — and game development — behind.
I’m enamored with the idea of the Leisure Economy, or getting paid to play games, and Rails is one of the people in the long tail — not a celebrity by any means — who is making a living as a streamer. Rails leans toward the racy side of things as an entertainer, but as a streamer, she’s passionate about games and has been streaming eight or nine hours a day, Monday through Friday, for a while. She likes Overwatch and Zelda, and she’s looking forward to playing Red Dead Redemption 2 next.
I talked to her about the streaming life at TwitchCon. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: How long have you been active in this community? What got you into it?
Ruby Rails: It’s been the past two years. I’m 27 now. I’ve always loved playing video games, and I actually came from the video game industry. I switched to the streaming side. I was working in VR, in marketing. This is the much more fun side. It sounded like a lot of fun, and I thought I could be good at it. So, I jumped.
GamesBeat: How big was the jump? Is this full time?
Rails: I straight-up quit, yeah. My hair was purple at the time, and I was reprimanded. On a whim, I thought, “I want purple hair,” and they said, “You can’t have that.” So, I quit to become a streamer and jumped in.
GamesBeat: Nobody on Twitch would have a problem with purple hair.
Rails: Corporate America [laughs]. Sure, Twitch loves purple hair. That was fine.
GamesBeat: What region are you in? What has this turned into for you?
Rails: I’m in Los Angeles. It’s the most fun that I think my generation of people can have as far as work is concerned. A lot of us don’t like the corporate life. It’s just not for us. But we love making content. It’s great to take something that you’re passionate about, that you love, and get to share that with everyone. Then, you get to come somewhere like TwitchCon and meet them. It’s the best time ever.
GamesBeat: What variety of things are you doing? What works best for you?
Rails: I stream a lot of Overwatch, which is maybe not my strongest suit because I scream a lot when I’m playing [laughs]. I’m a very aggressive player. I also stream my cosplay work because I love to do costuming. I think that does a lot better because it’s more interactive and less, “GO OVER THERE AND TAKE ‘EM OUT!” People get to be more involved with things like that.
GamesBeat: Has this taken you a lot of places? Do you travel around doing this?
Rails: It’s interesting. I definitely traveled more when I was doing marketing for VR because we had to go to conventions everywhere in a million different industries. I still do get to travel, and it’s certainly more than someone who has an office job. But after coming from an almost travel-based position, it’s been a lot less. The same conventions, though.
GamesBeat: What kind of following do you have?
Rails: That’s been the most interesting part. Instagram has by far been the most saturated market for me. I definitely get the most followers on Instagram. I’d say Twitter is in second, and then, I have people coming from both of those into my Twitch, which has been really cool. It’s fun to see how people from these different avenues come in and say, “Hey, I love video games, too. I want to come watch.”
GamesBeat: What’s your favorite kind of interaction?
Rails: There’s nothing like having people love the exact same things that you do. They’re like, “Oh my God, I love this part in the Witcher III!” And I think, “That’s my favorite part too. I thought I was a weirdo and a loser, and here you are.” If we’re both weirdos and losers, then this is the best club ever. I live for those moments.
GamesBeat: As far as making money, what helps there?
Rails: Consistency. I will say, 100 percent, if you can do something consistently and set yourself on a schedule, similar to an office job, you’ll almost have a 100 percent success rate. People want to know when they can see you. If you just show up sometimes, that’s bad. That’s not going to help. But if you stream Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., that’s easy for anyone to remember. They know exactly when and where they can find you.
GamesBeat: Does it feel like work sometimes? That sounds like a long day of talking to people.
Rails: Sometimes, it can feel like work. It’s definitely more taxing than other jobs. You have to consistently be on. Your personality has to be online. That changes a lot when you go offline, when you take a breather and have some calm-down time. So, in that sense, it does feel like work. But if you’ve worked any other kind of job, it feels nothing like work [laughs]. So, that’s a yes and a no.
GamesBeat: What kind of technology do you use?
Rails: I love tech. I actually built my own PC on Twitch. It was the most fun ever. I was shocked by the computer, putting pins in the wrong places. It was the most fun disaster. I have a specialization in game programming, actually, and I love it.
GamesBeat: Does that come in handy, to be able to do things like that?
Rails: Some people stream that. They’ll stream themselves making a game in Unity. I think that’s awesome, but the process — it’s creative, but it’s so slow. I don’t think it’s as fun to watch. But I wouldn’t say it comes in handy. Anyone can play a game. Making a game is a different thing entirely.
GamesBeat: The nickname “Ruby Rails,” that comes from programming.
Rails: Ruby on Rails is a programming language, yeah. But I program in C-based languages, C# and C++. Ruby is really similar. I thought it was the funniest name I could come up with that was similar to the programming side of my life. And it’s easy to say.
GamesBeat: Do you have any observations about the different platforms? Do you wish there were particular things you could do on Twitch or any others?
Rails: Things are changing so rapidly. The growth in the past few years has been astronomical. Catching up to that and finding out how to enforce rules — what rules are worth having and which ones can get slid under the rug — needs a lot of work. But they’re doing the best they can with something that’s growing so fast.
GamesBeat: You’re an attractive woman. Is that a challenge sometimes when it comes to trolling?
Rails: The craziest thing is that it’s not. It’s so weird, but I don’t experience that. I call myself a “reformed troll” because I used to be that person, so maybe, it’s just the perspective I have that changes that, but I really don’t deal with that at all. Sorry, women everywhere [laughs]. Twitch does have really good moderation tools. If you take the time to properly use them, which I do — I’m not sure how much that filters out because it never comes into the chat. Maybe trolling is happening all the time, but everything gets filtered out before it gets to me. Those tools are definitely worth taking the time to learn.
GamesBeat: Have things gone just as well for you on other platforms — like Twitter?
Rails: Twitter does nothing. Twitter’s like, “Good luck out there.” Instagram, you can ban or mute certain words, but Instagram is so saturated with bots and so many users that it’s nearly impossible to get all of it out. Twitter cleaned house on the bots, though, which I really appreciate. It’s a lot more helpful for your personal analytics, if you get into those, when they clean out the bot followers. You get a more accurate reading.
GamesBeat: I noticed your tweet about, “It’s a real person on my Twitter!”
Rails: Yeah! It’s not an account that just likes everything with a keyword. It’s amazing. Making those bots is so easy.
GamesBeat: It would be wonderful if we could have a world where we all made money playing games, making costumes, things like this. It feels like celebrities can do this full time, at this point — you have someone like Ninja making a lot of money — but I wonder how it might spread out to more people.
Rails: He’s interesting because he’s been around so long, but he’s blown up so fast, even in the past calendar year. It’s crazy. He’s taking people from other mainstream media and bringing them into the gaming community. There’s been some animosity brought toward him for that, and it’s undeserved. He’s doing his job, and he’s doing a good job at it.
It would be interesting to see more mainstream celebrities — athletes, actors — coming into Twitch. I don’t know how well that would be received. But we’re all here to have fun. There’s room for everyone.
GamesBeat: But do you think it will be possible for someone who’s not a celebrity to make money?
Rails: I really think that’s happening right now. You end up becoming more popular and coming into a kind of niche celebrity on Twitch or Instagram or Twitter or wherever it is. It happens organically. I think it doesn’t necessarily matter where you come from in that sense. You don’t have to be born in L.A. to a lot of money. You can grow on Twitch into that.
GamesBeat: Where would you like to see this go for you personally, then?
Rails: I ask myself that every day [laughs]. I just love doing this. I love being online. It’s so relaxing. That’s a strange word to use for work, but coming to Twitch — the people here love being here. Everyone chooses to be here. That’s such a blessing. How many people can say that their co-workers, essentially, chose to be there around them? That’s wonderful.
GamesBeat: What have you tried lately as far as new games?
Rails: I’m so excited for Cyberpunk 2077. I love punk everything. For me, it’s like The Fifth Element plus Fallout. It’s the coolest thing. I’m so excited. I love CD Projekt Red. I pre-ordered Red Dead Redemption II, and I saw everyone playing it on Twitch already. Obviously, I’m right here, so I can’t pick up my copy. I’m so mad that it’s this weekend [laughs]. I want to shoot cowboys!
GamesBeat: I had it for 10 days in advance.
Rails: You got it early! That’s not fair.
GamesBeat: But I had to travel. I only effectively got to play about six of those days. I’m about halfway through the campaign. I’ve done 66 missions already, and I’m only halfway.
Rails: I’ve heard it’s the most expansive game they’ve ever made. I’m so excited. It’s like the Sims but cowboys [laughs].
GamesBeat: There’s all this ambient stuff you can do. You just go out into the world and find things.
Rails: I heard it just organically happens. You flip over a rock and end up on 20 hours of side [missions].
GamesBeat: Do you switch around to different games a lot?
Rails: I do. I’d say I play Overwatch most consistently. I don’t know why I love it so much. It’s not my usual style of game at all. But I love it. It’s fun to play with viewers. I think that’s what’s nice about it. “Hey, who wants to jump in?” Then, it becomes a more interactive group activity, instead of just watching me do stuff.
GamesBeat: When you’re off stream, do you still play games, or do you turn that off?
Rails: It really depends. Online games, like Overwatch or Splatoon, I don’t play them that often in my free time because I love RPGs. I love The Witcher. I’m so excited for Red Dead. Things that aren’t online, solo games, are usually what I do in my free time.
GamesBeat: But you’re still playing games all the time.
Rails: Playing all the time, yeah. That’s a constant.
GamesBeat: What else do you do for fun, then? What’s not work for you?
Rails: Going to conventions — I can’t play games here. I’m not going to pack my Xbox in my suitcase. This is my fun time. I bake bread. That’s another hobby. I guess that’s what I like to do in my free time [laughs]?
GamesBeat: Do you think you’re at a point where you don’t want to go back to your old way of making a living, another game job?
Rails: Maybe, when the industry changes a bit more. The hair was just the last straw. There were a lot of things that were wrong with the game industry that still aren’t good — like equality between men and women in the workplace. It’s male-dominated. Everyone favors men in it.
I was trying to go for a promotion, a programming job, and the woman I was interviewing with I’d worked with for years. She said, “Wow, we’d love a woman in this position.” I said, “Great. I’m ready. I’m here for it.” And they ended up giving it to men anyway. Two men for one job who had no programming experience. It was my worst nightmare. And then, the purple hair — I just said, “This is not my industry. I’m going to move.”
GamesBeat: Do you know those people over there?
Rails: I don’t! Maybe they hang out in my chat room? That’s the thing. It’s anonymous. I don’t know. TwitchCon is awesome. Being online and being a woman in the game industry — it’s like a reverse effect. It’s the best thing ever. I went from, “This industry favors men,” to, “This industry favors women, and it’s great.”
GamesBeat: Have you jumped on the Fortnite or Call of Duty bandwagon yet?
Rails: That’s the weird thing about Overwatch. I completely suck at first-person shooters. I don’t like them at all. And then, I started playing Overwatch and thought it was the best thing ever.
GamesBeat: You seem a lot more animated and entertaining than a lot of esports pros.
Rails: Maybe that’s why people tolerate me [laughs]. I like to scream a lot. It’s entertaining. There’s my niche.
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