Tuesday, November 18, 2014

YouTubers: Revolutionizing the Video Game Industry

One online community is using YouTube to create a whole new world for video games, one where content creators and game developers find themselves in a place of mutual benefit. And it’s still growing. ♦

The video game industry is booming, employing tens of thousands and contributing billions to GDPs, and some individuals are taking advantage of this flourishing market by creating independent businesses from home. “Content creator” is an increasingly popular term, used to refer to an independent person who makes a living by generating content tailored to his or her viewers. The most popular place for video game content creators is YouTube. Before YouTube became the mecca for independent video game content, most game media was consumed through print magazines. Then someone decided to upload some videos of themselves playing a video game and the video game content creator career was born. This new career path has sent shock waves through the gaming industry, having effects no one could have imagined.
       In May of 2009, a Swedish man named Markus Alexej Persson (or “Notch”) uploaded this video of a game he created in his mother's basement. Notch called this game Minecraft. As of April of 2014, Minecraft has sold fifty million copies. Most people attribute the success of Minecraft to its new business model, and its willingness to let people upload as many videos of Minecraft as they wanted. A popular YouTube channel called The Yogscast features two British guys messing around while playing Minecraft. Currently they have hundreds of videos uploaded to their channel, over seven million subscribers, and an average video view count of nearly seven million views per video. While there is a bit of mutualism going on, it is hard to argue that big content creators didn't have an effect on the reach of Minecraft's popularity. Notch didn't create commercials or marketing material for his game. Part of Minecraft's success can be tied to powerful word-of-mouth advertising through videos that were made and posted online.
       While The Yogscast is one of the most influential Minecraft channels, it is nowhere near the biggest video game channel. PewDiePie (pronounced pew-dee-pie) is by far the biggest video game content creator. He has thirty-two million subscribers, more than One Direction’s channel and Rihanna's channel combined. Sitting at the #2 spot on all of YouTube for most views, PewDiePie has weight in the video game industry. He plays a variety of video games and has a unique style that caters mostly to young gamers; dedicated PewDiePie fans are addicted to his shenanigans while others typically strongly dislike his immature, rambunctious style.
       When PewDiePie starts to play a new game on his channel, that video game receives a noticeable increase in sales and traffic. Other content creators call this phenomenon “the PewDiePie bump.” The effects are so significant that some YouTubers will tailor their content based on what PewDiePie is doing (the phrase “catching the PewDiePie bandwagon” is sometimes thrown around).
       Having noticed that certain YouTubers will jump on the next new obscure or silly game, some developers are looking to cash in on the trend. On April 1st of this year, the developer Coffee Stain Studios created a game titled Goat Simulator. The game is about playing as a goat and doing ridiculous things around a small town. Goat Simulator was marketed as a parody of simulation games. The game was purposefully poorly created; bugs and glitches were intentionally left unresolved. The developers explained that they wanted to leave in bugs for comical effect, directly referencing their decision on the game's website: “MILLIONS OF BUGS! We're only eliminating the crash-bugs, everything else is hilarious and we're keeping it.”
       To some, the creation of this game is the first instance of a video game being developed specifically in hopes that YouTube content creators would take notice and make videos featuring the absurdity that is Goat Simulator. Games like Goat Simulator, dubbed “YouTuber Bait,” are made to be so absurd and ridiculous—traits that content creators look for when making new videos—that popular YouTube personalities looking for a lot of views would want to make videos with them.
       And it actually happened. PewDiePie released six Goat Simulator videos that netted him about fifty million total views; that’s fifty million sets of eyes placed on one game and, more importantly, fifty million sets of eyes placed on the advertisements. The developers of the game spend zero dollars on marketing, PewDiePie gets thousands of dollars through ad revenue, and the consumer gets the entertainment they want; wins all around.
       While PewDiePie is the biggest and most known video game content creator, middle-ground content creators also have an impact on the industry. John Bain, also known as TotalBiscuit, is also a well-known YouTube personality in the video game scene. He has almost two million subscribers but his content differs greatly from that of PewDiePie. Unlike PewDiePie, Bain uses his position to benefit both the consumer and the developers are much as possible. His most popular series is his “WTF IS” series, in which he shares his first impressions of different video games. While he makes videos featuring big name games that come from companies like Sony and Microsoft, he also looks at smaller independent games that otherwise wouldn't get much attention.
       In 2013 Bain created a first impression video about a video game called Day One: Garry's Incident in which he levied a lot of harsh criticism. The developers of Day One: Garry's Incident, Wild Games Studio, filed a copyright claim against the video and got it taken down. Bain then made a follow-up video in which he explained the situation; as a result, a mountain of backlash was thrown at Wild Games Studio. His video attracted big press outlets that have ultimately harmed Wild Games Studio's reputation. Eventually the copyright claim was taken down and Bain's video was put back up. John Bain used this incident as a way to show how some video game developers exploit YouTube content creators for free marketing and use unjust copyright claims to censor negative press about their games. Sega, another large developer, used unjust copyright claims against his videos in the past, and to this day John Bain has boycotted all Sega games and removed all of his first impressions of Sega games from his channel.
       The relationship between video game developers and content creators has the potential to be mutually beneficial; some newer video games benefit heavily from free word-of-mouth advertising from content creators, and in return less popular content creators can latch onto a big game to increase their viewership. As more content creators get up and going, the diversity of the content will likely increase, resulting in more partnerships between the video game industry and individuals looking to make a living selling ads on YouTube videos. With the diversity of content creators, consumers can migrate to their favorite channel to get information or be entertained. Big media websites may no longer be the only source of video game content. Luckily, game developers are aware of the growth of independent video game channels and are fully embracing the shift; this is a welcome change and one that I think will be to the benefit of everyone, especially gamers.
  • About the Author
    Currently a student in Creative Writing, Zac Boring is a senior attending Miami University of Ohio. Both his poetry and fiction have been published in Inklings, and his fiction was a part of the 2013 Oxford Writing Festival. He's from the Antique Capital of the Midwest and loves poetry.

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