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Gamasutra Explains: The YouTuber Phenomenon

July 31, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

What do publishers and developers think?

The reactions run from one extreme to another. While some just aren't quite sure what to make of the phenomenon, others have made up their minds pro or con.

Fez developer Phil Fish recently spoke out against YouTubers on Twitter, angered that they "freely distribute" games on YouTube and make money from it. This stance makes some sense; with single-player, puzzle- or narrative-based games, YouTube exposure has the possibility of severely harming their commercial viability. By now, you may have heard someone say "I'll just check it out on YouTube."

Nintendo, for its part, seems to feel similarly to Fish -- that YouTubers are profiting from its hard work. The company had YouTube shut down videos of its games or claimed their ad revenue; it's now in the process of drafting an affiliate program that would allow YouTubers to split ad revenue with the company.

And right now, Kerbal Space Program is offering to share revenue with YouTubers when viewers purchase the game via official affiliate links placed in their videos. 

Rather than a punitive "take it away, and then give some back" measure ala Nintendo, this is perceived as a good thing by both developers Squad and the YouTubers. By doing this, the developers incentivize people to put easy "buy" links in their videos that they might otherwise omit; meanwhile, the practice opens up a new revenue stream for the video producers.

What are some of the companies involved, and what do they do? 

Companies involved in this space sometimes act as networks, sometimes act as brokers for ad deals, and other times help develop talent or work to increase their audience share. PewDiePie, for example, operates his own channel, but he works with Maker Studios -- which brokers ad deals for him -- rather than going it alone.

There are a number of companies involved in the space right now; some (like Felicia Day's Geek and Sundry and Chris Hardwick's Nerdist) were formed by established talent; others (like Yogscast) grew from their initial success as YouTubers to become networks.

Still others, like Machinima, were formed for entirely different purposes -- in this case, hosting original video content created in game engines by fans -- but eventually went down a different road as it became more lucrative and culturally current.

Maker StudiosA very popular "multi-channel network," or MCN. Home of PewDiePie, and acquired by Disney for as much as $950 million. 

PolarisAnother popular MCN, which has worked with TotalBiscuit and PewDiePie. 

YogscastYouTubers who became a collective, and now produce a number of popular shows. 

3BlackDotA startup co-founded by YouTubers Adam "SeaNanners" Montoya and Tom "Syndicate" Cassell, which produces videos, marketing, and even games. 

Geek and SundryA production company and network founded by actress Felicia Day, who found success on the internet as creator, writer, and star of web series The Guild.

NerdistStarted by comedian and TV presenter Chis Hardwick, Nerdist produces content for both the web and television. 

Revision3Another production company/MCN; originally a startup but now owned by Discovery Communications, owners of The Discovery Channel. 

MachinimaOriginally founded to showcase original videos made in game engines (known as "machinima," hence the name) it has shifted focus towards being a video-game related MCN. 

AwesomenessTVA MCN which seeks to develop new YouTube talent from the ground up. 

FullscreenAnother Hollywood-based MCN that has been targeted by takeover speculation. 


YouTube sign image by Flickr user jm3, provided under Creative Commons license BY-SA 2.0.

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George Burdell
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As games become "more watchable" for youtube, will they also become "less playable" ?

Javier Degirolmo
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Not necessarily, usually those situations that make them watchable end up being even more interesting when you're the one playing. The problem would be if you shoehorn "watchability" on a design that doesn't lend itself very well to that (which usually results in both the gameplay suffering and the game not being very fun to watch either).

Christian Nutt
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It seems not. What many YouTubers seem to like (and it's partially generational, I expect, but also has to do with showmanship, so to speak) are games that offer a lot of unpredictability. Minecraft is a big star, of course, because it's so popular but also because it offers a lot of changeability and randomness. But other sandbox / procedural games do well. Linear, storytelling games, less so, because they're set.

So this is influencing game design away from that, at least in cases where people want to appeal to YouTubers. But so are other factors, like the popularity of Minecraft, the popularity of sandbox games on Steam (think DayZ, Rust, The Forest) or even Kerbal Space Program, which is really player-directed if not sandbox.

Peeeeersonally I don't have a lot of interest in these kinds of games for a variety of reasons, but I wouldn't call them "less playable" in some sort of inherent way even if it is the case on my part.

Emile Tynures
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Very much agree with this, the less player agency the less the videos will tend to differ from both other videos of the same game by other channels and from the game experience someone could get by going out, buying, and then playing, the game.

In addition the more player agency the more it allows the individual content creators 'personality' to show through and make the video unique - which is the selling point of most channels, not the content but the personality behind them. The more the personality can impress their unique brand/persona/style on the gameplay the better the video. Generally.

Benjy Davo
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Indeed Amnesia Dark Descent was a youtube marvel due to its systemic gameplay. Even the makers admitted they traced a decent portion of their sales to youtube.

Steve Fulton
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Another great example of a younger generation taking the tools supplied to them by an older gen, and doing something unexpected.

Matt Robb
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In my opinion, one of the biggest reasons the YouTuber phenomenon has caught on as much as it has is because you almost never see real gameplay in any of the marketing done for any game. You see a few flashy bits, a lot of clips from cinematics, and various non-game artwork and the like.

A lot of the traditional media coverage has been co-opted by the game companies themselves, whether through direct paid reviews or just an unwillingness to play ball with media companies willing to put actual criticism into their reviews. As we've seen lately, this problem is leaking into the "YouTuber" space for the same reasons.

You're basically stuck with demos and trying to find bloggers and/or YouTubers you feel you can actually trust. Game demos seem to be becoming less and less common. F2P games are getting more clever about pushing the paywalls out far enough for you to feel time/effort invested before you hit them. That really leaves YouTube or piracy if I want to see what a game is really like before buying.

Emile Tynures
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Note that important info (at least in my opinion) in regards to the MCNs listed at the end has been missed:

"Maker Studios. A very popular "multi-channel network," or MCN. Home of PewDiePie, and acquired by Disney for as much as $950 million.

Polaris. Another popular MCN, which has worked with TotalBiscuit and PewDiePie.

Yogscast. YouTubers who became a collective, and now produce a number of popular shows."

Yogscast is actually PART of Polaris, and Polaris is in turn part of Maker. Not a huge distinction to someone on the outside but I think it is important to note.

Christian Nutt
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That is important and I have to admit, it's been hard to untangle some of these relationships.

SD Marlow
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I don't subscribe to any of those top 10 channels, and looking thru their videos, I'm not about to start. The "personalities" I do follow provide more in-depth or behind the scenes kind of videos, or are just interesting people who's uploads I can watch over coffee or when I have lunch at my desk (which happens way more than it should).

The trend I don't care for is the over-produced, almost TV-like eye candy videos that are more about flash and "look-at-me look-at-me" antics. The most recent was a painful "junky" of a video about comic-con... just the look on a female cosplayer's face when the guy said something about her cleavage. Ouch. NOT entertained by that.

Steven Christian
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Could you share some of these "personalities"?

Simas Oliveira
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I'm in the same boat as SD Marlow, never even heard of most of this top YouTubers, so I can provide some great channels that you could watch over coffee, or more likely over a meal. This is stuff I find really good, in arbitrary order of preference:


Hope you find some of these channels good for your tastes!

Jonathan Murphy
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It's just another social craze. Remember the waves of 2-5 million players who jumped from one MMO to the next? How about the massive fitness craze of the Wii, then motion controls finally dying with the Kinect. Facebook was a big deal. One day it'll join Myspace, Aim in the pile. I'm more concerned with indie games getting a free pass on critical reviews. Games that have a goat with rag doll mechanics(and that's it). When I think $10-$20, I think Cave Story, or Bastion. With all crazes it'll settle down. The new fad will replace it.

This is mostly Television's fault. The amount or garbage they try to pass off as entertainment has made people move onto Netflix, Youtube. When the History Channel started coverage on Ice Road Truckers. I said, "Good bye you fkers."

Kyle Redd
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Does anyone know of a "Let's Play" channel that does gameplay videos of current games, but with little or no audio commentary by the player? I'm interested in these videos because they provide a clear, unedited look at how a game actually plays (making them much more informative than trailers or other publisher/developer-created videos), but I want to hear the actual audio of the game instead of all the endless yammering.

The only channel I've been able to find that advertises "no commentary" is Alzu Gaming, but they play big AAA games almost exclusively. I'm looking more for someone that focuses on $10-$30 PC games.

Loren H
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I'm not quite what you're looking for, but I don't know maybe you'll find it interesting. I mainly like to play games (not necessarily new) and just stream them without really any commentary on Twitch. I also have a YouTube channel, but both of these avenues I don't post a lot. I guess I don't feel super motivated to do so, what with a lack of views/user engagement. But regardless, if you care to check my stuff out here's the relevant info for ya:

I threw my twitter in there because if I decide to stream on twitch you'll see me tweet about it.

Mike Higbee
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What you're looking for is Long Plays.

Kyle Redd
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Thank you. I searched around and found several Long Plays I was looking for.

Todd Boyd
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Have never seen a PewDiePie video before today. By the end of it, I was laughing myself to death, tears streaming down my face... in my cube at work. Whoops.

Bernie M
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Erm, ... nope. Everything starts with a good game. After that, various media outlet (like Youtube) *might* pickup your game. But games first!

Erskine Blue
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Nothing new here, make a good game. Ship something with glitches and the tubers will eviscerate it and make money while doing so.

Terry Lugviel
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So artistic integrity is being sacrificed in favor of looking good on YouTube? Everything the indie game market achieved has just been dismantled. I guess it's back to making video games as a business instead of an art form.

"that features the YouTubers as playable characters in the game -- and, in turn, they promote it to their fans."

That's one way to get a site to give you a great review.