Gaming is arguably Youtube’s largest section. Looking at the top 10 channels that have set their content type to gaming, they’ve accumulated over 25.3 billion video views with content ranging from trailers to Let’s Play videos. It’s without a doubt a truly revolutionising advance in media and how we share video and audio content.
But is this an untapped source of advertising that developers and publishers are simply avoiding? Or have some of them already forecast this popularity in gaming videos and are taking advantage of it?
The first major story that comes to mind was the sudden boom of Flappy Bird. An phenomenally popular iOS game, it was live on the App Store for months languishing in obscurity until a certain PewDiePie – YouTube’s most subscribed YouTuber – made a compilation of reactions to himself playing Flappy Bird. Flappy Bird‘s popularity exploded as a result.
Many might argue that Flappy Bird‘s popularity came about simply by coincidence. However, looking at the facts it seems almost certain that PewDiePie’s video triggered the chain reaction, causing Flappy Bird to become so popular that at one point its developer was reportedly earning over $50,000 a day and caused him to become a minor celebrity, with his game and its success being covered by mainstream media outlets around the world.
Now, let us suppose that PewDiePie was removed from the equation – that his video was never produced. The likelihood of Flappy Bird being buried amidst the thousands of other games on the App Store is incredibly high. The same applies to many other games that have achieved popularity through youtube videos of the game going viral, including QWOP – which was created in 2008 but didn’t become popular until popular YouTuber RayWilliamJohnson a.k.a =3 recorded a review of the game in 2010, at which point it exploded in popularity eventually becoming a widely-recognized meme. This apparent trend would in fact suggest that it’s entirely possible for hugely obscure games to suddenly spring into public awareness and cement themselves in popular culture – all because of a single YouTuber’s coverage of it.
It hasn’t always been developers that YouTubers have helped in the past: KSIOlajideBT, an incredibly famous FIFA player with over 7 million subscribers – otherwise known as KSI – was dumped by Microsoft, ending their long-standing partnership due, in part, to KSI’s actions in public, including a controversial appearance at London’s Eurogamer Expo in 2012 where his behavior towards women saw him receive a lifetime ban from the show.
The same nearly happened to TheSyndicateProject (another largely popular YouTuber), whose partnership with Lucozade nearly ended abruptly because of a particular technique he used in his Call of Duty Zombie games entitled the “rape train” which he used repeatedly in popular mediums.
It’s admirable that large corporations have the initiative to trust these popular figures on the internet to advertise their products, however it occasionally can backfire and in turn tarnish the company’s public image. In fact, many companies have been using slightly less game-focused YouTubers to spread the word about their product. Freddie Wong and CorridorDigital, two short film/special effects makers, advertised games like Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed 4, Splinter Cell and more being through the creation of short comedic films.
SkyDoesMinecraft, a popular Minecraft gaming channel, has also jumped on the bandwagon by having 3D Minecraft animations made to advertise the likes of Assassin’s Creed 4, Splinter Cell and Watch Dogs. Even within the Minecraft universe, many server owners and map makers are paying huge sums of money to these gargantuan Minecraft YouTubers make videos about their creations. A detailed list of some of the highest-charging YouTubers was recently released on SpigotMC, revealing that some YouTubers charge up to $3,000 per video for coverage. That clearly shows the lengths to which some Minecraft players will go to raise awareness for their server or project.
Meanwhile, a survey undertaken by Gamasutra indicates that within “those [channels] asked with more than 5,000 [subscribers], at least 26 percent admitted to have being paid to feature a particular game by publishers or developers,” showing that there are developers out there using YouTubers as a cheaper, more accessible and in some ways more effective way of advertising their product.
Following this major release of information, more YouTubers spoke out about how they were being commissioned by the likes of EA to positively affect their viewers about games such as Battlefield 4 to receive an upwards bonus of $10 / 1000 views they received on said videos at the end of each month. However the contracts given by EA stipulated that they weren’t allowed to point out any major glitches or feature any and continuously encourage their viewers to buy the game.
One YouTuber, boogie2988, spoke out about the times that he was pushed into giving out free copies or taking pay-checks for simply playing particular games. When asked, he stated that “this is the norm” and that we should all take what YouTubers say about products with a pinch of salt, purely because of how commonplace these pay-offs are nowadays.
This all poses an important question: is all of this a good or a bad thing? At the end of the day, we have to see things from the developer or publisher’s point of view. They have a product that they want to sell well, so what better way to do that than to advertise? TV Spots, billboards and other major advertising placements are extremely expensive in this day and age as more and more companies fight for the prime spots. With YouTubers raking in millions of views each month and quoting what are relatively low prices to advertisers by comparison, why not take advantage of it?
It’s true that the viewers may feel used and become upset at how their icon is giving in to such demands but it is a fact that this apparent corruption, or “effective advertising” as the industry would describe it, is in fact extremely common in our modern-day world. With new and cheaper ways of advertising coming out each day, and with so many games being released each month, companies are having to become more ingenious and more inconspicuous in order to stand out from the crowd.
The controversy surrounding Microsoft paying Machinima for advertising was also a situation that I have personal experience of. As a Machinima partner at the time, I was approached on several occasions by both companies to sign a deal which entailed me mentioning Xbox One positively – and repeatedly – throughout my Let’s Play videos, in exchange for a substantial pay rise. I turned it down of course; not only did I not care about making money from YouTube, but I didn’t feel it was right from the content’s point of view to randomly mention the Xbox One at set intervals throughout my series.
A good video of a famous YouTuber playing a small startup indie game can literally change a person’s life overnight, but it does mean that certain YouTubers are essentially putting on a facade, advertising these products not because they genuinely enjoy the game, but because they’ve been paid to do so – but not making the viewers aware of that fact. From a viewer and fan’s point of view they may feel, as previously mentioned, used and betrayed – and they’d have every right to feel that way. At the end of the day, it’s the viewers and fans who are paying that YouTuber’s bills.
I still believe that YouTube is a wonderful platform for sharing content and learning new things, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that every YouTuber accepts money for coverage in this way. Many do simply do it because they enjoy doing it, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who didn’t feel right accepting money for positive coverage in my videos. But it seems more and more that this is what the YouTube scene is slowly becoming; these die-hard fans may have to begin to accept that this is ultimately the future of YouTube and advertising, unless drastic changes are made to the way in which YouTubers make money or the way in which companies advertise their products, and YouTubers will continue to attempt to hide the fact that they have taken money in order to cover something.
What that means for gaming, for YouTube, and the gaming community, is something worth thinking about.