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Video Games Vlogging: Playing Out a Career

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This Guy Makes Millions Playing Video Games on YouTube

The YouTube personality with the most subscribers isn’t Justin Bieber (8 million) or Rihanna (12.5 million). That honor goes to a 24-year-old Swede named Felix Kjellberg, better known by his YouTube handle, PewDiePie.

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GAMERS ON YOUTUBE: Evolving Video Consumption
When YouTube saw its first video reach a million views in 2005, it became clear that online video could become a favorite way for people to learn, connect, and be entertained. Today, this activity has become ubiquitous among gamers, as 95% of them turn to online video on YouTube for entertainment and information in the moments that matter to them.

By Jingyi Wang

Dark Soul II is silently loading on the laptop.

Keenan Mosimann holds the controller, lying back in the chair, relaxed. But his eyes fix on the screen and haven’t blinked for almost a minute, focused.

Suddenly, the video game music bursts out from the stereo system behind him. Simultaneously, he reaches out and turns off the sound, not even bothers to look back and see the button. The game is so familiar to him that the soundtrack won’t make any difference to his performance.

A Surprising Truth

Like many other boys at his age, the 20-year old Keenan Mosimann love video games. But the difference is he turns the love into a very profitable business.

In 2008, Mosimann created a channel on YouTube called Criken2 to upload his gameplay videos, which has attracted almost 500,000 subscribers during the five years.

“When I applied to USC, it definitely helped that I had half a million subscribers and over 100,000,000 views,” Mosimann said. Now he is a freshman in University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, majoring Interactive Media and Game Development.

According to Social Blade, a website tracks YouTubers’ statistics, the estimated yearly earnings of Criken2 is from $13,200 to $109,800. “I’m basically paying USC through my YouTube channel,” Mosimann said.

Criken2 is not an exception. Statistics from Social Blade shows among the top 10 YouTube channels, 3 of them are about games.

The top 1 channel is neither of Rihanna nor Kate Perry, but a game channel called PewDiePie, which has nearly 30,000,000 subscribers and 4,500,000,000 views so far.

What the channel owners do are really simple­­­–––vlogging (video blogging) themselves playing video games. So for Mosimann, that only requires a computer, a microphone, a quiet recording space, and sometimes several friends when it needs teamwork in a game.

“Vlogs are popular because people like to watch personalities talking about their lives. They live through them in a way,” Mosimann said.

Zach Latte is a developer of Football Heroes, a mobile game that attracted 1.1 million users within the first three months after its launch. “I think it’s fun watching other people’s reactions in a game and you get a similar experience when you are sitting with a few friends on a couch and playing games together,” he said.

“I love vloggers. They are great contributors to the gamers’ community,” "" style="color:#0000FF;text-align:left">Zach Latte is a developer of Chuck Chugumlung said. He is a creative designer for Annexx Design Studio a and also a big fan of video games.

“I can watch somebody play (video games) for hours,” he got excited immediately when talking about games.

Last year, a Google report called “Gamers on YouTube: Evolving Video Consumption” says 95% of gamers will “turn to online video on YouTube for entertainment and information in the moments that matter to them. “

Gamers’ needs drive billions of views to YouTube gameplay videos and bring channel owners a big amount of money.

Game of Games

PewDiePie, the huge video games channel handled by a 24-year-old Swede called Felix Kjellberg, generates revenue of $1,699,000 to $ 1.4 million every month, according to Social Blade.

Both PewDiePie and Criken2 are partners with Maker Studios , a media company producing and distributing online videos.

“Maker Studios are working like a talent agency for YouTubers. They are the one run the ads on all your videos,” Mosimann said. “They also have network managers help run your channels and dispense deals among YouTubers.” 

Advertisements in the videos are a big source for the channel’s revenue. “The more videos, obviously the more ads you have on them and the more money you make,” Mosimann said.

Since attending college, Mosimann made fewer videos than before. In order to supplement the decreasing ad revenue, he takes more brand deals through Maker Studios, which means game companies making offers to vloggers and asking them to make videos of a certain game and help promote it.

Mosimann thinks personality is the most important element to attract subscribers and views. “Creative and funny” is his channel’s personality.

On Criken2, there are seven playlists, in which the videos vary from highlights of each game to funny moments when he played them.

“ I think the most attractive part of my videos is the style in which me and my group of friends will have the strong and interesting personalities and we all come at games from different perspectives. So people generally like our characters and our specific takes on games,” Mosimann said.

Unlike some channels that take the game really serious and care more about the win and lose, Criken2 is “funny and open-minded, going with an open attitude—just having fun.”

As a game developer himself, Mosimann has his unique way to approach video games. “How did they do this? How can I break it?” are the questions he often asks himself and presents in his game videos, which gradually becomes the style of Criken2.

“It’s not out of any disrespectful of the games or the developers,” he said. “I just think it’s fun when you introduce someone to a system that you are not supposed to be there.” Although Mosimann’s approach offends game developers sometimes, his fans enjoy watching him doing that.

 “There’s definitely a sense of pride that you don’t want to be made fun of and it’s disappointing to see somebody being disrespectful intentionally,” said Latte. But generally, he is open-minded and having fun watching these videos. As indie game developers, “we do the same to our games,” he admitted.

Unlike Mosimann, James Heaney and Morgan Christensen are full time video game vloggers on Game Front channel owned by DEFY Media , a counterpart of Maker Studios.

Instead of uploading one or two videos every other month like Mosimann, Heaney and Christensen produce videos with different themes everyday expect Sunday.

Despite all the differences, Heaney values the personality of a channel as much as Mosimann does.

“At first I was not using much personality. Because I was not really good at games, people was finding that it’s funny to watch my struggle,” explained Heaney, “So they (the bosses) decide to put me into more situations where I struggle with than I was supposed to show how to beat it.”

Heaney thinks by showing his weakness, viewers become more related to the videos either by lending him a hand or making fun of him.

A few years ago, when Heaney was doing videos of Dark Souls, there was a man with his kid watching Heaney’s walkthrough and laughing at him beaten up by one of the bosses. Finally, the kid made a video showing off him defeating the boss and sent it to Heaney. 

By responding to subscribers’ comments and needs, YouTube vloggers provide the audience a service that “is almost like you are watching TV but you can change what you see,” said Heaney.

But how to “deal with expectations of fans is something you can learn from experience only,” Mosimann said. He used to be driven by fans’ love-and-hates but later he realized he lost the fun of vlogging, so by changing back to produce what he really likes, subscribers got used to his style and personality, and he also managed to please both the fans and himself.

Shades of Grey

When Mosimann was 16, he ran into a trouble with Viacom over copyright issues.
He uploaded a video for some reason Viacom believed they had content in and filed a copyright claim on it. As a result, Criken2 got suspended and everything on the channel disappeared overnight.
“When I saw this, I was freaked out,” Mosimann said. “ I researched all the legal responsibilities that I have as a channel creator, and why they can claim on my videos,” Mosimann said.

Later, he submitted a counter claim, in which he legally said, “I own the content of the video. You do not. You back off.”

Viacom didn’t response to his counter claim. According to YouTube regulations then, “if they don’t respond in four days, you win. So I got my channel back,” Mosimann said. “It was definitely a rough path to go through, but in the end I learned a lot and definitely help me to be who I am.”

Technically, vloggers are using copyright footage, which owned by game developers, in their own videos. But usually, publishers letting that happen in knowing of the exposure in YouTube will help selling their games.

However, Nintendo, a large Japanese video game company, filed mass copyright claims on YouTube gameplay videos last year, insisting it owned all the revenues gained from videos made on its games.
The outrages claim ignited vloggers’ anger and discouraged them to produce videos of Nintendo games. Eventually, Nintendo witnessed a huge decline of its market share.

After the epic fall of Nintendo, more and more video game companies came to realize that video game vloggers are having an active role in affecting the industry and started to treat them seriously.

Bossa Studios even uploaded a video on YouTube, in which claims “we give our express permission to anyone who wishes to create Let’s Play or gaming commentary videos using our games.”

Even so, copyright is still a grey area for YouTubers. As gameplay videos almost entirely depend on third-party footage, copyright claims may strike their channel at anytime, causing the instability of their businesses.

A Growing Industry

With the rise of Instagram, many fashion vloggers on YouTube has moved to it and posted 15-second video clips to present their makeups and daily outfits.

Gameplay vloggers, however, tend to believe YouTube is irreplaceable in storytelling.

“Instagram gives you a moment of an idea, but YouTube generally gives you a full, constructed piece,” said Mosimann. Some of his 10-minute videos are composed of bite-sized video clips, “but I feel it’s a lot of work to click through a lot of small videos as opposed to watching a long stretch of a good one,” he added.

“There will always a market for vlogging and gaming content, because you can’t make a 15 second video that necessarily engaging,” Christensen shared the same feeling.

Echoing with the popularity of Flappy Bird and 2048, there is the growing of mobile games network. Due to the limited size of screen and similar gaming experience of every gamer, vloggers on YouTube seldom make videos of mobile games.

“I think we could, especially when the technology increases and mobile games get more complex,” Mosimann said. “But right now most of the games on YouTube are either console, Xbox—play station or PC.”

Even though there are fewer new console games than before, vloggers never run out of video games to play and produce.

“ You can go to old nostalgic games,” Mosimann referred to an old Harry Potter game video he published recently. “I brought it back because I thought it was so funny to look at this piece of technology. The video now got 200,000 views and people think it’s hilarious.”

Christensen put the similar content on his independent channel. “We only play Dark Soul there. It’s an old game but there is a huge fan base for it,” he said.

Mosimann, Heaney and Christensen all think the industry of gameplay vlogging is growing no matter how the video game industry changes.

Vloggers, as the force pushing forward the vlogging industry, are also leading themselves into a bigger map.

“The network and connections you make through both YouTube and the entertainment industry in general is a huge part of getting you anywhere,” Mosimann said. 


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