Rise of the YouTube Game Reviewers: How the Top Three Grew Their Audiences
By Oren Todoros
The video game review has become so native to YouTube that in its most advanced incarnations, it has transcended the typical ‘description and judgment’ meted out by reviewers in print or on TV. The YouTube game review isn’t like an old commercial uploaded for posterity – rather, it has evolved into a totally different beast. There are three game reviewers in particular who have redefined success on YouTube and turned their reviews into an industry unto itself.
Leading this movement is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, AKA PewDiePie. He does not ‘rate’ games in the traditional sense, but rather groups them into categories of ‘Playthrough’, a gameplay footage with instructive commentary, and ‘Let’s Play’, where the commentary veers from objective description into personal response. His six-part playthrough of horror point-and-click Five Nights at Freddy’s, for example, is replete with feedback on the game interspersed with many off-topic asides, which takes far less time to watch than the game would be to play. With 32 million subscribers and 6.5 billion total views, PewDiePie is the most successful brand on YouTube and earns a reported $4 million a year.
Most commentators agree that Kjellberg’s everyman persona plays a big part in his success and the games are as much a platform for him as he is a conduit for them. He is not necessarily an analytical or trenchantly critical reviewer, but more like a relatable friend playing video games and saying the first thing that pops into his head. His absorption in the games he films himself playing is palpable, and the low-fi way he captures this – at home with a webcam and a mic – is utterly direct. Combine that with a brisk and regular flow of content, and you have a winning formula.
Further underlining the success of the YouTube game review as a genre and a concept is the ‘Minecraft personality’ Stampylonghead, created by Joseph Garrett. It is a testament to the scope of the sandbox genre that YouTube’s second most popular channel is based around a single – albeit megalithic – title. But Stampylonghead does far more than piggyback off the success of the game he explores. YouTube is awash with playthrough videos of Minecraft, most of which never reach more than a tiny audience. Compare that to last month, when Garrett’s channel received 183 million views.
The reason for Stampylonghead’s success has a lot in common with PewDiePie’s. In one interview with the Guardian, Garrett said “I’ve never announced a schedule’, [my audience] knows if they go to my channel at this time each day, there’s going to be a new video up.” Stampy is a character and Garrett appears to his audience only via his voice, but within the context of Minecraft – a world as much as it is a game – the two combined are as much an artifact of relatable ‘real life‘ as Kjellberg must seem to his audience.
Perhaps the nearest thing to a ‘conventional’ YouTube review among the platform’s top gaming content would be the videos uploaded by Mark Edward Fischbach, whose Markiplier channel is the second most-subscribed page on the platform. His videos combine the authoritative tone of voice and discussion of technical game elements found in traditional review channels like IGN, with less serious reflection. Fischbach has recently attracted criticism for going too far down the latter road, but his response to this — which included a long, detailed post on Reddit – very clearly demonstrates his commitment to direct engagement.
YouTube has not just given a boost to video game reviews and those who review them, but entirely transformed and remade it into its own industry. These reviews now attract such a large audience that they have become an integral part of how games are played and developed. The established games media feels the threat of the YouTube review, where some find linear ratings to be dated, simplistic and not depicting an accurate view of how each gamer might experience a particular game. But it is fair to say that these different types of reviews will be able to coexist side by side — each has something unique to offer an audience and their preferences.
Oren Todoros is a Mobile Marketing Specialist currently working at Plarium.com, a hardcore social and mobile gaming studio with titles available on Facebook, Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Mail.ru, web browsers, iOS and Android. With over 11 years of marketing experience, Oren has helped establish both independent developers and large scale firms through the mobile landscape.