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Is YouTube killing the traditional games press? Exclusive
Is YouTube killing the traditional games press?
June 18, 2014 | By Mike Rose

June 18, 2014 | By Mike Rose
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    56 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive, YouTube



This story is being highlighted as one of Gamasutra's best of 2014.

There's been a notable shift in the video game industry that many traditional game critics would rather turn a blind eye to than investigate.

It's the rise of the "YouTuber," pulling in hundreds and thousands of rabid fans and causing incredible traffic and sales spikes for game developers, while the written word continues to trundle along, looking more and more quaint with each passing day.

Getting covered by a big-name YouTuber is now essentially the dream of many game developers. The publicity someone like TotalBiscuit, NerdCubed or Northernlion can bring you compared to mainstay consumer websites like IGN, GameSpot and Game Informer is becoming increasingly significant.

A year ago, I would have advised any developer to get in touch with as many press outlets as possible, as soon as possible. I still advise this now, but with the following caveat: You're doing so to get the attention of YouTubers.

But view stats and subscribers numbers mean nothing without evidence that these videos are actually making a difference to the featured developers. Gamasutra got in contact with numerous devs to find out just how much of an impact YouTuber coverage had for them.


"When DanNerdCubed played Race The Sun and linked our Greenlight page, it had a bigger impact than all of the website coverage we'd had up to that point, combined."
"For sure, the biggest Youtubers have had a much bigger impact on our traffic and sales compared to the biggest sites we've been covered on," Aaron San Filippo, creator of Race the Sun told me.

"When DanNerdCubed played Race The Sun and linked our Greenlight page, it had a bigger impact than all of the website coverage we'd had up to that point, combined," he adds. "I'm also pretty sure that TotalBiscuit's coverage on our Steam launch day helped increase our week one sales a lot, which probably helped keep us on the Steam frontpage longer. If we're smart, we'll try to arrange this type of event more intentionally next time!"

Cliff Harris of Postitech Games, meanwhile, says that while it can be difficult to see any real correlation in the long-term, YouTuber coverage appears to trump traditional press coverage.

"I'm not really aware of any games site for whom coverage of your game will result in an immediately noticeable sales spike," he notes, "but I have seen that with a YouTube Let's Play."



"The vast majority of the smaller Let's Play channels don't really generate enough immediate sales," adds the Democracy 3 dev, "but they still increase awareness of the game and that definitely helps."

Borut Pfeifer of Skulls of the Shogun studio 17-BIT agrees that, while it's difficult to present concrete figures on the differences between traditional press and YouTuber coverage, "it's hard to deny the impact."

"Most indie game success stories on PC in the last year or two have had predominant YouTube coverage," he notes. "With Skulls we definitely sought people out and sent out hundreds of review codes to YouTubers, which is a lot more time consuming than regular press because they don't have consistent contact info."


"Most indie game success stories on PC in the last year or two have had predominant YouTube coverage."
One big Russian YouTuber called eligorko covered the game, as did several other smaller Russian YouTubers, and Pfeifer believes this coverage is the main reason why Russia is Skulls of the Shogun's second biggest country for units sold.

"Although that came about randomly (we hadn't sent review copies there), because it's even more difficult to find and reach out to international YouTubers," he adds.

UK dev Dan Pierce has found that YouTuber influence has varied depending on the specific game. When his team released Castles in the Sky last year, the biggest sales spikes came from Rock Paper Shotgun and Giant Bomb, while YouTuber coverage brought "very few additional sales."

"The game was recently covered by someone with over 120,000 subscribers, and we only sold about thirteen additional units from that," he notes, adding that this may be down to the fact that Castles in the Sky is just a 10-minute long game, and not so suited to the Let's Play audience.



However, his quick reactions game 10 Second Ninja has told a different story.

"As far as I've seen, we haven't had a significant spike from written press, but we have seen spikes from YouTube," he says. "Specifically, getting covered by Total Biscuit gave us a sales spike that roughly mirrored the game being on sale for a week. Getting covered by Dan NerdCubed brought in a bump of about half that, despite his video having roughly 100k more views."

So it sounds like YouTubers, at worst, will bring in the same level of traffic as traditional press, while if you're covered by a giant YouTuber, you can expect a rather lovely sales spike that no traditional press outlet can compare with.

Does this mean, then, that you should focus more on getting covered by YouTubers, and treat traditional press as a secondary marketing mission?


"As far as I've seen, we haven't had a significant spike from written press, but we have seen spikes from YouTube."
Fortunately, it would appear that myself and many others are still in a job -- at least for now -- as developers are finding that traditional press has advantages that YouTubers cannot bring to the table.

"Getting coverage on, say, Polygon or RPS is a lot easier than getting someone like Totalbiscuit or NorthernLion to take a couple hours to play your game," notes San Filippo. "And obviously, these guys often read about games on these sites, so I think it'd be a mistake to neglect either avenue!"

YouTubers regularly choose to play games that are already in the spotlight, he reasons, and as such traditional press is important in getting the attention of YouTubers in the first place.

"I guess the biggest difference is that you can't quantify the quality as easily any more, since Youtubers often don't give a score," notes Joel Nystrom of Ittle Dew studio Ludosity. "So you can't put 'TotalBiscuit: 9.5' but instead you need to put an actual quote on your promo material. This is probably better anyway - I've always though quantifying such subjective things are quite silly."



Cliff Harris adds, "YouTubers can be a bit hit-and-miss, and a lot of them are looking for a particular type of game, which is something, funny, visually impressive or with something that is interesting to a viewer rather than a gamer."

His own brand of strategy game, for example, appear to translate better to the written word than YouTube videos.

"For example, how many Let's Play videos of Civilization have you watched?" he adds. "It's a fairly boring game to watch, let's be honest, but a great game to play. So for people like me, there isn't as big a shift to YouTube as for other developers."

And 10 Second Ninja's Dan Pearce plans to get both YouTubers and traditional press for his next game -- he notes that establishing your brand requires both avenues of exposure, and adds, "I can't think of a situation where both shouldn't be heavily considered."


"I wouldn't be surprised if YouTube became the most common way people choose to get information on the games that they want to play, if it hasn't already."
"That said, I wouldn't be surprised if YouTube became the most common way people choose to get information on the games that they want to play, if it hasn't already," he reasons. "Video content is so much easier for a lot of people to digest. It requires a lot less focus, allowing people to play games and learn about games at the same time, if they want. That's a big deal, and it's important for indies to keep an eye on that transition."

Outside of simply exposure, Pfeifer of 17-BIT believes that YouTubers are having an impact on modern games in ways that traditional criticism maybe hasn't before. For example, the popularity of roguelikes, randomization, and hardcore titles amongst YouTubers has led to a large number of these sorts of games popping up.

"All those elements make a game very watchable," he notes. "Each video is different, dramatic, and a YouTuber can pick up a game like that and know if they like it they can get a good series out of it."

It's clear, then, that many developers are now very focused on the YouTuber shift, while cautiously keeping up the usual back-and-forth with traditional press. I wanted to get the perspectives of a couple of big-name video game YouTubers, to gauge their thoughts on the current seismic shift that's occurring.



Ryan Letourneau is a prominent YouTuber with over 315,000 subscribers. Best known as Northernlion, he's been recording videos and livestreams of games for several years now.

"If you compare it to what it was like a couple of years ago, a lot of developers didn't really know that there was this huge YouTube gaming sphere," he tells me.

"Two years ago was not even that long ago in the grand scheme of things, even with the fast-moving industry. So it took a little bit more convincing of being like 'This is what I do, and I'm not just a kid trying to snag a copy of a free game off you.'"

Back then, Letourneau would be constantly on the prowl for new games to play, emailing back and forth with developers and reaching into the depths of the web for his content. Nowadays he usually pulls most of the games he covers from emails and PR, and he rarely has to go out and actively find games to play.


"If you compare it to what it was like a couple of years ago, a lot of developers didn't really know that there was this huge YouTube gaming sphere."
"I think developers are way more aware of the power of the industry, and the fact that you're probably more likely to get coverage if you cast a really wide net and contact 150 YouTubers, versus if you only contact 20 standard websites that all pretty much cover the same stuff," he adds.

He notes that some people still turn their noses up at YouTubers covering games -- big-name sites like IGN or GameSpot carry more clout and prestige, he reasons, and are treated as a brand compared to a lot of YouTubers, many of whom sport non-professional sounding names.

"There are some times when I think I should just start up a blog and do text transcripts of my first impressions style videos, because people take it more seriously," he adds. "And for a while, especially a couple of years ago, publishers were be asking how many uniques I had, or what my Alexa rank was. Or they were like, 'Are you on Metacritic?' And it's funny to see sites that get, like, 1,000 hits a day getting super early access to games from big publishers thanks to these PR policies, because they're on Metacritic."

What can devs do, then, to get Letourneau's attention, and how can you raise your chances of getting covered by a YouTuber? One important point is to get in touch with YouTubers well before your game is released, as promptness is everything.

NL

"Emails two weeks after a game's released are tricky," he says. "You feel bad, but there are so many games that come out on Steam now, you really gotta be around your window of launch, otherwise it becomes very difficult to convince people to play your game because there's always forty games coming out next week that are going to be more likely to garner attention just by virtue of the fact that they're new."

"And it's very video specific," Letourneau adds, "but copywritten music is a problem sometimes. There is this situation with Tropico 5 where they licensed a bunch of music, and everybody who is posting video content for Tropico 5 was getting content ID matches, which means that money goes to the composer of the song, rather than Calypso or the YouTube creator. So copywritten music is a big issue."

First impressions are also everything, he reasons -- usually he plays an hour of a game before he decides whether or not it's worth recording for a video, so if your game doesn't entertain thoroughly for the first 60 minutes, there's a chance you'll get dropped in favor of something better.


"There are some times when I think I should just start up a blog and do text transcripts of my first impressions style videos, because people take it more seriously."
Jesse Cox is another big deal in the world of video game YouTubers. His 640,000 army of subscribers rack up tens of thousands of views for his episodic content, and he tends to focus on one or two games at a time, producing dozens of episodes before moving on to a new set of games.

"I may differ from most YouTube commenters talking about an issue like this," he offers. "I think much of the 'importance' of YouTubers in the gaming world is perpetuated by YouTubers wanting to be important in the gaming world."

YouTuber coverage can potentially make or break an indie game, he reasons, but when it comes to big publishers and AAA developers, most of the big-name don't actually care about YouTubers.

Take E3, for example -- Cox found that, while he received invites from publishers to visit booths and play games, he clearly was not given the same access as the traditional press.

"You can get invites, and yes, you will be shown around booths, but you will never have the access that traditional media has," he says. "Because the people in charge of these companies still respond to them far more than they will ever respond to you."

Jesse Cox

Having said that, he adds, "In the last year or so they have been reaching out. Which gives us hope. But to say that YouTubers are as important as written press I think is a misnomer. To indie games, yes, very much so. But the big AAA companies are still not sure what to make of us."

How does an indie studio go about getting covered by Cox, then? The YouTuber notes, quite bluntly, that the hype surrounding a game before release can have a great impact on whether it gets YouTubed or not.

"While I loved Child of Light for example, none of my audience wanted to watch it," he explains. "Other times I want to play things like South Park and everyone watches. I think it's more about the popularity of the subject matter and the hype behind the game."


"To say that YouTubers are as important as written press I think is a misnomer. To indie games, yes, very much so. But the big AAA companies are still not sure what to make of us."
"Which would make it very easy to just pump out the games people are talking about at the moment - many YouTubers just do that. And I wish them all the best. But, I will continue to play games that interest me, and the internet is welcome to come along for the ride."

Bisnap is a notable YouTuber with a big focus on finding games he loves, and then recording long-running episodic series for each. His 75,000 strong subscriber base enjoy watching games like Paranautical Activity, Nuclear Throne, The Binding of Isaac, Risk of Rain and more.

"I think that the shift is just showing how people most want to consume content right now," the YouTuber reasons. "It makes sense to me with video games, since most people want to know what the game might feel like to play, but each person looks for something different."

"Being able to see the game in motion helps put a viewer in the player's shoes to see if a game is enjoyable for that viewer," he adds, "even if his or her one main concern isn't addressed."

Videos can help give a consumer a quick verdict on a game, or go into detail breaking down exactly what the game is about, and talk to people in ways that the written word can sometimes fail to do.

Bisnap"Another thing that helps for some people is that they can hear the YouTuber speaking, from a tone and personality perspective, but also from a voice perspective," Bisnap says. "It's nice to hear pretty clearly if something said is meant to be positive or negative, and a lot of people enjoy particular YouTubers' styles of delivering lines or wording thoughts, which, for most people, is compounded by hearing the voice behind it."

Bisnap has a clear passion for roguelike elements, so he's far more likely to cover that kind of game. It's a point well worth noting - YouTubers regularly focus on particular genres or game styles, so if you're getting in contact with dozens at a time, you might want to consider making sure your game fits their forte.

Having said that, he tells me that he's partial to covering the odd hardcore 2D platformer. Making sure you research the YouTubers you send your game to is important, but you might want to try and take a chance here and there where it makes sense.


"Being able to see the game in motion helps put a viewer in the player's shoes to see if a game is enjoyable for that viewer," he adds, "even if his or her one main concern isn't addressed."
"Usually if I don't cover a game it's because I don't like what I play as a whole," he adds, "or because the game is just not a genre I'm experienced or interested in, since I'm not well suited to cover a game like that."

Here's what I've learnt then: Getting YouTubers to cover your game is incredibly important, and can bring serious traffic and sales. At the same time, traditional press outlets are equally important to hit up for coverage since, not only do they offer "official" press, but they also often advise YouTubers on what to cover next.

So what's the best step to getting through to YouTubers? You might want to start off by hitting up all the usual press outlets and getting some coverage there, before you go and visit the Big List of YouTubers on Video Game Caster, and fire your game in the direction of as many YouTubers as possible.


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