When thinking about YouTube and what the biggest channel in terms of subscribers is, you would probably be inclined to say that it would probably belong to either a very popular celebrity or large corporation. Miley Cyrus, Armin van Buuren, or Apple perhaps? However, would you be surprised to find out that it belongs to a 24-year old guy who reviews videogames for a living? Introducing Felix Kjellberg, or as he’s better known in the Youtube community: PewDiePie.
We’ve covered product reviewers before in the course who used Youtube as a medium and this particular phenomenon can also be fitted in this category. Let’s Players (or LP-ers for short) like PewDiePie create movies of themselves while playing games, usually while filming themselves and showing this in a corner of the video to capture their reactions as they play. During this time, they will provide their in-game commentary or talk about anything to fill the time, frequently accompanied by silly behaviour. But whether you love their (for the most part) exaggerated style or not, the figures speak for themselves: PewDiePie for example, currently has nearly 27 million subscribers and around 3.5 billion video views. Last year, it was estimated that he makes around 300.000 euros per month. Moreover, video game and software developers have correctly taken notice of the popularity of several let’s players and you can quickly see that these players get free games and novel items to try out and review for free. For better or for worse; if PewDiePie gives out a good review, the game usually experiences a boost in sales (Hoe twintigers als PewDiePie via YouTube een mini imperium opbouwen). Additionally, as is the case with many other successful LP-ers, he also makes money from his own personal clothing line and has other revenue streams tied to his channel. To say however, that only game developers decide what these LP-ers would play is giving them too little credit. Fans also have a large say in what games they want to see, and if critical mass of opinions on one title (be it an indie game or a mainstream game) is reached, it will probably be featured (Goes, Lin & Au Yeung, 2014).
So is it only the money that drives these LP-ers? Actually, it would be strange if it would be, given the many channels of unknown LP-ers that have jumped on the Let’s Play bandwagon. It’s pretty hard to establish yourself as someone with a great following and, as with many other things, if you’ve got no inherent love for such a career you won’t be able to keep it up. Many of these hardcore LP-ers will commonly sport several videos professing their gratitude towards their fans and many also have a blog in which they will affirm that they love creating these videos (Malone, Laubacher & Dellarocas, 2010). Some even have a higher goal they want to achieve through these videos. John and Hank Green for example, have used their internet popularity with playing FIFA to raise many for the Wimbledon football club and Mark Fischbach, aka Markiplier, has done several live-stream fundraisers for the Extra Life Charity, an online grassroots movement that raises money for life-saving operations for children in their local neighbourhood.
One question remains though: why are these players so popular? One possible explanation might be that these content creators are role models for what Google has termed the ‘Gen-C’ demographic. This group of primarily teenagers focuses on creation, curation, connection and community, meaning, in short, that teenagers love to be content creators. In Youtube they have found their two-way media outlet, as it lets them watch content of others, voice their opinion on it, create their own personal work, and have their work be viewed by their own audiences (NewFronts: YouTube Song and Dance Focuses on Big, Youthful Metrics). Youtube is therefore an important platform for many different parties, from companies trying to market their products, to people expressing themselves, to people consuming the content (Saarijärvi, Kannan & Kuusela, 2013).
One thing is certain though, and that is the fact that LP-ers will be around as long as Youtube is operational. Whether you like them or hate them, you won’t be able to completely ignore them.
Hoe twintigers als PewDiePie via YouTube een mini imperium opbouwen, Accessed May18th, 2014. http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2664/Nieuws/article/detail/3518080/2013/09/28/Hoe-twintigers-als-PewDiePie-via-YouTube-een-mini-imperium-opbouwen.dhtml
Let’s Play – the YouTube phenomenon that’s bigger than One Direction. Accessed May 18th. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/02/lets-play-youtube-pewdiepie-one-direction
Malone, Thomas W., Robert Laubacher, and Chrysanthos Dellarocas. “The Collective
Intelligence Genome.” MIT Sloan Management Review 51.3 (2010): 21-31.
NewFronts: YouTube Song and Dance Focuses on Big, Youthful Metrics, Accessed May 18th, 2014. http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/newfronts-youtubes-song-and-dance-1200436174/
Paulo B. Goes, Mingfeng Lin, Ching-man Au Yeung “Popularity Effect” in User-Generated Content: Evidence from Online Product Reviews.” Information Systems Research (2014)
Saarijärvi, Hannu, P. K. Kannan, and Hannu Kuusela. “Value co-creation: theoretical approaches and practical implications.” European Business Review 25.1 (2013): 6-19.