WORK­ING STIFFS

ALEX MANN en­ters the realm of new me­dia, seek­ing the wan­derer, the scholar and the strate­gist

Hyper - - CONTENTS -

Alex Mann in­ves­ti­gates the re­al­i­ties of mak­ing money on youtube

To­day’s so­ci­ety raises us to work. We en­ter schools an open book, dream­ing of any­thing from as­tro­nauts to rock stars. Yet as we make our way through the var­i­ous stages of ed­u­ca­tion those dreams are of­ten sifted out, leading us to fo­cus on more at­tain­able ca­reers. It’s a worn old tale re­ally: the pas­sion­ate in­di­vid­ual who for­sakes his or her hob­bies, crum­bling to the ne­ces­sity of a paid wage.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The rise of new me­dia has be­gun to erode these cliches, al­low­ing those who are pas­sion­ate enough to carve their own way in the world, of­ten cre­at­ing jobs that were pre­vi­ously un­heard of. Sure, it’s a far cry off be­ing an as­tro­naut, but at the very least one could es­tab­lish their own cap­tain’s deck at home.

MAKIN' THAT MONEY >> “Earn­ing a liv­ing gam­ing seems more a daydream than a real like­li­hood,” muses Daniel CouttsSmith, a 24-year-old gamer based north of Syd­ney more com­monly known to the on­line com­mu­nity as Zig­gyD. “I've been gam­ing pretty much all my life, I don't think I can re­mem­ber a time be­fore PC games or Sega Mega Drive. How­ever, I never re­ally con­sid­ered it any­thing more than a way to kill time.”

Af­ter years of work­ing a re­tail job that didn’t quite fit, Daniel was des­per­ate for a more cre­ative out­let to fuel his pas­sions. It wasn’t un­til his part­ner Amy Gil­bert sug­gested he utilise his Star­Craft II ob­ses­sion that Daniel looked to YouTube guides as a vi­able op­tion. “I'd earned a few dol­lars through free­lance writ­ing ef­forts and I thought maybe I could earn a few more through videos, maybe enough to buy a game in a few months time.”

But it wasn’t long un­til Daniel be­gan to see the po­ten­tial be­hind the Zig­gyD chan­nel. “Only a cou­ple of months in I saw that some

If one vIdeo makes $10 In a month, what hap­pens If I make 10 more?

of my videos were earn­ing a cou­ple of dol­lars a day from search traf­fic,” he re­calls “If one video this good could make ten dol­lars in a month then what hap­pens if I make ten more videos that are even bet­ter? It was a very ex­cit­ing con­cept and I was prob­a­bly hooked from that mo­ment.”

Over the past cou­ple of years, Daniel and Amy have been build­ing up Zig­gyD, trans­form­ing it into a sus­tain­able busi­ness that now sup­ports the pair full time. With mul­ti­ple new videos each week, the chan­nel of­fers strat­egy guides, playthroughs and even the odd self-im­prove­ment video as part of Zig­gyD’s ‘Mon­day Mus­ings’ seg­ment. “My chan­nel's core strength has al­ways been the way I take com­plex games and break

their me­chan­ics down into easy to digest guides,” Daniel ex­plains. “I do hours of test­ing, col­lect­ing and anal­y­sis of in­for­ma­tion on a spe­cific game prob­lem.” The re­sult takes the form of a five to ten minute video ac­com­pa­nied by Daniel’s per­sonal com­men­tary.

For Zig­gyD, the ma­jor­ity of his chan­nel’s sus­tain­abil­ity is thanks to YouTube’s ad­ver­tis­ing pol­icy. Once a chan­nel reaches a cer­tain amount of views, video cre­ators are of­fered the chance to link ad­ver­tise­ments to their con­tent. If ac­cepted, with ev­ery new view there’s a chance that a short advertisement will play be­fore­hand, whether it be rel­e­vant to the con­tent or within the view­ers’ in­ter­est. Each view roughly equates to less than a cent, but when you’re get­ting 30,000+ views a day, it adds up. “The whole sys­tem is amaz­ing re­ally,” Daniel says. “I get paid to cre­ate free con­tent for my view­ers and the ad­ver­tis­ers get to show off their prod­ucts in a highly tar­geted fash­ion. Ev­ery­one in­volved wins and I feel like I am re­ally cre­at­ing value out of noth­ing.”

Syd­neysider Michael “Vaati” Sa­muels, 22, has a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach to his YouTube chan­nel. ‘VaatiVidya’, as it’s known, is en­tirely ded­i­cated to the Souls se­ries, up­load­ing game­play footage, tips and pre­views. But what Vaati is most widely recog­nised for is his in-depth ex­plo­ration of the se­ries’ cryptic lore. “The Souls se­ries has so much depth, and fo­cus­ing on one game al­lows me to go in-depth to an ex­tent that other con­tent cre­ators wouldn't be able to,” he ex­plains. “There's so much to cover, and I don't think my videos would be good un­less I could de­vote an en­tire chan­nel to bring­ing the Souls games to life.”

Vaati has made it his goal to fo­cus on qual­ity over quan­tity, cre­at­ing cin­e­matic videos that cap­ture the heart of the Souls se­ries. “Some chan­nels are driven by per­son­al­ity, oth­ers are driven by scripted con­tent,” Michael says. “My per­sona is largely sep­a­rate from my videos, and I like to think that the sto­ry­telling and in­for­ma­tion in my videos can stand on its own with­out an over­bear­ing per­son­al­ity.” This fo­cus on sto­ry­telling and con­tent is what draws Vaati’s fan base, but to main­tain that fan base, Michael is aware he needs to main­tain the reg­u­lar­ity of his up­loads. “If people look at your chan­nel and see that your last video was cre­ated five months ago, then they won't sub­scribe. If people are aware that you cre­ate once a month or once a week, then they'll be more likely to sub­scribe. By keep­ing it reg­u­lar, people know what to ex­pect.”

But bal­anc­ing the reg­u­lar­ity and qual­ity of VaatiVidya’s tightly scripted, cin­e­matic style poses a prob­lem for Michael, as YouTube’s ad­ver­tis­ing pol­icy re­wards those with a large num­ber of views across a large amount of con­tent. “Very, VERY few people will make a mean­ing­ful amount of money off their early con­tent.” Michael cau­tions. “With­out a sub­scriber­base, it's hard to get views, and with­out views, it's hard to make money. If you make videos for the money that means you'll be look­ing to max­imise the amount

VERY, VERY FEW PEOPLE WILL MAKE A MEAN­ING­FUL AMOUNT OF MONEY OFF THEIR EARLY CON­TENT

of views you can get. This means you'll try to make as many videos as pos­si­ble, which usu­ally means that the videos won't be of very good qual­ity. So I stuck to mak­ing one good video a week. I had ad­ver­tis­ing on my videos dur­ing this time, but it took me al­most a year be­fore I started mak­ing any­thing near min­i­mum-wage.”

It’s for this rea­son that Vaati be­gan look­ing else­where, for if he wanted to im­prove his chan­nel, make it sus­tain­able and achieve the high cin­e­matic qual­ity his videos de­manded, he would need a more se­cure ground­ing.

QUAL­ITY > QUAN­TITY >> En­ter Pa­treon, a crowd­fund­ing web­site not dis­sim­i­lar to Kick­starter, but one that al­lows fans to do­nate a small sum of money to cre­ators on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Cre­ators can set up their ac­counts on a videoby-video or a month-by-month ba­sis, as well as set mile­stone goals, pro­vide re­wards for pa­trons and dis­cuss fu­ture con­tent with ded­i­cated fans in a more se­cure en­vi­ron­ment. The re­sult is pos­i­tive on both sides. Fans re­ceive guar­an­teed, con­tin­ual con­tent, while cre­ators can con­tinue to do what they love.

“It's a great sys­tem,” Michael says. “When I was be­ing paid through ad­ver­tis­ing, I was be­ing re­warded for the amount of videos I could make. On Pa­treon, I'm be­ing paid through ap­pre­ci­a­tion. The bet­ter my videos are, the more likely people will be to pledge to­wards my videos.” It’s a sys­tem that re­wards qual­ity, not quan­tity, and it means Michael can fo­cus on mak­ing the best con­tent he can, with­out com­pro­mise.

That’s not to say Zig­gyD’s con­stant stream of re­leases are not qual­ity, not by any stretch. Daniel and his part­ner work tire­lessly to make Zig­gyD a ver­sa­tile chan­nel. “Time is the big­gest re­quire­ment of a suc­cess­ful YouTube or Twitch ca­reer,” Daniel says. “If you are se­ri­ous about it you have to do ev­ery­thing you can to buy yourself more time: drop back to part time work, sell things you don't need, move to a smaller phone plan or a cheaper house and do what­ever else you can to save money so you can in­vest time into build­ing your chan­nel and skill set. Over the past two years I have prob­a­bly av­er­aged six or more hours a day on this, in­clud­ing days off, even when I was work­ing a full time job.“

Vaati has a sim­i­lar ded­i­ca­tion to con­tent, com­mit­ting at least five to ten hours of work per video to en­sure ev­ery piece of con­tent is up to stan­dard, not count­ing the work in­volved in re­search, play time and the many other ne­ces­si­ties of main­tain­ing a chan­nel. “Imag­ine if some­one clicks through to your chan­nel page af­ter see­ing one of your videos.” Michael says. “The sec­ond video they watch might de­cide whether they be­come a sub­scriber, and it's im­por­tant to have a chan­nel full of great en­ter­tain­ment.”

A vet­eran of the YouTube ‘Let’s Play’ scene, 31-year-old Kurt J Mac spends at least 50 hours a week in his Chicago study work­ing on Minecraft-cen­tric chan­nel Far Lands or Bust.

"There is a lot of com­pe­ti­tion," he ex­plained in a re­cent in­ter­view. "In or­der to stay rel­e­vant, it is es­sen­tial to have con­tent seven days a week. The big­gest mis­con­cep­tion is that we gam­ing YouTu­bers sim­ply play games all day, when in fact the ac­tual play­ing and record­ing game­play ac­counts to only about a quar­ter of the time spent."

For the past three years, Kurt has been walk­ing in the same di­rec­tion in Minecraft, quest­ing for the fa­bled far lands that cre­ator Markus ‘Notch’ Persson orig­i­nally ad­dressed on his de­vel­oper’s blog. In ear­lier builds, the game’s ran­domly gen­er­ated maps have a limit, a sus­pected flaw that once a cer­tain point is breached strange anom­alies will start to ap­pear. The bug has since been fixed, but Kurt’s ver­sion of the game hasn’t been up­dated in a long while. "When I set out I was kind of un­der­pre­pared," he ad­mits. “If it was a three-year jour­ney and I had got­ten there al­ready, it prob­a­bly wouldn't be as spe­cial a thing. If, 20 years down the line, I fi­nally make it, that would be a cool thing!"

To Mo­jang’s credit, Kurt pre­dicts that it will take at least that amount of time be­fore he reaches those far off lands but, as is the case with many great ad­ven­tures, the jour­ney has be­come the fo­cus of his chan­nel, much more so than the des­ti­na­tion.

While there is a med­i­ta­tive tran­quil­ity to watch­ing some­one cross the shift­ing planes of Minecraft, Kurt’s per­son­al­ity plays a large part in keep­ing fans com­ing back to his chan­nel, of­ten dis­cussing the lat­est gam­ing news, the­o­ries and life in gen­eral. "I hear of a lot of people who now pre­fer to watch people play games on YouTube in­stead of buy­ing or play­ing them," Kurt says. "It's about the per­son­al­ity of the per­son play­ing. Minecraft is a dif­fer­ent game for ev­ery­body. People can make their own sto­ry­lines, like I have with Far Lands. It lends it­self to be­ing more of a stage."

Kurt has taken his YouTube chan­nel a step fur­ther than merely mak­ing it sus­tain­able. Since 2011, Far Lands or Bust has raised up­wards of 250,000 dol­lars for Child’s Play Char­ity, an or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing the lives of sickly chil­dren by sup­ply­ing toys and games to over 70 hos­pi­tals world­wide. In­ter­est­ingly, Child’s Play Char­ity was orig­i­nally es­tab­lished by the lads be­hind Penny Ar­cade, bring­ing Kurt’s jour­ney full cir­cle con­sid­er­ing he first dis­cov­ered Minecraft via one of their on­line comic strips.

DMCA OR BUST >> But aside from the in­di­vid­u­als be­hind each chan­nel, the com­mu­nity that ab­sorbs the con­tent and, in very spe­cial cases, the char­i­ties who re­ceive funds, Vaati be­lieves that new me­dia is mostly on the side of the cre­ators and dis­trib­u­tors of the orig­i­nal con­tent. “Gam­ing upload­ers have an in­ter­est­ing con­nec­tion to the pub­lish­ers and de­vel­op­ers of the games they dis­play on their chan­nel,” he says. “We op­er­ate in a le­gal gray area, where footage used is clas­si­fied as ‘fair use’, a no­to­ri­ously mean­ing­less law if pub­lish­ers or de­vel­op­ers de­cide to take down that footage on YouTube.” This has been a strong point of con­tention amidst the on­line com­mu­nity, as the past year has seen dif­fer­ent de­vel­op­ers alien­at­ing cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties with their con­tro­ver­sial ac­tions. Nin­tendo re­cently tar­geted spe­cific Let’s Play chan­nels earn­ing rev­enue from their con­tent, tak­ing down the footage and putting a halt to any fur­ther rev­enue that came from the videos. In an­other case, EA paid cer­tain YouTube pro­duc­ers to say pos­i­tive things about their games, a per­fectly le­gal ap­proach, ex­cept for the fact that the con­tent cre­ators de­clined to men­tion re­ceiv­ing said pay­ments. “The up­loader should be en­cour­aged to pro­duce, not with money, but with ac­cess to game as­sets, in­for­ma­tion and give­aways.” ar­gues Vaati, who strongly dis­ap­proves of both com­pany's ac­tions. “Bandai Namco has done a great job of this with Dark Souls 2. Be­fore the game re­leased, they gave as­sets and in­for­ma­tion to new me­dia pro­duc­ers on YouTube and Twitch, just like they may have given to tra­di­tional me­dia forms. Af­ter the game was re­leased, Namco has spon­sored give­aways of Dark Souls 2 steam codes on Twitch.tv, draw­ing more view­ers to those who cover their game, and donat­ing re­wards that can be dis­trib­uted among the com­mu­nity. This is a healthy re­la­tion­ship that I would love to see adopted by other pub­lish­ers and de­vel­op­ers.” Zig­gyD ex­pands on this. ”Ac­ces­si­bil­ity is some­thing that reg­u­lar TV or print will never have,” he says. “I think the best way to lever­age this in the fu­ture won’t be to sim­ply use new me­dia to advertise, but as a plat­form for cre­ation. Giv­ing con­tent pro­duc­ers and their com­mu­ni­ties the chance to shape the way games or other prod­ucts are de­signed will lead to the cre­ation of a or­ganic way of mar­ket­ing that re­sults in high qual­ity prod­ucts.”

This com­mu­ni­ca­tion is in­te­gral to en­sur­ing stronger con­tent for the fu­ture. Just as it’s im­por­tant for de­vel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers to be on the same page, both par­ties need to un­der­stand what the com­mu­nity wants. New me­dia has

EA PAID CER­TAIN YOUTUBE PRO­DUC­ERS TO SAY POS­I­TIVE THINGS ABOUT THEIR GAMES

al­lowed for that di­a­logue to be as open and var­ied as pos­si­ble, and chan­nels such as Zig­gyD, VaatiVidya and Far Lands or Bust are help­ing bridge the once di­vided gap. Not only are they giv­ing a pas­sion­ate com­mu­nity a place to gather, but they also pro­vide a fo­rum for dis­cus­sion, cre­ation and sug­ges­tion. “Gam­ing is not only a great way to un­wind, but it can be a real per­sonal de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence,” Daniel re­flects. “You get to chal­lenge yourself, learn how to over­come your lim­i­ta­tions and even form re­la­tion­ships with people from all around the world.” For those out there with the gam­ing bug who have the itch to try their hand at YouTube, Vaati has this ad­vice to give. “Get out there and start mak­ing videos, re­gard­less of whether they're good or not. Learn the plat­form, learn what people like, take con­struc­tive crit­i­cism and en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence. Even­tu­ally you'll find a fan base who likes the same thing you do, and that's what it's al­ways been about for me.” He’s adamant about this point, clearly ea­ger to see the gam­ing com­mu­nity ex­pand on YouTube and Twitch. “Think­ing and plan­ning are im­por­tant, but noth­ing is as valu­able as get­ting real ex­pe­ri­ence and feed­back. So grab a mi­cro­phone, learn how to edit and throw yourself into the deep end.”

Daniel Coutts-Smith

Michael Sa­muels

Kurt J Mac

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