Dark­ness zone

Mak­ing nu­anced, in­sight­ful videos on YouTube is al­ready hard enough. What hap­pens when the game you love starts to die?

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When the game your YouTube ca­reer is built on starts to die

Jonke is so rooted in Des­tiny that any­thing else he tries to move into will in­volve a long climb

Con­ven­tional wis­dom has it that, if you want to stand out in a crowded field, you need to spe­cialise. That’s cer­tainly proven true in the Wild Wests of YouTube and Twitch, where pas­sion­ate play­ers of games can turn their skills into a ca­reer. Yet with both plat­forms still in their rel­a­tive in­fancy, any con­sen­sus on how to find suc­cess on them runs the risk of be­ing proven wrong. What if, for in­stance, the game on which you’ve built a busi­ness and a liv­ing goes hor­ri­bly awry?

That’s a prob­lem that Ste­fan ‘Datto’ Jonke is cur­rently com­ing to terms with. Across YouTube and Twitch, Jonke spent the first three years of Des­tiny’s life es­tab­lish­ing him­self as one of the game’s deep­est com­mu­nity thinkers. While oth­ers cut flashy thumb skill mon­tages or rounded up the lat­est news, Jonke’s USP was the way he broke the game down, iden­ti­fy­ing, analysing and ex­plain­ing how Bungie’s of­ten in­scrutable game re­ally worked. If you wanted to op­ti­mise your team’s DPS for a raid boss, to know which load outs were most ef­fec­tive for a given week’s Night­fall strike, or to find out if the ex­otic chest piece that just dropped for you was any good, Datto’s chan­nel was your first port of call.

Des­tiny 2, how­ever, is a much sim­pler game. It is also, af­ter a string of head­line con­tro­ver­sies, or­ders of mag­ni­tude less pop­u­lar. In­deed, it is widely hated – and that, nat­u­rally, has im­pacted Jonke’s liv­ing. “I was very un­pre­pared for how Des­tiny 2 turned out,” he tells us. So were many oth­ers. Where the first game’s sub­class menu led to hun­dreds of pos­si­ble builds, Des­tiny 2 of­fers just two. Where the orig­i­nal’s loot came with ran­domised perks, Des­tiny 2’ s are fixed. Sud­denly, Jonke found, there wasn’t much need for him. “Ev­ery­thing is so ho­mogenised, so pushed to­wards the mid­dle, that ev­ery­thing’s good to a de­gree. I don’t think that’s a ter­ri­ble thing, but it’s also not great for YouTube. It kinda feels like they took any­thing that I could have made into a YouTube video and, ba­si­cally, just re­moved it from the game. Which I un­der­stand; you don’t want peo­ple to have to go to the In­ter­net to learn how to play their char­ac­ter. It’s noble, but it kinda puts me out of a job [laughs].”

Jonke’s po­si­tion is, if not per­ilous, then cer­tainly pre­car­i­ous; he’s so rooted in Des­tiny that any­thing else he tries to move into will in­volve a long climb. When we speak, he’s just come off a heavy week­end of Mon­ster Hunter: World. It’s a game which would seem to suit his math­e­mat­i­cal ap­proach, but which al­ready has an es­tab­lished YouTube com­mu­nity. Other po­ten­tial av­enues – War­frame, per­haps, or Ubisoft’s much-im­proved The Di­vi­sion – are closed off for sim­i­lar rea­sons. “I’d love to talk about Mon­ster Hunter, but I’ve played 25 hours of that game and I still feel like I know ab­so­lutely noth­ing about it. Be­com­ing an ex­pert takes hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of hours, and dur­ing that time I can’t re­ally make any videos be­cause peo­ple ex­pect a cer­tain level of play from me. If I’m not pro­vid­ing that – or if I get some­thing wrong – that’s not go­ing to look good.”

Yet this is not just a story of Des­tiny 2, and what hap­pens when a game changes. It’s what hap­pens to that game’s com­mu­nity, and the tone of con­ver­sa­tion, and how video pro­duc­ers and stream­ers can find them­selves caught in the mid­dle be­tween a de­vel­op­ment stu­dio and an an­gry com­mu­nity. Des­tiny 2 has slumped on Twitch, and while much of that is due to the game be­ing a markedly less en­gag­ing spec­ta­tor sport, it’s also be­cause the stream­ers them­selves are fed up with the flood of viewer neg­a­tiv­ity. “Ev­ery­one’s sick of their chats just be­ing a huge bum­mer,” Jonke says. “We can only lis­ten to it so many times: ‘Datto, please talk about how much Des­tiny 2 sucks. Here’s some money’.”

So, where now?

Jonke has earned a com­fort­able enough liv­ing – and lived a bor­ing enough life, chained as he is to his edit­ing suite – to sur­vive a fal­low pe­riod, and has been through this be­fore to an ex­tent, with in­ter­est in Des­tiny nat­u­rally tail­ing off in the droughts be­tween ex­pan­sion re­leases. He points to the Call Of Duty YouTu­ber Drift0r, who aban­doned the se­ries for a year be­cause of his dis­taste for 2016’s In­fi­nite War­fare, and to­day has 1.3 mil­lion sub­scribers.

Yet Jonke is also hav­ing to reeval­u­ate, on the fly, what he thought was go­ing to be, at least by YouTube stan­dards, a long ca­reer. And for the rest of us, it poses a trou­bling ques­tion. What hap­pens to YouTube when the sort of deep, in­sight­ful, nar­rowly fo­cused work in which Jonke spe­cialises no longer looks like a valid ca­reer op­tion? Jonke, to his credit, in­tends to keep plug­ging away. “I don’t have a post-YouTube plan right now, be­cause I didn’t think I was go­ing to need one so early. That’s on me – it’s not Bungie’s job to make sure I have a job. But I don’t feel like I’m ready to go yet. I want to go out on my own terms. If I can hang on a lit­tle bit longer – if I have to burn through some sav­ings to get through the hard part – I’ll do it. I don’t want to be done just yet.”

Ste­fan ‘Datto’ Jonke, pic­tured at last year’s Destiny2 re­veal event

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