By Sahil Patel
YouTube is the biggest video site on the planet by a wide margin for a simple reason: It has something for everyone. Regardless of what your interest or passion is, the site allows you to create, watch, share, and talk about videos to satiate that appetite.
But among the many niches on YouTube, there are several that stand out above the rest, one of which is video games. You’ve heard it before, and no one has ever questioned it: The gaming community is big on YouTube.
But how big, exactly?
Number two among all categories, according to data provided to VideoInk by video analytics and marketing engine Tubular Labs.* Scanning all channels on YouTube that have at least 250 subscribers, Tubular found that 14.98% of those channels have uploaded a video related to gaming. That’s slightly ahead of entertainment, which represents 14.5%, and behind music, which leads with a robust 25.52%.
Taking it even a step further, though, of the top 570 million videos on YouTube, 14.8% are gaming videos, with the category accounting for 5.9% of total views on YouTube.
These data points illustrate the obvious: “When you think about native audiences on YouTube, there’s really gaming and there’s beauty,” says Allison Stern, co-founder and GM of media solutions at Tubula Labs. “Those are the two most engaging verticals on YouTube. With gaming, it’s where young males are spending most of their time.”
This “Call of Duty Advanced Warfare” trailer is the most popular video within the gaming category in the past 30 days, according to Tubular Labs.
The question then is why — why is the gaming industry and its community so inextricably intertwined with YouTube?
After all, there has to be reason that gaming, as Tubular’s data suggests, is the most engaging category on the site. (Among the top 10 categories on YouTube in the last 90 days, when Tubular charted data for videos with at least 100,000 views, gaming videos earned 3.7 times more total engagement — that’s comments and likes — than the average of the top 10 categories. What’s more, gaming videos also received 2.1 times more engagement per view in that timeframe.)
The answer lies in each party’s function.
“When you talk about a product like a video game, it’s an active product,” says Jeremy Azevedo, senior director of original programming at Machinima, one of the largest multi-channel networks on YouTube and one that is exclusively focused on the fanboy (and fangirl) community. “The end-user is in control, it’s not like a TV show or a movie where they watch it once and move on.”
Unlike other types of entertainment, with video games, the entire point is engagement. The user is the main character. This naturally breeds a sense of ownership to the product and experience that other, more passive mediums, can’t replicate.
“There is talk about video games going from product to service,” adds Matt Cohen, director of business development at Machinima. “I say it’s one step further: Games are an ecosystem. A living, breathing thing because there’s a constant appetite there for content, whether it’s in-game or around the game.”
YouTube provides the perfect destination for this ecosystem to thrive, because as anyone who’s succeeded in cultivating an audience on the site will tell you, the entire point of YouTube is engagement. Since it was founded nine years ago, the site has revolutionized the entertainment industry by putting more control in the hands of the audience — in some cases even enabling fans to turn into creators and actively share what they’re passionate about.
Nothing embodies this more than the rise of gameplay, “Let’s Play,” and Minecraft videos.
Gameplay videos are any featuring actual gameplay, while Let’s Play videos are walkthroughs where the viewer watches the creator
playing and commenting on a game. Minecraft is an open-world game that allows users to actually create every facet of the game. There’s an obvious overlap between the three.
There’s also an audience that’s thirsty for this content.
Going back to Tubular’s data well, the company reports that “gameplay” is the number-one topic in the gaming category with 149,000 of the channels that have at least 250 subscribers offering such videos. Second is Minecraft, with 75,000 of top gaming channels devoted to it. The terms “walkthrough” and “Let’s Play” are also in the top 10, accounting for 53,000 and 37,000 top channels, respectively.
If you’re scratching your head for why anybody would want to sit down and watch someone else play a video game, take solace in the fact that you haven’t been the only one. But the fact remains that these videos are incredibly popular on YouTube, and it’s resulted in a new entertainment content format unique to online video.
“People play sports and watch sports. You can play video games or watch video games, it’s the same thing,” explains David Gasca, director of media solutions at Tubular. “I would also liken it to ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000.’ It’s the same feeling, tapping into the allure of watching other people play and crack jokes about games.”
“Put yourself into the shoes of a 12-year-old,” says Acevedo. “When I was a kid, I couldn’t afford to buy every game. Imagine being 12 today, and you can watch somebody else play a game that you might not ever play, or use to determine whether you want to buy that one at some point.”
“What ‘Let’s Play’ does is create a sense of community around games,” adds Cohen, who cites the format as a natural extension of multiplayer gaming online. “[Community] is why multi-player has become so important around blockbuster games like ‘Halo’ and ‘Call of Duty.’ Their publishers moved the emphasis to multiplayer because it was generating so much game time. A game’s single player experience can be 10–50 hours. Multiplayer is hundreds and hundreds of hours of engagement.”
What this has also led to is another entertainment offshoot within gaming — “machinimas,” which is when creators use a game’s CGI engine to create animated and cinematic narratives.
“If you’re really into a game and have put 100 hours into it, you know these characters as well as you do your favorite characters from TV and film. It kind of makes sense that people would then start to have fun with it and produce original videos,” says Eric Johnson, founder and CEO of ad agency Ignited USA and a former SVP of marketing at Activision, the gaming giant behind hits such as the “Call of Duty” series. “It’s only limited by the creativity of fans.”
For the gaming industry, this is a blessing. “People are creating some incredibly clever things, and other people share it,” adds Johnson. And by doing so, they “essentially carry on the marketing function that used to be done internally.” (We’ll have more on gaming publishers and their relationship with online video later this week.)
None of this really happens, though, without an open video platform like YouTube.
There’s another, of course: Twitch, a live-streaming video platform that caters exclusively to the gaming community. Since launching in June 2011, the platform claims it has grown to more than 45 million users per month — some of whom pay for a monthly ad-free subscription or subscribe to individual channels for $5 a pop. A recent research study also showed that Twitch accounts for more downstream internet traffic during primetime hours than HBO Go in the US.
But as you know by now, when you talk about Twitch, you’re also talking about YouTube, which is close to buying Twitch for more than $1 billion.
The industry and the site perfectly complement each other. And maybe nothing signifies that better than what YouTube is willing to pay to keep the most popular formats within gaming under its umbrella.
Welcome to “Game On,” VideoInk’s first-ever special issue on the relationship between the video gaming industry and online video. Come back throughout this week as we dive deep into what makes gaming work as a successful online video format — from a look at the popularity of “Let’s Play” videos to features on some of the biggest YouTube creators who also have a fascination with video games.
* Tubular Labs’ data to VideoInk is as of May 27, 2014.