The rise of PewDiePie, YouTube influencers, and the effect on gaming journalism
The success of PewDiePie has become so mainstream that my Mom asked me the other day if I've heard of him. Almost 28 million people subscribe to his channel, Mom. So yea, Mom, I've heard of him.
Love him or hate him, Felix Kjellberg aka PewDiePie isn't going anywhere, nor should he. He's figured out the system and is making it work. While it's hard for gamers to get a Let's Play channel started nowadays, PewDiePie has perfected the endless loop of video to views to YouTube featuring to more views... and then to more featuring. I don't particularly care for his content, but you don't get to 27.8 million subscribers and earnings of $4 million a year without people liking your videos. I get the appeal to other people -- it just doesn't appeal to me.
PewDiePie is what people in sales and marketing refer to as an influencer -- a person with a lot of clout that can influence potential buyers in a certain market. In this case, the market is games. Sales teams will put together proposals for ad units, videos, etc. and often attach an influencer to it to reach as many people as possible. This is what YouTube celebrities like PewDiePie are -- not journalists -- and let's not get that confused. There are true video game journalists on YouTube, as the industry has to adapt to more video output than written editorials. Good video game criticism, good voice, and good journalism can be found on YouTube, but it's not the norm.
YouTube is there for entertainment. PewDiePie is for entertainment. And again, that's fine. There's a need for entertainment, gamers just want to have fun, and PewDiePie provides that.
There is a place for real gaming journalism, but it's a shrinking space. Gaming journalism/blog/coverage/enthusiast sites rely on page views, ads, unique visitors, bounce rate and time on page. A good piece of journalism isn't pumped out in an hour or two. It takes time, and time isn't a luxury anymore. That's why most video game website, ours included, do more video game coverage than journalism. You do "news" -- which is information from press releases, leaks, quotes from interviews, sales numbers... stuff like that. You do opinion pieces, funny articles, Top 10 lists, reviews -- all to get clicks. That's what matter. Page views and clicks. Game sites need to rely more on massive output of information and entertainment, and it's hard to compete for entertainment time with a YouTube video.
Gaming coverage has changed with streaming services like Twitch, and video services like YouTube. The industry has changed. Gaming media and journalism needs to change with it. There's still a place for long-form written features/editorials; Polygon has some of the best that you can find (a personal favorite of mine being "How gaming in wartime connected soldiers, a father and a son"). But the demand for that is withering.
It's up to gaming media to reinvent themselves. It needs to be more than clickbait articles and Top 10 lists, but the balance between informative pieces and flashy entertainment weighs heavily on the side of entertainment. Gaming journalism needs to be more about sharing experiences, getting answers to questions that people have, and not letting others dictate the story. That said, we are still dealing with video games, so we should be embracing the fun experiences as well.
I've written some shitty articles to get views that I'm not proud of, and I feel shitty while writing them. Now I share my experiences, talk about the games I love or that really impressed me, share opinions on topics that should be open to mature debate without someone insulting the other person, and if I genuinely disagree with something or hate something, then I say it. We still need to be entertaining and write things that people want to read about, but that can't be all we do.
Gaming media needs to stop being PewDiePie. If you want to be an influencer, go be an influencer, but you can't call yourself media when you're trying to model your content after this:
Also, while I can give nothing but props to the hard work PewDiePie put in to get where he's at, his sole purpose is entertainment, and that makes a ton of money. Boogie2988 has thought-provoking critical analysis of the industry to go along with his Francis videos. PewDiePie has Butter Up My Pooper and BOOBSBOOBSBOOBSBOOBSBOOBSBOOBSBOOBSBOOBS... there's a difference.
I realize this article is rambling and doesn't have a solution on how to change gaming media and journalism with the changing times. I don't have the answer. It's just time to call attention to the fact that there's an identity crisis happening within media, and that's due to the rise of YouTube, Twitch, and trying to keep up with it. Media and journalists are being reactive instead of proactive. Let me know your thoughts on the subject... thanks for reading.