I watch too much YouTube. While on the one hand that’s probably why I’m here, on the other it allows me to learn a little about the mindset of people in the gaming video community. I’ve noticed something recently, a trend in how FPS YT communities evolve. I thought I’d share it here with you so that if you decide to create a channel of your own, you’ll have a little more luck picking the right way to go about it.
The first consideration is what game you want to post. For my purposes here, I’m going with the three top YT games: Call of Duty, Battlefield and Team Fortress 2. Coincidentally, that’s also their order of popularity. Not quite as coincidentally, that is the order of innovation you need to put forward to get your foot in the door. It’s interesting that the TF2 community is as old as the CoD one, but there’s much less effort (comparatively) to become a popular TF2 commentator than it is for CoD. No disrespect to our Omniscient Overlord WiNGSPANTT, whose videos always have high production values, but if you want to impress the sixteen year old masses watching CoD, you better really stretch yourself beyond the limits you thought you had.
I use that word because to be successful in the YouTube platform, where real money is at stake and where new people are making channels every second, a creator must rise above the hundreds of thousands around him/her. To what extent necessary is dependent on each player’s game of choice. The Call of Duty community, being the largest and most fickle, requires the most impressive presentation if only because the market is so inundated with generic content. The big names like Woodysgamertag, OnlyUseMeBlade, Hutch, SeaNanners, xJaws, Ons1augh7 and the rest of the guys around or above 100,000 subscribers all have the ability to continually churn out standard commentaries. However, it’s not because they necessarily can’t make better stuff, it’s just that their viewer base expects no more and no less from them, and they’re already so large there’s no need to do more. Ons1augh7 is someone who feels he needs to always push himself, so he and Tmartn continue to push the CoD community forward.
Battlefield is in an interesting position, one I compared to CoD around a year or so ago. It is, I think, still in its formative stage. Bad Company 2 was the first Battlefield title for many of the big name commentators like Colin, Swords and D0n7bl1nk. By comparison, most of the names I mentioned in the above paragraph exploded during the Modern Warfare 2 era, and it is only now that they find their comfort zones. What does that mean for new Battlefield content creators? For now, putting out standard commentaries is enough, though commentators need to demonstrate that they’re good at the game and that their personalities are ones people can identify with. You don’t have to be quite on the DCRU level, and channels like Aethyal and Spcopsdelta provide for those who are better than average but who aren’t necessarily all-the-time-beasts.
Team Fortress 2, being the smallest and perhaps the most insular of the three, stands apart from the other two. Based solely on the PC and with a much more prominent competitive scene, there are many things still not yet done in the TF2 YT community to take advantage of. What I don’t recommend are spy videos. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some spy fragging, but it’s been done to death, reanimated and killed again. GMOD and Source Film Maker are something to consider, but what I haven’t seen too much of in standard TF2 videos are proper use of the in game humor. With the new replay feature, integrating this and making a name for yourself is easier than it was before.
What’s a guy got to do?
The answer to this question would take more than I have time here to talk about, but I’ll summarize in a similar vein to above.
For Call of Duty, you need production values that are through the roof or a personality to beat all personalities. Preferably both. Xbox Ahoy and Sergeant Merrell, not to mention Ons1augh7 and Tmart, provide both, and each have a different approach to their videos. The best advice I can give, therefore, is to watch a metric shit-ton of videos from everyone I’ve named as well as the smaller channels and see what’s out there. Then it comes down to you. What can you do, what voids do you see, what variations on a theme can you create? If you enjoy live commentaries, what twist can you add to them? If you like adding Adobe After Effects, what’s been done and what can you add to the conversation? Is there some niche in the community that hasn’t yet been catered to, and how can you most effectively communicate with them? I ask these questions rather than giving answers because there is already so much stuff on YT about Call of Duty that I feel it more useful to spur your imaginations than tell you what to do.
Now, for Battlefield, things are somewhat easier. Innovation is already starting with DCRU Colin’s various song parodies and Swordsman75’s Briefing Room, but the majority of the series you’ll see are variations on the commentary theme. Look back at some of the early-mid 2010 MW2 videos, and it’s the same thing. Production values began to increase exponentially the nearer Black Ops got, because the smart commentators realized that with a new game came new blood. With new blood comes a host of new content, much of it sub-par. I foresee the same thing with Battlefield 3, but in a different way. Because BF3 is PC first, console…somewhere else, the number of new content makers will be smaller. BF3 is set to rival Crysis in its recommended PC specs (at least I think so), and your everyday sixteen year old can’t afford a new console, let alone a two thousand dollar powerhouse. That doesn’t mean, however, that people with computers barely able to scrape by won’t be putting out videos. They will, in whatever way they can. My advice for BF content now is to get started with something similar but novel and work on your idea pool for BF3. When it drops to record sales, bring your A-game from the get go, and slowly work up to A+. Put out the best content you can once a week or so, with some standard stuff in between to fill the space. Put Adobe to work on the inventive videos, and show you’ve got what it takes to play with the big boys.
Unfortunately for Team Fortress 2, I don’t see a sequel in the near or even distant future. Valve is too busy with DOTA 2 and whatever else it is they work on (Gabe! Episode 3) to put all their weight behind a full Team Fortress 3 release. For that matter, they still haven’t released Meet the Medic or Meet the Pyro yet, and they’re developing the world of TF2 outside the actual game, so there’s really no reason to serialize it further at this point. The best advice then is use the new features Valve puts out as they come, but not just one. Use all of them. Replay things with bots and people, put in beast gameplay from awesome camera angles with cool editing (don’t overdo it), and market yourself in game. Make a spray advertising your channel, find a server or clan you enjoy and make nice with them. I recommend Top Notch. Get a following from there and build. Things might be slow at first, but that’s the way everything is.
Top Tier Tactics wasn’t built in a day. Though WiNG probably wants to say something about that. Mr. Winpants?
A note from WiNG
Since I was specifically summoned and the adequate blood offering was made, I thought I’d drop in a few cents. My first thought it from my own experience working on Top Tier Tactics, and on Failspy Adventures before that, and on Life in a Game before that. Simply put, nobody has a reason to give a shit about your work until they’ve already given a shit about it, so when you’re starting out, self promotion and collaboration are the most important tools you have. My great friend and co-creator of Life in a Game, Daniel Califf-Glick, taught me a lot about what some people would call spamming but I’d call lolspamming. But the basic gist of it is that no matter how good your content is, it won’t matter if you don’t force someone to watch it.
That said, it’s not easy to know if your content is good. Are you the best player you know? Are you the funniest kid in school? Are you a genius who got into Yale at age 14? Odds are if something like this is true, you have some potential. But you won’t know until you show your shit to someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in your feelings – no friends, no family, no co-workers. That’s right: the fucking Internet. And, brutal as it may be, the Internet and its anonymous legions are the best barometer for your hopes of mainstream success.
I won’t claim to have achieved the kind of success carried by some of the other people named here, though I will point out that Xiant didn’t name any YouTubers in TF2 other than me, so I’ll accept a gold medal when it’s presented. With just over 3,000 subscribers, I’ve certainly accumulated more fans than I’d have ever dreamed possible, but there was no real recipe. Part of it is raw talent and luck, and some people just find my commentary funny. Part of it is a sense of timing; I tried to release video content that was relevant to things going on in the TF2 universe, from new items to new updates to Golden Wrenches to terrible music videos. Finally, part of it is due to SEO, advertising, and (of course) lolspam.
Now running this site, I’m very proud of the tiny amount of notoriety I’ve achieved, though I’m aware others have garnered much more success, fame, and money. That said, there are always lessons to be learned, and I hope to be helping others along just as I myself strive to be a better gamer, commentator, and writer. Cheers, WiNGSPANTT.