Earlier this year, gaming content creator Alastair 'Ali-A' Aiken unveiled his latest project: a talent show in partnership with YouTube, focusing on finding the streamers of tomorrow.
The first episode of Uture aired earlier this week, revealing the 11 contestants battling to be crowned the winner of this first season across a series of challenges testing their skills, and potentially pocketing $100,000.
Aiken reveals that the Uture team received over 15,000 YouTube Shorts as applications for the show. This high interest is a testament to the growing role content creators have played as both entertainers and news commentators, both in the games industry and at large, over the past decade.
"I sat down a few years ago now, and just started thinking about things that I could do that weren't just [my] usual work," Aiken recalls. "I tried to think about something that could be connected to what I've done for so long, which is making YouTube videos, and help build up the next generation of talent, giving them the advice that I've learnt through my years of making content.
"The way the show is formatted is that not only will the contestants be benefiting from being on the show, but hopefully viewers will be learning along the way. If anyone's into content creation, it's a great place to see what it's like."
Uture was really born from Aiken's desire to pass down what he's learnt for the past 13 years working as a YouTuber. And for the GamesIndustry.biz Academy, Aiken shares his advice for new and aspiring content creators, and for those looking to further their career.
Target the right platforms with the right formats
Kickstarting our conversation, Aiken explains that there are three verticals to consider as a gaming content creator:
- Short form vertical content, which has been popularised by TikTok
- Regular 10+ minute video pieces, which you typically find on YouTube
- Live-streaming, for which you've got a few options including Facebook, Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and more
Knowing which platform to prioritise depending on the type of content you want to make is key.
Aiken says that YouTube has been his "bread and butter," adding: "Without being too biased, I think if you want to find a place that does all three of those very well, then all three of those can be found in a really good space on YouTube.
"If you really want to try and break through, and find the most amount of success, you need to have a decent amount of skill in working on all three of those [content types] -- or at least it could help if you do."
While Aiken admits that he hasn't done a lot of live streaming, he says it's a fantastic way to build an instant connection with your audience.
"You need to have a passion for it because if your videos aren't getting better, someone else's videos are getting better"
"If there's ever anything big happening in a video game, whether it's a Call of Duty update or a big live event in Fortnite, I'll always stream it because people want to consume it right there, right then," he says. "It's so exciting, everyone's together, and people remember those moments, it's really cool."
On the other hand, when he wants to put together something news-related about a game, Aiken says he'll work with his editor and put together a polished, well edited ten-minute video, as it fits the objective better. He also started doing short form videos towards the end of last year.
"You don't build up quite as much of a connection in short form, because you only interact with them for ten seconds, 30 seconds, it's very short," he says. "But it's a great way of getting your face in front of people, and if I was going to prioritise any of it, I'd say that short form video content creation is a great growth hack and I've seen a lot of subscribers come through to my channel on YouTube through Shorts.
"They come through, maybe watch a few of my Shorts for 30 seconds and then they'll find very similar content in longer form on the same channel. So I'm actually not afraid to mix all of those styles of content into one channel, and all to their advantages."
Keep going with a consistent schedule
When just starting as a content creator, Aiken's main piece of advice is actually to not overthink it too much, but to just do it and be consistent.
"Just simply start, just make a video. Your first video is never going to be a great video. Every single YouTuber's first video was probably awful because it's a learning [process]. No one starts playing football and suddenly they're playing in the Premier League. Everyone, for anything in life, starts off bad and you improve.
"Don't even think about too much, just start it, whether it's streaming live to some people, or putting a video together, just give it a go, and then keep on giving it a go, and try and create some sort of schedule that you can stick to, that works for you.
"Yes, I upload one or two videos every day but I've got a team of ten people behind me that helps me make that happen. If you're just starting and you have a lot of time on the weekends, maybe upload one video a week on a Saturday. Keep it to something manageable that you can do."
Aiken highlights that it's crucial to create consistency and not look at it from the perspective of simply wanting to go viral. Enjoying what you're doing is key. And the work doesn't stop once you've built a small community.
"Your first video is never going to be a great video. Every single YouTuber's first video was probably awful because it's a learning [process]"
"The unfortunate thing is that just because you've got a following doesn't mean you can then rest or relax. I've been thinking, sleeping, just living what makes my content better for the entirety of the 13 years I've been making videos.
"So that sounds quite daunting but you need to really love it, and you need to have a passion for it because if your videos aren't getting better, someone else's videos are getting better.
"Don't put too much pressure on yourself, but just understand that you should always try and improve one thing in your video each time you make a video, even if it's very small. And again, in similar fashion to someone that's just started: anyone that's making content should look back in a year's time and think, 'wow, my content now's a lot better'. Even if you just started the year ago or if you were big a year ago, hopefully you're even bigger now."
As part of your improvement, make sure you invest in a decent-quality microphone, Aiken adds.
"I think when you're watching a piece of content online, your audio quality is probably the most undervalued piece of equipment that you can have. Your video can look okay -- versus a video that looks incredible -- but someone that sounds awful versus someone that sounds good is actually very undervalued."
Measuring success as a content creator
Understanding how your content is received and how it should be adapted to reach a wider audience is crucial to being a successful creator.
While the general public typically focuses on metrics such as view or subscriber numbers, it's actually the analytics behind the scenes that matters most, Aiken suggests.
"Don't put too much pressure on yourself, but just understand that you should always try and improve one thing in your video each time you make a video, even if it's very small"
"The two biggest things you can look at and pay addition to is your CTR -- click through rate -- which is how effective your thumbnail is in converting someone to actually clicking it, and your average view duration, which is how long, on average, someone's watching your content."
These two metrics are "right in front of your face" when you go to the backend analytics of a video, Aiken says, because that is also what YouTube uses to gauge the success of a piece of content.
"If those metrics are really strong, YouTube will start to organically spread your video around, put it in front of more people and, as a result, that's how a video can go viral and get loads of views.
"So I play into those numbers really heavily, and you need to pay attention to them because the people that have seen the most amount of success on the platform at the moment are heavily invested in those stats as well."
He advises not to be afraid to try things out and do some A/B testing as the process doesn't end when the video is published -- different thumbnails may be influencing your CTR, or you can re-edit a video if people are dropping out.
"Make the best thumbnails you can. Put up a video with one thumbnail, change it the next day. Does that CTR number go up or down? If it goes up, great, your thumbnail is better, leave it. If it goes down, try another one.
"And if you're looking at your view duration, if it's dropping off at a certain point: cut that from the video. You don't need to do it."
He also notes that things have evolved in such a way that you need to immediately hook your audience; videos have gotten shorter and shorter over the years, influenced by the boom of TikTok, so the audience needs to be pulled in right away.
"Back in the day all YouTube creators would open up the video and say, 'Hello, this is what you're about to watch, make sure you subscribe, hit the like button, check out my merch, blah, blah,' and in 30 seconds, 50% people clicked off because it's rambling.
"Now, a lot of YouTubers don't even tell people to subscribe or like the video. They just say, 'Hey, welcome to the video' and you're in it, because you're getting to the action quicker. Less people are clicking off. They're probably going to consume more content and organically like the video and subscribe anyway, you don't need to tell them to do everything."
And he notes that it's not only on YouTube, but across all platforms.
"You gotta remember these platforms need to have a system that filters good content from bad content, and a good metric of is how long that person's watching the content for," he says.
"So on TikTok you want to look at probably as close to a 100% retention as you can. [It's] not easy, but if you can get 100% retention, ie someone's watching the whole TikTok -- or some TikToks even have 100+ retention, they're watching it more than once -- then TikTok's going to start sharing it because people are obviously watching a lot of it.
"On YouTube, videos can't go that high for longer form pieces of content, but an average view duration of 50% or above is really solid for a ten minute video. Those are the numbers that I'm looking at, and always trying to improve, and improve, and improve."
Find a network to understand your worth
Once you've started building a following, brand partnerships may become an integral part of your work. When it comes to these business aspects, make sure you understand your worth.
"For a smaller content creator, the best thing that I can advise is talking to other creators that are a similar size to you, and never undervaluing your worth. I think no matter your following, if you have some following, then you should be paid for doing any sort of brand work. So don't feel you should be doing something [for free].
"In some cases, I've done stuff for free, of course, but ultimately don't undervalue yourself, which is easier when someone else is representing you because they're never going to do that hopefully. But if you're smaller and you don't have representation, I think just talk to other creators so you can all understand what your worth is.
"For a smaller content creator, the best thing that I can advise is talking to other creators that are a similar size to you, and never undervaluing your worth"
"One of your friends could be charging $100 to do something, and you've just asked for $10. So, getting an understanding of what other creators are doing that are a similar size to you is really important. And if you do have the ability to get some representation for you, then I'd always explore that."
Knowing when you might need representation isn't a clear cut answer. Aiken says he didn't get representation until he had hundreds of thousands of subscribers on YouTube. But things are different now.
"The first step is to set up some sort of business email that people can reach out to you. Some creators are quite big and there's no obvious way to get in contact with them. So these businesses and these companies won't, because how are they going to get to you? Just create a business email that you log into every other day."
And if business requests keep coming in to the point where you feel you could use some help managing them, then it's probably a sign that it's worth investing in representation to keep that momentum going.
Content creation isn't (just) about playing games on camera
Concluding our chat, Aiken discusses the myths and misconceptions of being a content creator.
"I never want to scare people off from creating content because I've learnt so many skills through it. I learnt to edit, use Photoshop, create and send these emails, have confidence in representing myself before I got representation, just being on camera, talking, scripting, all of these things.
"I never want to scare people off from creating content because I've learnt so many skills through it"
"As I said, not to scare people off, but there's a lot to content creation that isn't just the video you see from that content creator. I'd say that the least amount of my time I spend now doing anything -- bearing in mind I'm a bigger content creator -- is probably on camera and playing games.
"That's just how I choose to do it. Some people that are on stream are always on camera playing games for hours and hours. Because I focus on cut down edited videos, I'm quite precise and I know what I'm about to do with my time to get the video that I want.
"But for me, it's all of the things I've mentioned, checking through business emails, planning out a schedule. When you get big enough, bringing people on to work for you, managing how much you're paying them, managing your own life as well... I think there needs to be a work-life balance there. And coming up with ideas for video creation; what's going to set you apart from other people? If you're creating a brand around yourself [making sure it] is the way that you want to be represented..."
There's a lot of aspects to being a content creator, and it's a lot of work to get to the top; it's a long process where success sometimes isn't guaranteed even if you've poured your heart and soul into it.
"I think it always comes down to the one piece of advice that I give more often than not, which is to enjoy it. And if you enjoy what you're doing now at one subscriber, and you're still enjoying at a thousand or a hundred thousand subscribers, then you're doing the right thing.
"But if you're forcing yourself to do something, just because you think it's going to give you growth, then you could end up with a following, doing something you don't enjoy. Which is awful. So along this whole journey just try and make sure you're doing something you enjoy.
"And if you get to a point where there's parts of what you do that you don't enjoy, look to offload them. Get an editor, get someone that helps you plan out ideas, make thumbnails for you, or does things behind the scenes that basically makes your life easier. Enjoy it and focus on the things that you enjoy doing, it's important."