In the latest in a series of features analysing the modern games media landscape, Bastion Director Ravi Vijh talks to three influencers about how they see their roles and responsibilities, their relationships with the industry and the keys to building (and retaining) a big audience.
Tommy (AKA TOMMYRAGE) from Two Angry Gamers ¬(84.6K Twitch followers)
Vikkstar123 (7.13m YouTube subscribers)
RadderssGaming (28.7K Twitch Followers)
How do you go about selecting content? Where is the balance between it reflecting your personal passions/current favourites and trying to build an audience?
Tommy: A lot of people in this industry focus on one game, or one genre of game, and they build off that. Me and Adam [the other Angry Gamer], we've been friends for years, we've grown up playing games and we've always played a wide variety of games across every platform. So, with that in mind, when it came to a point where we could make a living out of being content creators and influencers, the only option for us was to just keep doing what we enjoy. And that's playing a wide variety of games, across all platforms.
It's interesting, because we've built our community, and content, around variety. We get this mentioned all the time on our stream, and in YouTube comments: 'Oh this is a cool game, I've not seen this before', or, 'I love the TAG channel because we never know what you're going to play'. That being said, obviously you want to try and maybe ride a wave of hype, or popularity, and we've been known to stick to one game for a week, but only if we're actually really enjoying it.
I'm a big advocate of the idea that your personality is your content and the game is the background, so the fact that you genuinely enjoy something is really important.
Vikkstar123: In my experience, it's always been a careful balancing act, and that kind of makes the question somewhat difficult to answer, because it's never black and white; it's always a combination of the two.
I've always paid more attention to the games that are more in the spotlight, in the mainstream, performing better on YouTube. But I've also usually been pretty good at seeing when a game is rising in popularity and evaluating how it's going to be used for content. I think definitely in the early stages of my career, six or seven years ago, it was really important for me to put most of my attention into what was most popular, what was going to generate the most views. But after sustaining a substantial audience over 10 years now, a lot more of my attention is paid to what will I enjoy creating content on. That's actually more of a priority to me at the moment, but it's not always been that way.
I feel like the longer my career has gone on, the more I've skewed away from the mainstream, towards what I'm going to enjoy and what I feel creatively has a lot of freedom in it.
RadderssGaming: I try to find games that either work with my current content style, or at least seem unusual enough to be interesting to play and discover. I find that sometimes, passion isn't enough, there needs to be an element of the game that means I can still take time to pause and reflect, or have a quick talk to my viewers. Some games I just enjoy more when I have nothing else to focus on.
Similarly, where do overt commercial considerations come in? Are you 'open to offers' regarding content, or do other factors have to be in place, such as synergy with your audience and your style etc?
Tommy: I think we've become quite well-known within the UK industry, we've got relationships, and people know they can reach out to us directly and ask about a game. So, yes, we are open to offers.
But, that said, we have had a few offers where it's, I don't know, a mobile game, or something that looks a bit janky, like it's going to be a hard sell, I will just openly tell them, 'Sorry, this is not really going to work for us'. I've turned down relatively large amounts of money for some games. If it's not going to work, it's not going to work. And we'll say so.
The main thing is to be honest with yourselves and the publisher as to whether or not it looks like you'll have fun with it. That's what's always worked in the past and that's what we'll keep doing.
"I've turned down relatively large amounts of money for some games. If it's not going to work, it's not going to work. And we'll say so"
Vikkstar123: Again, it's similar to the first question, whereby at this stage in my career, in the same way that I like to use content, I guess any financial incentive kind of sits alongside what would have been the popularity of a title. If there's a title that's not particularly popular, but there's enough financial incentive, and I kind of like the look of it, I'm going to be willing to produce a piece of sponsored content on that game at a more reasonable price.
It's just kind of a third dynamic, and it can almost substitute for the viewership metric we talked about, because, when you boil it down, the viewership metric is an ad revenue metric, which is just a different type of financial consideration and incentive.
RadderssGaming: I'm open to offers, but I don't accept offers immediately. I check to see if the game is a game I would be interested in, or a game where, even if it's something new or a little different to my normal content, I can still take time to engage my audience.
In general, what have you found frustrating and what do you enjoy when working with publishers, brands, comms companies, etc?
Tommy: Publishers and brands are generally okay, to be honest. Relations with them are usually pretty good, because it's kind of direct.
When we start getting down to agencies, that's where some problems can arise, because sometimes there's an expectation on us to do all the heavy lifting. It's weird, and this is not calling anyone out, we've worked with loads and loads of agencies, I get emails from some agencies and I'm like, these guys are sick, they're very easy to work with, they get the brief. But then we'll get an email from a different agency and we're like, oh, here we go... It's almost like cold calling: We've got this game, what do you think you could do? How would you run a campaign? Essentially, they're asking us to build the campaign for them. The second thing that frustrates me is when they don't do any research at all about us. I mean, just a quick Google, or a little look at our Twitch channel, that's all I ask.
The last one is, I know there's a lot built around numbers: amount of followers; amount of concurrent viewers; amount of views on your YouTube. I understand that's important for marketing and judging what your worth is in terms of click-throughs etc. But this industry is also about building and fostering a community, and how powerful your relationship with that community is. Our numbers could be way different to someone who, let's say, shoots Fortnite every day, but we've been told by many brands we worked with, that they'd much prefer to work with us, with our numbers, because the level of engagement is so much higher.
Vikkstar123: Recently, sometimes the inflexibility with publishers is a little difficult. They'll bring a proposition forward and say, 'This is the deal'. And then I'll look at it and realise that it's not quite optimal as regards fitting in with my brand.
It might be, 'Hey, we want you to do this many videos or this many social posts'. And I can look at it and think this will actually work better as a live stream.
Sometimes timings can be bad, where a publisher will come to me when they're working on a more popular title and they'll say, 'Okay, we have this content releasing on this date, and we want you to create a sponsored piece of content on it four days later'. That seems almost backwards to me, when I'm asked to produce something after the point where that content is still new and exciting.
So, yeah, be flexible, look for good fits, look for ways to adapt content. Let me help you make it more in line with what we're doing.
I definitely think also just keep things organic and make sure they develop in the right way. Some publishers write very, very strict guidelines: 'make sure to talk about this, this, this, and this, and bring attention to this and talk about how you like it, your thoughts on this area' etc. That can definitely put me off, because I want to express the game in the way that I usually do. And one thing I think publishers often don't appreciate is that some of my viewers, for years and years, they've been watching content from me every single day. They know how I would usually talk about something, how I would express myself, how I would act. So if someone comes from the outside, and they try and put us on a script, a lot of times we have to step in and say this is not going to work because our audience knows us so well they'll instantly know we're reading a script -- and that has a negative effect if anything, it puts the viewers off the brand or the product, because they're sat there thinking, 'Well, he obviously doesn't actually care about that, he's just saying this because he's being paid to say this'.
RadderssGaming: The blanket, 'Hey, I found your content and your (insert title of content) was great and I think you'd enjoy (game completely opposite of any content ever made)' can get a little tedious.
I find I work better with companies that have more of a human element. People who can joke around a little -- but not too much, a company will never be your best friend -- and just have honest conversations, rather than a copy paste robotic thing. Even little things like, 'Hey Lauren, hope you're well', before dropping the rest of the press release is nice, you know?
What do you think is the key to attracting viewers, and to keeping viewers?
Tommy: For me, when I watch Twitch and YouTube, it's about personality. If I want to watch a trailer or gameplay, I'll go to IGN, or GameSpot, or whoever. Me and Adam have been friends for years, and we've got that sort of odd couple relationship, you know, there's a bit of banter going back and forth.
And yeah, just be yourself. You get lots of big personalities now, lots of faux personalities, which can work. There are people who play a character, and that can work. Also there are people who play a sort of exaggerated version of themselves, which I think can be a bit tiresome, personally. But we just are who we are, and I suppose if we weren't entertaining as people, generally, then we wouldn't be where we are today.
"The best way of developing your stream is to build a community"
Vikkstar123: I think there are a few key points. One is quite simply consistency. I've posted nearly 10,000 videos to my channel. When you put out that volume of content, and people come to expect it, it becomes quite powerful, because you remain in their mind as someone who's actively posting content. They know they can come back on whatever schedule they're on, and there'll be new stuff to watch.
And I think changing what I've done has been a huge part of it. With any content vertical, there's eventually going to be a point where either you burn out or your audience burns out; either you have no unique, exciting, fun way to explore it, or the audience just isn't interested in it. So, throughout my career, countless times, I've switched what I'm doing. I've changed the style, I've changed length of the content, I've changed the games that I'm covering, the types of videos, even whether it is gaming or not gaming. I crank up the variety whenever I can, and I think that's been huge and valuable.
And then collaboration has been great. I tend to really enjoy creating content with other people, it makes for a different dynamic, you get to share audiences and it's a lot of fun.
RadderssGaming: Honestly, it's different for every creator and everyone goes through highs and lows in their viewership. But I would say the best way of developing your stream is to build a community. Not focusing on growing viewer numbers, but engaging with those that are there. That way, if your viewer numbers go up, you have a solid foundation, and if they dip, you know your community will still have your back.
Where do you think influencers fit into the broader, traditional games media landscape, particularly in relation to where you see your role relating to the mix of information, opinion and entertainment?
Tommy: I'm still trying to figure that out. People do now generally use it as an information source, as well as entertainment, so it wouldn't surprise me in the future if a lot of the bigger media brands end up sort of submitting to this format, or incorporating it is probably a better way of putting it.
Xbox do a really good job of this already, with a team of streamers in their own right who also present news and info and previews etc for Xbox. And even in wider entertainment, mainstream media, on your TV, streams and live content will become part of the mix more and more.
That's already happening to be honest. Influencers are now on BBC game shows. I saw Vikkstar on The Wheel the other week - like, dude, what the hell? So there is that crossover, from a gaming universe, and an influencer universe, to traditional media, stuff that's just on your TV on a Saturday tea time. I find that very interesting, and I think we'll see more of that.
Vikkstar123: Online creators are becoming more and more and more centre stage in the mainstream and I don't see that stopping. I still think there's still a long way to go to bridge the gap between YouTube and TV and how we are seen by older audiences, but I think that is slowly changing. I mean, we've come from a place where 10 years ago we were begging to get early source code, to try out games early. Now, on the flip side, I think that publishers do everything in their power to get us to early game capture sessions, to promote their game ahead of release.
In general, the games industry has definitely been ahead of the curve, and we're starting to see other industries follow. Drink companies, alcohol brands, sports brands, they're all starting to realise the kind of power that effective influencer marketing can have. I only see that continuing, especially as more of our generation end up in higher positions in these companies. There's a definite switch in how these marketing budgets are spent and how these campaigns are put together, which is exciting.
RadderssGaming: Somewhere in what I would think is the middle. I'm not gonna shy away from hard topics, such as abuse, politics etc but I also don't want to overwhelm people. Sometimes I just want to provide a space where people can be around other kind people. But sometimes I will speak out when I see bad things going on because marginalised people and victims of abuse need people in their corner.
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