YouTube As Video Game

I’ve mentioned that I participate in a lot of YouTube forums and communities, and while each one has its own distinct style and flavor, the one thing that seems consistent across all of them is that they are all built upon YouTube in a particular way. I have yet to find a YouTube community that’s focused on making better videos, being more creative, or having more fun. Consistently, each YouTube community or forum or message board may incorporate these concepts, but all of the discussion around them is based on one question:

“How do I get more subscribers?”

It took me almost a year to figure out that this was the case. After many attempts to have discussions about the content of my videos, how I’d like to build stories, or how to make more of an impact on less of a budget, all of the discussions eventually turn back to, “What is it that you can make that will get the largest amount of people to watch?”

It’s even been expressed directly to me. I have had a variation of, “Why would you make videos if you didn’t want a lot of people to watch them,” discussions with so many creators that it’s enough to hurt my heart.

Audience is important, for sure. The reason why we put creative work out into the world is to have an impact on others. But is the size of that audience always going to trump every other concern when it comes to YouTube? And if so, why is that?

I come from a community theater background, and my home theater seats approximately 200 audience members. A production in this theater consists of 8 shows, which means that the largest audience I can hope for, if every show sells out completely, is 1,600 people.

At this point in time, 1,600 viewers is pretty average for videos I upload, and I am generally satisfied with that, but participating on YouTube forums shakes my happiness in my audience size, and I think the reason why is that a good number of creators see YouTube the same way they’d see a video game.

Video games (those that aren’t based on pure storytelling with decision-tree elements in them, I mean) are built upon the idea that you make choices, and those choices give you rewards or penalties. Generally rewards, because penalties usually just mean you start again until you get the rewards. And those rewards are built into the game to be consistent and the point of participating. You can visit many video game worlds in order to explore and discover new things, but overall, games are built upon participation and rewards. The better you get at participating, the better the rewards. And those who are best at the game rise up to become well-known players of the game, a state to which other players can aspire.

In approaching YouTube, many creators think that the platform works in the same way. There are rules (post regularly, make attractive thumbnails, follow trends) and if you diligently apply those rules, you should be given rewards, in the form of subscribers, views, and fame.

Very consistently, I see creators giving up or expressing extreme frustration at the fact that they haven’t been rewarded for their efforts while other, less “deserving” creators are having success. They’ve convinced themselves that YouTube is a game engine that unfairly distributes pieces of fame and viewer eyeballs based on favoritism, corporate greed, or other factors.

The creativity in which many creators approach the making of videos is incidental. If they make amazing content that doesn’t get enough views to satisfy them, they believe that they are failing. If they make terrible videos that somehow gain a large audience, that’s considered success, with or without their appreciation of their own work.

It’s discouraging to see this trend, as it’s a rarity among creative pursuits. I know many musicians who are at the top of their craft who don’t regularly discuss quitting music because they’re not able to support themselves through song alone. I know a great number of athletic people who participate in races and games and competitions for the pure joy of it. I have been involved in theater for more than half my life, and most people who dedicate themselves to creating wonderful stagecraft do it for little or no money.

However, I think that YouTube, in the way it is set up, encourages gamification in a way that is both commendable (we as creators are both the consumers of what’s there, and the products that are being sold) and a little bit scary.

I would encourage you, in your YouTube pursuits, to step away from your analytics panels once in a while and focus on the joy, hardships, and satisfaction in creation.

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2 thoughts on “YouTube As Video Game”

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