Let me start off by saying that I enjoy watching people play video games online. I like that I can see a game being played that I don’t own. Having someone else figure out a puzzle I can’t is also useful to me. There are lots of reasons why Let’s Plays are good. The problem with them is the same thing there is with everything in the world now: there are no gatekeepers. On balance the world is better this way. Anyone can rise to the top if they have something people want. It’s the same way with webcomics. In the world of my youth drawing comics like mine would be a hobby at my skill level, especially when I started. Because the net has no one keeping the scrubs at bay there’s a constant deluge of people of all skill levels whipping content at your faces. Sometimes a person like me gets lucky, and enough people enjoy whatever it is about me that makes up for my other deficiencies. That was nearly impossible two decades ago. It could be done but you had to be absolutely driven to do it. Marvel and DC had a stranglehold on comic books, and syndicates controlled comic strips. They weren’t prepared for the internet the same way that television and movies also weren’t. So, here we are, in a world where you can get famous by being any number of things on the Internet. Unfortunately the downside is that the viewer has to swim through a sea of garbage while looking for the few treasures.
In comics there’s more of a skill gap than with videos. Virtually everyone can play a video game and the tools required to document it are not nearly as price prohibitive as they once were. So there’s a constant flood of people hoping that they have whatever magic it is that makes Game Grumps popular. Odds are they don’t, but there’s no one around to slap them down anymore. Excepting for the deafening silence on their youtube channels… which takes much longer to dissuade someone.
In spite of the annoyance caused by everyone thinking they can play Pokémon for money I still think the world is better this way. Having lived in a time when you were told what to watch, and when, I know that the people making choices rarely speak for the tastes of the people. In spite of this, I can’t help but to roll my eyes so hard you can hear it when someone tells me they’re starting up a youtube channel, or a podcast, or a comic, or whatever. No matter how easy Markiplier makes it look he has a set of skills and abilities that most people don’t. His cheery attitude, good looks, and panty dropping voice, give him a head start that most people were not born with.
In fact, you can go down the list of what it takes to be a successful video game personality:
Number one: Personality.
Most of the people who are big online had a pretty clear idea of what their shtick was going to be from the start. A Jontron video from the start of his channel is essentially the same as one from two days ago. He just learned to be Jontron better.
Number two: Looks.
Of course not everyone who makes it has this one. Since beauty is not objective there’s a lot of wiggle room, plus you can get by on intelligence, or personality. Basically you only need to have a few attributes for things to work. ProJared is not what most people would call traditionally handsome. He’s not a monster, but he looks a bit like a chicken that is wearing the skin of a man like a suit. His other attributes make up for that. The fact of the matter is, however, that being pretty is always better.
Number three: Smarts.
Now we’re in the wheelhouse of your Mattpats and Projareds. Presenting really well thought out content is a skill. In fact, I would say that this is the hardest road to travel as a video game personality. If this is the skill that sets you apart then you’ll have to work much harder than someone who is naturally funny. I like statistical analysis and Mattpat brings that shit on a level you rarely see in any field. Projared presents some of the most concise reviews of anyone online, and he does it without being needlessly mean. When he says that Sonic Boom is terrible he gives you a list of well thought out reasons, and tries to showcase the things that might have saved the game as well.
Number 4: Comedy.
This one is the one everyone thinks they have. It’s also the most deceptively difficult to maintain. It almost always requires two people to work. If you don’t have two it makes things so much harder. Game grumps is a brilliant idea because all it takes is one person to be chatty and the other to react to them. The inherent ridiculousness of games can fuel laughter over a long period of time and people will wait a long time to get to the next big laugh. It’s almost like reverse horror, because you never know when the next big laugh is going to hit. When someone drops the story of The D Club in your lap it’s like a comedy bomb. Comedy is probably the absolute most important trait of them all. You can get by without it, but your content has to be really functional. It needs to have a point and get to that point in a way that makes people want to use it. The best tutorials edit their videos in such a way that you can watch what you need to see and get back to your own game as fast as possible. They are also incredibly rare. So much so that I’ve only ever seen IGN do them well, and they’ve essentially given up on the format in favor of making their website annoying an functionless.
Anyway, that’s a very cursory overview of the things that makes someone good at being really any kind of online personality. In spite of whatever you may think of him Pewdiepie has a set of skills and abilities that give him the ability to stay popular, and you probably don’t have them. I know, it burns. That said, you never know until you try.
From my perspective the relative ease with which let’s players generate income is irritating. Especially the ones who don’t even edit what they make. They just play video games with their friends and people watch it. While I spend my time making up the adventures of imaginary people, then drawing those adventures… They build on a foundation that other people made for them.