Last year at GDC Europe, I gave a talk at the Independent Games Summit on the best practices for talking to the video game press.
Since then, there's been an explosion in the YouTuber space. YouTubers have been a big deal for a while now, but the last year in particular has been the importance of getting YouTubers onboard with your game rocket.
With this in mind, I returned to the Independent Games Summit today to give a new talk, this time on the best ways to get in touch with YouTubers. Here, you'll find a written version of the talk.
You may be aware that Gamasutra has been covering the video game YouTuber scene for a while now, featuring in-depth discussions and investigations regardings the rise of the YouTuber, the ethics of YouTubers, and much more.
But one topic that we haven't yet hit upon is the ins and outs of actually getting in contact with YouTubers, and what you should be saying to them.
I recently ran a survey in which I asked 141 YouTubers about the types of games they play and record, where they find games, what they are looking for from developers, and why them might skip over a game. I'm going to break the results down for you to discover the best ways to go about getting covered by YouTubers.
The first point to note is how my survey respondents are split in terms of subscribers. Nearly a third of those who filled out the survey are "big" YouTubers -- that is, YouTubers with more than 5,000 subscribers, and ranging all the way into the millions.
The other two-thirds are smaller YouTubers with less than 5,000 subscribers. Now, I'm well aware that some developers will want to only target the bigger YouTubers, and thus only be interested in the results from these people.
Therefore, I'm going to be splitting the results from the survey up for the most part, showing the results from the smaller YouTubers separately from the bigger ones.
However, I would strongly advise that you do not disregard smaller YouTubers. As my survey results are about to show, many YouTubers will watch out for what everyone else is covering, and getting your game featured by a whole bunch of smaller YouTubers may well lead to a giant YouTuber covering you.
Plus, you have to ask yourself: Why not talk to smaller YouTubers? It's likely none of these people were going to buy and record your game themselves, and even if only a small handful of people buy your game as a result of a smaller YouTuber recording your game, it's still totally worth doing.
Let's kick off then: I asked YouTubers, "Where do you most often find the games you play and record for YouTube?" and gave them a list of seven options to rank in terms of importance.
As you can see from the above charts, the big, top answer is "Video game press sites cover it" -- it turns out I'm not out of a job just yet! Indeed, many YouTubers who I have talked to tell me that they will regularly skim through traditional game press outlets to find out which games are being talked about the most, and make sure to cover these.
It makes sense for them -- if a game is already being talked about lots, then the chances are that recording a video of it will grant them big view numbers.
In other words, while getting YouTubers to notice you and your games is important, getting the traditional press onboard is equally important, and can act as a catalyst for getting some of the big YouTubers to cover your game.
Other top answers:
"Another YouTuber covers it" - YouTubers don't just look at the press - they look at what everyone else on YouTube is covering too! Hence why gunning for smaller YouTubers as well as larger ones might be a good idea.
"Spot it on social media" - Having a presence on Twitter, Facebook etc is a must. This isn't just for getting YouTubers onboard - the press and players will often want to see if you're on social media too.
"Emails from devs/pubs/PR" - Notice that this is a top priority for bigger YouTubers, but not at all for smaller YouTubers. Will address this in detail a bit later.
I also asked those surveyed to provide details of anywhere else they find games. Reddit was the big one, with plenty saying that they scour /r/games, /r/gaming, /r/indiegaming and more for whatever is a big deal that day. Get to grips with Reddit if you haven't already!
Also mentioned: "Friends." YouTubers want to play whatever their friends are enjoying, which is usually other YouTubers. Many YouTubers will band together with others, so if you can hit one, you might end up hitting them all. Keeping tabs on who knows who (via Twitter, for example) is a good idea.
So let's focus on one particular answer here - emails. The big YouTubers in the survey suggested that email is a big part of where they grab games from, while the smaller YouTubers actually said it was the last place they go for finding games. So what's happening there? Why the massive difference?
The answer is actually pretty obvious -- developers and publishers are emailing the big YouTubers to cover their games, but no-one is bothering to email the smaller YouTubers. It's not so much a case that smaller YouTubers don't care about email, but rather, no-one is bothering to email them!
If we look at how many emails YouTubers are actually receiving on a daily basis, the clear answer is "not many." The vast majority of the smaller YouTubers aren't even receiving 10 a day, and even the larger YouTubers aren't exactly being buried in a sea of emails.
Now compare how many emails YouTubers are getting compared to the press (the press numbers are taken from my talk last year), and you can see a significant difference. While getting in touch with the press via email can be tricky due to the crazy influx they get, YouTubers get barely any emails in comparison.
So this is clearly a rather large gap that can be potentially filled, and if you're planning to email the big YouTubers, it really makes sense to hit the smaller ones too for the reasons previously stated. But what should you be putting in a email to a YouTuber? Should you be wording it in the same way you'd word an email to the press?
Sort of, but not exactly. Here I've compared answers from YouTubers and the press for the question, "What is more likely to make you pay attention to an email from a developer?" and you can see some obvious similarities and differences.
While the press is looking for an interesting story to tell, YouTubers don't care so much about that. The reasoning is obvious -- the press want to write a story, while YouTubers want to record gameplay. So when you're contacting YouTubers, your development tales aren't such a hot hook.
The next three topics, however, are identical -- both YouTubers and the press want access to your game immediately via either a Steam code for a download of the game, and a link to a YouTube video so they can get a feel for it straight away.
Thus, when contacting YouTubers, you want to follow the same rules I laid out last year, with the rather large caveat that the story angle is not as important. I'd strongly advise listening to Ryan Letourneau's talk from GDC earlier this year on emailing YouTubers, and mix it together with my own advice from last year to formulate the perfect email to YouTubers.
Now let's say that you've managed to get the attention of a YouTuber and they are checking out your game -- yet they still choose not to cover it. What are the main reasons for that? According to my survey participants, the following are the main reasons for not covering a game, either when initially looking at it, or after they have had a quick play:
Your game turns out not to be the kind of experience or genre the YouTuber cares for: This was by far the top answer. While the press usually try to be more broad and play a range of games and genres, many YouTubers tend to stick to one sort of genre, such as roguelikes or shooters, and rarely stray. It can be worth researching the type of games that a YouTuber plays before contacting them.
Video recording issues: Another top answer. It can be very frustrating to find a game that looks cool, but when you try to record it there are issues, perhaps with the engine the game is running on, or framerate issues, or anything else. It's very much worth trying to record large chunks of your own game first with multiple different popular recording softwares, to make sure there are not issues. Having a YouTuber decide not to feature your game simply because of recording problems would be awful.
Multiplayer games can be difficult to cover: Multiplayer games, especially local-only games, can be tricky to record. It's far easier to sit by yourself and get a recording of a single-player game done, than try to rally the troops to record a multiplayer game. Of course, this doesn't mean you should abandon your multiplayer game by any means, and it also doesn't mean multiplayer games can't be incredible YouTuber fodder (see: DayZ, Rust et al). Rather, it's just worth remembering if you're a smaller dev hoping to get spotted by YouTubers.
Frustrating, due to poor conrols or unfair difficulty spikes: This is more about game design than YouTubers in general, but many participants cited games that they simply found frustrating as those they would choose to drop rather than cover.
Boring to watch: Some games just aren't that fun to spectate, such as RPGs with high levels of grinding. If your game isn't very fun to watch, don't expect to be a great hit with YouTubers.
Nothing "new": Many YouTubers told me that they are looking for innovative stuff over the same-old. They want to show their audience something new, and if your game is different to anything they've seen before, they may well want to check it out.
Let's talk platforms. You might be running a Kickstarter campaign, or maybe you just launched a game on Steam Early Access. Is it going to be difficult to get your game covered by YouTubers?
Kickstarter: Around 30 percent of respondents said they don't cover Kickstarters at all, while around 55 percent said they might cover a Kickstarter if there is some form of playable build or demo that they can record. If you're running a Kickstarter and want to get YouTubers onboard, it might be a good idea to knock something up for them to try, otherwise they have nothing to show!
Greenlight: If your game is released, or there is a playable build, and you are trying to get through Steam Greenlight, the vast majority of YouTubers will feature your game. It seems that helping to get a game onto Steam as quickly as possible is a sort of badge of honor for a lot of YouTubers, so if you're trying to get through Greenlight, you should definitely try to take advantage of that.
Early Access: The majority of YouTubers are happy to cover Steam Early Access games -- as long as there's actually a decent portion of the game to playthrough. If your Early Access game has less than an hour of content available, the chances are that most YouTubers are going to give it a skip.
Mobile games: Good luck with that one. Around 80 percent of respondents said they don't cover mobile games at all. Having said that, the bigger YouTubers are more likely to cover your mobile game, perhaps because they have invested money in kits set up to record mobile games. Still, you'll have a hard time getting YouTubers to play your mobile games.
Here's the big takeaways from my survey:
- YouTubers mainly find games through the press, emails, and other YouTubers
- They barely receive emails, so email them!
- Your story isn't so important, just give them your game
- YouTubers know what type of games they like, so don't be discouraged if some don't like yours
- Try recording your own game to make sure there’s no issues
- Kickstarters and Greenlight projects are more likely to be covered if they have playable builds
- Mobile games aren't so big with YouTubers
And finally, I have a rather useful link for you. Thomas Bedenk, a developer at Brightside Games, has put together The YouTuber Megalist, a giant list of YouTubers complete with links, subscriber numbers and, most importantly, contact details for the majority. In conjunction with my talk today, I'm announcing that Bedenk has now made his Megalist public, meaning that you can jump in and download it right now!
If you want full access to the list, you'll need to fire him an email. Obviously he's spent a huge amount of blood, sweat and tears putting this together, so if you would be so kind as to throw a small donation his way, that would be awfully nice of you, and would no doubt allow him to continue updating the list.