Yogscast: The journey behind the UK’s No.1 YouTube channel

Nobody paid attention when the Yogscast was created six years ago.

Born as BlueXephos, founded by everyday gamers Simon Lane and Lewis Brindley, it was just one of thousands of YouTube channels offering original gaming content.

But in 2014 it’s difficult for anyone in games to not have heard of the phenomenon that is the Yogscast.

The channel, which started out producing World of Warcraft raid guides and parodies, quickly made a name for itself as a go-to resource for the MMO’s fan base.

But this was just the beginning. By 2010 the pair had started their Let’s Play series for the PC’s newest craze Minecraft – and it propelled Yogscast to the big time. A year later, Brindley and Lane had one of the most popular serialised shows on YouTube and were on-stage at Gamescom representing Minecraft on behalf of creator Markus Perssson.

We make enjoyable videos of us having fun playing the games we love – this seems to be infectious,” says Yogscast CEO Mark Turpin.

‘Most popular on YouTube’ is an accolade often reserved for the likes of Justin Beiber or Miley Cyrus and their auto-tuned music. Few would anticipate a gaming channel could outperform these celebs – no less a pair of Bristol-based gamers.

Yogscast isn’t just the UK’s most watched YouTube channel with its audience of 26m monthly viewers. It’s also the first British channel to surpass 1bn views and has even managed to chalk up over 18m subscribers while doing so.

In fact, Brindley has even been named as one of The Times’ Top 500 Most Influential Britons.

It felt like an oxymoron when we spent E3 2012 introducing ourselves to publishers as the UK’s biggest YouTube channel and celebrating our first billion views yet they had never heard of us,” jokes Turpin.

Thankfully that has changed dramatically with a huge proportion of the games industry waking up to the power and effectiveness of the Yogscast and YouTube.”

"Video is the dominant way people make play and purchase decisions about games and it’s only going to grow."

Rich Keith, Yogscast

One person well aware of this power is games media veteran Rich Keith. The former Future Publishing exec had previously led brands such as PC Gamer and Edge. But now he is at Yogscast to lead this new breed of games media through YouTube.

Coming from a more traditional media background, I find it amazing how fast YouTube and Yogscast in particular have taken off as a platform for games media,” says Keith.

Why Yogscast has achieved so much success is really down to some pretty old fashioned values: understanding what the audience wants and delivering it.

The focus now is how we increase engagement with the audience, rather than growing the already huge numbers. If you look at the time people spend watching videos it’s quite amazing – the average is nearly nine minutes. When you add up all the video watched that’s 60 years’ worth every single day.”

The evolution of the games media and the demands of its audience are nothing new. Video truly has become king. Platforms like Twitch now boast extraordinary viewing figures well in the millions and regular YouTube bloggers have grown to become figureheads – even celebrities – in the industry, idolised by gamers. And we’ve now reached a tipping point. It’s no longer a case of if gamer-produced content can topple the humble review in terms of popularity – but when.

They already have,” argues Keith. If you look at the engagement numbers for Let’s Play and the effect they have on sales then video is already outstripping traditional online games coverage.

After years of trying to steer legacy print brands into the digital future, I feel like I’ve fast-forwarded into a whole new realm. Video is the dominant way people make play and purchase decisions about games and it’s only going to grow.”

Turpin adds: People have stopped using game demos as their deciding factor of whether to purchase a game or not, instead they look to us to see if it is truly fun and enjoyable when played. We know that games being played across the Yogscast and YouTube move people to purchase.”

This in itself presents an opportunity. If gamers truly are turning to Yogscast over traditional gaming outlets in deciding whether to buy a game, publishers will want – and eventually need – to have their games featured on the platform.

Anyone marketing a game in 2014 has to think about how to maximise awareness on YouTube and we’re in a pretty good position to help them. We know that when we play games across the Yogscast family they get huge awareness and are usually followed by significant sales spikes,” believes Keith.

But the practice remains a morally grey area. Plenty has been made over the role of YouTubers in the act of promoting games in recent weeks.

Microsoft and EA have been hit by controversy over their offer to pay gamers to play and promote their titles in a positive light on video sites. Most of these YouTube personalities aren’t journalists and the debate over their impartiality and bias rages on. But Turpin and Keith stress that Yogscast is a fair opportunity to promote games through the platform.

"Bringing on Rich is a part of ensuring that the industry knows we’ve grown up and ready to show the power of Yogscast."

Mark Turpin, Yogscast

The Yogscast is a value-led business and the audience is all important; we’re not for sale and we don’t involve ourselves in activities that would compromise our integrity,” says Turpin.

Rich, Lewis and I are heading out to GDC this year with the hopes of finding developers who can come to us with games we can help promote and shift the needle on sales.”

Yogscast is set for a big year. During its six-year lifespan, it has grown from being a single YouTube channel to a commercial network made up of presenters, artists and editors. There is now an army of Yogscasters, individual personalities each armed with their own YouTube channel, avatar and viewer following.

With its management team now in place, the expansion will only continue. Turpin adds: Bringing on Rich is a major part of ensuring that the games industry knows we’ve grown up (a bit) and are ready to show the real power and effectiveness of working with the Yogscast.”

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