YouTube stars talk scandals, legitimacy and the future

At this point, it’s hardly a secret that YouTube is a force to be reckoned with.

The platform is a huge part of the media with personalities like PewDiePie attracting audiences that dwarf the biggest shows on traditional television.

It’s a huge part of promoting pretty much anything new, with the views of these stars sometimes making or breaking a product.

It’s grown unbelievably,” says Tom ‘Syndicate’ Cassell – whom MCV was prohibited from talking to about his involvement with the CSGO Lotto scandal. Back in the day if someone got 50m views a month, that was considered amazing, on par with TV. Now
some YouTubers are getting 350m views a month. We’re really rivalling every sort of media. We’re now considered respectable in this industry. It’s cool to see how people are taking it seriously.”

Though games coverage on YouTube started out being very centered on core gamers, Alastair ‘Ali-A’ Aiken believes the audience watching YouTube has become more diverse over time.

It’s a lot more mainstream now and that’s really highlighted with the release of Pokmon Go,” he says.

When I started out doing videos, it was me and a few pretty nerdy friends who would watch a few Call of Duty videos. Now I make a lot of Pokmon Go videos which are watched by teenage girls, mothers, men who work nine-to-five job who you wouldn’t expect them to go onto YouTube. It’s just such a broad thing now: so many people consume media through that platform. It’s blown up, and is still blowing up. I keep thinking it’s going to flat line or slow down but it continues to get bigger.”

TV has one advantage, football and FIFA-focused YouTuber Spencer ‘Spencer FC’ Owen argues. YouTubers may have a larger audience, but their recompense is far lower than that of TV shows.

Take a massive YouTuber like DanTDM,” Owen says. He has 3m or 4m views a month, which is more than Game of Thrones. I’m not saying that’s comparable, but the money he earns pales from ads in comparison because TV cost per impressions are huge.”

"I keep thinking YouTube’s growth
is going to slow down but it
continues to just get bigger."

Alastair ‘Ali-A’ Aiken, YouTuber

As a result of YouTube’s growth, a narrative has emerged where the ‘traditional’ games press and YouTubers are in conflict, with the latter claiming a larger audience.

It used to be very much ‘us vs them’,” Cassell says. Now it has changed for the better. Someone like Outside Xbox [run by former Official Xbox 360 Magazine and GameSpot staff] has an amazing channel with over 1m subscribers. It’s cool to see people change from being: ‘Oh, these YouTubers are taking our opportunities to review or play games’ to being: ‘This is the new form of media’. Magazine writing is still around but it’s not as big. If anyone wants to argue with it then go look at the numbers.”

Aiken adds: A lot of people from the more traditional media hate on us and don’t like that we have such a voice despite not being in the industry that long. We do get along though. We’re always nice to each other. But there is a bit of jealousy due to how many people we can reach and how magazines and such are just dying out.”

Yet YouTube has had a massive impact on the traditional games media. This new media helped prove that consumers weren’t just interested in the news-preview-review cycle, and that there was a demand for coverage about a game well after its launch. And, as Cassell observes, traditional outlets are investing heavily in video.

Through YouTube, you don’t just have that whole ‘a game has come out, here’s what it is’ and you leave it,” Aiken says.

You build up interest and you continue to cover something. That’s now the angle that sites like Kotaku have taken because that’s how people want to consume it. If they are interested in something, they won’t just watch a review and click off: they want to see more content. We follow up and make sure there are always things going on. It’s not just one hit and done.”

(From left to right): Alastair ‘Ali-A’ Aiken, Ashley Marie ‘AshleyMarieeGaming’ Surcombe, Brandon ‘Messyourself’ Temasfieldt, Spencer ‘Spencer FC’ Owen and Tom ‘Syndicate’ Cassell

As their influence grows, YouTubers have come under scrutiny. Recently there was the CSGO Lotto scandal, in which YouTubers Syndicate and TmarTn promoted a Counter-Strike skin betting site that they owned (but pretended that they did not). Then there’s YouTubers’ handling of paid promotions. In the past, networks like Machinima have had run-ins with the FTC for not disclosing paid-for videos promoting Xbox One.

Recently, the FTC lambasted Warner Bros for paying ‘hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars’ to YouTubers to promote 2014’s Shadow of Mordor, with some channels not disclosing this deal.

One of the YouTubers embroiled in this was PewDiePie, despite the fact he actually did disclose he had been paid by Warner. In a video following the FTC ruling, PewDiePie said that it was a bit of a grey area in 2014 when it came to disclosure. But is it clearer now?

I would say so,” says Brandon ‘MessYourself’ Temasfieldt.

YouTube is really new, so guidelines are only being put into place now. Some companies ask you to put ‘ad’ in the thumbnail before viewers even watch the video; some ask you to put a disclosure in the top of the video description and then there are others that ask you to say something at the start of the video. Then it isn’t a big deal for a lot of companies and it really should be. It’s all a bit new and in a few years time it’ll just be the standard thing to have this implemented into every bit of sponsored content.”

But Cassell says it’s up to the advertiser to make it clear what YouTubers need to disclose.

It’s definitely clearer,” he says. There are still a lot of questions. I worked with Machinima in 2013 on the Xbox campaign. It was a grey area then. It’s not like we’re going to sit there and read 500 pages of FTC guidelines. It comes across from whatever business is advertising with you to make it clear for the YouTuber.”

People like to point out whether a
YouTuber does something wrong.”

Ashley ‘AshleyMarieeGaming’ Surcombe, YouTuber

Ashley ‘AshleyMarieeGaming’ Surcombe says it is clearer, largely because consumers are more aware about what should be done.

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