This week at E3, the yearly Electronic Entertainment Expo, Sony announced that the PlayStation 4 will be giving users the ability to upload gameplay clips to their YouTube channels. It's no surprise that the PS4 is paying attention to YouTube - in fact this year YouTube itself named PlayStation as the third best brand overall on the entire YouTube network.
Also this week we released the "Octoly YouTube & Video Games Study," a 66-page deep dive into the intersection between these two colossal trends from a marketing perspective. And while everyone knows there are a lot of gamers on YouTube, the exact figures and implications might surprise you.
9 Million Fan Created Videos About Video Games on YouTube
Included in the study is a ranking we compiled of the top 50 video games on YouTube across earned, paid and owned media. To do so we created a database of more than 9 million video game-related YouTube videos created by both video game publishers and their fans. These videos resulted in a remarkable 119 billion video game views overall. We further broke out the data in multiple ways over views videos, subscribers, social actions, and more, divided by paid media (promoted videos) and owned media (game publishers) as well as earned media (video creators or fans). Note that for this study we grouped game publishers' paid and owned views together because they are indistinguishable in the YouTube API.
User-generated Video Content Outnumbers Branded Content by 19 to 1
Since video games are a worldwide phenomenon, and YouTube is a worldwide platform, we crossed-referenced each of these channels to find the international footprint for every game on the list.
We found that views of videos from independent creators vastly outnumbered those released by game publishers, even accounting for all paid promotions of those videos on YouTube. This ratio was remarkably consistent across the board, with earned media averaging 95% of all video game views. In other words, YouTube users watched fan-made videos over brand-made videos at a rate of 19 to 1.
Minecraft Leads Video Views on YouTube
Which game led the overall rankings? Well, if you've ever played a game video on YouTube, I probably don't have to tell you (but I will). It's Minecraft, at 31 billion views overall. Minecraft beat out the second most-viewed game all-time on YouTube, Grand Theft Auto, by almost three-to-one. GTA had 12 million views, followed by Call of Duty at 10.2 million views. For Call of Duty, only 4.9% of its overall YouTube views were from the game publisher itself (Rockstar Games), and for Call of Duty publisher Activision, it was just 1.4%. For Minecraft, a mere 0.6% of its views were from its publisher Mojang.
For each of these, the game's fans took it upon themselves to share and watch numerous hours of gameplay on YouTube. This demonstrates that on YouTube, and for video games in particular share of voice can be influenced by paid and owned media, but engaged earned-media creators are the greatest influencers after a game has launched.
Gamer User-generated Content Thrives on YouTube
The value of creator-influencers was borne out again and again as we broke out the data into various other Top 50 categories. For gamers, YouTube is the main platform for celebrating their favorite games and engaging with others, still much more than Twitch and other video sites. The YouTube experience often carries on long after the brands have concluded their paid campaigns to promote product sales.
Video Game Videos: Owned and Paid Media
For owned and paid media, which we grouped together, the all-time leader on YouTube was Angry Birds, with 1.5 billion views. That was more than twice as many as the number two spot, League Of Legends with 717 million views. Call of Duty was third in owned/paid, just as it had been in the overall rankings. Call of Duty's 498 million views is a strong indicator that strong YouTube campaigns combined with a strong fan base can indeed lead to greater overall earned media views.
Call of Duty's continued to have a high level of influence across multiple rankings. When we totaled the number of independent channels that have made at least one video about Call of Duty, we found that the game had more than 381,000 independent creators doing so. This was many more than number two Grand Theft Auto, with 212,000. Battlefield was third with 196,000 independent creator-fans.
The lifecycle of video game content on YouTube begins with the game publishers and console brands who drive news via announcements, first-look gameplay demos, and launch-timed promotions. But then the majority ownership of voice is passed on to the YouTube community and fanbase, who amplify brand viewership with reviews, walkthroughs, game-powered entertainment (Let’s Plays, parodies and analysis), and tutorials.
Google has found a very (.99) high correlation of YouTube views during the pre-launch period to the first four months after the game release, indicating that brands could use video data to better measure the buzz of their products and "optimize their marketing strategies accordingly."
Gamers Watching Gamers
But why, you might ask, would anyone want to watch someone else play video games, and how would that influence game sales? Well, as YouTube gamer Zack Scott describes the Let's Play experience: "Video games aren’t like movies or TV. Each play-through is a unique audiovisual experience. When I see a film that someone else is also watching, I don’t need to see it again. When I see a game that someone else is playing, I want to play that game for myself!"
Gamers play for love. But they are incentivized by money and community. Much like professional football players, actors or musicians, they love what they do – in this case, playing video games and sharing them with their community. But if they can, they'd like to be paid for doing what they love. So while YouTube gamers would in large part keep doing what they do for little or no share of the ad revenue, they prefer to have highly monetized channels. This is true even for channels that don't bring in very much revenue.
Because they are incentivized by potential earnings, YouTube gamers are motivated to build bigger and bigger communities on the platform. Publishers can and should reach out to these creators and build content or product relationships with them as they develop. Creators are conduits to enormous audiences.