In this case, YouTube is focusing on its gaming community, which has been a mainstay of the platform almost since its inception. YouTube presents Game On, a live stream taking place Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, as a celebration of “remarkable games, notable creators, and popular trends that define gaming culture.”
The two-hour broadcast will feature more than 60 high-profile creators, including Mark “Markiplier” Fischbach, Matthew “MatPat” Patrick, Bella Poarch, Jack “CouRage” Dunlop and Ali “Myth” Kabbani in segments such as “Real Professionals Play to Video”. Game Simulator”, “Survival Spooky: Which Senior Will Survive in ‘Poppy Playtime’?” and “‘Mortal Kombat’ Tournament: Beat Bella.” These segments will include interactive elements such as polls to allow fans to vote to decide the results, choose their own style of adventure, or bet on who will win.
“I think the sheer variety of what YouTube is in the eyes of all the different creators and all the different viewers is just too big,” said MJ Johnson, senior director of global marketing for YouTube Gaming, when asked about the removal of YouTube. “Rewind” in 2021. “ It is very, very difficult to be everything to everyone in a concise way. So ‘Game On’ is a celebration of this set of creators and this set of viewers.”
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Game On also comes at a time when large-scale events are gaining momentum in the world of live streaming, both on YouTube and Twitch. The so-called “event meta” has seen numerous big names launch their own game shows, fitness camps and real-life, viewer-controlled recreations of “The Sims,” often to record audience numbers. Meanwhile, Twitch has sponsored events and collaborations for years through shows like its competition-focused Rivals series. Now YouTube wants a slice of the live event pie.
The demand for live, often in-person, events by viewers makes a lot of sense to Matthew “MatPat” Patrick, Game On host and longtime YouTuber who specializes in content that looks at the lore and theories of the videogames. He believes part of this is a matter of momentum; video games are mainstream now, and with that comes additional publicity and production dollars that can match the ambitions of the big live show creators. There is also the elephant in the room: the pandemic.
“We’re coming out of two years where everyone was in lockdown and the only way they could interact with each other was in virtual formats,” Patrick told The Washington Post. “There were people graduating in ‘Minecraft’ and going to museums in ‘Animal Crossing.’ Games became a bigger centerpiece in people’s lives because that was the place they could escape to or interact with friends and family. Now we have overcome that and people are eager to see each other and participate. We are looking for exciting and fun celebrations, and gaming is now a part of our lives.”
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YouTube hosts Game On at the end of a 12-month span in which it has signed several Twitch streamers, but it’s not just focused on Twitch-friendly megaliths like “Minecraft” and “Grand Theft Auto.” While those games are the centerpieces of Game On segments, so are YouTube hits like “Poppy Playtime,” a 2021 indie horror game set in an abandoned toy factory.
True to form, Patrick has a few theories as to why “Poppy” has taken YouTube by storm, specifically. Part of this comes down to game time; Indie horror games are often only a few hours long, shorter than many Twitch streams, which tend to focus on endlessly replayable multiplayer games. And of course, viewers love to see how YouTubers react to jump scares. But the latter explanation fits squarely in Patrick’s wheelhouse: people want to understand what scares them, in order to gain a measure of power over it. That’s where YouTube deep dives come into the picture.
“People want to be presented with the answers, and a lot of these games are done cleverly and give you enough clues that you can pull them apart, but not all the pieces fit together perfectly, or there may be a couple hanging off. threads,” Patrick said. “So that keeps the conversation going. … Then you go to Reddit, you go to YouTube comments, you go to these places and see how your experience compares to your favorite creator.”
YouTube’s inclusion of games like Poppy in Game On demonstrates an awareness of what makes its particular gaming community tick, though whether the challenges associated with streaming a game like “Poppy” can be overcome remains to be seen.
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However, despite the celebratory nature of this event, Johnson said that YouTube also recognizes that it still has room for improvement. This is especially true when it comes to encouraging newer and less established creators and games, a common criticism of YouTube in its attempt to build a live streaming community of its own largely by attracting established streamers who will have an audience without matter where they end. Johnson noted that YouTube’s promotion of events hosted by individual streamers is a step in the right direction, but the platform still lags behind services like Twitch when it comes to live-streaming-specific tools and community-building features. And of course the algorithm remains always fickle.
“The most popular session [at our last gaming creator summit] they all sat down with one of our engineering leads and just talked about the algorithm,” Johnson said. “It really feels like there’s a desire almost like, ‘How can I game the system? How can I use the algorithm to my advantage?’”
According to Johnson, creators’ best bet these days is to use all the tools YouTube has to offer: VOD, live streams, and clips, and closely study the resulting analytics. But when it comes to gaming, YouTube is also hoping to do its part more consistently.
“We need to get better at more ongoing celebrations of why gaming is so great on YouTube. We have these great unique moments that are very visible,” Johnson said. “But there are new creators every day that we want to highlight and showcase.”