Game Theory: Is YouTube Killing Pewdiepie and H3H3…and Everyone?
I wish they would just explain what they’re doing. Just tell us, what do you want? What are you doing? Do you want more of this? NOOOOOOO! NOOOOO! NOOOOOOOO! I tell you what to do. Fine. Fine. I tell you what to do. Just put that thing away. JUST PUT IT AWAY! Gotta put a censored bar right…here. [Game Theory Theme] HEELLLLOOOO, Internet! Welcome to YouTube Theory! AKA the annual meta episode that I try to tie into gaming in a feeble And ultimately doomed attempt To prevent you from complaining in the comments That it’s not actually an episode about video games. At this point, it’s like a December tradition. It’s the… GAME THEORY HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR Featuring: H3H3 MATPAT KEEMSTAR PEWDIEPIE JACKSEPTICEYE Crippling fear about the future stability of YouTube! Regrettable life decisions! Broken terms of service! Misinformation spread through internet bandwagoning! and Skip the Cat! Anyway, show me a Christmas miracle and Spare me the hate, since these episodes May not be about gaming in particular, But they’re meant to help my fellow creators in the YouTube community, As well as prompt a thoughtful conversation about the website, Where I get most of my entertainment these days, And I’m assuming you do too.
Well, here and Netflix. Anyway, I think Ross from the Game Grumps said it best on Twitter. Quote: “If changes like this are made and you’re a large YouTuber, it’s your duty as the one in the crowd with a megaphone to make your voice heard.” End quote. So, consider this me using my megaphone. So yesterday as I begin to write this, But last week when this episode eventually goes up, The channel H3H3 released a video all about the struggle to stay relevant in YouTube. How YouTube is lying to us. How they’re making changes to the algorithm that are Inexplicably causing huge drops in views and subscribers. How the trending tab is rigged, And how things like getting a hundred trillion likes Will help propel videos into viral status, Getting them a whole bunch of views via the suggested video feed.
Phew! That’s a lot to unpack. One thing I can confirm off the bat though is that, Yes, getting a hundred trillion likes will indeed propel your video into the history books, Considering that the population of earth is only 7 billion, So…YouTube’s broken again! 7 billion views, but 100 trillion likes! ILLUMINATI CONFIRMED! All joking aside though, clearly his message resonated with a lot of creators, As more and more people started to come out and tell their story. It’s like this year’s ice bucket challenge, except not fun… …or for charity… …and involving very little ice. But with these sorts of “YouTube Is Broken” trends, Comes a ton of speculation, And a ton of misinformation that gets spread, As no one bothers to look at the data. Now as many of you loyal theorists know, My partner Stephanie, and I, (Yeah, that’s the weird girl from GTLive who sucks at platformers And constantly facepalms at my antics) We consult other creators as well as companies about YouTube and how to do it better. Why? Well, because we’re both nerds who really get excited about numbers, And so studying data and doing tests to try and gather data to support our hypotheses Is like solving a puzzle, Just like putting together episodes of Game and Film Theory.
But it’s even better because it’s actually real! Say what you will about unmasking the true identity of Purple Guy, But the overall impact of that episode isn’t changing too many lives Outside of just being entertaining, Or, I suppose, rage-inducing if you’re triggered by FNAF, But that leads to the question of why did you watch the video in the first place… I digress.
Anyway, being able to help people be more successful and more creative on YouTube… That’s awesome! And so, if i can help do that, all the better! And the thing that people tend to forget about YouTube is that it’s HARD. Because YouTube feels so raw and unfiltered, It’s easy for viewers, and especially big companies to look at it and be like: “Ah, how hard is this really? You just sit in your bedroom and talk about smokey eyes Or shout at a video game for a few minutes.” Except it’s so much more than that.
You can’t just put up videos and expect them to do well. It has a steep learning curve. It takes a long time to gain momentum, And the biggest challenge, And the one that everyone is feeling right now, Is that YouTube is constantly changing. So the rules that worked three years ago, one year ago, Even as little as three months ago, Aren’t working anymore. And change is scary! I mean, It’s scary enough on its own, But when you, your lifestyle, and your business All depend on those ad revenue checks coming at the end of every month, It’s really scary, so with everyone scared and a bunch of misinformation floating around, I figured it was time to set the record straight, And share with you guys and the whole YouTube community Some of what Steph and I have been seeing in the numbers lately, So we can do a consulting session for all of Youtube right now. And again, quick disclaimer, This is based off of all the data that we have at our disposal, Both within our theory channels, As well as all the channels that we work with, And just good old number crunching! So, results may vary, but this is what we’ve been seeing.
So what is going on? 2016 has been a weird year for YouTube. It’s been a year of drama, of reactions Both FineBros and otherwise, Of gamers moving away from gaming, Of 15 million view toy unboxing videos, Of YouTube Red, And of Zoie Burgher’s nudes at a million subs. There has been a lot of change. But to get what’s really going on, we have to delve into the mind of the machine. That’s right, we’re going to that part of YouTube. No, no! Not that part! The actual inner workings of YouTube. Because if you know what YouTube wants, You’ll better understand the decisions that YouTube is making. So you know how you turn on the TV a lot of times and end up leaving it on all night? Or just leave a Netflix show on all day and then you realize You’ve watched four straight seasons of Chopped? I know that feeling very well. I also know that monkfish pairs very nicely with a date puree. Anyway, back to the beginning of 2015, YouTube said to itself: “Hey, if Netflix and the Kardashians can do it, well then by golly so can we.” And that was the key moment when they started making changes to become the next television.
“Yeah, it’s called retention time. You’ve been talking about this since 2013 with your ‘How PewDiePie conquered YouTube’ video.” I hear you typing in the comments. And first off, well done! I’m glad you were paying attention! Thanks for watching for so long, And yeah, you’re totally right! Retention time has been the driving force behind all of YouTube systems since that point forward, But now, there’s a twist. It’s a small one but it comes with huge ramifications. So let me quiz you first. What would you expect to see if you typed “Hunger Games” into the search bar of YouTube right now? You’d probably think that you get clips and trailers from the movies, right? Well, join in! Participate in this episode. Open up a tab and do it now. I say “open up a tab” because I don’t want you to navigate away from this video. That would be AWWKKWARRDD! Now I’m just vamping for time while you open up that window and do the search. And now that the requisite amount of time has passed where you are probably looking at the results of that search if you don’t have really slow Internet, I’m going to continue.
What I’m predicting you have on your screen right now, Through my magic fortune-telling ball, Is that you’re looking at a lot of Minecraft videos. Stampylonghead, BajanCanadian, PopularMMOs… You might get a few results mixed into the middle there That are specifically recommended for you and are labeled as such, But that appears fairly infrequently and at random, Leading me to assume that it’s a feature they’re currently testing user behavior around. Anyway, you can do the same thing with Frozen. Sure, you get the “Let it Go” sing-along, And then a whole bunch of creepy adults dressed up like Elsa, getting seduced by Spiderman And undressed by the Joker…
No joke. And these videos are getting tens of millions of views. Tens of millions! Makes me severely question my life decisions. But WHY? Why would YouTube want to promote “PREGNANT ELSA vs SPIDERMAN w/ Pregnant Pink Spidergirl and Joker”? To the tune of 21 million views? Well, two words: Watch minutes. When you search for videos these days, a lot of what you see has gotten longer. That’s because YouTube’s algorithm now cares about your watch minutes. Literally the amount of minutes you can get people to watch on your individual videos. The longer you watch, the more YouTube starts to feel like Netflix. In August, YouTube took the view stats from channels and *POOF* Turned them into watch minutes. And views are hidden under there. Think that was just a little change in the Creator Studio? Nope! For better or worse, that was YouTube sending us a message loud and clear. If you want to show up on YouTube, it’s not about views. You have to get minutes. And a lot of them. So even if you watch every second of a three-minute video, You’ve still only watched three minutes of YouTube.
If you watched 20 minutes of a 45-minute Let’s Play video, though, Now all of a sudden you’ve got YouTube’s attention. Sure, you watched less than half of the video, But 20 minutes is greater than 3 minutes. Even if that three minutes is something incredible Like Corridor Digital or Devin Supertramp Or Freddie Wong, or this hedgehog taking a bath. Those channels organically need hundreds of thousands to millions of views watching all three of those minutes To stay competitive and relevant in our search feeds and in our suggested feeds. Remember, YouTube doesn’t see what you make. It only sees how many minutes people are watching it. Oh, yeah! But there’s something else, too. A HUGE something else. The watch minutes have been important for more than a year, But in the last few months, What people have really been feeling lately is another change.
Daily active users. This is what Ethan from H3H3 is calling “channel engagement”, Which is honestly on the right track, Except it has nothing to do with likes and comments. Although… I have to say his cleavage is giving me confusing feelings inside. Oh, focus! Focus, MatPat! So, likes and comments are still virtually meaningless in the algorithm, From what I’ve been able to see the data. What really matters, though, Is telling people to come back to your channel tomorrow And then delivering them another new episode that day.
For a stellar example, look at the explosion of Brave Wilderness, Unbox Therapy, and Braille Skateboarding. 3 very different channels, and 3 very different genres Delivering very unique content, But notice their growth charts. They look very similar. No? Let me highlight for you what jumps out to me as I look at this data. Notice first that they start to gain momentum in early 2015, When the algorithm started to emphasize pure watch minutes, Then skyrocket starting around July, August, and September of this year, The time when a lot of other channels started to have these issues. And what do all these channels have in common? They release a video every day. See, YouTube doesn’t just care about whether you watch a lot of minutes on somebody’s channel one time. It cares about whether you come back the next day, and then the next day, And on the weekend, and on Christmas Until you can recite the Game Grumps Pokémon Fire Red Episode 93 from memory.
Why? Because they want you to make a habit of watching YouTube. Just like most people it’s a habit to turn on the TV or turn on Netflix. So, channels that get you coming back each and every day get the bump. But that comes with a few very heavy prices. First, the lifespan of videos get shorter. YouTube wants to promote what’s happening right now, Then change it when you come back tomorrow, Because by then, you’ll be ready for something new. So when you hear channel creators, And especially gamers, who HAVE been doing daily content for years, Worried about view numbers dropping, this is why. Their back catalogues of videos aren’t performing as strongly as they once were. And when you’re PewDiePie with literally three thousand videos, You’re gonna start to feel a drop. It’s not so much that YouTube has changed. It’s that YouTube is changing all the time, Turning over videos faster and faster these days.
And don’t get me wrong, big videos still hit big, But you’ve only got a couple days to be relevant on YouTube now. So if something’s wrong with your video, Well, then forget about trying to fix it, Because YouTube has already moved on, And is pushing the viewers along with it. But there’s a much bigger price that YouTubers are forced to pay in this new system: Creative burnout. YouTube has always been a treadmill that requires channels To deliver regular videos to stay relevant. Aww, you’ve making a video a week for the last seven years and you want some vacation? Aw, that’s cute! TOO BAD! But over the last five years, YouTube has cranked up the speed of that treadmill more and more.
And with this change in particular, we’re starting to see the breaking point. If your content doesn’t fit the mold of uploading every day, Well, it’s really hard to make it work. Heck! Even people whose content really should work for the system have a hard time. Look at daily vloggers. Their content should be perfect for this, But we’ve seen over and over again the channels With a daily production schedule are brutal! We’ve heard time and time again that daily vlogging literally ruins people’s lives! PewDiePie: “I realized last night that I… I can’t keep doing the vlogs. It really, really sucks. And I talked about this in the vlogs, And it just got worse when I came here. It’s just been so stressful.” Strains personal relationships. Jesse: “We don’t show a lot of the hardships of our vlogs, But Jeana and I…are going to take a break, from vlogging, And we’re going to take a break from each other.” And kills creativity. Casey: “I was exhausted and creatively depleted when it came to making that vlog.” And if you’re talking about creators who do Thoughtful, researched, well scripted videos With fun animations and visual jokes, Well then, forget about it.
Getting one of those out a week was hard enough. Long story short, practically none of YouTube’s organically grown creators Can stay on this treadmill 365 days a year, But you know who can? Large companies with hundreds of employees Who were already used to 24 hour news cycles. When I go to my YouTube homepage, you know what I see? The Late Show, political coverage, and BuzzFeed. The reason a lot of us have seen so much more traditional media Showing up on our home pages and trending tabs Is because these are the types of production teams Who have been dealing with this for years And are equipped and have the manpower to deal with this sort of thing! 2016 has just been the year when All the old fogey started paying attention to YouTube, And YouTube made its systems perfect for promoting that kind of content.
Match made in heaven. And no, Ethan, the trending tab is not paid promotions. Believe me, I’d love to blame it on that, But this is YouTube’s own organic content promotional systems. Algorithms promoting the things that are getting people to watch. Well, all except for the trending tab, Which seems to be a curated mix on one hand to help The discovery of channels that would interest the mainstream casual viewer, And on the other hand to promote brand channels To encourage their growth and success on YouTube So that they to produce more content and buy more ads on YouTube, But that’s another story. So, great! Just produce a ton of interesting, Or at least mildly clickable content every day That compares $3 steak to $300 steak To make every video super long, And you’ll be successful.
A lot of information that you see about these YouTube issues Doesn’t come from YouTube, and, yeah, It would be great if they communicated things better. I actually tell that to every YouTube employee Every chance that I get. I even give them suggestions and stuff, shoot them friendly emails, And yeah, YouTube really must be sick of me at this point. But when I see videos about like baiting and YouTube being broken, most of the time, I don’t even know where it comes from. One person sees a couple YouTubers begging for likes On their channel, and then assume it matters. One person says that YouTube is broken, And then everyone bandwagons until We’ve created something that’s truly dangerous: Truth out of nothing, and that’s the topic next episode, But more on that next week.
I’m just gonna leave this subscribe button right here In case you want to click it and Make sure you’re informed about that one. Look! Aren’t you proud of me? It’s not a two-parter! It’s 2 episodes sharing a related theme, But each with an arc onto itself. I’m growing! 2016, a year where I’ve grown. Anyway, I love all you guys making content out there, But I just wanted to make sure that you were equipped With the best knowledge possible moving forward, And not falling victim to facts created out of thin air. Because this is a fight that we’re all in together. But if we’re all shooting at the wrong targets, Well, then we all lose.
Anyway, for now… Remember! That’s just a theory! A YouTube Theory based on data! Thanks for watching! .
As found on Youtube