YouTube is an internet powerhouse. There isn’t anyone that would deny that it is the premier video sharing site on the planet, with nearly five billion (yes, billion) videos watched per day. Now I, probably like most gamers, usually venture on to YouTube to watch gaming related content. This could be a walkthrough, an achievement/trophy guide, a cool Easter egg—whatever the content might be, it’s usually gaming focused.
It’s also probably not too much of a stretch to say that the majority of people who play and love video games have at least once thought “I wish I could get paid to play video games” as they gaze upon an Overwatch montage or watch in awe at a Legend of Zelda speedrun. The idea of making a living from a passion we have, whatever that passion may be, is a considerably attractive concept.
To find out more about the life and times of a “YouTuber”/Twitch streamer who actually does this, I had the chance to talk to a fellow by the name of Chris AKA TheSeraphim17, a content creator who primarily focuses on difficulty and challenge, making walkthroughs and guides for games at the highest difficulty levels, as well as playthroughs, multiplayer gameplays, and the occasional fail video.
Aside from being a personal fan of his channel for a number of years, my aim of talking to him was to get a glimpse into what’s involved in managing your own gaming channel and how one starts from scratch doing something like this, hopefully being an informative and perhaps inspirational piece to someone who wants to start their own channel and create content.
I started off by asking him about his initial vision for the channel upon creating it back in 2010. The somewhat catchphrase of the channel is “FOR THE EMPIRE!”, and I wanted to know if he had amassed the legions that he dreamed of in the channel’s formative years. To which he replied with a resounding “giant colossal no." He went on to say however: “When I first started the channel, the ambition was to put videos out there, and hopefully help people, and I think I’ve definitely done that, but the idea of where I’d be some years later is nowhere near the scope I had originally thought”. This sobering realization did not deter him from continuing with his endeavor though, and he now has over 33k subscribers and a total view count of over 16 million across all his videos. He jokingly added: “I thought I was going to be the next Xzibit, with all the cars and the stuff…but clearly that didn’t happen." Still, it’s important to have a dream.
One of his most successful projects was a guide for The Evil Within on Akumu difficulty with no upgrades or keys, which sits at just under 335K views. I wanted to know if it was breakthroughs like that project that motivated him to keep going or if he gained gratification from knowing his efforts were reaching more people. “Well, no actually” (a really positive interview so far), “I’ve never really done what I wanted to numbers wise but I think that’s because I went into this thinking I could be the best at it, and YouTube is something you can’t really force to work."
He did go on to mention when he felt his first true response: “It was when I made the guide for Uncharted 3 on Crushing difficulty. I was able to get that up first and it was the first walkthrough for that difficulty on YouTube and because of that, it affords you the luxury of a lot of resonance. That was the first true moment where I thought ‘Oh wow. People are using this, this is cool’”. He went on to mention an important piece of advice: “Even getting those first few views off of the back of my Alan Wake or Bayonetta videos, those are special moments. It’s all about having goals and milestones that are achievable."
I was intrigued to know what the average work day looked like for someone who makes content for a living. Everyone has their own way of operating, but I thought there would be a degree of uniformity or a thread of relation that made its way across all video creators: “It all starts with a simple idea of what needs to be done. I always try and do some form of the job in a day, whether that’s recording, editing, capturing, compositing, something that will manifest into something that will benefit the channel, and I always try to put out at least one video a day."
He added: “I try to be as professional as I can. A lot of people probably look at this as a guy just playing games and putting it on the internet, but I treat every job I do with a degree of professionalism. When you’re your own boss, you tend to go that extra mile because you know what the end benefit of it will be”.
I asked him what advice he would give to an aspiring content creator who was looking to start making videos for YouTube: “Well, I would say don’t, as bad as that sounds. Go to Twitch, you’ll stand a much better chance." This was interesting, because at the time of this interview, he had gradually been incorporating more and more Twitch streaming into his work. He clarified his slightly pessimistic response by saying: “It all depends on what you want to do. If you get into YouTube thinking you’re going to be a professional gamer, you’re going to fail. Get into it because you want to do it, you love making videos or have a voice, make the content that you want to see."
Most of us would kill for the audience that Chris has, getting videos out to a core group of people and being able to profit both creatively and financially from it. I asked if YouTube was his end game, or if he was seeking to journey to pastures anew: “YouTube has never been the end game, it’s always been the stepping stone to grander things. I’ve actually written for gaming magazines and websites before, but the jobs were always advertised as paid then when it came down to it, they wanted the work for free, but if I can get into the games industry in any factor or aspect of the creative process, I would love for that to be an opportunity."
I queried him on what he thought of YouTube as a platform and medium of distribution and what he makes of its evolution over the last five years or so: “It’s definitely changed for the worse in every conceivable manner. That said, it’s the still the best place for video content creators to go, you just have to put up with a whole host of bullsh*t”. He referred to a lack of control content makers have on the site and over their own creations, talking of his experience with “Bots” taking down a forty-four part guide he made for Bioshock Infinite: “Say it took me eight hours to beat the game the first time, another eight to record the full walkthrough, six hours to edit, four to commentate, ten hours to render then because of my awful internet at the time about twenty to upload it. All of that time. Gone. And there’s nothing I can do about it. They can do that with everything I’ve ever made!”. He spoke about the shift between YouTube’s inception and where it is now: “At the beginning, there was no standard. Now everywhere you look everyone has high production value, everything looks expensive with fantastic cameras and it’s just so much more professional than it was at the start. It's so much harder to break into now”.
Periodically Chris makes Channel Update videos to catch his subscribers up on impending projects, current happenings on the channel, as well as acknowledging those who have contributed to his Patreon. I wanted to know how important Patreon is as a method of funding what he and many other content creators do: “Since the ‘Adpocalypse’ happened and ad revenue took a nose dive, it’s possibly the single most effective source of funding for a lot of people. People had their income cut down to almost one fifth of what they were previously earning, so for a lot of people doing this sort of thing, it’s probably what’s keeping their lights on and their houses warm. I think Patreon is emboldening the future of creative people on a medium as interesting as the internet”.
As previously mentioned, Chris has over 33k subscribers to his channel that he’s earned with hard work, a high standard of quality and entertaining commentary, using that cocktail of traits to become what most would consider to be very successful. When compared with other gaming channels like TheRadBrad, PewDiePie and Gamespot with their millions of subscribers, however, you can sympathize with his frustration. I asked what he thought were the key ingredients to having a “successful” gaming channel: “The biggest thing is universal: quality. People sometimes misunderstand what that means. You don’t have to have no damage, didn’t touch the controller, arguing-with-my-wife-while-playing levels of gameplay. You need quality recording and quality technology. People expect these massive production value videos know without even realising what goes into them. Beyond that, it’s understanding what the markets are and knowing what’s ‘on-trend’. If you want to have a high quality gaming channel, you have to have your finger on the pulse of what everyone’s clicking on. Everything else is just luck and bullsh*t”.
Most of Chris’ videos are recorded with commentary solely by himself, sometimes talking over videos that are over thirty minutes in length. He occasionally records videos with his girlfriend as well, and I was intrigued to know if this changed the dynamic of his commentary and if it made it easier, harder, or just plain different: “For me, because it’s with my girlfriend, I’m a lot more self-conscious about it. When I record a commentary, it’s easy for me because I don’t really care what people think. When someone else gets involved I get a lot more defensive and protective, I don’t want strangers talking bad about my friends or my girlfriend so there’s definitely more of a shield if they’re involved. If you can get around that, it becomes quite different and actually pretty rejuvenating as you’ve got someone to bounce off”.
Being a YouTuber isn’t your average profession, and I wanted to know how his family and friends related to his occupation. Did he keep them in the dark and maintain privacy over his work or was he open and transparent?: “I aspire to keep it separate, but not because I don’t want them there, I just don’t think they’re that interested in that side of me. They actually watch the channel quite a lot, especially my dad, which can get it a bit weird as I’m not exactly PG-13 when I make videos, so it’s definitely shaped and changed my relationship with my family in a way. I think it does give them a bit of an insight into who I am and how my mind works though, which I think is good for the most part”.
Chris’ channel is built upon many stellar guides of games played on the highest difficulty level, usually coupled with additional parameters like no upgrades or no damage. As the landscape of gaming has changed over the years, with games becoming easier and fewer games offering a real challenge to players and shifting towards being “experiences," I asked what state he thought gaming was currently in: “I think we’re in a very sorry state of video games at the moment. To give an example from society; school grades in the UK have been gradually declining over the years. Instead of investigating why this happened or getting better teachers or assessing the curriculum, they lowered the grade averages to make it easier to pass, and this is just like gaming. There’s a breed now of entitled gamers who’ve won before they’ve pressed START. They just want this movie-type experience where everything plays out perfectly in front of them and it’s just crazy to me, you’re paying good money to have games play themselves”.
Chris has primarily used a console to record his work but has recently moved to playing and recording footage on PC, with The Evil Within 2 and Wolfenstein 2 being two notable projects he’s completed. I asked him if this shift to PC has changed any aspects of his workflow or his general playing experience: “It’s changed it for the better. The big thing is I’m now recording in 1080p 60FPS which makes the files bigger and the software I use is a little bit more prone to crashing. On PC though I can change so many features and settings, and accessibility is a big thing for me. When you record on consoles, you’re so limited in what you can do. Then you move to PC and you can do anything. I’ll probably always be a console guy though as I that’s what I was raised on”.
In the past six months, Chris has made Twitch a regular part of his content diet, alerting subscribers through Tweets and stream ad videos on the Channel. I asked him what were the core differences between choosing different projects for different platforms and what Twitch offers that YouTube doesn’t: “Twitch is easy, it just happens. When it comes to the games that I play, other than new stuff that usually does better than the older stuff, it comes down to my mood or what I’m feeling at that moment. The thing you’ll find out very quickly if you start Twitch is there are two very big dividers in the market; there are people that are there to see the game and those are people that can stumble upon your channel if you’re smaller. Then you’ve got the much bigger demographic that like you and come to watch for you. I’m lucky in that the people that join my streams for the most part just want to hang out and talk about games and life and whatever. YouTube is night and day different because there’s just way more expectation”. He continued, saying the biggest advantage Twitch has over YouTube is the interaction between streamers and their audience: “It feels more like you’re with each other and you’re both friends rather than idolizing somebody on a stage, and it really grounds and personalizes it on a level that makes Twitch really superior to YouTube in a lot of ways”.
Chris and the channel he’s created stand out as a real beacon of quality in a murky sea of videos filled with click-bait titles and hollow substance. He’s honest, talented, entertaining, funny, vulnerable—he’s a normal person who just loves video games. He had no prior video creation knowledge or experience before he decided to start his journey, he just had a passion and drive to do something he wanted. And if that isn’t the inspiration you need to go start your own channel if you want, then I don’t know what is.
To see the majesty of Chris’ content and join the Empire, you can follow his Channels here:
YouTube - TheSeraphim17
Twitch – Seraphic17
I’d like to thank Chris for taking the time out of his day to speak to me.