Does anyone have more YouTube subscribers than Justin Bieber (8 million) or Rihanna (12.5 million). One guy does and he makes millions each year with videos. Felix Kjellberg, better known by his YouTube handle PewDiePie, is a 24-year-old Swede.
PewDiePie has made his fame and fortune by posting videos of himself playing video games. In his videos, PewDiePie goofs around, laughs, and swears just like he were hanging out playing games with his best friend. However 23 million people subscribe to his YouTube channel. So he is hanging out with millions each video.
PewDiePie is a member of a select group – Let’s Players. ‘Let’s Players’ are hundreds of gamers who post “Let’s Plays” online (as in “Let’s Play Assassin’s Creed” or “Let’s Play Grand Theft Auto”). As a Let’s Player navigates a game, he continuously provides a funny and profane commentary of the game.
Let’s Plays have surged in popularity. A huge online audience watch strangers play video games. The top five Let’s Players collectively have more YouTube subscribers than Peru has people. A user-generated Wikia page tracking current Let’s Players lists about 950 players with active YouTube channels, collectively followed by more than 60 million subscribers. The Wikia page acknowledges their’s is not a comprehensive list.
A love of gaming isn’t the only thing driving ‘Let’s Players’. Their hope is to one day get rich or at least make a comfortable living playing games on YouTube. A few of the largest players already do. According to Social Blade, a company that monitors YouTube channels, PewDiePie’s estimated monthly revenue from YouTube ads fluctuates between $140,000 and $1.4 million depending on monthly viewership.
Online talent agencies, dubbed “networks,” have sprouted around the Let’s Play phenomenon. Hollywood media company Maker Studios, PewDiePie’s network,, a provides marketing and publicity exclusively for “YouTube artists,” taking a cut of the proceeds. Maker Studios represents various kinds of YouTube content creators, such as musicians and gamers. Although players realize that their chances of making millions are slim, many plan to parlay the skills they’ve acquired on YouTube into careers in video editing, game testing, or software design.
Players started uploading gaming videos to YouTube almost as soon as the site launched in February 2005. As its popularity swelled, so did Let’s Plays; today 95 percent of all gamers flock to YouTube for information and entertainment, according to a Google report last year. Four of the top 10 YouTube channels ranked by Social Blade are gaming channels run by Let’s Players.
Until the launch of the YouTube Partner Program in 2007, the chance to earn money, let alone a living, by playing video games was a fantasy. The Partner Program allows eligible YouTube users to make money through Google AdSense, which runs targeted commercials alongside user-generated video. Users who join the partner program get 55 percent of advertising revenues with YouTube keeping the remaining 45 percent. You need thousands to millions of views a month before you can make some serious money.
PewDiePie is an exceptional earner. Most Let’s Players only earn a modest living. Emile Rosales, the popular Let’s Player ChuggaaConroy, only source of income is his YouTube income. With over 750,000 subscribers, Emile rents an apartment in suburban Atlanta and lives off Let’s Plays. Players partnered with networks aren’t allowed to disclose their income, but Social Blade conservatively estimates Rosales’s yearly earnings at $62,000.
Once a YouTube video is monetized, as long as the players can woo eyeballs to their channels, they receive a reliable income stream. Let’s Plays also provide free advertising for the games developers wish to sell.
It isn’t all fun and games. Major ‘Let’s Players’ online activities have become a full-time job. On average each spend up to 30 hours every week playing games and recording, editing and rendering video on YouTube. But for a select few their passion has become a valid source of income and career.