SXSWORLD

SXSWorld May-June 2016

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4 4 S X S W o r l d | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M f you want a product review, which opinion is more influential: that of a credentialed "expert" or the average consumer? The ques- tion used to be easy to answer, but in the video game world in particular, it has gotten harder as the opinions of everyday players gain more traction. Superfan YouTubers, podcasters and Twitch.tv footage makers are creating their own personality-driven, fan- friendly channels that rival the traditional games media in popularity. Smosh Games, for example, is a vertically-inte- grated media company that offers sketch comedy, news roundups, movie reviews and more. Smosh was started by two friends in 2003 and now boasts the fourth-most- subscribed-to YouTube channel in the world. Some of its most popular videos feature the hosts playing video games with each other and making jokes about the in- game action. The appeal may be hard for non-gamers to understand, but it gets to the heart of a quintessential gaming expe- rience and is a concept to which many influencers owe their success. "I've always referred to Smosh Games as the 'mom's basement' experience," says its Creative Director, Matt Raub. "We would sit in our friend's parents' basement and either watch our friends play games or play games with them. It was a hangout." That's the experience that influencers try to recreate. Enthusiasts may enjoy watching a video game played to perfection or seeing one that they can't afford in action, but the most important part is hearing from someone you know, trust and like. "If you hang out with us and consume the nearly 10 hours of con- tent we create each week, then you know us," says Greg Miller, CEO and host of Kinda Funny. "You know what's going on in my life better than my family does." Miller, who won the Most Entertaining Online Personality award at the 2016 SXSW Gaming Expo, spent eight years as a games journalist and video host for the long-running entertainment media website IGN. He left in 2015 to start his own brand. Kinda Funny posts ani- mation, podcasts and roundtable discussions predominately about video games, movies and TV, but also veering into anything else that stirs the hosts' interests. The personal relationship that fans feel toward Miller and his co-hosts is important because it leads them to seek out his opinion about the latest movies and games, rather than that of a traditional media outlet. "People will always want an aggregate like IGN, but I think more and more what's going to happen is that they get the news from a place that does everything and then run off to get a reaction from a personality like me," Miller observes. With fan loyalty comes funding. Kinda Funny pays its bills with some ad revenue but mostly through subscriptions and donations from fans using Patreon, a website that lets users directly donate to artists and other creators. Kinda Funny's subscribers get early access to content, exclusive content, personalized messages and, for a big enough contribution, the opportunity to appear on a show. Kinda Funny raised $10,000 in donations within 24 hours of launching its Patreon account, thanks to the fame Miller and his co- hosts already had from IGN. He advises all content creators to make their own Patreon and build their contributor base at the same time as their fan base, because they are the same thing. With fame comes influence. Games developers want favorable mentions and reviews from online personalities, and they court them just as they do traditional journalists. "Many [game] developers view this type of content as great pro- motion for their game, so they're always eager to get prominent personalities playing their games and showing them off to their audi- ence," explains Gus Sorola, co-founder of Rooster Teeth. Rooster Teeth first found success with machinima animations: original scripted content using the graphics of existing video games. Their breakout hit Red vs. Blue is a scripted comedy with footage coming entirely from the Halo games. In Rooster Teeth's hands, this sci-fi shooter with apocalyptic stakes becomes a satire of bureau- cratic day jobs and military life. "Machinima was a good method for us to animate Red vs. Blue since we had no real talent [for animation,]" Sorola said. "It served us well for many years. I think it's a fantastic method for people to quickly turn around an idea with a small team." Today, Rooster Teeth posts sketch comedy and a myriad of gaming videos. They have recorded more than 200 episodes of Red vs. Blue and collaborated with Microsoft to promote new Halo games, as well as NFL and NCA A games for EA Sports. For each of these brands, fan engagement keeps the clicks coming. "On YouTube, it's quality of viewer, not quantity of viewers," Raub says. "One million views on a video with little interaction is get- ting to a point that it's less valuable than 200,000 people who will interact with you and go to your website." Thanks to their strong personalities and regular, grateful fan interaction, cultivating engaged fans shouldn't be a problem for these influencers any time soon. T For the complete list of 2016 SXSW Gaming Awards winners, visit sxsw.com/interactive/awards/gaming. How Self-Made "Influencers" are Changing Video Gaming by Rob PReliasco I G re g M il le r of K in d a Fu n ny

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