How Yogscast built a media empire How Yogscast built a media empire

How Yogscast built a media empire

The newer generation doesn’t want to be told how to do things, they want to see it.

 

From the busy road outside you would never guess there’s a multi-media empire ensconced within the building. Once inside, the company’s office is like the nicer, adult version of a fort built by childhood friends. There's no set décor, but it has all the trimmings of a geeky pipe dream; cluttered with games, tech, and rare Pokémon cards.

Yogscast is a new generation of entertainment company. It has a network of YouTube channels and it live streams. Its content focuses on playing games (both video and tabletop) and games culture. Their broadcasts reach almost 20m gamers each month, 70 years’ worth of their footage is watched every day. Altogether Yogscast’s channels have had 6bn views. Yogscast’s Twitch channel has over 500,000 followers. 

To understand Yogscast, you need to understand the dynamic within which they operate. The company is part of a broader cultural movement known as Let’s Play (frequently abbreviated to LP).

Although LP stretches back to the murky depths of old internet forums, YouTube is really the progenitor of LP as a social and commercial phenomenon. In LP videos, the gamer plays a game – and, really, it could be any game – and others watch. While they play, the gamer (or, as in Yogscast’s case, gamers) narrates themselves playing, often in a humorous way.

The success of LP on YouTube has led to a whole new social network known as Twitch, a live stream platform for gaming that was acquired by Amazon in 2014. On Twitch, LP is done live and viewers are able to interact with the gamers (and each other) in real time through chat.

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At a recent talk, Chris Mead, Twitch’s head of partnerships in Europe, described LP’s success as just seizing on “something many of us having been doing for a long time, watching friends and siblings play games”.

It's an idea Mark Turpin, Yogscast’s CEO, agrees with. “Gaming is simultaneously a niche interest and enjoyed by a lot of people,” he explains. “But being in the same area as people who really enjoy it isn’t always possible.

“When you look at games like Magic: the gathering, games where you have to be physically present to play it, our videos can scratch that itch a little. The audience can watch it being played, and enjoy it vicariously.”

The newer generation doesn’t want to be told how to do things, they want to see it.

Some LPers become major celebrities in their own right. Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, is the arguably the biggest personality within LP and has become a multi-millionaire. In success terms, Yogscast very much falls into Kjellberg’s bracket.

The money in LP all comes from leveraging their audiences.Yogscast first monetisation came through ads on its YouTube channels (YouTube has the full chapter and verse here). YouTube’s ad revenue structure isn’t very generous. It comes in at about $1000 per million views, says Yogscast’s business manager Rich Keith.

But once Yogscast found its audience, the ad revenue was enough to lend the company momentum. The advantage of YouTube and social media, says Turpin, is finding an audience is free. It helped that Yogscast’s upkeep costs at the start were very low, too.

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This structure means Yogscast’s development into a formal commercial entity was almost in reverse. In terms of audience, the company scaled first and then monetised afterwards. It was achieved with no outside investment. “We’re trying to build a new kind of entertainment company,” says Turpin. “One built entirely from social media.”

Now a mature company, Yogscast has diversified its revenue stream to include merchandising and sponsorship deals. Yogscast partisan fanbase has made this a very lucrative avenue.

Use clickbait, it exists for a reason!

The next step, according to Turpin, is looking for content partnership opportunities with traditional media companies. “We would look to keep it strictly online, though,” he says. This has taken some convincing with both game studios and traditional media still harbouring a misunderstanding of businesses like Yogscast, says Turpin. The sheer weight of Yogscast’s influence has begun to change this, however.

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The gargantuan scale of Yogscast is difficult to square with what the videos usually are: friends, sitting around, gaming, engaging in a variety of ribaldries and repartee.

Despite sitting at the head of this unlikely empire, Turpin doesn’t seem taken aback at all. “We have more subscribers than there are people in Jamaica,” he says matter-of-factly. Turpin’s Caribbean comparison is actually modest: if Yogscast’s 20m plus YouTube subscribers were an EU member state, it would be the seventh most populous country in the union.

Yogscast has attained this scale without falling into the bracket of ‘viral content’. Its success is far too consistent for that. According to Turpin – or Turps, he’s better known as – Yogscast taps into a deeper commercial zeitgeist; one that transcends the confines of just gaming. “The newer generation doesn’t want to be told how to do things, they want to see it,” says Turpin. “And that extends to every kind of interest, not just gaming.”

For this new kind of entertainment company, bootstrapped and started with not even a shoestring budget, patience is key, counsels Turpin. “It takes a long time,” he says. “We started uploading videos in 2008 but only became a business in 2011.”

As he speaks, it’s clear that under Yogcast’s blithe veneer is a serious, methodical approach to success. “With that patience,” says Turpin, “there needs to be consistency. Provide what the audience expects and do it with a consistent frequency.

Yogscast has attained this scale without falling into the bracket of ‘viral content’. Its success is far too consistent for that.

“Get seen, use SEO. Search terms – what are people searching for? And use clickbait! I’ve heard people advising against clickbait – but it exists for a reason. Use things that will make people click – but then you have to provide.”

Even when Yogscast was making no money, Turpin explains, they valued their worth. “Any choice you make should benefit your creation. On the internet, you’re competing with free.” Turpin seems acutely aware of the vagaries of the internet. Users are always a click away from leaving Yogscast behind. Staying ahead of this cresting wave is arguably his biggest challenge as CEO.

“We’ve over reached in the past,” says Turpin. “We waited too long to bring people in to help. And when we did bring people in, we weren’t pragmatic enough. Now, we make sure, for a fact, someone can do the job when we bring them in.

“Lovely portfolios are nice – but our size and the market we operate in requires people who can hit the ground running.”

Its wall is adorned with the stuffed body of fourth largest Conger Eel ever caught.

Yogscast has a high turnover, something Turpin refers to as a “healthy churn”. “Bringing in new personalities reignites the internet’s very brief life cycle.”

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Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, once wrote in the Harvard Business Reviewthat “We do not want people to assume that because we are successful, everything we do is right”. By that, Catmull meant he didn’t want new team members to be so awed by Pixar’s success that they refused to be themselves.

Catmull’s dilemma is one that many in creative industries will recognise. Yogscast’s answer has been to give its creators enough room to engage in constructive nonconformity. They have no real limits. And, says Turpin, “on the internet, there’s a personality to suit every kind of consumer”. Yogscast’s undoubted strength is its myriad personas.

Yogscast’s creators flutter in between the upper office and the studios where the content is produced. “My job is making sure there’s at least some semblance of order to it,” says Yogscast’s producer Tom Clark (his nom de game is Angor).

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There are two studios upstairs. One was being used to film a game of Magic: The Gathering. Lewis Brindley, one of the two original creators, interrupts his focus on the game to point out the stuffed body of fourth largest Conger Eel ever caught that's mounted on the wall.

The other upstairs studio is a dark recess where Yogscast’s video editors reside. Each editor is in deep focus, ears covered in expensive headphones. The only thing disrupting the silence is the tip-tap of keyboards. Good audio and clever editing is a crucial advantage, says Turpin.

The other studios are in what can only be described as, an underground bunker. A long hallway with studios lining each side. Each small studio lining on the long white hallway on either side houses a different creator (one is for the sound guy who ensures high production value on the live streams).

Yogscast is a creator led business, Turpin explains as he gives a tour of the office. It’s evident, too. Finance and admin staff inhabits the inner corner of Yogscast’s workspace – it’s by far the most serious part of the office – the rest has been completely ceded to Yogscast’s creators.

For the customers, these creators are conduits. A multi-day, 6 player game of Sid Meier’s Civilisation isn’t possible for a working person with kids, explains Turpin. But with Yogscast it can be enjoyed vicariously. “Our viewers are the unnamed, silent third friend,” he says. The depth at which the games are played also adds new intricacies to much-loved games.

The users don’t just bond with Yogscast’s characters, but also with one another. “The internet shrinks the world,” says Turpin, explaining the essence of Yogscast's success. “Most of my friends live in California. I make a yearly pilgrimage there to go visit them.

“We’re friends because we interact every single day and it’s made possible because we have this shared interest. We geek out over the same stuff.”

 

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