I can barely remember a time before YouTube gamers. I started watching as a kid - and I never stopped. It became part of my daily routine, as it did for many Millennials and Zoomers. Naturally, the games I wanted to play became influenced, in part, by the gamers I watched. While traditional marketing still attracted my interest, endorsements from my favorite YouTubers intrigued me even more. For example, when I saw everyone playing Minecraft, I wanted to play Minecraft too. The pattern played out for millions of other gamers, and a powerful new marketing tool was born.
Years ago, studios, publishers, and other brands caught on and started teaming up with influencers. Influencer marketing has proven massively successful (obviously, otherwise they wouldn't keep doing it). But I want to explore the impact of influencers beyond their marketing ability, including the benefits, pitfalls, and impact on gaming culture.
If the right people accrue a large following, they gain the ability to support causes important to them. For example, Jacksepticeye recently raised over $600,000 for coronavirus relief in only 12 hours. Shortly afterwards, he raised another $600,000 for organizations related to the Black Lives Matter movement in less than 6 hours. He is certainly not the only Youtuber using his platform to make this type of impact. But, imagine the amount of support other influencers with large audiences could generate if they acted as he did.
Markiplier posted a video promoting Campaign Zero, which aims to end police brutality. Similarly, iHasCupquake made a video about the Black Lives Matter movement in which she encourages her fans to educate themselves and show support however they can, even if they cannot afford to make a donation. She has also posted several pictures on her Instagram account that depict her wearing masks. These influencers' combined efforts have potential to reach tens of millions of fans. They set an example for the kind of impact gaming influencers can have when they responsibly use their platforms.
As much as influencers have potential to bring attention to movements they support, they may also set bad examples for their fans. Influencers have a responsibility to behave in accordance with their own personal morals, because by virtue of reaching a large audience they become role models for millions of people. Of course, every person abides by differing moral codes. That's why some influencers become polarizing: their actions conflict with the morals of some people, but not all. It has therefore become the responsibility of viewers to determine which influencers meet their own moral standards. While I won't name examples of Youtube gamers who have used their platforms irresponsibly (I'd rather not receive death threats), you can probably think of some yourself. Consider strongly which influencers align with your morals, and make every effort to support them. That is your responsibility as a viewer.
How has the presence of influencers changed the gaming industry? Gaming is more personalized now than it used to be. Most influencers tend to gravitate towards certain types of games. Some gamers only play sports games, others stick to games that allow them to flex their creative muscles, some enjoy RPGs, and others prefer strategy games. Regardless of which games you like, you will likely find influencers who share your preferences. Players having differing preferences did not come about because of influencers, of course. But in the influencer age, gamers seek out community - they want to find people who enjoy similar games. While the connection between fans and influencers is parasocial, it can feel like the influencers are friends. And game companies have personalized themselves in order to mimic the fan-influencer relationship. It's less insidious when it happens between indie developers and fans, but it feels disingenuous when larger companies try it. That's why you need to prioritize your own financial security over the desire to buy. Companies are NOT your friends - they want your money. And while there's nothing wrong with feeling a strong connection to influencers, remember that they are not your friends in real life.
As a final note - if you find it problematic that I mentioned support for the Black Lives Matter movement but featured no Black creators, SO DO I. Unfortunately I was able to find precious few Black gamers (and zero Black women gamers) with 1 million subscribers or more, which is the size demographic that I wanted to discuss in this post. And the Black gamers I DID find over 1 million subs did not address the COVID-19 pandemic or the Black Lives Matter movement. Failure to support Black content creators is a big issue. Most Black gamers simply do not accumulate followings as large as those of their non-Black counterparts, as addressed by Chris Sanders. If you find someone that I missed, please mention them in the forum or on social media.
Big thanks to @annamalonedraws for allowing me to feature her drawing in this post!
Bundy, Austen. "A YouTube gamer helped raise nearly $660,000 in 12 hours for Covid-19 relief efforts." CNN. Updated April 9, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/09/us/home-from-home-charity-livestream-trnd/index.html.
McLoughlin, Sean (Jacksepticeye). "We need to make a stand today!" YouTube, video, streamed June 9, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dp0HU3ml3TY&feature=youtu.be.
Fischbach, Mark (Markiplier). "The problem we need to confront." YouTube, video, uploaded May 29, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9DfclXYDlM.
Garcia, Tiffany (iHasCupquake). "Standing up." YouTube, video, uploaded June 10, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5qyXIBKL4c.
@tiffyquake. Instagram account. https://www.instagram.com/tiffyquake/.
@annamalonedraws. Instagram. Drawing. Posted July 7, 2020. https://www.instagram.com/p/CCXOjkpgOHc/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link.
Sanders, Chris. "Black Gamers: Where Are Our Journalists? (I Only Found 5.)" Youtube, video, uploaded March 5, 2018. https://youtu.be/wcEbwu-YMaY.