YouTube star Northernlion gives advice on how indie devs can succeed on video

As audiences interested in watching gaming content on YouTube and Twitch continue to grow, it becomes clearer every day that the most popular video content creators in gaming can have a huge impact on the success of smaller games. At the Game Developers Conference, YouTube personality Ryan Letourneau — better known by the moniker Northernlion — gave a talk on how independent developers can work with video creators to market their games.

Letourneau started by noting that YouTube stars have become "some of the biggest influencers and biggest personalities out there" in the world of gaming and yet simultaneously "a niche that's still untapped."

To prove his point, Letourneau put up logos for major gaming publications like IGN, GameSpot and Kotaku. "You probably all recognize these," he said. Then he put up logos for three of the top gaming video creators on YouTube: TotalBiscuit, OfficialNerdCubed and TheRPGMinx. He pointed out that together these three reach millions of viewers, but they aren't as instantly recognizable — and as such not as frequently contacted by developers.

"These three YouTubers can single-handedly get your game greenlit and drive sales if they like it," he said.

To further demonstrate this, Letourneau turned to quotes from a few independent developers who discovered greater buzz for their games thanks to the YouTube community. Mike Bithell, creator of Thomas Was Alone, said his game "wouldn't have been as big of a success without YouTubers." Letourneau noted that two Thomas Was Alone videos from TotalBiscuit and OfficialNerdCubed alone received over 600,000 views between them.

Team Meat's Edmund McMillen was quoted as saying that his tiny side project, The Binding of Isaac, jumped from around 150 sales a day to nearly 1,500. When he tried to figure out the source of the inflated sales, he discovered that YouTubers like Letourneau were uploading as many as 100 videos of the game a day.

Lucas Pope, the creator of Papers, Please, shared a graph with Letourneau showing the increase in traffic to his Steam Greenlight page as various YouTube videos about the game's beta were released. It started with initial bumps from Letourneau and others and absolutely blew up when TotalBiscuit put up a video. That went on to be one of the fastest Greenlight campaigns in the short history of Valve's service.

Turning to advice on contacting YouTubers, Letourneau compared it to "finding individual straws of hay in a haystack." He pointed to Video Game Caster, a website that lists a small portion of the thousands of people creating gaming content on YouTube, as a priceless resource for developers looking for contact information.

Letourneau suggested that developers looking for coverage from YouTubers reach out by e-mail and Twitter rather than messages on YouTube itself. He said that more popular streamers can get 10 game coverage requests or more per day, so including a code or build of the game in your initial contact is very helpful. He also suggested that developers include a very brief, direct explanation of what their game is and why audiences might find it entertaining to watch.

As a word of caution, Letourneau said that more triple-A publishers and developers have finally started reaching out to YouTube and Twitch content creators to get them copies of major releases in advance. For indie developers, that means they'll now have more competition for the limited time those video creators have.

However, Letourneau reminded those in attendance, "There's plenty of fish in the sea." He said that he personally has been making YouTube videos full-time since 2011, and in that time he's reached 280,000 subscribers and over 10 million lifetime views. But even those impressive stats only put him as the 480th biggest gaming channel on YouTube. If a few YouTubers decide not to feature a certain game, there are still thousands out there with sizable audiences.

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