What is clear is that computer gaming has changed and is changing as the result of greater interaction and multiplayer formats. It is likely that games like World of Warcraft, Sims, Second Life and so on drove greater demand for interaction through social media like YouTube – for example, WoW came out in 2004 and the first lets play (LP) video was supposedly created in 2007. The growth in gaming itself, whether online, on smart devices, etc. has no doubt contributed to the emergence and growth of LPs as well. One particularly important gaming development, in my mind at least, was the (full) release of Minecraft in 2011. For those living in the desert for the last three years, Minecraft is a sandbox, survival game. You start in a world and then collect resources and build things; there is no real goal to the game or limits on what you can do within it, which makes it totally different from most other games out there. It is, moreover, rather ugly – blocky, pixelly, etc. However, the freedom it allows players has meant that people can create their own worlds – in creative mode – and then play games in them with other players online. As I mentioned in the last post, one popular Minecraft game is a version of Hunger Games.
Anyway, alongside the social aspects of LPs (and other online gaming), there is an economic aspect to them as well – especially on YouTube. What YouTube allows players to do is monetize their videos – i.e. videos of themselves playings computer games. Any YouTuber can do it, not just gamers. The basic dynamics are as follows – also see video by LPer NovaWar on whole process:
- You start a YouTube account and start uploading videos (of whatever);
- Once your videos start getting 10k views, YouTube invites you to become a 'partner';
- Once you become a partner, you can monetize your videos (through account settings);
- Monetization basically means attaching various types of adverts to your videos (e.g. before it starts, as a transparent overlay, alongside);
- You get revenue from advertising per 1000 views (or similar);
- YouTube gets 45% of revenues from these adverts, which is how it makes its money;
- ... that's basically it.
All this might sound wonderful – “money for nothing”. Videos of cute things – e.g. animals (especially fluffy ones), babies, etc. - can make a mint; an example of this is the video of the stoned kid coming back from a trip to the dentist. But not everything is rosy in the garden. Advertising revenues on YouTube, for example, are declining and there is growing competition from other YouTubers. These things aside ...
Making money, as is probably obvious, depends on how popular your videos are, which is based on how popular you are, how popular what you do is, and also (probably) has a lot to do with how interactive you are (i.e. making comments) on YouTube and other social media formats (e.g. Twitter).
Ok, let's get “academic” about this then – not that I'm first to do this, obviously!
To me LPs represent a great example of what autonomist Marxists call 'cognitive capitalism' (Yann Moulier Boutang), 'immaterial labour' (Maurizio Lazzarato), 'affective economies' (Christian Marazzi), etc. Basically, what these thinkers are highlighting is that activities, relationships, emotions, behaviours, tastes, personalities, etc. can all be exploited like physical labour in capitalism. So, when it comes to shopping, we are putting in work as arbiters of taste (e.g. buying fashion magazines, following trends, etc.) as much as labourers in factories somewhere overseas – we are “prosumers”; when it comes to something like social media, we are putting in work through our emotional and social connections to friends and families – Facebook can exploit these links through selling advertising but only because we manage these relationships; when it comes to something like YouTube, we are putting in work as personalities – we are being funny, interesting, etc. in order to monetize our videos. While most LPers are not necessarily doing this – most seem to need to continue in other forms of work – this form of (cognitive, immaterial, affective) work represents both a possibility for liberation from capitalist imperatives and the subsumption of our personalities, emotions, relationships, etc. to those imperatives.
There you go, the end of something different ...