Watching people play and comment on video games on YouTube is a thing. In fact, it is so large a thing that the number one channel people have subscribed to on YouTube is devoted to the phenomenon. The channel’s name is PewDiePie, and it has 25.2 million subscribers. The star of the channel is a 24-year-old named Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg. Since 2010, Mr. Kjellber has listed his occupation as YouTube celebrity and video game commentator, and he makes an ungodly amount of money doing it. In number of video views, PewDiePie is currently ranked sixth. He is behind Justin Beiber but above Psy.
These stats are pretty mind-blowing considering there is no singing, dancing, fancy effects, or fancy anything in a run-of-the-mill PewDiePie video. Actually, that is not quite accurate. Four days ago, PewDiePie uploaded a cover of the Enrique Iglesias’ song “Hero” in which Kjellberg alternately sings to and makes out with a blow-up doll with feminine facial features as well as chest and back hair that appears to have been drawn on with a pen. Some Post-Its with dollar signs on them are involved as well. Then, Kjellberg’s doppleganger kills the doll and Kjellberg kills his doppleganger. It is a bit confusing.
Other than this recent foray into music, Kjellberg works mainly in the “Let’s Play” genre. A Let’s Play video documents a playthrough of a video game with simultaneous commentary provided by the gamer. The playthrough of the video game is shown as screenshots or video. (Showing video is a gray area as far as copyright issues are concerned.) In many of PewDiePie’s Let’s Play videos, a “facecam” showing Kjellberg wearing headphones and narrating the gameplay into a microphone is superimposed onto the main screen, which shows the game being played. A Let’s Play video is not a strategy guide or walkthrough. It focuses instead on the gamer’s subjective experience of the game and usually includes humorous and critical commentary, and, in Kjellberg’s case, a lot of profanity. The channel is not about providing smart commentary on hardcore gamer’s games, either. Here are the titles of the most popular videos on his channel: “A Funny Montage,” “Funny Moments of Gaming,” “Happy Wheels Funny Moments Montage #3,” and the 33-second “Harlem Shake Fail,” in which Kjellberg wears girl’s underwear, dances provocatively until he is caught by a woman who is possibly his girlfriend. An article featuring Kjellberg in The Atlantic calls the Let’s Play genre “part ‘Mystery Science Theater,’ part Siskel and Ebert reviews.”
While Kjellberg’s success is an outlier, there are several other Let’s Play creators who earn a modest living, and, as The Atlantic notes, the sum of YouTube subscribers to the top five Let’s Players channels is more than the population of Peru. In the corner of the PewDiePie channel’s banner, the viewer is enticed to subscribe by clinking on a link that says “BECOME A BRO,” and Kjellberg describes himself as a just a Swedish guy who likes to make people laugh and who wants to share gaming moments on YouTube with his bros! Ok, so how much money does doing something like this generate for PewDiePie? Depending on the number of videos viewed, Mr. Kjellberg makes anywhere from $140,000 to $1.4 million per month as a YouTube star and video game commentator.
By Donna Westlund