He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.Socrates
Greed can ruin the nicest of things. We’re going to take a deep dive today in the history of YouTube and video sharing online and how monetization has completely ruined what was once an innocent form of expression and turned motivation away from passion and into greed.
There was once a time when watching video on the Internet was difficult and nearly pointless to do, especially around the year 2000. The popular media format was “Real Media” which was a very high compression format that was “dial-up friendly.” You could fit a lot of video in a small file size in a very small resolution. Which, to be fair, 800×600 was the common high resolution display in those days, so a 320×240 video was nearly half the resolution of the monitor.
Starting in 2005, a startup known as YouTube showed up on the scene and offered to host your videos for free, not only would it take your video file and host it with no expense to you, but it would also compress it and offer it in multiple video sizes and stream it to those you wanted to share it with. This made it highly accessible, especially as the technology began getting really good in around 2008 and broadband became much more accessible.
Gaming was a big part of the streaming media boon back then. Before 2008ish, it was quite common for gamers to make a “Let’s Play” video of a rare or niche game by taking screenshots of pivotal moments and post them to a forum like Something Awful. As video became easier and easier to produce, it eventually became someone sitting down and playing through the game while recording it and uploading the results to YouTube, which is the origins of PewDiePie who gained notoriety by streaming Let’s Plays of Amnesia. Likewise, around the same time, Machinima was very popular, taking video game footage and creating a sort of new media out of it, like Red vs. Blue or the plethora of World of Warcraft music videos and short stories that flooded the Internet between 2008 and 2012.
There was little to no monetization back then. There wasn’t very much in the way of merchandising. Patreon did not exist until 2013 and monetizing on YouTube required partner status (starting in 2007) which was reserved for the very popular channels. The only other path to monetization was through a multi-channel network (MCN) like Maker Studios, which didn’t always end out very well for those who signed a contract with them.
Content was made out of pure passion with no expectation of income to come from it. There was no idea back then that sitting and playing video games online was going to produce anything other than comments and a warm fuzzy feeling of a job well done. Yet, over time, that perception has become twisted. That’s not the normal right now.
Right now, it feels like the normal is that someone who makes YouTube videos needs to do so full time to keep their community happy, who will abandon them at the first sign that their videos aren’t regularly uploaded. They also need a steady income, from advertising on their videos and due to the nature of online advertising becoming less and less profitable, they have to go the multi-channel route of offering merchandise, taking donations via Patreon and doing sponsorships of products that we all know and have heard of, to make sure there isn’t someone out there who doesn’t know about XYZ VPN, shaving kits, website builders or browser add-ons.
As YouTube expanded its partnership program to basically include anyone with a pulse and the expectation of being able to earn “massive revenue” off of video content was a distorted fact that became common knowledge. The bubble for “massive revenue” was very short lived and since the heyday, it has continued to decline as advertisers see less value in advertising through the platform and continue to key into what actually results in a net profit for them (i.e. targeting the correct group of videos watched by the correct group of people which will translate into more sales and money for them.
Because it was “common knowledge” there was a flood of people who began creating videos not to share their passion with the world, not because they wanted someone to see XYZ game but instead to earn an income and the content wasn’t what was “right for the audience” but what was “right to earn money.” This greed corrupted what was once a fun and exciting community of people who were creating things because they loved creating and sharing things, but instead turned into a community of business professionals and brand managers who were working on their “brands” and making sure their revenue across channels was growing.
This greed, to me, has been killing gaming YouTube and the fun that used to reside on the platform. For instance, the recent COPPA concerns has had a series of creators threaten to quit making videos if their videos continued to be demonetized any further. As if, the videos weren’t being made for you to enjoy. They weren’t there because they wanted to do it. It was a job, a business and if YouTube cuts away their income it’s just not profitable to do.
I don’t fault some creators for focusing on revenue, especially those who have built legitimate businesses around the concept. Like popular tech YouTubers who have actual offices, storerooms, full time writers, editors and content producers, etc. Their content is honest and truthful in the sense that it’s not a passion project or just a couple of friends playing Mario Party together – it’s an actual business. Created from the ground up around the concept and that’s actually alright to me, because it’s not a passion project – it’s a television show, just a new media television show.
Yet, some random person playing obscure PS1 games isn’t exactly a high budget television show and I feel there is a big difference of someone sharing a game with you because they really love doing so and someone just doing it to get paid. Sometimes, on some of my favorite YouTubers, I will go back to their earlier videos and enjoy how authentic the content was, before they became popular and before half their video was talking about affiliate links, VPNs, merchandise and why the content is edited for demonetization.
In a lot of ways, you can sort of thank the corruption of YouTube for the rise of streamers, which was originally a return to the authentic sense of passionate gamers wanting to share themselves playing games with others. Yet, of course, the same has been happening in the world of streaming as well, where half the screen is rotating ads and a plethora of ways to donate, subscribe, visit sponsors, affiliate links, etc.
I’m not asking you to take my word for this either. Much like middle school science, I simply ask that you perform an experiment. Think of your favorite YouTube stars, past and present. Watch their videos from 2010 and before and then watch the modern videos. Then tell me, which do you like more? Maybe this is just me and nostalgia for the “good ‘ol days” and the amount of heavy handed sponsorships dictating content is a good form of progression.
I doubt it, but again, just try it and see.
One final thing, if you’re ever planning to make content online, I highly suggest you make it because you want to, not for some kind of profit. Making content for profit is exactly how you don’t make a profit off of your content, because passion comes through a lot better to a viewer than greed.