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Seapeekay on the ‘secret’ life of gaming YouTubers

Culture

If you're over a certain age, YouTuber video game players can seem like a baffling concept - yet they are a phenomenon of our age. As Minecraft video views pass the 1 trillion mark on YouTube we spoke to SeaPeekay about the life of a YouTuber.

YouTubers are baffling – at least, to those of us over 40. Speak to kids and teenagers though, and you’ll hear a reverence once reserved for rock stars. With YouTube gamers in particular, where they will film themselves playing games and making jokes, there is an obsession bordering on awe. The recent news that Minecraft videos have passed 1 trillion views on YouTube speaks for itself. But what does the life of a YouTuber look like? How does their job work? Is it just a joy, or are there untold pressures and difficulties? We managed to get time with Seapeekay, one of the UK’s leading stars in this world with a neat line in humour, to find out more about this ‘secret’ (ie not secret at all, just not on many adults’ old school radar) world…

How did you get into all this? What was the beginning…

Like plenty of young people I once dreamed of somehow gaming for a job. I always played video games growing up. I have a lot of fond memories of playing on my granddad’s Atari when I was two, three years old. As far back as I can remember, I’ve liked playing video games. I was actually studying media at college, but I was like, ‘I quite enjoy comedy, and I quite enjoy gaming…what if there’s a way to combine the two and dabble in YouTube?’ I basically made a couple of friends who were starting to do the same thing, and it was going pretty well for them. I thought I’d give it a shot. So I was at college, two or three days a week, I was working a part time job, and then making videos, editing them myself and uploading them on the side. A bit of a packed schedule at the time. I did the first year, and had steady growth, I think about 16,000 subscribers in my first year, which, to me, was unbelievable. That was eight years ago, which is the craziest part. Platforms like YouTube, are maybe 12, 15 years old, and live platforms that I’m on now like Twitch are younger. I was a pretty early adopter. And then things went from sort of strength to strength. I happened to have one particular series that did really, really well. I was working a full time job with YouTube on the side, and in about the space of six weeks, I just quit my job and chased the dream.

What were your early videos like?

Oh, I mean, just as awful as I think people would expect them to be. I’m a firm believer in not being ashamed of where you came from. You can absolutely go back and still see all my very first videos, which pains me to look back on, but I would never want to hide parts of the journey. There are definitely silly videos or videos that are a terrible quality, but back then when I started I was playing on a 400 pound laptop that I got on finance, that was not made for gaming – there was only certain games I could play, because they just didn’t work at all. Recording a video would be hit and miss because sometimes the laptop would overheat and just turn off. I had probably the worst internet in the United Kingdom at the time, too, so an upload of a videos took about seven hours. I would often have to leave my laptop on while I went to sleep, and hope it hadn’t overheated and turned off in the night.

What were your friends and family like when you first started out, were they a bit sceptical?

I genuinely have always had a very supportive family in terms of what I wanted to do. It was definitely a case of my family supporting a happiness in what I’m doing over doing something I hate. And I was kind of raised with like a good work ethic. My family knew if I commit to something I put 100% into it. They were very supportive, although they absolutely did not understand it. And I think that’s still the case now to an extent.

I don’t know what my backup plan was. At the time of taking on YouTube full time, I was working in sales, which absolutely wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. Like a lot of people, I just had no idea what I wanted to do. I was 21 at a time. And 100% I worked hard for this, but I also caught a very, very lucky break. And refused to let it go away after that.

After, I handed my notice in at work, I had my two worst months ever on YouTube right after that, and thought, ‘What have I done?’ Weirdly, it really motivated me to never want to be in that situation, so I just worked harder and worked more. I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved in the last eight years.

How did things grow from there?

I got 16,000 subscribers in a year, and then year two, I got about another 14,000. I definitely owe the friends I have a lot of my success – some of them were already established YouTubers on the platform. Basically, they would say I’m making a video with this guy, which would then add traction to what I was doing. My friend Ollie wrote this storyline, when I’d never really done much scripted, everything I did was off the cuff. He wrote this big storyline. I had 37,000 subscribers at the time, and I gained another 36,000 subscribers in a month. Video views went from 10,000 to 75,000 per video, and I was uploading every day at this point, too. My viewership went from half a million views in a month to being closer to 3 or 4 million. For those who don’t necessarily understand the model of YouTube, essentially the more views you get, the more people will see the adverts that YouTube plays on your videos. I think a lot of people see subscriber numbers and think that’s like the really crazy and impressive part, but the way that YouTubers actually get paid predominantly is from ad revenue that comes from views. You could have a small channel with no subscribers, but it is getting a lot of views, and could be doing better financially than a channel with a lot of subscribers which getting lower views.

Is there a supportive community or is there rivalry? 

I’m noticing a community more now, because six years ago or so there was still a rivalry where everyone’s uploading similar content. I predominantly upload Minecraft content, and as of yesterday, it was just announced that Minecraft videos have hit 1 trillion views in total on the platform, which is crazy. The success levels now, versus the success levels back then is huge. The audience is so much bigger now. To the point where some channels will get 100,000 subscribers in a day. It’s a very, very different environment at this point, with plenty of audience to go around. And I’ve always been very lucky that I’m in a group that had an audience that were very supportive.

What kind of videos particularly work for you?

I’ve gone through a really big change, because I switched over to live streaming from predominantly making YouTube content. For YouTube you can record it all and then edit it down how you want, and then upload it when you’re happy. Whereas live streaming, obviously there is no editing. I think the reason I had some success on YouTube initially is that the friends I was with quite like heavy editing – they would film for an hour and a half, and make a 10 minute video of the best bits, whereas I enjoyed seeing the process of things on YouTube. So I would show the process of the build – my videos were less edited, and maybe 15 to 20 minutes long. I think lot of people came to watch my videos to see stuff that they wouldn’t see in that other people’s videos, the process of it. I do think that was a big part of what made me stand out.

Tell us about the live streaming, how does that work?

Essentially, this all stems from comedy. I always thought comedy was something that I could potentially have been good at, but the thought of stand up comedy is horrific to me. But I always liked the idea of livestream and I’ve always dabbled with it. I would do a live stream maybe once a week, even when I was uploading daily content. In January of 2020 I’d come back from a trip, where I’d been thinking a lot about what I wanted to do. I was growing bored of the YouTube content I was making. I’d grown an audience on YouTube of 600,000 subscribers, and they all came for a specific style of video, which is the long form of me with other YouTubers. And to be quite frank, I’m 29, and a lot of my friends are of a similar age – we’re not quite on that same grind, where we were getting up at nine in the morning to film six videos, and be high energy all the time. Instead I found this very natural transition into live streaming. A lot of people think because I had a big audience on YouTube, that I’d bypass the part of live streaming where no one’s watching, and it’s just absolutely not the case. It’s a very strange scenario where just because people love your videos on YouTube, they may never watch your streams, because the stream is on a different platform. It’s very hard to build it. So in January 2020, I I decided to start trying to stream on a schedule. 1pm until 4pm, originally – I was going to try and do that five days a week and see what happens. I had eight average viewers for the first three weeks, I think it was, and the next month it was like 15 or 16. Next month, it was 25. And then in March and April the pandemic hit pretty hard, and Twitch numbers skyrocketed. Everyone suddenly turned their hand to live streaming. I’ve got a lot of friends who are comedians or musicians, and they found a way to transition to live streamed content. And I got very lucky in that my numbers jumped up pretty quickly. By maybe June or July, I was full time streaming instead of full time YouTubing at that point, which was an odd transition.

The way it works now is I’m doing seven days a week, 1pm until 5pm every day. That’s not the optimal time for me to stream, the best time to stream is when the United States are awake, because that’s a massive audience who consume a lot of live stream content. But when I started doing it, the first thing I said to my girlfriend, was, I need to stream when I know I’m going to be available. I’m not always available at 7pm. My girlfriend finishes a job and comes home, and if I was then going to work, it’d be it’d be pretty sad all the time. So yeah, that’s what it’s looking like at the minute. I actually just got my Twitch recap – every year, they send you a thing through about how many followers you’ve got. And I just found out that I streamed for 939 hours in the last year. I think it works out as 44 days of live streaming.

Do you ever run out of things to say while doing it, or get abuse?

No, I think that the best part now is with Twitch it’s so easy to curate a certain audience if you choose to – the moderation tools are really good. As with anything on the internet, and anonymity, there’s going to be some bad eggs who pop in from time to time, but I have a team of people who enjoy watching me enough that they actually moderate my streams for me. So it’s one of those things where now I genuinely love what I do, it brings me so much joy. It gets to me, while I’m away that I can’t stream. I genuinely have remained so passionate, eight years on, that I always have a blast, I’m just playing games and being silly. I’m averaging around 800-900 viewers while on live stream at the minute, with maybe 300 of them actively chatting. The chats are a massive part of how like a Twitch streamer can carry a conversation. I honestly could probably sit there for four hours, and they’d just talk to themselves. When I stop at five and I’m already looking forward to tomorrow.

A lot of mental health charities have come around to the idea of gaming and chatting being a positive thing for people to connect and talk, do you find that in your chats?

Yeah, 100%. I remember seeing an article mid-pandemic, from a bunch of publications who had previously demonised gaming, and then they were like, ‘Oh, actually, guys, wait a minute. You can actually do it with your friends!’ That was especially the case during peak pandemic, when no one could see anybody. It was just a massive help. Whilst you can’t see your friends, you’re still hanging out with them.

One of the things I was most thankful for, in a way, is that this job is very isolated already. When they said you can’t go anywhere, and you can’t see anyone, well I’ve been doing that in my job for the last six years! It was definitely easier for me to grasp what this was going to be like. But having friends who are around to play games, and even just take Zoom calls, was definitely played a huge part in keeping positive throughout the whole thing.

How about looking after your own mental health

I’m in a situation where I have a very positive experience – everyone’s there to have fun. No one ever really gets on me for doing anything. I get up, play what I want, have a fun four hours, and then once I’m finished, go and make dinner for me and my girlfriend, and watch shows or watch a movie, and then go to bed. I don’t really get annoyed at games, either. Some people get very frustrated when gaming. It’s never been something that’s ever got to me, I look forward to streaming, have a great time while I’m streaming. And then once I’m done, I like look forward to streaming again. I don’t really have a down day. I definitely struggled with it more in the early days of doing this. For YouTube, I was uploading daily content for about five and a half years, and I didn’t miss a day. I put so much pressure on me to make sure I got up, got a video done, got it edited, got it ready to go. By the time that was done, it was the end of the night. I always say, I will never ever complain about this job because it literally is like a dream. But it was definitely difficult in the early days. Then as I moved on, I was in a position where I could hire people to help with some of the editing, a guy who made my thumbnails, which would free up my time. As it stands, I’m cruising at the moment. I can’t think of much bad to say about it.

So you have a team around you?

For live streaming, you don’t necessarily need that. I stream myself for four hours, and then the content is done. That’s it. But I do work on a YouTube channel that’s based around the Minecraft event that I’m in, and I have a little like three person team to help with the script writing and thumbnails. That’s like the closest I’ve ever felt to thinking like I’m a boss. Some YouTubers really go down the more corporate route. I have a friend who has 30 employees, and they all work out of an office. I would never want to do that – right now I’m literally in a bedroom. I never liked the idea that I would go to work, take my setup and put it in an office. The fun part of why I did this was I got up, went to my bedroom and played games. And that was my job! That’s what keeps it so cool to me, it’s the same thing.

What are your ambitions for it? Where do you see things going?

A lot of people think everyone who does this is 16 or 17. I think right now I’m at the peak of my career. I don’t think I’ve ever been doing better. And I’m 30 in a few months. Part of the joke in the chat when I’m streaming is that people call me old all the time. Compared to the people who are watching me, who are like 15, I am old.

But I’ve always loved presenting. That’s essentially what I do every day, so the big thing for me now is trying to bridge a gap into the mainstream media. Only a few breakout YouTubers have made it to a point where they’re doing something in the mainstream media. A lot of people don’t want to do that I think what makes being a YouTuber so cool is that you don’t need a big brand to be endorsing you, you don’t need to go on the TV, you don’t have to do anything. It’s just you. One of the big moments was a guy called Joe Sugg going on Strictly. That was crazy, because I remember watching the backlash when he was announced, and people were like, ‘Who is he? Oh, some YouTuber?’ It’s just so funny. Because they would put some people on there who were relatively high up in their field, and Joe’s position was at least equal in his field, and much more popular online. But people were like, ‘Oh, it’s disgusting, putting YouTubers on the telly.’ I don’t know, I have no desire to change the outlook on it. But I do find myself increasingly more interested in trying to do some mainstream presenting things. Outside of that, I really am just going to continue to ride the wave and see what happens. Honestly, I don’t want to go down the road of starting to think what do I do after because there’s no need to think about that yet, because I’m still good for now.

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