“Let’s GiantBomb it”: Problems with personality-based content
Personality-based content seems almost too good to be true: the idea is that your users will love the people producing the content so much that what you make is largely irrelevant. By building a rabid fanbase, you’re allowed more freedom and less pressure, since people are coming for you.
I feel like there’s a bit of a siren song that’s being sung by the people who it’s worked out for most. Sites like GiantBomb and YouTube channels like Game Grumps, Super Best Friends Play and RedLetterMedia are successful in part because it’s much easier to on-board a new viewer to a personality or voice rather than a format that could blend in endlessly to a competitor.
Most publications will have a conversation early in their existence about what voice they want to have, or what will be the reason people come to them over established incumbents. In past years, it’s been due to grunt-work that no one else wants to do: half the reason FiveThirtyEight grew to prominence was their willingness to slog through numbers and make them useful for the average person.
With Twitch and other streaming services, this problem also applies: how do you make sure that people want to see you, rather than for the game you’re playing, or how well you can play it?
After thinking about it a bunch, I came up with two reasons why this kind of content strategy can work for some people, but not for everyone:
You need to like each other
The key to a successful operation that focuses on its people is to have good people. This isn’t to say that their voices need to constantly be in sync tone-wise, but more to say that you need to be able to work together for a long period of time before it starts paying off.
This also means that everyone needs to be able to pull their weight. Having one person not as invested in the product as everyone else means that there is a risk that resentment builds or other members get overworked. You also need to be able to have the necessary temperament to have on-screen arguments or disagreements that might be golden for content stay in that area. There also needs to be a level of maturity that is able to avoid jealousy if one person becomes more prominent than the rest.
Groups manage this by either having the lucky alignment of people that all work well together, or (more likely) there is a compensation arrangement based on the work put in. The one guy doing all the video editing is going to be making more than the guy who just shows up to talk every once and a while.
There isn’t a chance of “just hiring more people” because each person you bring on has to be able to mesh into the internal community you’ve made for yourself. Too precarious a situation, and everything crashes.
You need to make it scale
This kind of arrangement is nice when it’s a couple people working in their off-hours, but the moment it grows beyond that and needs extra staff, the needs increase exponentially. Especially if people want to be able to do this full time, it means being able to support them, their families and their mortgage payments.
The problem with this is that in order to earn more money, you need to be able to produce more content that’s able to make you that income. Since you’re working primarily off of the people who are making this content, you are limited in your scale by what they can output.
You can’t stop
Say you’re starting out and you decide you’re going to do a weekly podcast. That blows up, and suddenly it’s twice a week, then further becomes daily. Suddenly there’s a pressure to grow to a point where you and your staff will need to put together multiple high-quality pieces per day in order to satisfy the desires of your fanbase, all while making stuff that will help your audience grow.
It gets to a point where you physically do not have as many hours to do so, and the requirements of employees (y’know, time off) can become hazardous. At that point, you may not even have the support of all your members: doing content full-time might not be what everyone wants to do.
Patreon is obviously a service that will get thrown around a lot, but again, it’s a matter of scale: even in the absolute best case scenario of a couple thousand dollars per month in pledges, you’re still going to have to make that cover multiple adults. Any kind of sponsorships or promotions are going to be scrutinized heavily, because you entire model is based off of authenticity first.
In short, these kind of models are a grind as any other, but put more strain on the strength of the people working, rather than what you’re making itself. We’re seeing burnout affect a lot of people in this content creation world, and with two members of the Super Best Friends Play group leaving earlier in 2017, this can take a toll on your operation when it can require the most consistency.
As the content sphere gets more and more creative, the individual personalities of you and your partners is easily one of the easiest things to leverage. As with other things where you look in from the outside, though, it comes with its own unique challenges. Keep making new stuff in different ways: that’s probably the more sure way of making that big break you’re looking for.
Matt Demers writes about video games, culture and the Internet. You can find him on Twitter and watch him stream on Twitch. Subscribe to his e-mail newsletter to get a weekly digest of the new things he posts.