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YouTube plays nice with video games

September 22, 2011 |  8:30 am

Game publishers have found a unlikely ally in YouTube.

The online video platform has become a key place not just to market games, but also to acquire new audiences and tap into a game-obsessed fan base who themselves generate millions of homegrown videos touting their beloved hobby.

Using a combination of traditional video ads and cut scenes from upcoming game releases, Electronic Arts Inc., for example, has garnered 560 million video views on YouTube -- 472 million of which were in the last 12 months.

That doesn’t count the views from videos that players create of themselves playing EA’s games, some of which feature tools that make it easier for people to record “brag clips” of their game-playing prowess or make funny mash-ups from edited game footage. One EA game, Spore, invited players to upload animations of fantastical creatures they created within the game. About 184,000 people did so, and their videos generated 25.5 million views, said Michael Herst, EA’s director of consumer marketing.

Machinima.com, a Los Angeles-based company that features professionally edited game footage, has accumulated 2.6 billion views from its YouTube channels, more than Lady Gaga.

And IGN Entertainment, a game-centric news and reviews site owned by News Corp., recently put its entire library of videos, about 70,000 pieces of content, on YouTube, said Bernard Ho, vice president and general manager of video at the San Francisco company.

“When we began to upload to YouTube in 2008, we were concerned about cannibalization,” Ho said. “Like every big media company, we asked the question: Why risk losing your audience to another website?”

After about a year, IGN analyzed its traffic and found that visitors to IGN had not diminished. At the same time, views of its YouTube videos were climbing.

“We found that it’s a separate audience,” Ho said. “And it’s a much bigger audience.”

In fact, Ho said, only 10% of the people who visit YouTube also visit IGN’s website, which meant that 90% or more of IGN’s traffic on YouTube, more than 1 billion views to date, has been gravy.

Just who are these viewers?

They’re people like Freddie Wong, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Wong and a former USC dorm-mate, Brandon Laatsch, grew up playing Final Fantasy and Quake. As film students, they watched videos on YouTube and found that game and film culture overlapped online.

“A lot of the younger generation, by that I mean people under 20, are not spending as much time in movie theaters as we did growing up,” said Wong, who is 26 and from Seattle. “Increasingly, their time is spent on places like YouTube and Facebook. That crowd also tends to play video games.”

When Wong and Laatsch began to produce their own short-form videos in 2006, they threw in references to the games they also happened to be playing, whether it was Guitar Hero or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or a game from their childhood such as Frogger.

Their videos found a sizable audience. About 2.25 million people subscribe to get regular feeds of their videos. And the 90 or so videos Wong and Laatsch uploaded have been watched 450 million times. After graduating from USC in 2008, the two budding filmmakers set up shop in downtown Los Angeles, paying their bills entirely from the advertising that their YouTube videos generate.

“There’s definitely a community around game content on YouTube,” Wong said. “But it’s not like we set out to exploit that. Games were just a part of our culture growing up. Some directors make references to the movies of their youth. We refer to the games we played.”

Here's a quick game: Spot all the game references in Wong's video at the top of the post.

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-- Alex Pham

Twitter/ @AlexPham

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