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Digital All Stars is a series of articles which aims to celebrate the best of South African digital. The articles, which will appear on Memeburn and Ventureburn, recognise and celebrate South Africa’s best digital entrepreneurs, business people, advertisers, and media professionals among others.
Gaming is massive business on YouTube. Don’t believe me? Well, take a look at the most popular YouTuber in the world, PewDiePie.
Take a look at the rest of the top 50 most subscribed channels, and you’ve got gaming personalities like VanossGaming and Jacksepticeye.
What about South Africa though? Well, we’ve got our fair share of gaming YouTubers finding a following — be it locally or on the global stage.
We’ve featured Mike before on a previous Digital All-Stars list, but you can’t talk about popular gaming/tech YouTubers without mentioning this one. After all, few South Africans can say they have over 230 000 subscribers and over 40-million views.
Michael Philips, as he’s known otherwise, made a name for himself thanks to his gaming exploits in Minecraft: Pocket Edition. And he’s not the only Minecrafter on the list either.
In any event, he’s one of the few SA YouTubers on the list to achieve success on an international level too, being one of the go-to Minecraft gamers on the streaming service.
“I enjoyed watching Minecraft videos and learning tips and tricks from other YouTubers and thought I would give it a try, sharing some of my ideas and things I had picked up in the game, not realising the success that would follow. It snowballed from there,” Philips told Memeburn.
What about YouTube content creation being a full-time job?
“From a financial standpoint, it isn’t easy to break through and get to a point where you can generate enough income to live on. As local and international support for our content grows, this may change in the future, but for now it’s an awesome hobby!”
Philips, who’s currently juggling matric and the YouTube channel, also has a few pointers for those wanting to get into the game.
“Never give up, create content that you are passionate about and find inspiring and your audience will too! Collaborate as much as possible and get your name and brand out there!”
Another previous Digital All-Stars entrant, Sebastian Lague’s clips are your first stop if you want to learn about game development, focussing primarily on the Unity engine.
Lague told Memeburn that he initially started uploading videos of his animations roughly nine years ago, when he was still a child. He then created his current channel after discovering that he could import his 3D work into Unity.
“In November 2012, pretty much out of the blue, I decided to show people how to create a heart-based health system in Unity. That video received a fair amount of positive attention, and so seeing that people found it helpful, I continued making tutorials, and just never really stopped…”
Is it possible to do this full-time then?
“I don’t think it’s feasible with YouTube ad revenue alone (at least not without a massive following), but with the rise of platforms such as Patreon I’d say it has become a lot more doable,” Lague answered. “I think that if I were to keep doing this for a couple more years, I it might be possible to make it a full-time thing. For the moment though, I’m mostly doing freelance programming.”
Lague also says that aspiring YouTubers shouldn’t be deterred by slow growth in the beginning, saying it took him roughly a year to hit 100 subscribers. The developer is now sitting on over 80 000 subscribers and roughly 8.4-million views. Another tidbit of advice is that, while people might be annoyed with self-promotion, it doesn’t hurt to make a few relevant posts of your videos in forums and engage with the forumgoers.
Creating tutorials? Then the YouTuber suggests that you keep your video concise, saying that “viewers are usually frustrated if you wander off topic or take too long to make a point”.
“As a side note, I’ve found it tempting in the past to put background music in my videos, as it feels a lot less awkward and fills in some of the silences. However, people seem to find that distracting in tutorials, so I’d caution against giving in to that temptation.”
Frank Burger has been streaming for a while now, but he tells Memeburn that it’s only this year that he’s seen “real growth”, breaking the 3000 subscriber mark most recently. Burger adds that he started streaming on YouTube a few years ago because YouTube offered better options for streaming quality than Twitch.
When asked if it was possible to do streaming full-time in the country, Burger was very frank (heh) with his response.
“Yes, 100%, with the support of tech-savvy brands and marketing companies I believe it’s definitely possible. The only thing holding us back is the availability of high-speed internet,” he answered.
In the streaming game (or planning to jump in) but short on advice? “DON’T QUIT,” the YouTuber says (his caps, not ours).
“I’ve made over 700 videos now and only this year I started to see some real growth, and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up — ‘I’m not seeing the growth I want, blah blah’. Fall in love with the art of the craft, enjoy making each video and you will be successful.”
Burger reckons that it isn’t a career choice however, cautioning people against spending all their savings on equipment and making YouTube their “plan A”.
One of the most prominent gaming personalities in the country, Grant Hinds was one of the first in South Africa to really make a go of the nascent Let’s Play YouTube scene, accruing over 19 000 subscribers and nearly three million views at the time of writing.
Hinds isn’t a stranger to the world of Let’s Play videos in the first place though. He got a break with shuttered SA online video service Zoopy before becoming a regular on SABC 3’s Expresso, Tech Report and other TV shows.
“I was producing a gaming video about four times a week [for Zoopy – ed], which is eerily like a modern gaming channel. I did this for about two years until the company folded, and it was the best two years of my life!” he told Memeburn. Hinds said that it was only after meeting Caspar Lee a few years later that he then entertained the idea of going the YouTube route.
Is it possible to do this as a full-time job though? “Yes it is!” Hinds asserts.
“It takes a lot of work, creating business models that work for you and your clients, a strategy and content plan for the channel, discipline and the time to execute on that strategy,” he adds, saying it’s not something that happens “magically”.
The YouTuber says you shouldn’t get into the scene for money or fame as it will “unfortunately never happen for you”. He adds that audiences will sense if you’re creating content you don’t like.
“Secondly, be smart about it, find a schedule and go through the YouTube Creator Academy that’s available on YouTube that Google has set up for budding creators. Put in the time to study the platform and make the best, most relevant content you can!”
A former NAG podcast co-host and currently writing for Tech Girl, Arielle Pieterse is another YouTuber to watch.
Pieterse might not have a subscriber count in the thousands, but she’s definitely making a splash in the burgeoning SA scene, covering the likes of Until Dawn, Dishonored 2, Life Is Strange, GTA V and local events. The YouTuber detailed how she got her start…
“A little over a year ago I was working as a dance teacher and every day I was getting more and more unhappy. I was frustrated by the monotony of doing the same thing every single day and never feeling like I had any form of control, but the one thing that would always cheer me up was counting down the hours until I got to go home, sit down in front of my PC (or PS4) and escape to wherever I wanted,” she explained.
Pieterse said that during that period, she toyed with the idea of making YouTube videos.
“I remember mentioning the idea to my boyfriend and the next day he woke me up with a webcam he went out and bought for me and basically told me that I didn’t have an excuse anymore, I now had everything I needed — have at it.”
Can you quit your day job to become a gaming YouTuber full-time? The arguments vary…
Is it feasible to do this full-time then? The YouTuber thinks so.
“This is an easy question to ask with a complicated answer, I’ve heard both sides of the argument and I agree with a lot of points from both, but personally? I think the answer is yes,” Pieterse explains.
“After I started my channel I realised how much I loved what I was doing and how much I wanted to do more. So after about three months, I made the leap, I quit my day job to pursue this full-time,” she continued. The YouTuber notes that she makes a living by writing game reviews for various local publications.
Keen on giving this gaming YouTuber thing a go? Pieterse has a few tips for you.
“Work as hard as you dream. Being a full-time content creator isn’t impossible, it just takes a lot of hard work. Make sure that you’re willing to hustle when you need to hustle and above all, don’t forget to enjoy it,” she explains.
The YouTuber adds that you shouldn’t forget that you aren’t alone in your endeavour.
“There are so many local content creators who are going through everything that you are, even if they aren’t necessarily doing the same type of content that you are, they still understand, so don’t ever feel like you’re alone in it.”
One of those channels that’s managed to sneak under the radar for a while now, Pieter de Waal’s CRASH Driven channel is evidently about video game car crashes. In fact, de Waal told Memeburn that he sold his drone and PS4 to get a PC powerful enough to run top car crash sim Beam.NG.
The YouTuber, who’s based in Paarl, said that he set aside three months to get his channel off the ground, seeing super-fast growth as the period came to an end. De Waal says that it’s been a year since starting the channel and he’s accrued 40-million views since. So he’s evidently one of SA’s success stories on YouTube. But it’s not been all plain sailing.
“It’s been by far, and I mean far, the hardest and most amount of work I’ve put in in any year, and I still need to spend 60-70 hours each week to meet my uploading schedule, so needless to say, it’s now a full time job.”
De Waal emphasises that there are no shortcuts to success, telling aspiring content creators that it’s “very very hard work”.
An all-round tech and gaming/eSports YouTuber, Wright has covered the two sectors for a while now, in both video form and on her Tech Girl blog.
“Towards the middle of last year I started creating video content as a way to share other aspects of my life with people. Also because video content is fun! Its now just snowballed into an actual thing that I do,” Wright told us, saying that video also allowed people to be more “real” and “raw” compared to other media.
When asked whether it’s possible to make a living from YouTube, Wright said “yes and no”.
“No if you’re only doing YouTube but yes from the opportunities that come about from YouTube. For me my YouTube channel led to opportunities to host eSports events and get involved in a host of projects that speak to what I love and allow me to utilise my skills in the digital space. When it comes to only using YouTube as a revenue stream I’m just not sure South Africa is there yet.”
Want to get into the YouTube content creation scene? “Just do it,” she adds.
“My editing skills are rubbish, my sound is still bad. But I still just keep trucking on. Don’t let excuses hold you back. Also, don’t get into this for the wrong reasons. Make content because you love to create and share. If you’re making content only because you want to make money, you won’t. So stop that now.”
Need more performance from your computer hardware? Or maybe you’re just interested in overclocking in general? Either way, DrWeez is worth a look then, being a regular competitor on the overclocking scene. Expect a ton of clips, covering a variety of overclocked bits of silicon.
DrWeez (his real name is Andrew Roberts) said he was already streaming on Twitch before taking up YouTube streaming, adding that he needed a place to store his replays. Meanwhile, he got started on the overclocking scene due to a need to eke out more performance from his hardware.
The YouTuber says it’s not quite possible to make a living from YouTube revenue yet, citing the views needed to make solid cash. He also says overclocking is quite technical and niche (he’s currently sitting on just over 330 subscribers), while general consumer tech is more likely to get better views.
Roberts also has some advice for those wanting to jump into the game.
“Just do your own thing and don’t let all the trolls out there get you down. Even if there is just one viewer that enjoys your content, then you are doing a great job. Little bit of advice on a streaming setup! Don’t go cheap on your lighting and cameras; it has the biggest effect on your streams.”
He’s technically American, so we’re basically cheating, but Brett Stelmaszek is definitely seeing success in South Africa. Who says that you can’t be a major YouTuber by moving to SA?
Stelmaszek said that he grew tired of consuming content, convincing his wife to shoot his first video with her DSLR. The end result was “admittedly bad”, he quipped.
“My big break, at least when I could produce content regularly, came when Wootware, a tech retailer in Somerset West, agreed to sponsor hardware for my videos when I only had 17 subscribers,” he added, saying the company has been invaluable.
What does it actually take to be successful? Stelmaszek says you’ll need to redefine what “full-time” actually is.
“From 7pm to 2am most nights, and a lot on the weekends, I was consistently working on videos because it’s a labour of love. It’s honestly what I think it takes to break into the YouTube space as it becomes increasingly more competitive. It’s akin to launching a startup company, you invest your time for the first while before you expect to turn a profit.”
Many SA YouTubers say that hard work, commitment and consistency are key to becoming successful
The YouTuber also stresses that making a full-time income is possible but, usually, it’s after you put in long hours of effort.
“Sure, some people strike it big right away due to one or two hit videos, but more often than not, it’s a slow dedication to a craft that ends up yielding the growth on views and subscribers. I’m earning far more now than I was a year ago, but I wouldn’t be where I am if I had not put in the unpaid hours.”
What about tips for up and coming content creators?
“Learn how to properly evaluate your own content and be honest with yourself. One of the issues I see with the local YouTube community is that there’s a lot of blame on how South Africans aren’t supporting one another and there’s not enough interest, which I think is just deflecting from the truth. The hard reality is that most of the time, myself included, our videos are bad, in comparison with the global competition.”
Stelmaszek adds that you have to work out how to make your video good, “not just for ‘South Africa’, but actually good”. The YouTuber is rather frank about his own work too, it seems.
“It’s the reason I’m still as small as I am, my videos suck when you compare them to the proper tech YouTubers. I’m less informed. I have less production value. I’m not as engaging. None of that rests on the fact that I’m in South Africa, but it’s a reflection of how I need to grow myself to provide value to a global audience.”
Featuring over 706 000 views and more than 3200 subscribers, Basil Frank’s channel isn’t doing badly at all. Frank told Memeburn that he started uploading videos just over two years ago.
“With a background in editing and animation, it was a perfect fit especially because the South African YouTube scene was still very small,” he explained, adding that he also enjoys interacting with the community.
Frank’s channel sees him upload trailers, gaming sessions and reaction clips. As for games, Frank is currently covering Skyrim Special Edition, Middle Earth: Shadow of War and XCOM 2.
Is it possible to do this full-time in the country then? Well, the YouTuber explains that, unless you’re a massive channel, you can’t depend purely on ad revenue. Sponsored content and campaigns with big brands are two other ways to make money if you’re a smaller channel though, Frank adds.
The YouTuber also has some advice for aspiring content creators, saying that consistency is key for building trust with your audience. He adds that the audience can tell when you’re creating content you don’t enjoy or have no interest in.
Another Minecrafting YouTuber, Dragnoz (real name Johan Kruger) and his son have also earned a huge following from the southern tip of the continent. In fact, Kruger is currently sitting on over 120 000 subscribers and 27-million views.
Kruger originally started uploading to YouTube in 2006, using it as a platform for short films. However, he told Memeburn that his first taste of success came after he created a timelapse of a cake he made for his son.
“YouTube worked a lot different back then. Around 2012 I got hooked on a game called Minecraft and found I had a talent for teaching kids how to ‘code’ within the game using redstone and command blocks,” Kruger explained.
The content creator says that YouTube is like any other entertainment medium in terms of finding success.
“Most people, and I’m talking about 95% of YouTubers, cannot make a living out of it. It’s very few people who reach a point where it’s a sustainable income. I have seen many creators come and go. Personally, I have never been able to make a living from just YouTube. However, YouTube was a springboard that allowed me to work with art galleries, museums, governments, educational institutions etc. Our work has been featured in everything from the New York times to Russian media and was even mentioned in the House of Lords in the UK.”
Want quick fame and fortune? Then don’t get into the scene, the Minecraft aficionado warns, adding that you might not see real results for months or even years.
“Do it because you have a story to tell, a passion you want to share. Do it because you enjoy what you are doing. You fame and ‘specialisation’ will come in time. I made videos about everything from cake baking to Lego animation before the audience bought into my current content.”
Edit, 23 May: We erroneously included developer Quentin Watt on the list. We originally focused on gaming and tech YouTubers before deciding to focus on gaming only. Unfortunately, we forgot to remove Watt from the list once we had revised our focus. We apologise for the error.