Everything I’ve Learned as a YouTuber

20 September 2018 | 21 Comments

I opened a YouTube account 9 years ago so I could post a silly video of my cat. 4 years later I started using YouTube for Stonemaier Games, posting the occasional how-to-play or preview video for our Kickstarter projects. But my YouTube channel really didn’t begin until 4 years ago–more on that in a moment.

Yesterday I watched a video of one of my favorite “booktubers” talking about things he’s learned from his YouTube channel, and he had some great insights that resonated with me. So as my channel approaches 500 videos, 10,000 subscribers, and 1 million total views, I thought I would share how it has changed over time and what I’ve learned along the way in case it’s helpful to my fellow creators.

Inception

4 years ago, I wanted to discuss game mechanisms, and I didn’t have a place to do it. I wanted to keep this blog focused on Kickstarter/entrepreneurship, and my personal blog is full of random topics. BoardGameGeek is great, but I already spend so much of my time there for conversations about my games.

I realized that YouTube might be a good fit. I could just turn on my webcam, talk for a few minutes, then turn it off and upload. Hopefully some people would watch and share their thoughts.

That’s exactly what I did (the first video was about Robinson Crusoe). I didn’t really have a master plan or a goal–I really just wanted an outlet to discuss mechanisms, as I think a lot about games and love talking about them.

I also knew that I didn’t want to review games. As a publisher and designer myself, I felt like that might create some awkwardness among my peers. So I instead decided to focus on “my favorite mechanism” in games that I played. That gave me the freedom to talk about all types of games in a positive, constructive way.

Here are a few things I learned/wish I knew at the beginning of the channel:

  • Goals: I like that my goal from the start wasn’t about popularity/subscribers or money (I don’t monetize my channel, though this calculator shows me that I could be making $6k/year from it), nor was is a marketing scheme. I simply wanted to talk about game mechanisms. If I had set out to be the next Tom Vasel or Pewdiepie, I would have been discouraged and disappointed by the results. Instead, having subscribers is just a nice feel-good perk.
  • Not Reviews: While I’m glad I decided not to review games, I completely understand if that’s something other people are interested in. I would recommend reading this open letter I wrote a while ago, particularly the part about starting by reviewing games you already own. Publishers aren’t going to send you free games until they’ve seen that you are consistent, influential, and insightful.
  • Lighting: I’m glad I didn’t invest in fancy microphones and cameras from the start, as I may have quickly decided that YouTubing wasn’t for me. However, I wish I had improved the lighting from the start–not by buying anything, but simply by turning on the lights and letting in as much natural light as possible.
  • No Editing: At the time, I had the option of recording and editing on my iPad or recording on my webcam and not editing. I went with the latter, as I really wanted a low barrier to entry. Basically, I didn’t want to dread making a video (which editing would have done)–I just wanted to jump in and film my thoughts, even if it took several takes. I’ve stuck with that to this day.

Infancy

To my surprise–especially as a writer at heart–I really enjoyed the outlet of YouTube to talk about and discuss game mechanisms. I learned a lot during the period, so I’ll jump right to those insights/mistakes:

  • Consistency: Rather quickly, I got into the rhythm of posting 2 videos a week. That fit well into my blogging schedule. I find that the perceived expectation of consistency is a great motivator.
  • Brevity: I would later learn that brevity isn’t always an asset, but I liked that I was targeting 5 minutes per video. That kept me focused on one (sometimes two) mechanisms.
  • Homepage video: YouTube lets you film and post a video on your channel’s homepage as a way of introducing people to your content. I highly recommend doing this, as it’ll help answer the question people ask when they discover your channel: “What’s this all about?”
  • Clarity: Early on, I named my videos in this format: “My Favorite Game Mechanism in _____.” Quickly I realized this wasn’t ideal, as the most important part of the title–the name of the game–was getting lost in the video thumbnails. So I now lead with the name: “______: My Favorite Game Mechanism.” I actually see way too many video creators, podcasters, and bloggers mess this up: Let us know the focus of today’s content in the title.
  • Engagement: I absolutely wanted to create and participate in conversations around the topics mentioned in my videos (otherwise why post them publicly?). So I end every video with a question, and I participate in the comments.
  • Social sharing: Not everyone wants to subscribe YouTube, so I try to share the videos on Facebook, Twitter, and BoardGameGeek. That might be one too many places, but my sense is that a lot of people subscribe to one specific place and not others, so as long as it’s on brand, I’ll share it in a variety of places.

Puberty

After several years of twice-daily videos, I was no longer thinking about YouTube as a hobby. Rather, it was a part of my weekly routine at Stonemaier Games. While there’s no direct impact on Stonemaier’s bottom line, it truly was helpful for me as a designer to have such in-depth discussions about game designs, and I think there is a certain appeal to publishers who share their unfettered enthusiasm for games from other publishers. I root for people like James Hudson who do that.

But I had room to grow, and this is where I specifically want to credit Ed Baraf of “Gaming with Edo.” Ed emails me from time to time with really great advice about my YouTube channel. While there are certain things–like editing–that I simply don’t want to do (I know I would lose my passion for the videos if I had to edit), I’ve adopted several key pieces of advice from Ed that you’ll see below.

  • Audio: My audio still needs improvement, but it’s come a long way. I use a Blue Yeti USB microphone, and it works well (except when it doesn’t due to desk vibrations and a bad cord). I’ve also heard that a Sennheiser ME 2 lapel mic would work well (and it’s more cost effective).
  • Visual: My webcam was old, and apparently HD is standard now. So I upgraded to an HD webcam. I could probably go more fancy, but the webcam is just so easy to use.
  • Playlists/tags: For a while I was just typing in the name of the video, a brief description, and posting it. But I’ve found that people seem to appreciate when they can look at specific playlists, and tagging the video with things like “game design” helps YouTube decide where to share your video.
  • Links: If I mention a specific video, blog, etc in the video, I try to link to it in the video description so people can easily find it.
  • Trolls: It’s exceedingly rare, but every now and then someone shows up in the comments to ruin the conversation. YouTube makes it very easy to hide that person’s comments from your channel and/or report them. I’m very selective about this, as I want people to feel comfortable expressing themselves.
  • Primary image: This is perhaps Ed’s best suggestion. See all of the different images below? My web dev, Dave Hewer, created those templates (which I edit in InDesign) to differentiate various types of videos, including my crowdfunding videos. They’re much more visually appealing than the screenshot options YouTube gives you.

 

Current

This brings us to the last few months, which has seen the largest growth in the history of my channel (+3300 subscribers in 5 months). It’s for a specific reason, and it all started with my decision to sit down in front of the camera on Sunday, April 14 to talk about a game I failed to design: Red Rising (see video here).

The reception to the video was unlike anything I had seen before on the channel. At 27 minutes, it was 5x longer than my normal videos, and it wasn’t particularly focused–I just casually rambled on, saying everything I wanted to say. It was a lot more relaxed than my normal videos.

I realized that I really liked the format, so “Sunday Sitdown” videos were born. They’re longer videos, though they’re still focused on a specific topic. I’ve had a lot of fun with them, and they continue to resonate with viewers, so I’m very glad I gave myself permission to break from the normal format and try something new.

Actually, a lot of recent improvements have been the result of viewer comments and suggestions:

  • Visuals: I don’t own all of the games I discuss on the channel, so I don’t always have something to show the viewer. However, video is such a visual format that I think it can be frustrating to the viewer if they’re just looking at my face the whole time without visual context. So I’ve been trying to print out a photo of the game in advance and use it as a visual as I discuss the game. I know this is very low-tech, but it seems to have worked pretty well.
  • Don’t bang the table: I didn’t realize I was doing this, but because my mic is on my desk, if I put games down on my desk while I’m talking, the sound is jarring to the viewer. So I’ve been trying not to touch my desk at all and instead use a side table when I have a game to show.
  • Listing names: A number of my Sunday Sitdown videos have been top 10 lists, but a viewer pointed out that they didn’t recognize the names to many of the games. So I now list all games mentioned in the video description (the next level would be to timestamp them).
  • Encourage subscriptions: This is something I forget to do 99% of the time. The vast majority of your viewers will be people who watch one of your videos, not subscribers. I think it’s incredibly helpful to remind those people that they can subscribe to the channel if they want more.
  • Transcripts: I’ve had several members of the deaf community ask if I can create transcripts for my videos. It’s extremely time consuming to do so (right now, the entire process of creating a video takes about 20 minutes; typing out a transcript would take at least another hour). However, we do have some volunteers who do this on occasion, and YouTube now has a way to upload a normal-text transcript (you don’t need to break for each line by time). Thanks for Andre Ribera for finding this method and transcribing some of my videos this way.

I still have a LOT to learn about YouTube, but it really has been a delightful surprise so far. For those of you who have subscribed, thanks for being a part of the process, and I look forward to many more game design discussions in the future!

If you create videos on YouTube, what have you learned along your journey? Also, if you’re a fan of Stonemaier Games, I highly recommend checking out the new channel, The Mill!

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

21 Comments on “Everything I’ve Learned as a YouTuber

  1. Jamey, thank you for the plug for The Mill. It is very much appreciated. I also appreciate how many of these tips you had already passed along to me when we were discussing the inception of The Mill.

    I guess I would add this advice for someone, like me, who isn’t very naturally inclined toward speaking in public. While camming isn’t quite the same thing as speaking in public, it feels very much the same from the perspective of trying not to use a lot of ‘ums’. It is also uniquely a one-sided conversation. I have to remember to toss questions in the end of more of my videos, that was a lesson I learned from you, just by watching. It wasn’t yet a ‘how to YouTube blog of yours that I’d read.’

    Wow.. That was an awful paragraph. I didn’t even finish the sentence. Can you see now why just speaking off-the-cuff is so difficult for me? lol. I get side tracked. So let me continue my original thought, here is advice for someone who isn’t naturally inclined toward talking in public or on-camera. Practice. Practice. Practice.

    The first episode of The Mill that I did, I read from a script. It was sort of bad. Something weird happened last night as I was filming the latest episode though. I zoned out. I zoned out hard. I finished what I was talking about and then wondered.. where was I looking? Did I look at the camera? Did I say the stuff I meant to say? By and large, yes. And by and large, it was mostly pretty good.

    It’s getting more comfortable. It’s getting easier. I have an artificial constraint right now of a small memory card, so I’m like.. I gotta fit as much as I can into 10 minutes before we have to create a new file. And offload video, but working within that constraint has really forced me to think ahead of time about the subject matter, how I want to phrase it.. and I’ll admit to actually turning off the radio on my commute and just sort of doing an out loud run through of what I want to say. What I want to get across.

    But it’s a work in progress. I rehearsed “I’m in Stonemaier Ambassador Orange, and that means I’ve got some exciting news to share, we’re going to be talking about the new Scythe: Encounters expansion.” … I recorded the intro three times… mostly because my tongue is a traitorous bastard and worked against me, but when I uploaded the video.. Nowhere.. NOWHERE was the mention of wearing Stonemaier Ambassador Orange. Nowhere. That segues into my final piece of advice.. forgive yourself. Let it go. Always do your best, but understand that your best right now is not your best a month from now, and it won’t be your best a month after that. It gets easier. It gets more natural.

    Thanks for this blog post, Jamey. It’s insightful, as always. And brought a smile to my face to learn better why you were so insistent that I do a quick off-the-cuff video. Practice makes perfect…ish. :)

    1. Dusty: This is excellent advice, and I appreciate you taking the time to share it. I agree that practice and experience help get over the initial awkwardness of talking to a camera. And I like “let it go.” That’s one of the nice things about not editing–I know my videos aren’t going to be perfect, and I’m okay with that. :)

  2. I can personally attest to the power of consistency.

    I posted 2 videos a week for a few years while I was in highschool to my YouTube channel “Anime couples by Zack Applewhite”

    Even though I only ran it for about 4 years and haven’t touched it since o dropped it in my first year of college (when me and my wife got serious) it to this days gets about 10k views a day and has over 28million total video views.

    I chalk it all up to content, consistently, and that I loved what I was doing.

  3. Yes your channel went to light speed with the in-depth design talks (Sunday SitDowns). They’re great. I watch the mechanisms videos if I’m interested in learning about a specific game on my radar, but the Sunday sitdowns are a must watch.

    Red Rising must be one of your best failures.

  4. Jamey:
    I was going to add this comment belatedly to those for your 09/06/18 ‘Asking for Advice’ post; but it isn’t really advice, and Dusty has provided an interesting somewhat related lead-in here.

    You’ve mentioned several times how stressed you get prior to public speaking. I also think you’ve said that you don’t like to do it. I’m surprised every time I read that.

    I recently followed a link to a (now “lost”) early video you made—I mistakenly thought it was your first, but it wasn’t Red Rising, so I guess not—where you looked and seemed noticeably younger. It was very polished and you seemed confident and comfortable.

    So, given how uncomfortable you’d said you are about public speaking, I started to think about how you must experience making videos as different from that. Was it because your large video audience isn’t there in person? Or, for that early video, was it because you’d practiced a lot—I didn’t know when I viewed it that you don’t edit your videos. Or, is it because you experience your gamer and personal blog audiences as self-selected friends, distinct from ‘the public’? Or did I just not perceive your discomfort—an explanation I rejected because you seem so comfortable—prepared, yet spontaneous—in so many later videos. And, as you’ve said, you like doing them.

    I keep returning to that discomfort about public speaking because I wonder whether you view it as a problem? Whether you regard public speaking as potentially beneficial—to your business and/or to you personally—were it not so stressful? (I don’t think of you as otherwise aiming for Shark Tank, but it’s fun to imagine that!)

    I suspect you know the tips about focusing on a single receptive-looking person in a live audience and all the other self-help tips. Or even customized exercises, in your case, like filming some of your videos in front of a live audience of strangers—‘desensitization’ by pairing something comfortable with the bugaboo..

    I’ve seldom known anyone as publicly self-revealing about such a broad range of subjects—or as committed to self-improvement, no matter how major or minor the targeted trait. So what is it about ‘going public’ in the flesh that is so anxiety-provoking? As an eager embracer of public speaking opportunities, I just keep wondering.

    1. Dorothy: I think the key difference to me is being able to see peoples’ faces as I speak in public versus only seeing my face when I record a video (even if it’s a live video). My theory is that the fear stems from rejection–I’m afraid of seeing disinterest, boredom, dislike, etc on peoples’ faces as I talk.

      But I also know that it’s simply an irrational fear, as I barely even see peoples’ faces when I speak in public (and when I’m actually in the middle of public speaking, I’m fine). I just know that I legitimately get very nervous and lose sleep for weeks leading up to a public speaking event. I dread it. So I’ve just learned that it isn’t worth it–I’d rather not do things that I dread to that extent, especially when I have alternative ways of sharing myself with people.

      1. Thanks, I wonder no more!

        Here is the audience you never see:
        😍🤗🙂☺️😊😘🤠😯😺😸
        👩🏽‍🎓👨🏻‍🎓🧕🏽👨‍🍳👵🏻👶🏻😽😍🙋🏻‍♀️🧜🏻‍♀️
        👨‍👨‍👧‍👦👩‍👩‍👧‍👦🧚🏾‍♀️🤴🏽🙋🏾‍♂️👋🏼👍🏻👌🏽😻😻

      2. I suspect a big part of it is the difference between at home (with cats!) vs. being in a less familiar environment. It looks like that’s your game room too. So being in an environment that is associated with positive experiences and familiar sights probably eliminates much of the stage fright that would otherwise occur.

  5. Gerald:
    Broad audience, all positive reactions—so clearly a compliment in my feelings that I have no idea how it could be taken as a “huge insult,” And tha cats are to symbolize that the audience ALL loves him!

    Glad you laughed. Thanks for that and making me think more about what the images convey, seriously. And thanks for leading me to your upcoming “Banker of the Gods” game, which looks very interesting—that the game controls the market is a great fit with reality (before selling short entered the scene, it seems).

    While at your site, I also found your informative “How to Find an Artist” blog post. (I have been trying unsuccessfully to contact Marie Cardouat, illustrator of Dixit and at least two other board games, via BGG and Facebook messages, messages on websites of publishers of games she illustrated, and message on Marie’s own blog website—including a second time in her native French. I realize that the lack of response is a poor prognosis, but am reluctant to give up without confirmation that she received my message. I’d welcome any further ideas re reaching her.)

    1. Hi Dorothy, it was just a joke. It could read as “you never see an audience this happy because you are so bad a public speaking”, but if the reader remembers that earlier in the post Jamey said he never looks at the audience then they would know it was a compliment. It’s funny how it can go two ways based on memory, but I know 100% you are nice :)

      Thanks for the compliment on game, always feels good. Short selling could be an expansion idea :)

      I agree with Jamey’s advice about needing good communication with an artist. So if an artist wont even say hello then that is a good sign not to hire them. But I don’t know what is going on with Marie so I can’t really comment on that. I remember you described her art as “primitive” and “naive” which means very good things to you, but it’s funny again as I could see Marie taking “primitive” literally and being offended by it, like if some one said, “you’re manners are very primitive” or “you must have had a primitive education”. If you said that in your introduction email then maybe that is why she is not replying. I find that lots of creative people are sensitive about their work. Great game designers learn not to be like that otherwise they would never become great.

      1. Gerald:
        Thanks for clueing me in re the double meaning hiding between the lines of that emoji audience.

        Re my artist quest and another dual meaning possibility: No, I didn’t use “primitive” or “naive” in my messages to Marie Cardouat, but those are the terms used by the art world (and my google search) to describe the art that comes closest to what I seek.

        I agree that lack of response from an artist presages poorly for collaboration, but I’ve found website message systems, especially third party ones like BGG or FB, unreliable means of contact. So I continue to pursue some answer directly from Marie—obstinate, perhaps, but I like my “No’s” pinned down in print.

  6. Jamey, thank you for this post. I’ve been watching your videos only for the last couple of months, and I already used to them. Your videos are great inspirations for me. They’re light, short and fun. And you provide enough info in your “favorite game mechanism” to decide whether I want to try some of those games. I like your short 5 minutes videos, but I really love and appreciate your longer Sunday sitdowns. Recently I’ve got couple of new games inspired by your videos: Fantasy Realms and Seikatsu. My future plans are Scotland Yards, Hanamikoji.

    Also, I want to provide some feedback about subtitles to your videos. I’m not deaf, but for me English is a second language (my native is Russian). As you might guess I’m not totally good at English. Also I have to say that you speak quite quickly, and that creates some challenge to understand your thoughts. But I find that turning ON automatic subtitles helps A LOT. With subtitles I can understand about 95-99% of what you’re saying. Even though automatic subtitles are not great and quite often it misreads some words or game names, anyway it’s much better than without subtitles.

    Also, you might keep in mind that 2 lines at the bottom of your video was taken by subtitles, so you could avoid showing something important there, but you already do everything right, because you show games or pictures of games somewhere around your shoulders, and not around your desk level.

    Thanks.

    1. Thanks Alexander! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the videos. That’s good to know that the automatic subtitles are mostly doing their job. I hadn’t thought about the relative position of showing components where that text appears, so I appreciate the reminder to show things higher up in the frame.

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