How do you go about launching and maintaining your own gaming YouTube channel? We've been talking to Matt Lees about gaming for a living...
Matt Lees is a busy man. In command of burgeoning gaming video channel Cool Ghosts, and a key voice in the popular Regular Features and Daft Souls podcasts, he’s spent the last few years building a big name for himself in the gaming community – to the point where creating quality gaming videos is now his full-time job.
But how did he get there? And what tips can any wannabe gaming Youtubers glean from him about the world of self-made content? We recently caught up with the man himself to find out…
How to win funds and stimulate people
“I guess the first video game related video I made was something I made with my friend Steve, who’s someone I work with on Regular Features now,” says Matt about his humble online beginnings. “It was a spoof ‘999’ video about Gran Turismo update installs taking forever, so it wasn’t much to do with games – it was more a tangential comedy sketch.”
Following (but not related to) that early endeavour, Matt went full-time in-house at some of the UK’s biggest gaming publications, “I got a job at OXM and then later at VideoGamer,” he says, “and that was when I started doing proper video work, largely because it was something I had an interest in and because I thought I was quite good on camera. So I started presenting and then got into editing more, but it was quite a slow thing – I was a writer primarily, though I soon realised that writing and editing were really, really similar.”
But it soon felt like time for Matt to spread his wings and go it alone. And thankfully, a new site in the world of online content had just arrived to help nurture anyone who wanted to do just that:
“It was a strange leap,” he tells us. “I left VideoGamer because I had side projects I wanted to invest more time in, and I couldn’t work out a way to fit a 9-5 job and all my other projects into each week. So I just, sort of…lLeft. But I wasn’t intending to be completely self-employed. I was planning to do freelance work on the side, and at that point I was pitching video series work to big websites. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was confident that I’d be able to work something out. And I thought that, worst case, I could go back into writing.
“And then I had a conversation with someone about Patreon.”
For those unsure, Patreon is a crowdfunding website designed to help makers of videos, podcasts and other online media generate a sustainable income through monthly donations. In other words? Think of it like Kickstarter, only instead of your money going towards the creation of a physical product, you’re helping creators and artists make regular content.
“It was quite new at the time,” says Matt, “although a few people I knew of were using it. I was reticent to get involved – I’m not much of a risk taker – but a friend convinced me that it was worth giving a go.” And that ‘go’ soon helped Matt’s various projects keep on rolling without the need for revenue generated through video adverts. “It’s been over two years since then,” he adds, “which is kind of crazy.”
And crazier still, this model looks very sustainable – it’s helping hundreds of video makers like Matt do what they love for a living every day:
“When I started using Patreon I wasn’t really looking at it as a long term solution – I thought it’d just add a bit of supplemental income to my freelance work. Now though, pretty much the majority of my income is from crowdfunding. It’s to the point where I’m not really doing much work for anyone else because it doesn’t make sense; it’s better to just focus on my stuff. I never thought Patreon would be anything more than a stopgap before I found a new business model, but as it turns out, this is the new business model. That’s in part because the ad-revenue model for videos is kind of messed up at the moment,” Matt explains, “in that it’s not really benefitting anyone apart from the advertisers.
“So everyone’s jumping into crowdfunding, and I think that’s fine. I think there was a fear that there wouldn’t be enough to go around. And there isn’t always – some things will rise to the top and some things will fail. It’s a meritocracy that way. But it’s coming up to three years for me now, so it is absolutely sustainable.”
“Everyone’s jumping into crowdfunding, and I think that’s fine… It is absolutely sustainable.”
But if you’re thinking Patreon is the answer you’ve been looking for, be warned: “While it is a meritocracy,” Matt says, “it’s one that’s complicated by some outfits that use crowdfunding to really heavily push their fans into higher tiers of funding.
“Some people lay it on really thick with the emotional pleas, while also doing highly-paid sponsored work.” And for people like Matt, that’s not on. “Everyone should have the right to make money in whatever way they need to, but I think that turning to fans – to people who love you and your work – and making out that you desperately need their help is professionally wrong. I think the best thing about crowdfunding is that it allows for absolute transparency and openness, so I’d feel so uncomfortable manipulating fans in that way. Any relationship based on a situation where one person holds all of the power is unhealthy.
“I don’t have an individual relationship with all the people who fund us, but I try to have a link with them based on mutual respect.” And that’s probably why Matt’s work has gained an unusually loyal following…
How do you get going in gaming?
Funding’s one side of the story, but quality is entirely another. Luckily though, if you put enough time, effort and love into what you’re doing, Matt believes you’ll naturally find the right kind of audience:
“Sometimes we get people saying ‘I’ve been having a really bad time recently and your videos are the only thing I look forward to.’ That is pretty powerful, but the thing I love the most is the fact that we launched Cool Ghosts [the digital home of Matt and Quintin Smith’s videos and podcasts] just under a year ago, and whilst we were really worried about having comments on the website [Matt tells us that people are moving away from comment threads as they can be “really toxic and depressing to manage”], we’ve only had to delete one inappropriate comment. In a year. Which, for the gaming world, is crazy.
“We have a small community but they’re just lovely people – everyone is polite and eloquent and nice. And that’s the thing I’m most proud of,” he tells us. “We’ve managed to make a website full of content about video games that doesn’t have a problem with for that the community.”
We’d be remiss in talking to Matt and not garnering his advice on So what’s Matt’s advice on how to stand out, and how anyone wanting to get into making great gaming content should go about it…
“The thing with gaming videos is that everything’s already been done,” he says, “so I’m always trying to think of new angles to take and new things to do. But that does mean that if you’re new to it, it doesn’t really matter -– you’ll end up doing something that has already been done probably by default, and that’s fine. So I think the best tip is to do whatever you want; for a long time you had to work out how to make what you wanted to do fit into a format that would fit on a website, but now it’s different – there’s never been a better time to be niche. Don’t just try to copy what’s out there; do what you want to do.
“The thing with gaming videos is that everything’s already been done.”
“If you just want to do it to become famous making gaming videos, it might work, but the trick really is to look at what’s out there and if there’s something you want to exist that doesn’t yet, then you’ve got to make it happen. It’s funny,” Matt says in closing, “I don’t really watch much video content or listen to many podcasts – I’ve always found that the things I wanted didn’t exist, and that’s why I do what I do. I make the videos that I want to exist.”
More on gaming… Keen mobile gamer? You can find out how Gameloft took the mobile world by storm here.