If you’ve ever stumbled around on YouTube and landed on videogame footage with a snarky voiceover talking about ex-girlfriends, best snacks, and references to shows on Comedy Central, you might have been rather shocked that it had tallied over 30,000 views. Who actually watches this stuff? The answer turns out to be the fans of one of YouTube’s crown jewels that notched 1.75 billion views in May alone, the most of any channel. It’s Machinima (pronounced mah-SHIN-eh-mah, the hybridization of machine and cinema), the repository for user-created and professionally produced video centered in and around the world of gaming.
Though machinima as a geeked out form of entertainment has been around for decades, the Machinima YouTube channel is the main outlet for Machinima.com, which launched in 2000. The next generation video entertainment network now boasts an audience of 183 million viewers a month, especially among the male 18-34 demographic, and offers five channels that focus on different aspects of gaming, whether it’s walkthroughs, gaming news, trailers, and even original shows. According to ComScore, which tracks online video rankings in the U.S., Machinima viewers watched an average of 65.7 minutes per viewer in May, which is the highest among YouTube partner channels. The main channel itself boasts 4.5 million subscribers alone.
Recently, the site completed a new funding round and, with Google leading the way, it raised a whopping $35 million, bringing it’s total funding to just shy of $50 million and setting its valuation at about $190 million.
Machinima has positioned itself to be the hub of the growing gaming worldwide culture that fuels the $56 billion industry (for comparison, music sales were $16.6 billion and movies made $32.6 billion globally in 2011). Sure, there are a host of sites across the web that cover videogames, and Machinima’s content tends to be more console-oriented than mobile focused, for instance. Add to that the failure of cable television’s exclusive offering aimed at gamers, G4 TV, and Machinima’s success is even more amazing: 14.5 billion views since 2011.
Currently, Machinima offers some traditional shows, with its news arm Insider Gaming Daily being the most recognizable. But what makes Machinima YouTube’s content king is the numerous animated series created by adding voiceovers to manipulated clips of a videogame’s engine and assets (what machinima actually is all about). Some single machinima episodes on the channel have millions of views, and users can submit content to be posted to the site.
Check out a sample from one of its popular series, How It Should Have Ended: Video Games: when Mario finds himself in one of Valve’s popular games:
Finally, a clip from a series called Two Best Friends Play when the two hosts, Matt and Pat, tackle Skyrim:
Apart from YouTube, its video-devoid main site and blog receive modest traffic (neither has forums) and each of Machinima’s channels has its own social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find Machinima content on other video sites for good reason – CEO Allen DeBevoise told Gigaom last February “We decided not to put all our content on every platform, instead saying ‘let’s just get this one right.'” He added, “[Gaming is] a vast medium, but unlike, say, film, is not as accessible. Yet there are a significant number of users in that group who want to do more than consume. They want to produce, and they can do that for as little as $50.” This is especially important for the long term, as statistics show that older people and more females are becoming gamers. By gauging the community interests by what users submit, Machinima can adapt to the community demographic and gaming platform (like the rise of mobile games), rather than chasing after viewers who have moved on to the next big thing.
The Machinima community is fueled by both consumption and creation of content, and YouTube is an ideal platform for both. Users can interact with each other in a dynamic way, either by using the comment section of a video like a forum thread or by responding with videos of their own. This kind of engagement on the web is a natural extension of what takes place among friends who game together anyway, just in a digital platform and on a much larger scale. And that’s why the gaming community isn’t drawn anymore to magazines, television or any other form of static media.
With such a strong community on YouTube, it only makes sense that Google would invest in a content creator by taking equity, the first time it’s ever done so openly. To support its YouTube channels, Machinima offers free apps for Android, Windows Phone 7, and iOS in addition to streaming through Boxee and Roku. So when viewers aren’t watching from their consoles, they can check in wherever they go.
One reason machinima as an art form has been embraced is that videogame engines have become incredibly sophisticated with animation that can sometimes rival Hollywood action scenes. Just watch this user-created movie using Battlefield 3 and judge for yourself:
With powerful video editing software and content creation tools, anyone can produce videos ranging from multiplayer pwnage to professional-looking, cinematic trailers of hypothetical films.
In the end, Machinima has demonstrated what it means to be a next generation media producer. Instead of diversifying, it has focused its efforts primarily in one direction, and cultivated a global community larger than all but a handful of nations. In doing so, it also shows how big gaming is and gives a window into what it is to become. Very few people may be able to actually make games, but Machinima shows that millions can actively participate in the gaming culture that extends beyond the game itself.