An interview with a crazy Canadian gaming commentator, NorthernLion.
Now a known Canadian YouTube commentator, I’ve followed NorthernLion for some time. On a whim, I tweeted him for an interview about his gaming channel. Chaos ensued.
What first got you started on YouTube?
I had just finished my undergrad in University and I had about 3 months to kill before my contract teaching ESL in South Korea started, so I decided to pass the time during my unemployment by making retro game reviews like Angry Video Game Nerd and The Spoony Experiment (a couple of my early inspirations). I quickly found that those are a ton of work and I didn’t yet possess the writing, recording, or editing chops to make them any good, so I moved on to livestreaming retro games which eventually led to doing some “Let’s Plays” of classic games from my childhood. The first new game I covered was Super Meat Boy and the rest is history.
What’s your recording setup and editing software?
I have an MXL Pro-1B USB Mic for recording my voice, an Elgato Game Capture HD for recording from consoles, FRAPS/Camtasia Studio for recording PC games, Audacity to record my narration separately, and then Sony Vegas 9 to edit and render them. It might sound a little complicated but it’s actually a pretty easy process.
When did you initially see success with your channel?
When I first started posting Super Meat Boy videos I went from basically being unknown to getting a decent amount of attention, maybe 1,000+ views per day. That was when the game originally came out and I was one of the few people covering it. Once it came out on PC a month or so later, the game was introduced to a much wider audience and so were my videos. Super Meat Boy definitely gave me my start.
After a couple of years of recording and 150,000 subscribers later, do you make a living from YouTube? And what are your metrics?
Yep, I’ve made my living off of YouTube for about a year and a half now. I can’t really go into my financial specifics but in terms of traffic I usually get anywhere from 4 million to 5 million views per month and gain between 10,000-20,000 subscribers monthly depending on what kind of content I’ve been producing.
Why is your The Binding of Isaac Let’s Play so legendarily popular?
This might be a bit of a cop-out but I owe all of my success with the Isaac videos to Edmund McMillen for making such a replayable game. The fact that every run is a little bit different than every other run makes it easier to keep commentary fresh. From a more literal standpoint, the videos are popular because they rank really well for a bunch of The Binding of Isaac related search terms on YouTube as well. I guess that’s what brings people to the series in the first place, but as for what keeps them around beyond the varied nature of each playthrough, I have no idea (but I’m very grateful!)
How do you choose which games to play? And do you ever take subscriber suggestions?
Personal interest, really. This isn’t necessarily a popular opinion but I usually don’t take subscriber suggestions because I’m really wary of falling into some generic ‘design by community’ trap where I end up playing bland stuff that doesn’t interest me just to appeal to a certain demographic. Rather than have the fans tell me what they want to see, my belief is that the fans want to see good content above all else, and my content will be better if I have a vested interest in the game I’m playing rather than feeling obligated to do it.
Do you watch videos from other YouTube personalities and could you recommend some underrated or unappreciated commentators?
I don’t watch too much on YouTube anymore, but there’s three channels I watch most often: Giant Bomb, TotalBiscuit, and RockLeeSmile. Giant Bomb are some of the funniest dudes in the business and they were a big inspiration for me when I got started (“Let’s Look At” is basically a total rip off of GB’s “Quick Looks”). I really respect what they’ve done and to some extent they’ve laid the groundwork for serious (albeit irreverent) independent video content in the gaming world. TotalBiscuit is the biggest channel on YouTube when it comes to ‘first impressions’ style videos and I really admire his professionalism. Watching his videos is educational from a creative standpoint and we have a lot of overlap in what we cover so it’s nice to compare how we feel about the same games. RockLeeSmile is a personal friend and he covers the indie-est of indie games in a very genuine and authentic way. I don’t know if there’s anyone else on YouTube that covers games as unpretentiously as he does.
Have you ever considering doing a hybrid channel, one that offers both Let’s Play videos and commentaries on prominent issues in the games industry?
Perhaps in the future but for now I leave the industry banter to mostly industry folks. I’ve only been doing this for a short while and I’d probably make a fool of myself. To be a bit more cynical I oftentimes feel that videos which focus on issues in the gaming industry tend to pander a little bit to rabid parts of one’s fan base and can get a little groupthink-y which is not the kind of content I’m really interested in producing.
Why YouTube and not another platform, like starting your own site?
Too much work! In all honesty though, YouTube has a huge audience. It’s easier to get people to notice you when there’s hundreds of millions of users looking for content in the same general area.
And, lastly, because it is immensely difficult to attract readers by posting only once a day, would you do Holygrenade the honour of a tweet and mention in one of your videos?
Once the interview is up I will definitely tweet the link and perhaps mention it in a video.
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