The ‘traditional’ millionaire twenty-something is likely to come in one of a small selection of shapes and sizes: a professional athlete, a pop music sensation, or maybe a particularly talented tech prodigy. It’s a pretty narrow demographic. Felix Kjellberg, however, is bucking the trend.
Kjellberg, better known by his YouTube moniker PewDiePie, makes a living by playing video games, and sharing those experiences with his fanbase — through reviews, playthroughs, and comedic skits. What sets Kjellberg apart is his record-setting subscriber base that - at the time of this publication - sits at a monstrous 27.8 million YouTube users — and that kind of following brings with it a bucket-load of cash.
According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, PewDiePie earned a massive $4 million through the ad sales attached to his YouTube videos in 2013. Kjellberg, who only started his channel on YouTube in 2009, has also signed a deal with Maker Studios, an online content producer which was bought out by Disney earlier this year.
So what do PewDiePie fans see in the channel? Kjellberg himself has an answer for why there is such a large audience for PewDiePie and the rest of the YouTube ‘Let’s Play’ community.
“Unlike many professionally produced shows, I think I've established a much closer contact with my viewers, breaking the wall between the viewer and what’s behind the screen. What I and other YouTubers do is a very different thing. It’s almost like hanging around and watching your pal play games. My fans care in a different way about what they are watching.”
It might not be the most high-brow form of entertainment, with a lot of the comedy coming from Kjellberg’s over-the-top — and extremely loud — reactions, but it has to be said that PewDiePie has found something his audience wants. It could also be argued that it’s changing the industry in some pretty interesting ways.
PewDiePie, and other YouTube gaming celebrities, have been responsible for the word-of-mouth promotion of a number of titles — particularly in the indie horror market. Games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender certainly gained notoriety and fans through the videos of PewDiePie and the rest of the ‘Let’s Play’ channels. He even had a hand in the phenomenon that was Flappy Bird, pushing the title from obscurity to the mainstream with a video currently sitting on 18.5 million views.
The impact of PewDiePie has not gone unnoticed to the likes of Anton Westbergh, chief executive of Coffee Stain Studios. Coffee Stain is responsible for Goat Simulator, another game that gained a surge of popularity thanks to Kjellberg’s videos. “Having guys like PewDiePie playing our game has been tremendous marketing,” said Westbergh. “And for us, there have been no costs involved.”
As for Kjellberg himself — he is not entirely comfortable with the level of fame he’s received. “I’m so central to YouTube now, and that puts me in the spotlight,” said Kjellberg. “I’d much rather prefer to have something like 5 million subscribers.” It's because of this success - and that of countless other YouTube gamers - that we're seeing Twitch livestreaming becoming so popular and sharing features becoming must-have options on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.