Tips to Begin Let's Playing: Gaming With Grace
We'll be going through some key ingredients necessary to get your channel at its A-game. Steps include:
- Making Videos
- Social Media
- Creating a Lasting Impact
Branding: The Name
This may seem silly, but your channel name is incredibly important in creating a first impression with your audience. We have to crawl before walking, right? Channel names are no exception; I'll give you two examples of YouTube channel names:
Note that the first one, while cleverly* using numbers and capitol letters, lacks a true professional feel. The second name, on the other hand, uses consistent capitalization and no numbers in the middle of the name. As a few general rules, it's important when making a channel name that:
- The name has no numbers in the middle of it. Seriously, people. Stop.
- The name fits thematically with your channel.
- The capitalization, if there is any, helps in distinguishing different words.
Numbers aren't "technically" used within YouTube's search engine. Instead, each number's given a different lettered value, meaning that any numbers within a channel name are going to seriously screw up people's search for your channel. A clean name means a professional name, and a professional name is one people'll wanna check out!
In general, a name that's clever and catchy will get the job done.
*It just makes me want to rip my hair out. Ugh.
Branding: The Logo
This single component may just drive you crazy. While the channel name might be someone's nifty sneakers or spiffy necktie, the logo is the face, and truly generates the largest first impression. It's incredibly important and unique to all, so how do we come up with a little 900x 900 square that encapsulates someone's content? Well, here's what not to do:
- Never use too much detail. Your logo will be shrunk down to a minuscule size, so too much clutter will only confuse viewers.
- Try to not be bleak. Dull colors or a design that's too minimalistic isn't exciting, and as entertainers, we can't let our logos bore people!
There are a million and one ways to create a successful and engaging logo, but here are a few I consider to be well-executed over on the right, from ArchTalko, chuggaaconroy, and Game Grumps, respectively. Note the use of vibrant colors and minimalist designs. While the use of initials is very common in channels, Game Grumps proves you can fit your entire channel name and still have the design be concise. We're not all graduates in graphic design, but keeping your logo simple and bold will give a great impression!
The next step in creating a channel is acquiring the proper equipment! While it's entirely possible to just point a camera at a tv screen and call it a day, channels that do so often fail to retain audience members. Most let's play channels use capture equipment in order to present crisp, high-quality footage; we'll assume you wish to do the same. In this section I'll be listing various options, with the highlighted names being my personal recommendations. Keep in mind, however, that these are purely opinions; in the end, always choose what's right for your channel.
First up are capture cards. Depending on which platform you wish to entertain with, there are various cards you may choose from. HD footage (Wii U, PS3, and Xbox 360) will be best captured using either an Elgato, or a Haupaugge HD PVR gaming edition 2 (the latter's quite the mouthful).
- Elgato: http://www.amazon.com/Elgato-Capture-PlayStation-Recorder-10025010/dp/B00840353W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380907595&sr=8-1&keywords=elgato
- Haupaugge HD PVR: http://www.amazon.com/Hauppauge-1512-Definition-Personal-Technology/dp/B00BA4ILX8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380907559&sr=8-1&keywords=haupaugge
While the HD PVR is slightly more expensive than the Elgato, It receives my recommendation for being highly versatile. The Elgato is only capable of recording Xbox 360 and Wii U; on the other hand, the HD PVR can record both Wii U and 360 with the addition of PS3, PS2, Wii, and Gamecube. If you plan on playing more than just CoD on your Xbox, it never hurts to have more platforms available for capture!
Next up are the microphones. Nothing's worse than listening to commentary that was recorded with a potato; bad audio quality becomes grating, and just like footage recorded with a camera pointed at a tv screen, will only frustrate viewers and decrease your chances for audience retention. A few decent options for microphones include:
- Any Turtle Beach Headset (I personally use the PX21 as of writing this article)
- Blue Snowball
- Blue Yeti
- Logitech H390
To go down the list in order, I recommend turtle beach headsets because, for their price, they offer excellent sound/ microphone quality. However, they have no pop filter, so a homemade solution (like putting a clown nose on the end) is necessary to remove breath noises. With that being said, Blue microphones are currently the industry standard, and for good reason. They offer outstanding recording quality, and if you have a larger budget to work with, the Yeti offers studio-grade services for your recording pleasures. If you're working with a tighter budget, however, Logitech typically makes decent headsets, with the H390 my recommendation for it's noise cancelling features.
With the biggest investments out of the way, it's time for the misc. components you may wish to consider:
- Additional hard drives (LPing will take up a lot of your computer's memory, so it's wise to invest in expandable memory for your computer)
- A pop filter (you can buy clown noses from any dollar store, and they do an excellent job in cancelling unwanted noises)
Now to the fun stuff! We have the necessary parts to record footage and commentary, but what do we use to put it all together? For starters, capture cards always come with their own software to record and store footage onto your computer's hard drive.
In terms of commentary recording, there's truly only one program I can recommend:
- Audacity: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
I can never speak highly enough about Audacity. A free-to-use program, Audacity's packed with features, from multiple layered recordings to a plethora of special effects. It's as simple to use as plugging in your microphone and pressing the big red record button, but also allows for advanced editing/ effects.
Editing software is not so straightforward. Depending on your expertise in the field of non-linear editing (as well as your preference for either Windows or Mac), there are many programs to choose from:
- MovieMaker/ iMovie (Windows exclusive/ Mac exclusive respectively): Default, free programs
- Adobe Premiere (Windows and Mac): http://www.adobe.com/products/premiere.html
- Final Cut Pro (Mac only): http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/
- Sony Vegas (Windows only): http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/vegassoftware
- Camtasia Studio (Windows and Mac): http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html
MovieMaker and iMovie come on Windows/ Mac computers for free, respectively. Unfortunately, MovieMaker severely lacks tools used to make high-quality videos and, while iMovie is more versatile than MovieMaker, I can't recommend either of them without a guilty conscience. Premiere is my preferred program of choice for its cross-compatibility and amazing integration with the other Adobe suite programs, but Final Cut Pro is another industry-standard editing suite that offers similar power. Both programs are expensive, so for those looking for cheaper alternatives, Vegas and Camtasia Studio still offer many powerful tools for less than Premiere or Final Cut. Vegas and Camtasia also happen to be the most used among other Let's Players, with Camtasia having the bonus of its built-in computer screen recorder. All come with demos, so experiment and see which editing suite best suits your wallet and needs!
Other misc. programs you'll find immensely helpful include:
- Adobe Photoshop/ Illustrator, for creating custom logos and graphics:
- Simkl, to record Skype conversations on collaboration projects: http://im.simkl.com/
Whereas the previous sections have been about preparing your channel for creating content, it's time we move on to the actual process. While every person's channel should always be a direct result of their creativity, there are a few pointers and guidelines a fellow YouTuber can pass onto others. Ready for another list?
- Choosing what games to play can be a challenge all by itself. For someone starting out, your best bet will be to play a game you've played through multiple times; a game you know inside and out. Doing so will allow you to play on "auto-pilot," and devote more energy into creating thoughtful and/or witty commentary. Once you become more experienced, you may also want to try blind LP's, or LP's of a game you've never played.
- YouTube seems to handle/ process MP4 (otherwise known as H.264) video the best. If at all possible, uploading videos in this format will ensure your video uploading process goes as smoothly as possible.
- Because YouTube lifted it's strict 11:00 minute time limit, you now have the option of making a video at whatever length you see fit. With that being said, I find that videos around the 12:00-15:00 mark are an ideal fit. If you look at my channel, you'll find that I don't necessarily follow this, and sometimes a game just isn't made to be cut up in those kind of sections. The notion of an ideal video time is often debated, but 12:00- 15:00 is my personal belief.
- Creating an end-slate that links to other videos in a series, lists various social medias you participate in, and kindly asks for viewers to like, comment, and subscribe will greatly boost audience participation. There's no shame in kindly asking your audience to participate; many people want to, but simply get side-tracked by other distractions. You have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain by implementing one, and although it requires a little more work putting up annotations at the end of videos, it's more than worth it.
- Channel trailers are a relatively new feature of YouTube's new One Channel layout, and have the potential of lassoing in many viewers who may stop by your channel to preview your work. The goal in creating a trailer is in keeping it short and sweet; you want to capture the overall point of your channel, all the while keeping it entertaining and impressive. This can be done through a montage of your favorite moments, through a specific voice-over dedicated to introducing yourself, or any number of other ways. Get creative, and strive to impress!
- Most importantly, though, is to just be yourself. There's only one of you on the internet, so sell it! Copying off of other, more successful YouTubers is a recipe for disaster. Instead, focus on what makes you stand out among others, and have fun with what you're doing. If you leave the audience in a better mood than when they started, they're more likely to come back. This hobby is all about entertainment, and having fun is an important part to any entertainment industry!
Below is an example of my own channel trailer, as well as an end-slate I use in my weekly impression series.
Which social media site do you use the most?
With your videos created and uploaded, we now begin the process of networking. As it stands, there are an incredible amount of Let's Players currently on YouTube, with more joining the ranks each day. Consequently, it's becoming harder than ever to get noticed.
So how can you overcome this? The answer lies in two words, which happen to reside in the caption above this section: social media.
By promoting your videos through various social medias (Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, to start), you allow a wider percentage of people to stumble across your content. In particular, I've found Twitter to be an invaluable tool in talking with fans and becoming friends with other Let's Players. Said friendships may even evolve to form collaboration projects, which can only serve in tightening your bond with said person, and expanding the audiences of both participating parties.
Social Medias also help in reminding your fans when videos come out, and even nudging them to re-watch particular moments. There are also various gaming forums that are eager for new members, and will gladly assist in reviewing your channel and giving constructive criticism to improve. Overall, there are plenty of people in similar circumstances who are eager to help; the key is in finding them, and the vessel used are the social medias.
Lastly, commenting on other channels is an excellent way of getting your name out there. Be warned, however, that if you bluntly comment on people's videos saying, "Hi there! I'm a small LPer that plays _____, ______, and ________. Will you come over and please check me out?" you will receive hate. Spamming your channel, however politely it may be constructed, often has worse backlash than not commenting at all. Instead, try politely replying to other commentators on popular gaming videos. People will often check out a channel that replies to them, so assuming your channel's logo and username are interesting enough, you will often receive boosted traffic by talking with others. If you think about it, each comment you leave on a video is a mini advertisement. It contains a link to your channel, your logo, and the username, so by illustrating yourself in a positive, witty light, others may very well discover you.
In all, you stand nothing to lose by implementing social medias into your regular upload schedule.
Creating A Lasting Impact
It's one thing to upload a viral video and gain short-term success. but it's another thing to become an active and respected member of the community. We're going to take a look at what it means to keep that success once you gain it, but be warned: this section is composed of my subjective opinions; theories about video making you should take with a grain of salt, seeing as I have about 130 subscribers as of writing this article.
As I mentioned previously, you have to enjoy entertaining others in order to have any long-term shot at success. You have to sustain a passion for the video-making process, and persevere through trials and tribulations no matter what the circumstances. Handfuls of confidence and will-power will go a long way, so be sure to keep stocked up and allow other people in your life to come to your aid if need-be.
Treat your fans with respect. On one hand, you should never allow the fans to directly control how and what you make for your channel (especially considering they're getting hours of entertainment from you for free); with that in mind though, being courteous and friendly to them goes a long way in establishing yourself in a positive light. You'll get the opportunity to meet and talk with people from all around the globe, so make use of it. You'll be amazed by how much you learn.
Go the extra mile with your content. There are a thousand and one amateur LP channels on YouTube, so why should anyone pick your channel over someone else's? Do what's never been done before; take risks, and take the time to put an extra layer of polish in everything you do. In the long run, it may make the difference between a fade into obscurity or a rise into popularity.
Making Let's Play videos is an absolute blast, and I truly hope this helps any of you aspire to become a fellow LPer. If you have any further questions/ concerns, feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's to the beautiful moments you'll make, and the memories you'll create to last a lifetime.
© 2013 Drew Ellenberger