The second highest trafficked website in the US, YouTube is the go-to site for most of the US population’s on-demand video needs and thus can be a good place to build an audience as a gameplay narrator. However, streaming gameplay narration on YouTube is unique among the YouTube content creator professional trees given the tricky legal situation that surrounds it and YouTube’s increasingly tentative relationship with the gamer community. Despite a high volume of fraught encounters between content creators and YouTube’s authorities, the billion users a month pulled in by YouTube are nothing to sneer at.
There are two paths one can take to make money on YouTube as a content creator: becoming a direct partner through YouTube or joining a YouTube partner network. Becoming a direct Youtube partner seems fairly straightforward and the price sharing terms are favorable. YouTube typically takes a 45% cut of advertising revenue based on AdSense’s CPM (cost per thousand views) payment structure (the average is $2.50 per 1000 views, but goes up to $10 per 1000 views). However, direct partners are more exposed to takedown requests. To counter this many individuals work through YouTube partner networks.
Content creators must apply and be accepted to become members of Youtube partner networks. While these applications are sometimes rigorous and a partner network will take an additional cut of one’s work they are often still able to add value due to their ability (sometimes) to protect their members from YouTube’s anti-piracy craze, a more flexible monetization contract, and other varying perks, which include things like access to royalty-free music and images and special promotion..
Contracts with YouTube partner networks typically offer one of two compensation models: A flat CPM or a percentage-based amount. The flat CPM method is more reliable, but depending on how successful one’s network is, a content creator may make more with a percentage model. Different networks also offer different contract lengths, which is well worth noting, as some contacts can be abusively long (some are even perpetual).
YouTube’s recent reputation with online gameplay hosts has left much to be desired and many have discussed leaving YouTube all together. These abuses have included policies such as: Forced Google+ integration with an individual’s real name (undermining years of branding put into usernames) and simple cross platform transfers for streamers. What’s more, YouTube's policy of taking 100% of the ad revenue for a video pending review creates a disincentive for them to review and approve videos in a timely matter. YouTube is also plagued by large-scale automated searches for copyrighted content that appear to be unintentionally initiated by companies (or illegally initiated by other entities pretending to be those companies). Some automated searches even target content in the public domain that was submitted by large companies (to protect against this, YouTube has suggested switching off in-game music). Not only does this cause frustrating temporary takedowns but getting enough take down notices could lead a content creator to be banned permanently. YouTube has shown no trend towards slowing these abusive practices in the near future and appears to be accelerating their employment.
Joining a Channel
Streamers who amass a significant number of followers on YouTube will either start to be recruited by YouTube-affiliated studios or seek to join them independently. Studios can be huge and are big business, for example Maker Studio has almost as many viewers as Nickelodeon. Their basic business model is generally to acquire enough partners in their network that they can broker their own deals with advertising companies giving the individual partners within their networks more power.
The largest of these channel networks are Maker Studios, Machinima, Mahalo, Vuguru, and Next New Networks. However there are numerous smaller channels and studios that may offer better terms. The issue of picking a studio to partner with is incredibly important, not least because they can sneak terms into their initial contract that can make it difficult to move to another group after signing with them locking content creators into an abusive contract.
Unfortunately, the standard contract can be subjective and change frequently. The best standard advice we can offer is to ensure that the incentives in a contract are aligned so there is some cost to a studio for onboarding and maintaining. Ideally, a studio should have a vested interest in promoting your content, training you, and making you successful. Studios about which content creators should be wary are those that grant participants access to a preset suite of tools or permissions, incur no costs when onboarding new content creators, and demand participants sign long-term contracts.