WHEN you hear about someone who has hundreds of thousands of fans, you presume it’s a movie star or pop singer — but it’s just as likely to be a Minecraft YouTuber.
These are ‘experts’ at playing Minecraft, an online game similar to Lego, whereby players create lands out of square blocks that represent anything from a pig to diamonds or a wood. The game can be made as complicated as the player likes and skills and tips are learnt along the way.
So dedicated ‘crafters’ created online videos to lead newbies through their Minecraft worlds and have since built up cult followings. Chief among these is Stampylonghead, aka Stampy, real name Joseph Garrett — last year, Stampy’s was one of the 10 most watched YouTube channels in the world and he is estimated to earn £236,000 a month. These experts are so popular — Stampy’s channel has had five million hits in a day — that, in our house at least, my children are as familiar with Stampy’s upbeat, slightly hysterical voice as anyone else’s.
Mother-of-three (all Minecraft fans) Lisa O’Brien, from Galway, spotted a marketing opportunity. She created Minevention — a touring convention featuring everything from meet-and-greets with famous Youtubers to merchandising and photo opportunities. Tickets to it are snapped up within minutes.
Minevention Cork was an eye-opener, attended by children aged from seven years up, and by their slightly baffled parents. It was a whirlwind of autographs and tips from the ‘celebrity experts’ — MiniMuka, NettyPlays and Tomohawk — and the chance to kit out your child in Minecraft T-shirts, hoodies and hats, and decorate their room with Minecraft posters, desk-tidys and stuffed toys.
Lisa works in hotel management and last year she went back to college to get an event-management qualification. “It’s been non-stop since. A lot of the YouTubers’ management companies are in the US, so with the time difference we’ve been up late at night organising these. We’e done five Mineventions now and they are going really well,” she says.
The educational aspect of gaming appeals to Lisa, and Minevention has link-ups with Coder Dojo and LearnIt. As well as planning Minecraft summer camps and more conventions, Lisa is expanding into Britain.
Minecraft is popular for a number of reasons — it doesn’t involve any specialised equipment, beyond a computer or mobile phone; it gives the user complete control over the world they create; and players can create an online alter ego and interact with the more famous characters easily.
There is a gender imbalance, but it isn’t a huge issue, says one expert: “Yes, there tends to me more male Youtubers, but I think that is just this generation,” says gamer NettyPlays.
“I think, in five years’ time, it will be more of an even mix. I personally haven’t had any issues with lack of respect being a female. We are a little community and are all great friends. Gender doesn’t seem to make a difference in the world of Minecraft,” she says.
It can be hard for parents, who are used to being warned that computers and ‘video games’ will rot their children’s brains, to acknowledge that forums such as Minecraft’s can have positive aspects. It is less mindless downtime and more relaxation by reading — and thereby learning at the same time.
“Minecraft had been great for so many people, so many parents have come to me and said what a difference it had made in their child’s life. Even teachers, they have seen a difference in the work,” said Netty.
I can’t envision parents insisting their children fulfil a daily stint on Minecraft as if it was reading or doing the washing-up.
But it definitely isn’t an interest to be dismissed as mindless or as a mere tool to keep a child quiet for a half hour. And if children are learning useful skills while — woeful Minecraft pun coming up — having a ‘blast’, then it’s definitely one to watch.
Minevention Cork summer workshops are sold out. There are still places available for Limerick, Athlone, Galway and Meath.
How Minecraft benefits children with autism:
Jen Cullinane, of the Irish Autism Action charity, said Minecraft has helped her son, who has autism. Minecraft has given her three children a common interest. “I know parents worry about too much screen-time for their child, but when you have a child with autism it’s a different ballgame — my own son is calmer and more relaxed from playing.”
IAA collects old mobile phones from the public and exchanges them for iPads for children with autism — 3,000 children have benefited.
IAA approached Lisa about access to Minevention: “Lisa was brilliant — she gave us access to the venue for an hour, before the main crowds came in, as, obviously, the noise and crowds would have been very difficult. IAA has been to five conventions now and they are fantastic.”
At Minevention, the mother of a seven-year-old boy with autism said she was pleased with how Minecraft helps him. “He loves Minecraft. It helps him get involved with other people.” with a similar interest and he has to respect them and learn about turn-taking while doing something he really likes.”.
Playing computer games is now a full-time job
As someone who followed the go-to-college-and-work-hard path, it is difficult to believe you can make a living from putting clips on Youtube of yourself playing computer games. But that’s what celebrity Youtubers, such as Stamplongnose, NettyPlays, and MiniMuka do.
NettyPlays is the online alter ego of Annette Garrett, who is in her 20s. And she’s making a living out of Minecraft: “I started in May, 2014. I had never really been majorly into games — just playing the odd ones with my brother. Then, he asked me to do a series with him on his channel, stampylonghead. I took part in the ‘sister challenge’ — I had to complete a few tasks and, by the end, I was completely hooked.”
“Yes, this is my full-time job. There is money in this, but it doesn’t happen over-night. I am earning, but not really anything special. A lot of other Youtubers have another job, too. It takes people years of hard work and determination to get to the stage of a good wage.”
Of course, it’s not all sitting around playing games — Netty says that just “keeping up with the social media is a full-time job, on top of creating the videos and attending events.”
It’s not a matter of playing a quick game and then watching the money roll in either, says Netty: “I spend the majority of my time at a screen! I haven’t really had a day off since I started and that is not an exaggeration.
“Between planning, recording, editing, uploading, thumbnails, social media and spending time on servers chatting to my subscribers — and with time differences there are always a lot of people around, so it takes a long time. “Also, I have been going to quite a lot of events, so you have to have everything up and scheduled before you go.”
Sam Davies, 17, is known as MiniMuka in the world of Minecraft and says he’s been involved since the game was being developed.
He isn’t making a fortune from it: “YouTube is currently something I put a lot of time and effort into, and I would consider it my job, and I am also a student,” but he says that it “takes years of hard work to get to a stage where you are making a good living”.
He’s putting in the hours, though: “I’d say there is not a time where I am not thinking about getting on my computer and doing some work — it is extremely hard work being a YouTube content creator.”
But it’s not all solitary gaming in a bedroom: “As we spend a lot of time on our computers, we all become close friends and get amazing opportunities to go to conventions and all meet up — I feel some of the people I’ve met online have become very trustworthy, close friends.”
Despite the hero-worship these YouTubers got from children at the Minevention, they were polite and cheery to each child who wanted an autograph or gaming tips — indeed, when Tomahawk was asked a technical question by my son, he had a pen and paper out instantly and the two of them locked into a ‘bubble’ and discussed it until I pointed out the queue building behind us.