We’ve all thought about it. If that guy can get up there and make thousands of bucks playing Amnesia and being an overall goof surely I could, too? How much could there possibly be to it? Then you realise you don’t actually have much of a sense of humour and remember that the internet is mean, so you put away your aspirations of YouTube stardom and go back to leaving angry comments on Facebook posts like normal.
Youtubers Life is a game that attempts to tap into that fantasy, by strapping a bunch of different elements to a Sims-lite adventure. Start out recording videos on a battered desktop in your mum’s house, end up on a network raking in cash surrounded by all the lava lamps you could ever possibly dream of. Inbetween editing videos and inordinate amounts of online shopping, you’ll network, go to movies, get rejected by girls in Groucho Marx masks and eat a metric ton of salad. I don’t know about you but that was pretty much my university life. Starting out, you have the choice to launch your very own gaming/food/music channel and start scraping your way towards stardom.
The option to play as a huge bearded Canadian man and launch a rip-off Epic Meal Time is sadly amiss so I went with the old faithful gaming and set about making a name for myself – after my mum walked into my room and told me off for not studying enough this week. Recording and editing videos is a simple enough process, you pick what equipment you’re going to use, and that allocates a certain amount of rendering points you can use to increase the quality of the clip. A mini-game will play out, and you’ll react to situations like “the game crashes” or “You beat a level” by choosing a card with a response on it. Appropriate reactions will make the clips link together better, bad ones will have you leaning harder on jump cuts than… well, pretty much half of YouTube’s uploads in the early 00’s.
The mini-game certainly works. Levelling up provides you with new reaction cards alongside cosmetic unlocks, allowing you to craft a deck of responses unique to you. It’s a good idea – but I coasted right through to the peak of my career without changing the deck much at all, which leaves me wondering if it’s just there to provide an illusion of choice. Bear in mind that you need to play the mini-game every time you record a video, and though it might variate slightly with the addition of new cards and upgrades, it’s not quite enjoyable or deep enough to withstand heavy usage. The surrounding mechanics are solid – as days pass new games release and older titles lose popularity, making videos less lucrative. You can create first impressions, gameplay, walkthroughs, answer fan requests. If the recording mini-game was even slightly more involved the game’s core would feel more like a simulation and less like a jumped-up mobile game.
Life carries on around your uploads, though. You need to keep on top of hunger and sleep levels (but never use the toilet, not even after fifteen cans of Red Bull). Providing some welcome distraction are perennially awkward parties in which people get angry at you for talking to them about a topic they’re not interested in, relationships you can start by hugging someone fifty times, and an endless procession of cosmetic purchases. At first, making friends seems pointless and random – chatting and attending parties only really eats up time you could spend working a part time job for some extra dollar or studying new skills. Move up in the world, though, and you can hire close friends as collaborators, setting up additional workstations and automating the content creation process somewhat.
The parties, movie premieres and shallow networking ultimately drive a jaded, cynical view of YouTube stardom that bizarrely clashes with Youtubers Life’s jaunty, appealing visuals. Rather than carving out your own niche and earning success through being uniquely creative, the game rewards close monitoring of trends and industry movements. Your character doesn’t impress anyone by being themselves – instead you’ll have to dress up certain ways to fit in at certain parties, and only ever talk to people about the things they like to get on with them. By the same token, the only real motive to make any friends in the first place is so you can ultimately use them to further your own success. It’s not really the happiest set of messages to come away with. Whether or not it’s a true representation of YouTube fame is irrelevant – the moments where YouTubers Life has you sucking up to everyone for a social media shoutout so your Half-Time 3 gameplay video earns a few extra cents in ad revenue are stark and soulless.
This is where the game’s fun-loving, vibrant exterior really starts to struggle against the bleak portrait of the content creator lifestyle painted by the path to success. The irony is if there was ever a sim that went all-in on the soul-destroying road to fame, it would sell like hot cakes. Imagine a game where you constantly have to compromise your own creative vision and individuality to earn sponsorships so you can afford to eat and pay your rent. After a long hard day of selling out and promoting the latest TV streaming service you go home to your empty apartment, stare at your stack of games, and drink yourself to sleep. Or turning down lucrative sponsorship deals because it’d mean compromising your integrity and having your character’s channel start to fail as you try to balance it alongside gruelling part time jobs.
The thing is all of those things are present to some extent in YouTuber’s Life – it’s just parcelled up in such an eerily cartoony package that it seems like a chilling, corporate exercise instead of a look at the hardships of internet fame. “Want to be happy, kids? Sell out all of your individuality!”. I’m sure this wasn’t the intention of the developers, in all truth it’s probably just the equally cynical viewpoint of one caffeine-addled games writer, but it’s worth thinking about. YouTubers Life is meant to be a kid-friendly sim honing in on easily the biggest trend of our time, and it does so smartly. The graphics are simple and appealing, the gameplay itself is enjoyable but quickly grows repetitive – it’s easily the kind of thing you play for 8 hours in a row once and then don’t touch again for months. Easygoing simulation or sinister corporate message, YouTubers Life is a fun experience and an interesting, if shallow, look at what goes into achieving internet fame.
- An enjoyable sim game paired with interesting YouTube themes. A sequel could have the potential to really expand and improve upon
- The game is a technical success – all the various systems and simulations gel together nicely.
- Doesn’t have a major unique selling point to compete against other titles – like PewDiePie’s aggressively kid-attracting app but does deliver a consistently fun and absorbing experience (Which is more than can be said for Felix’s effort).
- Colourful, cheerful visuals clash against a very cynical approach to what it takes to succeed in the age of the internet. This game’s gleeful embrace of selling out to the machine may depress the world-weary amongst you.