With nearly 8.8 million subscribers and 1.8bn views for his YouTube channel, Jordan “CaptainSparklez” Maron is one of the most popular gamers on the online video service.
Maron’s most popular videos are his musical parodies of songs including Coldplay’s Vida la Vida and Psy’s Gangnam Style produced using the Minecraft game, but his daily videos have helped him to build a fervent online fanbase.
Now Youtube CaptainSparklez is hoping to persuade those fans to play his own game, having co-founded mobile games firm Xreal with Howard Marks, co-founder of console company Activision. Their first game, Fortress Fury, launched in May for Android and iOS devices, and has since been downloaded more than 2m times.
The game involves players crafting weapons and items for their fortresses, before trying to destroy others’ in multiplayer battles online. And you can thank the 23 year-old Maron’s grandmother for its release.
“Howard was playing tennis with a friend of his, who knew my grandmother, and they were talking about Minecraft, YouTube and CaptainSparklez because of a t-shirt that his son was wearing,” says Maron.
“Howard ended up going home and checking out some of the videos I’d done, and got in touch through my grandmother. She said ‘some guy called me about this video game, I don’t know what this is!’ I thought some random person had got a hold of my grandma’s contact information.”
The contact proved more legitimate, and led to the formation of Xreal, with its first game following in May.
“We wanted to do something pretty original that hadn’t really been done before. Real-time multiplayer stuff is not super-common when it comes to mobile, and that in itself was probably our biggest hurdle in development, getting it working,” says Maron.
“There was also always that bit of doubt in our minds that we could spend all this time working on the thing, then put it out there and have it completely flop. But as a first try, I figured there weren’t any expectations we had to live up to. And at the very least it would be a learning experience.”
2m downloads in its first three months should provide plenty of data to learn from, although fellow freemium games Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga aren’t under threat just yet: at the time of writing, Fortress Fury is outside the 200 top-grossing iOS games in Maron’s native US.
That suggests an early spike in downloads fuelled by Maron’s YouTube and social popularity not yet matched by player spending – the fact that many of his fans are children may be one factor in that. Still, Xreal is in its early days.
The company is raising money on equity-crowdfunding site StartEngine – Marks is that company’s executive chairman – with a pitch explaining that its ambitions lie beyond simply developing games, to making them big draws in the esports market, where players compete for prizes watched by an online and/or live audience.
“Hopefully mobile esports will take off. There are so many mobile devices out there now, they out-populate desktop computers,” says Maron. “You can see how big PC games like League of Legends and Dota 2 are for esports, so if you get something that catches on in mobile, the audience is potentially even larger.”
The crowdfunding is one example of getting players involved in Xreal’s plans. Another was Maron’s decision to post videos on his YouTube channel during Fortress Fury’s development, encouraging fans to give feedback.
“Even before we got the studio on board, I wanted to make videos showing the development process and getting people directly involved in making decisions on the games,” he says.
“The title was suggested and voted on by people on YouTube, and we also had votes on the logo and the icon art. I plan to continue that in the future: naming weapons and voting on the art for example, which seems to be a pretty cool way to get people involved.”
Freemium games are dominating the mobile app stores, but they are also a controversial topic for some gamers, who dislike the way features like wait-timers, power-ups and pay-gates are implemented in some of the most popular titles.
Was Maron concerned that Fortress Fury might make some of his fans, well, furious? “For any free-to-play game, no matter how you integrate the premium purchases, you’re going to get some degree of backlash,” he says.
“I just wanted to make sure that it’s not a pay-to-win game, that’s where the biggest complaints come in, and I do understand those. We tried not to go down that route: especially with it being a competitive game, we have to make it a level playing field.”
Players can spend money in Fortress Fury for “time-savers” to speed up crafting weapons and items, but Maron says that Xreal tried to balance this by allowing fewer higher-tier weapons to be placed in a fortress, giving players who have spent less or no money (and thus who have lower-tier weapons) a shot at competing.
Alongside Xreal, Maron is continuing to make videos for his YouTube channel – and also live-streaming on Amazon’s Twitch service, which has become one of his priorities in the last year.
“So many people who I know, although they still do YouTube, Twitch has become more and more of a major thing – myself included,” he says.
“It’s a cool, different way to interact with people: they can give you direct feedback in the chat in Twitch, which is something you can’t get on YouTube. It works very well for games, and it’s a little bit more casual than YouTube: you can take a break, answer questions from the chat, and mess around a little bit more.”
That contrast is one reason why YouTube is launching a dedicated section of its service for gaming, including a standalone app and an emphasis on live-streaming. Maron is keen to see whether it catches on.
As with Fortress Fury, he’ll have the opinions of millions of fans to draw on. “It’s weird, definitely: I’m just some guy who plays video games, and started off broadcasting from my room in my parent’s house,” he says.
“It’s a very surreal thing to have this many people enjoying your content and giving feedback. One reason it’s happened is that it’s more relatable, I guess: it’s easier for people to feel connected to an average person playing video games in their room, as opposed to big stars.
“They might do cool stuff in the movies, but there’s a wall in between you and them. We’re a bit more accessible, I think.”
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Source: The Guardian