Starting a new YouTube Channel: 6 Months In
My gaming YouTube channel lost_saves will be 6 months old next week. I wanted to reflect on the experience of growing a new channel from scratch and how it has informed decisions on my main channel, my advice for fledgling creators, etc.
Some key takeaways I've had so far are: 1. Suggested views are a neurotic thing to focus on, but are also kinda required in 2022. 2. Posting frequency MATTERS, but it must come with a balance of focusing on the quality of your framing/concepts. A top-tier video is worth nothing if it's framed poorly with bad titles/thumbnails. 3. Waiting is sometimes ALL you can do. And that sucks.
But first, a little context:
My lack of Focus
I have ADHD. I was only first diagnosed in January of this year, at nearly 30 years old. (And I wasn't even formally “diagnosed” as the proper “testing” for ADHD requires... a lot... and had a 9-12 month waiting period in my area. Why bother if we can confirm it anyway and get straight to treatment?) But despite the late diagnosis, it's always been around. Symptoms of my ADHD were blindingly obvious throughout my YouTube career(s), if you knew what to look for. From the impulsive decision to delete my “original” (I had many, but it was the first w/ consistent content) channel in 2011 – erasing videos I will never be able to get back – to the constant game, topic, and niche-swapping on my second channel and repeatedly starting Let's Play series and abandoning them 3 episodes in... it was always there.
I’ve also historically described what I called “missed pivotal moments” in my career, where I “could have” had some sort of easy “success” but specifically went another direction. I held a massive fear of niching down on YouTube, as I watched so many first-generation gaming YouTubers struggle and burn out from being attached to a singular game (it was always Call of Duty at the time, that was just somehow the “YouTube game”) and wanted to ensure that never happened to me. (Spoilers: that was always ADHD.)
An example of this was when – early on in my “second” channel’s life (at the time called “tehD3M0L1SH3R” …I know, I know) and I had the opportunity to collab (or “dual comm”) with a huge Call of Duty YouTuber at the time, VikkStar123.
Cringey, my mic sounded horrible, I had no experience recording something like that and was very awkward. BUT it was exposure. My gameplay was solid – granted, this particular gameplay video wasn’t even mine, it was via a friend “NastyGHD” since I was horrible at MW2 and that was what people wanted to see – and this collab netted me my first 1,000 subscriber milestone and things were moving VERY quickly. My first Call of Duty 4 (my CoD game of choice) videos following that release performed very well. Theoretically I could have been on a path to easy viewership. But that frequent itch came back. That voice in the back of my head that freaked out every time it felt like it was being put in a box.
“I can’t just play Call of Duty every day and only post that!” “What if I want to get creative with something else?”
Quietly, without announcement, I sabotaged that “success.” I only posted Halo for weeks, months. It’s what I was having the most fun playing, anyway, I was hooked on Halo: Reach at the time. In the following years, my channel would see many shifts from specific Halo or Call of Duty commentaries to general reviews/impressions videos, my first tech videos and “unboxings” – to me starting my “new” channel, EposVox, in 2012. My old channel became a dedicated Team Fortress 2 channel for about a year, then just became a dumping ground for more lazy videos and live stream VODs. Meanwhile my “main channel” also went through many phases: Started as a co-op gaming channel with my wife, a dedicated Pokemon TCG and Pokemon game news channel, to the tech and streamer-education-focused channel it is today.
The problem: I wanted the freedom to cover what I wanted as my constant focus-shifting happened, without being boxed in, but that kind of thing is NOT sustainable on a single channel.
I wish I could say I started lostsaves with some grand master plan or strategy. I’ve had oh, so many plans for channels – the different niches I’ve tried to lock into – and the truth is, the plans always change. I had a few primary goals for lostsaves, some for myself and one for the content. For myself: I wanted a channel that could help balance out my ADHD focus-shifting, allowing me to still make gaming content without awkwardly posting it on main to not perform well and confuse subscribers. I’ve always been gaming-adjacent, but anything strictly gameplay-focused has historically always performed poorly. I also wanted to experiment with growing a channel from scratch and experiment with growth strategies, etc. to better inform my advice for newbie creators on main.
*(I guess I should note that Holo Quest also exists as a secondary outlet for one of my other ADHD rabbit holes, Pokemon TCG, but that hobby was a money sink that I managed to drop at least $5K into last year without even opening half of what I purchased, and it was way more engaging/rewarding to make that kind of content on-stream, rather than on videos (which I also paid someone to edit on top of the cards cost), so it’ll not be a main focus anytime soon, sadly. That kind of hobby is toxic for someone with my disorder, given impulse control and FOMO is kinda the point.)*
For the content on lost_saves, I had one goal: To share the joy of gaming. Negative, toxic coverage of games used to be a super small, niche thing – with just super-critical work being stand-out on its own. These days, the fun, hip thing to do is to just take a dump on games, gaming news, etc. constantly and it’s just… exhausting. Gaming is meant to be a fun, leisure hobby that gives the good dopamine hits, and it can’t do that when you obsess over the negativity constantly. While critical games journalism is required to keep everyone in check, every creator thinking it’s their ‘responsibility’ to do so – mostly driven by the easy short-term views from taking a smart-sounding dump on a given game or developer is just… enough.
I want to share the fun and the enjoyment that I get and want out of games. Think of it like a blend of JackFrags, Digital Foundry/DF Retro, BeatEmUps, WulffDen, and streamers like Shroud. Some high-tier gameplay (I’ve been playing FPS games for like 20 years, used to compete semi-professionally in Halo, I have SOME skill – at least when I have the time to play consistently and shake off the rust), some collection building/haul videos, some topical stuff. Good vibes.
From a strategic perspective, constant negativity/critical videos is just bad for one’s health (I do want to keep from burning out on this, given my proclivity to hop between interest areas, of course) as well as channel health. So many newbie gaming creators fall into this trap, and it’s strongly affecting many newer Halo channels at the moment. People grew by covering Halo Infinite/Season 8 MCC news and found some quick success, but then were frustrated with the state of the game and fell into the trap of everything just being complaining about the game, 343i, and the lack of popularity. This sours viewers and makes it so the only people who want to watch anything you post anymore are people who solely seek out that kind of critical stuff. And once you’ve caused enough of that damage, it’s hard to get people to come back.
The Goal: Build a channel that I could sustainably post to on a consistent basis that could grow to a point of balancing with my main channel, allowing me to balance out my wavering interests, without hurting my business or my ability to support my family.
Instead of starting lost_saves with a plan, a box to trap myself in from the start, I started it with a feeling. Those aforementioned “good vibes” I wanted to share, and some formats I wanted to test, along with everything I’ve learned over the past decade-and-a-half on YouTube about growing a channel. I’m quite partial to the classic “gameplay commentary” format of the 2009-2012 era of YouTube, but that’s hard to grow with these days, so I had to experiment.
Amusingly, the video I actually launched the channel with was probably the worst example of “hitting the ground running with great content” that I usually preach: It was an edited-down stream highlights video. Not something that’s easy to market beyond your existing subscriber base, and this channel had no such thing. BUT it was preserving the final moments of my favorite game’s online servers before they shut down – is there anything more on-brand for “lost_saves” than that? So I meme’d it up with a dramatic title based on some of the Twitter and Reddit posts I had seen about that night, popped into Source Filmmaker to pose Master Chief for a thumbnail and posted it.
Between sharing to my subscribers on main (An important rule I recommend for anyone launching a new channel: Don’t just link a bunch of people to an empty channel page. Those subscribers are worth far less than driving them directly to a video and letting that video show YouTube it’s generating a lot of subscribers. This is both ideal for the video’s performance itself, and for helping guarantee that your next video will be in those subscribers’ home pages.) and the suggested video traffic from other videos about those final hours, it performed decently well, sitting at about 2.2K views. Average view duration isn’t high since it’s a stream highlights edit and people get bored, but it preserved a memory I wanted to live beyond Twitch, showed the kind of feeling this channel is about, and let me launch the channel without getting stuck in analysis paralysis before I even got going.
The second video was something I had been wanting to make for a long time, combined with some trendy formats I’d seen working among other smaller gaming channels. A look back at a classic FPS title I love, and how playable it is in the current year. An easy format for views in any gaming genre, and let me use up a lot of clips I had been gathering.
(My first few weeks of being on Adderall were… more intense than things were long-term as my brain and body adjusted to it, so I had many nights where I was able to hyper-focus on CoD4 and play at a very high skill level, racking up clips. This quickly adjusted and stabilized (as did my appetite, thankfully) but the first couple CoD4 videos definitely came from back-to-back nights of constant gaming – something I honestly hadn’t been able to do in months.)
IMO the intro was too slowly-paced – I have a lot of trouble sorting through hours of gaming clips and picking the best, I get too tired of the task and wind up choosing sub-par clips out of desperation to be done with it – but overall, the video did what I sat out to accomplish, has racked up over 4K views and still gets a decent amount each month.
Note to self: I HAVE to go back and make this for the other games, soon. I too frequently find a successful format (like Top X lists, etc.) and then get bored of them instead of capitalizing on the easy views to feed into my other work. I get in my own way so frequently.
The next couple months were spent experimenting with more click-grabby video concepts and title/thumbnail frameworks that I theorized might be successful and to test the waters with covering a new game for the channel: Splitgate.
It mostly worked (the “That rusty feeling is GREAT” video was as lazy as it gets from concept to thumbnail, I panicked because I was struggling to keep up posting frequency and just wanted SOMETHING up) and I found a LOT of people asking questions in the ADHD gaming video. Many of which deserve some follow-up videos, but once again I got scared of getting boxed in as the “ADHD Gaming Channel” and decided to not make anymore videos like that – but I have more planned and outlined. I just keep putting it off.
Surprises and Roadblocks
For a little while, I was consistently able to pull 2-3K views per video through the month of March. This was very surprising – especially given that during super rough periods on EposVox, 2-3K views within the first day or 2 can be difficult there sometimes – but the views didn’t feel like a result of my own work.
Since I was purely challenging myself to tackle the YouTube traffic source I’ve been the worst at, Suggested/Homepage recommendations, I hadn’t really made anything that would get search traffic. There’s no real SEO here.
A pattern emerged for those views. I would post a video around 11:15AM (the usual time YouTube says subscribers are most active on all of my channels) and around midnight that night or the following night, the video would suddenly get a BIG burst of views coming from the Homepage, leading to that 2-3K view count – and then suddenly as if hitting a brick wall, the video would cease getting anymore views. Despite CTR being decent, retention being okay, it seemed like a switch was flipped of “that’s enough for you for today.”
Combine this with a few failed attempts at re-creating that magic with content that I truly felt was equally as compelling of a concept and worthwhile titles/thumbnails and… it’s understandable that I don’t feel in control of this channel’s success. Unlike with SEO where you put in the work to target specific searches, deliver results, and can see a consistent feed of viewership – trying to optimize for suggestions is literally a neurotic task. You make so many guesses and assumptions and hopes, and even then you have zero control over whether YouTube’s system thinks its a video any specific viewer might like to expose to them in the first place. And that’s not to mention the fact that your videos can just be shown against any millions of other videos that happen to be more compelling or relevant to that specific viewer in that specific moment – and that still hurts your chances.
This Halo 3 live session video – which is now on its third thumbnail and fourth title concept – could be the best video my lost_saves channel ever sees. It’s a live session that I happened to record in November 2021 because it was so ridiculous, edited by the talented Emzo (once I remembered I had the footage and wanted it posted on this new channel) and is an absolute RIDE of a video. It holds a respectable (though could be better, hence the title/thumbnail changes which I JUST made another of) 4.4% CTR, AVD is 3:03, which not amazing for a 10 minute video is still fine (and average for my main channel, too), and it holds a decent amount of viewers for the first 30 seconds, which is important.
But it just won’t… go anywhere. Tightly edited, narrative pushed throughout the video, multiple engaging and clickable title and thumbnail combos, and what I believe to be a compelling concept/framing in the first place for this audience and… I have quite literally zero way (other than perhaps buying up some AdSense ads to forcibly PUT it on people’s recommendations on YouTube) to get it seen by more people. It’s just… stuck.
That’s a really crappy feeling which is hard to sit with. And frankly, I could theoretically make it worse by changing it to a worse title/thumbnail if I happened to nail it and just need to wait.
Problem 1: Suggested views are generally unpredictable and out of creator control. Trying to optimize for them can be instantly discouraging with minimal recourse to “fix” it.
Then, of course, I ran into some bottlenecks. You may recall from the graphs earlier, that my posting frequency wasn’t great for a while here. I get on my ADHD hyper-focus binges where all I can think about is this specific side project, but then just as quickly, I get yoinked back into “work” focusing on main channel and struggle to keep up with a side project with no immediate ROI. This compounds: If I’m unable to spend more time on it, then I’m unable to grow it by nature of posting less frequently. If I’m gaming less, then I have less footage to use, topics to discuss, videos to make in the first place. And if I’m not making money from it, it’s difficult to justify or afford paying someone else to edit these videos. Most new creators won’t struggle with that last point, and after this month of June going so well with increased frequency, I do believe that with increased frequency and consistent posting lost_saves would be much further along by now. This is both super encouraging, because it means “it’s just a matter of time,” but is also frustrating, because I didn’t do that.
Problem 2: Posting frequency is hard when it’s not your primary focus and isn’t making money (or enough viewership) yet to justify taking time away from main.
Next Steps for 2022
I posted to lostsaves a TON in June. The views graph above is a little misleading, as about 34% of those views were on Shorts. But, this has very much informed my plan moving forward. 1. A minimum of ONE “full video” (not a short/stream) will be posted per week to this channel. I don’t NEED to push myself beyond that, but I DO need to maintain that to keep viewership consistently coming in. 2. Shorts for gaming news whenever possible, and to accompany every main video are a good idea (I’m also doing that second one on main). Shorts views aren’t worth much. They’re fed from a different algorithm (the Shorts Shelf) and rarely lead to subscribers, and the watch hours from the Shorts Shelf don’t even count towards monetization unlocks – but they’re views. They’re traffic to the channel that opens up more opportunities to get people subscribed or watching other content, and that’s a win. Leverage what tools YouTube gives you. 3. Occasional casual gaming streams are going to be nice. I did one from the house while I was stuck out of office this week and it was a chill, good time. Again, the viewership is directly worth very little for the same reasons as Shorts, but it’s more opportunities to engage and attract viewers when I can’t otherwise work on actual content. 4. SEO. I originally sat out to entirely focus on suggested/recommended views – they’re still #1 across all of YouTube – but sustainability requires consistent backlog traffic, which requires doing SOME search-focused videos. I’m thinking once a month I do a tutorial (setting up a mod or something) and find something else to make an easy search video on, and see if I can get views going on days I don’t post more. 5. Companion videos for main. As streaming becomes less relevant, my main EposVox channel is branching back out to more broader tech, which also means more gaming tech-focused things. The PS2 emulator video, Analogue Pocket Review, the CRT video essay, etc. have performed VERY well, despite not being my channel’s main focus. Pairing those videos up with a more gameplay-focused video on lostsaves provides a super-easy gateway to push viewers between channels, and I need to be ready to leverage those whenever possible.
My biggest frustration in this process so far has been a matter of patience. I’m posting good content, it’s doing well, but sometimes the only thing I can do is sit and wait – and I don’t handle that well. There’s no extra buttons to press, no hacks or tricks, no micro-managing. If I’m not working on content (or conceptualizing/planning it) there’s not really anything I can do to make the channel grow faster. I just have to let the system do its job. For someone like me, that’s a terrible feeling.
But hey, after spending way too much of my day writing this out, I think I finally feel that obsession where all I could think about this week was lost_saves… release. Maybe I can finally focus on my main channel’s work for this week so I don’t fall behind.
Be kind, rewind.