By Laura Kemmerer
Even though the video game industry is no longer in its infancy, the areas of gaming journalism and YouTube content are still undergoing growth spurts. Viewers can find everything from reviews to playthroughs—videos of users playing video games—and a million different ways to laugh their asses off. Yet, as gamers have continued to make content for YouTube, a number of companies have joined them.
Among the foremost of these is a venture known as Machinima. Combining the words “machine” and “cinema,” Machinima provides a network of gaming-oriented entertainment for an international network of viewers. Games from all genres are discussed, criticized, and made into something more. And, every once in a while, Machinima brings new talent on board. I got to sit down and talk with Ken Grau, one of the latest additions to the Machinima family, about his experience with working with Machinima and what it takes to tap into that network. Known primarily for his Peter Griffin voiced “Call of Duty” videos, Grau brings a new spin and a new kind of humor into Machinima’s already expansive network.
LCK: What originally inspired you to do gaming commentary, especially in Peter Griffin’s voice?
Grau: I figured out the Peter Griffin thing in high school, which was a long time ago at this point. At that time I was just doing prank phone calls and recording them and handing them out to my friends; you know, getting a kick out of these people. These ridiculous conversations—like prank calling EB Games and stuff like that. Just from doing all this and people asking me to do Peter Griffin, I got better and better at it.
Fast forward to when I started making the YouTube thing, I don’t know what really inspired me to start making videos. I just started watching them one day and well, I think there’s a lot of not such great quality stuff. That kind of inspired me. I’m definitely not trying to insult anyone—I think everybody should do YouTube and stuff like that. I just thought, “Wow if this guy can do it, I totally can.” Then one day I just got sick of watching videos and was like, “I should be making my own content!” And it just kind of happened one day. I watched a lot of “The Syndicate Project” [on YouTube] and stuff like that. I was like, “I could do that!” Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk as good as he can. So one day I got tired of watching content and decided I wanted to make it.
LCK: How did you originally get a deal with Machinima? How did that feel once it happened?
Grau: If I were to get big enough, I would want to tell people to not go to the little companies who are trying to pick people up and promise people easy partnerships. Because if it’s that easy, it’s obviously not going to be worth it, you know? There’s all this money, but it’s this little company. Like how are they going to promote you?
The way I got my partnership with Machinima was actually some dude tweeted me and was like, “Hey, you should go apply to Machinima. You don’t have quite all of the requirements but your stuff’s kinda funny, so give it a shot.” A couple of weeks later I got in.
You can submit videos to Machinima as a partner, and they’ll put it on their main page if you want. But you can also be a director, where you make stuff for their main page. So I had submitted a video, one of the Peter Griffin ones, and one of the Machinima directors got back to me and said, “Dude, let’s turn this into a series.” And so it was all just luck, really. The first part was they just happened to be accepting people, and then getting the directorship was the guy happening to see my work and saying, “Dude we could make a show out of this. It’s hilarious.”
Getting it felt great. I wasn’t really thinking about partnerships in the beginning, when I started. It’s when some people started talking about it, it was like, “I gotta go get this!” and “I have a goal.” I got partnered and went even further with the directorship, and it felt great.
I enjoy making YouTube videos because I feel like it helps people; it gives them something to do. I try to talk about news and stuff like that. I just enjoy making the videos, so once I had the directorship with Machinima I thought that was awesome because I just knew I’d be able to reach more people. It’s just a pretty good feeling knowing that some big dude that runs the whole show was like, “Hey come make a show.” It’s a pretty awesome feeling when other people have that kind of faith in what you can make, you know?
LCK: Was working with Machinima like working with a close-knit community, or did you report to other people? Or what has that been like for you?
Grau: If you’re a partner, you’re pretty much just on your own. The benefit of becoming a partner with Machinima is that you can put their tags and stuff all over your videos—to say that you’re part of that community. I haven’t used too much of the Machinima community to help. When people see their roll in the beginning, people say, “Oh, this is a Machinima video, it must be good.” So that’s kind of how that’s helpful.
But the directorship, I work one-on-one with the guy who runs Machinima Respawn. I work one-on-one with him, we figured out the show idea, going to keep it real short and I can just hit up that guy on Skype any time and say, “What do you think about this?” So as a director there’s a lot more brainstorming with the higher-ups. But, as a partner, you’re kind of just still a fish in the sea. It kind of just makes you a fish that’s easier to be noticed. Basically, you just get all their branding and it’s a little bit easier to stand out with that. There’s not the same level of community support that there is with the directorship.
Where would you like to see your channel expand in the future?
I definitely want to stay up-to-date on the newest stuff—whatever’s hot at the time, whatever’s coming out. I’m gonna do a “Grand Theft Auto V” playthrough as Peter Griffin. I’d like to start a similar series with [“Grand Theft Auto V”] as I am with “Call of Duty,” which is the class builds. I don’t know much about [“Grand Theft Auto V,”] but I could figure out a way to make it work. Maybe like an episode of Peter on the town going through and creating havoc as Peter Griffin. Otherwise I just want to stay up-to-date on the newest stuff and I also want to keep doing “Walking Dead” reviews every Sunday. So I’m gonna keep doing that as Peter Griffin. Basically I just wanna do whatever I think is cool. I don’t want to do whatever everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it. I did “Duty” because I could make cool class builds out of it.
Anybody can pick up a video game and a $20 microphone and make videos. So there’s obviously billions of hours of that kind of content. So how do you stand out of that? That’s why I want to do my own miniseries and stuff like that and try to make content—even if it is popular and that’s what’s hot, I wanna try and put my own spin on it and do what I think is cool. That’s why I do a “Pokemon” playthrough—every time I’ve put up a “Pokemon” playthrough all the people that watch “Duty” get mad. I don’t care.
They’re getting free entertainment, so why complain?
Are there any other Machinima channels that inspire you and the content you generate? And if so, who?
The guy who reached out to me told me to check out the Christopher Walken group. Obviously that’s kind of what inspired me. That’s pretty much the only channel, and I watched that and said, “This stuff is hilarious. Why couldn’t Peter Griffin cut and do some stuff like that?” But I didn’t want to rip off of them completely. I’ve had a few conversations with them—they’re pretty cool dudes over there. And for how many subscribers they had, they got back to me within like, 15 minutes. It was incredible. I watched their stuff to get an idea of what I should do. But I’m a one man show, so I can’t do entire playthroughs. So I had to look at what cool aspect of a game I could make a similar show out of.
Other than that, the only other group/person I could say I was inspired by was “The Syndicate Project,” just for how gigantic he is and how he’s able to put stuff out every day and how he seems like such a nice dude. That’s pretty much it. It’s all about being nice and working hard.
How do you keep up with the pace of releasing a new video every single day?
Lots of caffeine. I actually burned out and had to take a break for about two weeks. Because I was making a video every day for four months and it’s not easy. I go to school, I have a job, and I have an internship. So I’m doing all of that and then I’m trying to make a video. I make one “Call of Duty” video a week, and that takes like 10 hours—between writing the script and editing. Making just a regular video only takes an hour out of my day. It’s not super hard. I just do it; I look forward to making new videos every day. So it’s not that hard. But it’s finding time to make the “Call of Duty” ones on the side can be kinda tough. That’s pretty much the thing I try to tell people if they ask me “how do you keep up?” and I just do it, man. You know what I mean? There’s no trick. You just gotta do it. There’s no shortcut. Otherwise, to answer your question more directly—lots of caffeine. I also read a lot of news and have stuff to talk about.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with creating gaming content for a platform like YouTube?
YouTube has been pretty solid, as far as uploading and getting stuff out. Where I have had some problems is editing. It took me a minute to figure out how to get everything on my TV and Xbox onto my computer. There was just a lot of wanting to punch my computer in the face. I had to get it all synced up. Sometimes audio sync is off by a little bit, but I can usually fix it the next time around. But other than that, the biggest problems I have are in editing and stuff that’s my fault. I really don’t have any issues with YouTube; it’s a pretty easy-to-use system. Once it’s done I just drag a video right on.
Just as a last question: Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who wants to start their own gaming channel?
I think everybody should do it. It’s totally a humbling thing. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re a dude in the world. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own stuff and think that your world is the only thing that matters. And when I make YouTube stuff, it’s like you can see there are so many other people out there. My advice is to just be a cool dude and don’t put up videos just to be a douche. Make a video every day, try to make it funny, get good quality equipment—make sure you have a nice microphone because hearing people talk on their Xbox microphones is god awful. I hate it more than anything. And don’t spam your videos. Any time I get one in my inbox I automatically mark it as spam. Unless it’s directed at me specifically, if I see 20 other names on there, it’s getting marked as spam.
Get good equipment; be a cool guy or girl; make good content. That’s my advice. You gotta work for it. There’s no super-secret trick to becoming gigantic. It’s hard work; that’s the bottom line. You gotta be ready to put in the work.