Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, is the world most famous proponent of 'Let's Play' YouTube videos. By all accounts he is the most successful YouTuber in the world, earning $4 million a year for his videos. But what happens when PewDiePie unleashes his incredible audience upon one single video game? Australian game developer Kritz knows first hand. One day PewDiePie decided to stream Kritz's current work in progress, a game called 'Citizen Burger Disorder'. That was the day when everything changed.
For Kritz it was a day like any other.
Actually that’s bullshit. It was an uncommonly sucky day and it was completely screwed up from the start.
For one thing, Kritz’s server was down. Bloody server. Kritz awoke to news it had all gone to shit for some reason, he had no idea why. “The CPU was running at 100% capacity,” he remembers. “The RAM usage was completely unusable, the sql server had just given up”.
Bugger it. Fresh reboot.
Five minutes later, the server goes down again. What the fuck?
“I didn't think much of it at the time, but yeah,” recalls Kritz. “In retrospect, I probably should have known something was up.”
Kritz -- a student -- shuffled off and began work on his assignment, programming a pathfinding algorithm he’d been putting off. This was the other reason why Kritz was having a pretty terrible day.
The server in question was responsible for hosting the website that hosted the video game that Kritz was working on in his spare time. That game was called Citizen Burger Disorder.
Citizen Burger Disorder. Emphasis on the ‘Disorder’. Kritz himself has difficulty describing it. In short it’s a physics-based, co-op burger restaurant management simulator. A weird collection of disjointed buzzwords. It’s absolute chaos in video game form and it has to be seen to be believed. By Kritz’s own admission it’s pretty broken. “When did the game become playable?” I once asked him.
“Let’s not assume it’s playable now,” he replied.
The pitch Kritz gave himself during the game’s early development was QWOP meets Space Team meets Spelunky. The idea? Completely subvert the idea of video game progress. Kritz admits that he hates it when people try to play games perfectly. Citizen Burger Disorder was designed specifically to mess with those kinds of players, he wanted to make a game that would drive perfectionists insane. “More than fail, I want players to not succeed,” he admits.
So that’s Citizen Burger Disorder.
The game was tracking fairly well. Citizen Burger Disorder is still in a state of development. It’s free-to-play and you can head to Kritz’s website and play at any time. A couple of niche websites had covered it, written about it, streamed it. Kritz estimated that his site had been clicked on roughly about 100,000 before that day.
Before that day. The day that had started like any other. Except that it hadn’t.
A text pings on Kritz’s mobile phone. He is eyeballs deep into his assignment so it barely registers. It’s from his sister.
“Hey PewDiePie did a video on your game.”
Kritz squinches at the phone. What? Nah…
But yes. It had happened. It had already happened and there was no preparing for it. PewDiePie, the highest earning YouTuber on planet earth had just released a video of him playing Kritz’s game. PewDiePie had played Citizen Burger Disorder and he had played it for an audience of millions. Oh shit.
“My first thought was, ‘oh that’s why the website is down’.”
This is the power of PewDiePie. The power to make websites crumble. Before his server was crushed beneath the weight of PewDiePie’s immense audience, Citizen Burger Disorder was played over 25,000 times in just a couple of hours.
Hilariously, Kritz was practically the last person to know. It was his sister’s boyfriend who first noticed. As soon as Kritz got word he fired off a text message to a buddy who promptly replied, “um yeah, you didn’t know?”
“I walked into the computing lunch room at University to tell some friends,” Kritz remembers. “They acted like it was old news.
“So that stuff blew through pretty fast I guess.”
The speed at which the PewDiePie train blew past induced a certain amount of anxiety, not just in Kritz himself, but in the people around him. Citizen Burger Disorder was really just a hobby project, says Kritz, an excuse to “make people laugh and dork about”. It was never really intended to be anything to anyone, let alone the 25,000 randoms who suddenly swept in and left his servers in tatters.
But now Kritz started getting advice. You should capitalise on this! Run ads on the site, start a Kickstarter! Ride this wave before it crashes.
“But I was just sitting there trying to focus on my exams.”
As mentioned before, Kritz was/is a student, in his final year of a Bachelor of Computing degree (“which I think is the most broad sounding degree ever named”) he also managed to major in Game Design (“by accident,” he admits). He actually failed his Advanced Games Programming class last year by attending PAX Australia, but that’s another story.
Point being: Kritz didn’t want to fail another class. He didn’t want to get caught up in the (PewDie)Pie in the sky land of fleeting internet fame and ignore the important every day task of actually completing his degree.
But he sorta ended up doing that anyway.
Haunted by the idea of the PewDiePie hype fading into nothing, Kritz began investigating the idea of launching a Kickstarter. The first thing he did was look up Kickstarters that failed.
“There was one that looked really cool,” he remembers. “It was a 2D horror game with a little lightbulb guy. The art style was fantastic and the game looked legitimately good.
“I forget how far the funding got, but it wasn't enough to succeed. I wanted to know, why did this game fail?”
Kritz typed the name of the game into a search engine. The first result that popped up was a PewDiePie video with 3 million views.
“Even with all that, the game didn't make it.”
This is the nature of instant internet fame. It flickers and fades. Kritz struggles with the idea that all of this might be for nothing. In the last week alone PewDiePie has released 15 videos. Within hours of playing and publishing a video on Citizen Burger Disorder PewDiePie and his legion of fans had already moved on to the next video, to the next strange game. Trying to grasp for traction as that exposure rapidly slips through your fingers. How is it possible? Is it even worthwhile?
For the most part, Kritz isn’t lingering on what might have been. Citizen Burger Disorder is, after all, simply a hobby project.
“I just want to make cool games and let people have a good time,” he says.
His currently plan? Finish up his degree, possibly start some sort of Kickstarter for Citizen Burger Disorder. Mostly he just wants to make video games for a living, whether that's with a larger studio or working on his own pet projects.
To this day, Kritz hasn’t watched PewDiePie playing Citizen Burger Disorder. Turns out he isn’t a big fan.
“I said to someone before: “"I wouldn't watch a PewDiePie video, even if he was playing my own game."