Kenny Sun wanted to make games for a living, but in the weeks after graduating university, quietly resigned himself to accepting a boring programming job, something to help pay the bills. Then, he noticed a huge spike in traffic on his website. That's what happens with a PewDiePie video.
Everyone has an opinion about YouTube's biggest personality, but there's no denying a person with 38 million subscribers has incredible reach. Though PewDiePie's videos are hardly gaming exclusive these days — want to learn how to swear in Swedish? — he's still best known for playing and reacting (loudly) to video games.
Occasionally, he'll decide to ditch the mainstream and highlight some offbeat indie games.
"TRIPPIEST GAME EVER?" has nearly four million views, and highlights three different games: Wrassling, Infinideer, and Circa Infinity.
Sun made the last game, Circa Infinity. The 22-year-old started on the mind-bending platformer last December, a project made in tandem with his final slate of classes at New York University. Though he specialised in programming, Sun took a few game design courses, as well.
Having trouble following what's going on? Basically, you can run around the edges of a circle, and by hopping into the floating orb, you go a layer deeper. It becomes distractingly hypnotic.
Like most people on the Internet, Sun knew who PewDiePie was, but didn't religiously follow his work, so a full day went by before realising the YouTube sensation decided to play his game. What tipped him off was his website going into overdrive, as people came looking for his game.
"For a full day, I had no idea where this huge spike of traffic was coming from," he said. "I tried to find out where it was coming from, but it was all from Google searches. [laughs]"
He eventually searched Twitter for "Circa Infinity" and found people chatting about the video.
Prior to this, Circa Infinity had stalled. The game managed to generate a few positive articles, but it wasn't doing anything for Circa Infinity's Greenlight campaign. Few votes were trickling in, and it wasn't clear it would ever make it onto Steam's service. Sun wasn't really comfortable with anyone playing Circa Infinity yet, but he decided to release a demo and hope for the best.
"I released a demo as an act of desperation," he said.
People tend to dislike PewDiePie because his reactions are meant to be entertaining, not insightful. He yells a lot. There are weird noises. But when he started playing Circa Infinity, PewDiePie stopped talking. Several moments in the video make fun of his extended silence.
(If you click on the video, it will start around the time where one of these funny edits kicks in.)
"I would have been happy if he totally trashed it," he said. "It would have been awesome. [laughs] It was the last game [in the video]. I was watching the other games he was playing and I was just getting really excited to see what he would say — good or bad."
It's unclear how PewDiePie came across the game, but he's previously plucked free games from the App Store and websites like itch.io, which makes it super easy for designers to share games online. Maybe it had something to do with the game's trippy luck, maybe it was sheer chance.
While it may feel weird to talk about a guy uploading videos to YouTube in hushed, mythic tones, PewDiePie's influence is undeniable. All the other students at NYU were jealous. ("Everyone wants to be featured by PewDiePie.") Google searches brought tons of people to Circa Infinity's Greenlight page, and within a week, the game was approved for Steam.
"It'd still probably be in the [Greenlight] process right now, if it weren't for the video," he said.
What's amazing is Circa Infinity isn't mentioned in the video description. Likely by accident, PewDiePie didn't include a link, and the game's logo is only present for a few, precious seconds. The thousands who tracked down Circa Infinity did so because they really, really wanted to.
People emailed Sun, looking for ways to buy the soundtrack or the full game. (It's not done yet.) One person even wanted to send him money as a thank you, but he decided to turn them down.
What's more, the video radically changed Sun's ideas about that job he was supposed to take.
"It was a really inspiring moment when he played my game," he said. " [...] I'm seriously considering leaving this job that I haven't started yet and trying to make games for a living."
All because of a video on YouTube.
"The video was a turning point in my future, pretty much," he said.