Since March, YouTubers have watched their revenue plummet as advertisers bleed out of the platform. Some videos containing violence, real or fictional, are considered "inappropriate for advertising". First-person shooter Call of Duty, a massively popular game on YouTube, is no walk in the park. So the huge community that's formed around it is getting hit by widespread demonetisation.
After Activision announced upcoming Call of Duty title Call of Duty: WWII last week, the community's financial problems took a turn for the worse. Viewers and fans want to hear about the next CoD game, but as a result of its WWII theme, YouTubers are risking demonetisation by talking about it.
PrestigeIsKey, a Call of Duty YouTuber with over a million subscribers, published a video on Sunday about how his channel is struggling with demonetisation. "At first," he said, "I thought this wouldn't affect gamers because, obviously, video games aren't real." Throughout his seven years making CoD content on YouTube, he'd never had an issue until recently. Months ago, when the demonetisation crisis was in full swing, his channel suffered enormously because it depicts fictional war.
Now that he's trying to cover the news of the upcoming World War II-themed Call of Duty game, his channel is financially gutted. In the week since WWII was announced, YouTube demonetised several of his videos (I saw an ad on his video about CoD:WWII's movement mechanics). "My WWII zombie-related videos have been taken down," he said. "I've had videos demonetised because of 'depictions of war', even though it's Advanced Warfare and I'm talking about WWII, or I'm showing gameplay of CoD: WWII. It's like, are games really lookin' that good nowadays?"
Across YouTube, ads have stopped appearing on some videos with "vulgar language", "disasters and tragedies", sexually suggestive content, or "subjects related to war". That's because, after the Wall Street Journal reported on ads appearing on racist videos, advertisers like AT&T pulled YouTube ads en masse. To get them back, in March, YouTube introduced "brand safety controls". Advertisers could choose to avoid "higher risk content", like anything referencing marijuana. Channels as big as PewDiePie and H3H3Productions say they have been making way less money in comparison to their earnings from earlier this year. (YouTubers can appeal demonetisation.)
When asked about whether ad-friendly filters can tell the difference between real and video game violence, a YouTube representative referred me to a blog about how YouTube's having more positive conversations with advertisers.
To make money again, YouTube suggests making more advertiser-friendly content. For YouTubers like ChaosXSilencer, who's been making CoD videos for five years, rebranding his channel is out of the question: His fans come for the first-person shooters. Before he carved out a full-time job on YouTube, he ran a Papa Johns in Arkansas and, before now, he'd never had any financial problems making a living on YouTube. The Call of Duty community, he says, is having a lot of issues -- and especially now that the big story is CoD: WWII.
For those asking, yeah that's really low. That's like a $0.15 CPM. Usually it's 10-20x that ?
— TmarTn (@TmarTn) May 1, 2017
"It's a mature game," ChaosXSilencer said, but he thinks that the last week's especially bad demonetisation issues "might have to do with how the next CoD title is WWII. People put that in the title tag and I don't know whether YouTube can differentiate it from real-life 'crisis'. It's not ad-friendly."
ChaosXSilencer said that it's risky to cover the new CoD title, even though it's what viewers want. PrestigeIsKey tried an experiment where he made a two-minute video about how his milk expired and compared it to one about the upcoming CoD game. The milk video didn't get half as much watch time or a third as many views, allegedly earning four times more money.
Advertising performance on a 2 minute milk video (30k views) VS. anything to do with WWII (100k Views). The test was a success. pic.twitter.com/DBrtEB5FDm
— Ryan B. (@PrestigeIsKey) May 3, 2017
YouTube would not confirm or deny whether Call of Duty YouTubers are disproportionately affected by the demonetisation wave. Anecdotally, it seems to be a major issue throughout the community. CoD YouTubers feed their families on this money. It's their trade. Call of Duty YouTuber 402THUNDER402 doesn't pity his peers, though. In a recent video about ad-friendly content, he said, "The party is over. I hope YouTubers saved your money." He thinks it's stupid for CoD YouTubers to depend exclusively on YouTube.
My views were up 53% last month but my revenue was down 49% lmao thank God i don't depend on this website to survive #youtubeisdead
— Thunder (@ThunderS7ruck) May 1, 2017
Now, some might have to leave the platform and pursue another line of work. In the comments of his recent video, PrestigeIsKey referred fans to his Patreon page. "If it comes down to it I will have to put YT in the background while making sure to support my family," he said.