This morning I tried to become a successful YouTuber by playing the Early Access version of Youtubers Life [official site] (their capitalisation choice and non-apostrophe, not mine). I’m about an hour and a half in, still living with my mum, going to weird parties and uploading basic gameplay videos to an indifferent public. But enough about my life – how’s the game?
Youtubers Life is a career sim which has you filling your days with various activities as you try to build a successful YouTube channel. At the moment you can only have gaming channels but it looks like other options will be developed in the future.
You start off living in your mum’s house and cobbling together videos with a really basic set up but as you earn more money you can move out, upgrade your tech, buy more games and open up different types of video content.
The thing is, I get what it is and I’m not going to be snippy about YouTube culture, even though it hasn’t really ever grabbed me. My main issue is that I’m not latching onto any of the usual reward loops I find when I get drawn into a sim. It does some interesting things, but Youtubers Life is not very good at explaining itself, nor is it very good at making its various systems work harmoniously.
There’s a lot of awkwardness as the game tries to teach you how to play. The person leading the tutorial is actually the successful future version of your character. Maybe that won’t bother you, but for me that idea automatically makes the game feel like a foregone conclusion rather than a space where I can stretch out and make it my own.
I made a sort of MySims-y version of Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote and plonked her into the game. Do not talk to me about the hair. They do not have JB Fletcher hair, okay. Then Jessica Fletcher from the future proceeded to tell me what to do by sort of explaining how she remembered starting out before becoming a YouTube sensation. It’s like an exercise in avoiding a paradox by fulfilling the prophecy laid down by this suit-clad you from the future. This suit-clad you will also try to explain things to you when triggered regardless of whether you’ve already done them or whether you can afford them, by the way.
Anyway. You go through the basics like how to look at your shelf to select a game, how to pick a type of video to make and then how to set up your recording suite. That’s pretty bare-bones at first and the idea is that you earn money and upgrade as you progress. I’m currently on the second most terrible PC and the second worst headset but the rest is all basic. A better PC will let you plug in more doodads to help with sound and video quality. (You can also buy room decorations, new clothes, the latest games and so on via the online shopping function.)
Once that’s done you put together a video. The game will tell you about the clip you’re currently recording – maybe you got killed with a headshot, perhaps it’s a cutscene, or maybe there’s a hard challenge you’ve just excelled in. You then pick a reaction card from a small selection on screen to accompany the clip. If it’s appropriate it’ll augment the quality of the video in some way. You might wave hello as you boot up the game, or give a murderous look as the game freezes or something.
After that minigame you then need to sew the whole thing together in the edit screen. This involves laying the clips out along a track and adding effects (depending on the render power of your computer). For a video to flow well you need to line up some tabs and slots on the edge of the clips – it’s sort of like a jigsaw. If you line them up properly the video flows. If you can’t (and sometimes that’s impossible, which I assume might be based on the synergy of clips and reaction cards maybe??) that’s less good.
You then set it to publish (or retire it if it’s total cobblers) and wait hours for it to render and upload. Most of the video editing process I learned through observation and trial and error. The game itself doesn’t actually explain any of that stuff that I can see. I also can’t see a way to pick which cards are available to me at any given time. I’ve unlocked lots of them but can’t seem to control which come up on the selection screen.
You’ll also need to balance the pursuit of video stardom with studying for school tests, eating, sleeping and going to parties or whatever. None of that stuff seems to be linked to actual times of day so you can apparently study whenever, have snacks as you please, and nap when the fancy takes you. If you don’t study your mum will come in and wag her finger in your face. It’s an annoying caricature of motherhood, to be honest. She just hovers about constantly cleaning things and pacing the house as she obsesses about your schoolwork.
But talking about the mum situation reminds me that I actually don’t know how old you’re supposed to be in this. The pressure being exerted through schoolwork and your mother’s knowledge of when you’ve been cutting class implies you’re a teen but still in compulsory education. But then you go to clubs and one of the early tasks the game sets is that you earn enough money to live with a friend, so late teens, early twenties? In which case why would college be phoning your mum all the time, and why are the only jobs you can do to earn money centred around video creation or household chores? Couldn’t you get a regular paid job and YouTube in the evening?
That stuff doesn’t really matter in the sense of being a game-world fiction destroyer, but it does matter in the sense that the game really lacks structure and filling in those gaps would be ways to help solve that problem. Timing is actually important because of these regular tests and party invites and games events in the early game but unless you’re constantly opening the phone screen options it’s so easy to lose track of time as days blend into one another.
I’ve played for about an hour and a half. My videos are getting longer and better in quality according to the little scores the game assigns once you’ve finished recording them. I also have more than 12,000 subscribers for my channel and just under 100,000 views on my videos. I think I’ve just unlocked the ability to make vlogs at events.
I don’t really understand the events. They’re social hub bits where you can hang out with NPCs and maybe earn clothes and things by completing particular actions but they so far all feel the same. I go to parties and they’re all at the same club. I go to the movies and I’m never at a movie, I’m just in the foyer with a crowd of people. It’s the club all over again but without the dancing. It’s weird.
In short, I get what the game is going for and it does some interesting things in terms of those video editing minigames, but without a structure to hold it together Youtubers Life struggles to offer any sense of reward rhythm in what I’ve played so far. Instead it’s mostly been a not-very-well-explained grab-bag of demands thrown together around a loose theme rather than a tight, compulsive career sim. It’s in Early Access at the moment so I have no idea how it will change or develop, but right now 90 minutes was more than enough for me.