YouTube has long been a haven for gamers and their videos, and the number of video game related channels is staggering. Regardless, Smosh Games has managed to carve out a sizable niche within the community.
Video Views: 2,724,867,076
Channel Type: Games
User created: Jul 7th, 2011
We had the chance to chat with one of the prominent driving forces on the channel, Mari (pronounced like CalaMARI, as she helpfully pointed out) about her circuitous route to being a prominent gaming YouTuber, her approach to video creation and the behind the scenes processes of a larger channel.
If you’ve watched any of Mari’s videos, her perpetually perky and optimistic personality may seem like nothing more than persona for the channel. After a long talk with the host, we’re happy to say Mari’s attitude remains the same both on and off-screen. It’s a characteristic that’s served her well, from the start of her journey to becoming a gaming YouTuber through to today as she continues pushing forward in her career.
Like many YouTube gamers, Mari’s geek origins harken back to her childhood. Thanks to an older brother, there was never a time when Mari wasn’t around video games; she grew up with a console in the house at all times. There’s one specific game, however, that sparked her gaming habit:
“I knew it was ‘my thing’ when Mortal Kombat came out; specifically on the Genesis. My neighbor, Nick, and I always had a feud of Nintendo versus Sega. He chose the Nintendo and I chose the Sega; so he would come over and play Mortal Kombat at my place.
“I just fell in love with the game. I remember in the third grade I won a championship at the local Blockbuster! It was one of those times where I played it not because it was cool or because it was immensely popular for my age range, but was just the thing to do after school and I absolutely loved it.”
As she grew, her tastes in games changed from the pick up and play carnage of Mortal Kombat to something deeper, “I really loved the Portal series, Assassin’s Creed has always been a franchise I’ve loved, [and] the Tomb Raider series…All those [games] that are kind of an expansive adventure world where I get to spend hours being a character and exploring different areas; places I haven’t yet had the time or the pleasure to go and explore.”
Despite growing up around video games, Mari never expected to turn her favorite pastime into a career. In fact, her previous job experience might be as far away from games as you could get: “Before my time with Smosh Games, I was a professional ballerina. I have been dancing since the age of two; my mother is also a ballerina and she has coached me my whole life. I really went hard with the ballet and had an expansive career…I thought I would just dance until my hips broke and then teach until I died!
“I think that was my life plan and the only thing I really had setup as a goal in my life. Ballet completely encompassed everything that I did; but being a starving artist in San Francisco, you take as many odd jobs as possible. That means anything from dressing in a tutu at a birthday party, being a magician’s assistant, or even showing up on set for a SMOSH YouTube sketch in Sacramento.”
Answering that casting call is exactly how Mari came to be a part of the Smosh family and one of their most integral hosts: “The casting call called for somebody who speaks Japanese for a Pokemon sketch video…That’s how all of this came to be; it was a gig that I took because I need to pay my rent and all that stuff. One thing led to another and we all got along on set. They said, ‘Hey, how about you come on board for another video.’ Then that turned into ‘How about you produce a show for us…’ And yeah, here I am now, eight years later.”
Growth and Trolls
Even after getting started with Smosh, it was a few years before she helped bring their gaming channel to life. While Smosh was certainly known for all things related to geek culture, the idea of the gaming channel came about separately, “It was kind of pooling together and kind of creatively thinking about what are the things we already do together in our personal time? What are the things we enjoy doing anyway? Gaming is something that we all enjoy doing.
“It was never a career path for any of us; at least the three of us who started on the Smosh side: me, Anthony, and Ian. For the other three who came on board with us, that had been their path. They were avid gamers and they really stepped into the realm. The three of us on the Smosh side, it was a pastime for us; your “average” gamers.”
Mari and the team knew they had to do something different to make Smosh Games unique and do its own thing to appeal to audiences. She delved into their initial approach to the channel, which continues to drive their content, “Instead of making ourselves complete ‘experts’ at this, how about we take it and play the way that the average Joe plays. The average Joe plays with his or her sibling, or neighbor, or group of friends. The concept was let’s take this as serious as a group of friends would take gaming … and that’s how it happened.”
Being a public gamer who happens to be a woman entails a lot of (utterly ridiculous) stereotypes. We asked Mari about her experiences with the darker side of fandom, “I actually encountered that before I was [on Smosh Games]. For the first couple of years I was involved with Smosh and I had my show, Smosh Pit Weekly, that’s where I first encountered it.”
“From an audience perspective, it had always been Ian and Anthony for five years. All of a sudden their third member on Smosh is a girl. The first inclination goes to, ‘Who is she dating, Ian or Anthony?’ We were all in our separate, healthy, relationships so that was interesting to encounter. I think I took a lot of it in to understand mob mentality, and just where people go to psychologically when they feel threatened in a fandom.”
“[It] was a lot less, though, when it pivoted to gaming. Having produced, written, edited, and hosted my own show prior to it, I’d established myself the type of person who was interested in a lot of things that are considered geek culture. So I had earned those stripes by the time we launched the gaming channel.”
Dealing with negative trolls wasn’t easy, but Mari remained undeterred, “I think that’s where surrounding yourself with supportive, strong-willed people with backbone is really important. As much as my videos would have these [offensive] comments, Ian and Anthony would always have my back and they were like, ‘Just keeping making the videos. The comments will go away.’”
“Of course it was a matter of funneling through comments and taking everything with a grain of salt, but it was a really good reminder that it’s important to let go of poisonous comments, but also to let in the comments that are A) positive and B) helpful.
Aside from that, Mari offers some poignant advice to other female gamers and YouTubers out there, “Don’t feed the trolls. As simple as it sounds, when your emotions are heightened, it’s those times where you have to step away and let people say what they’re gonna say. Come back with a level head.”
The Idea Machine
Smosh Games started with the idea of showcasing “average” gamers playing around and that mindset translates over into how they choose the types of games they play for viewers, “We’re constantly on STEAM and looking up new games that are coming out…Really it’s just being in a room with your friends all day and saying ‘Hey, I got this new game, you wanna play? Okay, hop on.’ And if we have a great time, that’s the video.”
For Mari, and the rest of the Smosh Games team, having a good time and showcasing that for audiences is the key to their success. This team dynamic is something she emphasized in our conversation, “At the ground level, it’s about staying passionate. Our team, and those of us who are in front of the camera, we’re constantly turning out ideas; really bad ones [laughs]. Sometimes the ones that are good enough to stick … become a show.
“We have regular creator and writer meetings to spitball ideas. Some of these ideas can be as small as years ago me wanting to start a Minecraft show, or big picture ideas of let’s try to work with a brand and go to Egypt.
“They’re anything and everything, but it starts at that ground level of staying passionate in what we’re doing; creating content that we love, and creating avenues for us to live our dreams. That is the way that we stay passionate. We get to conceptualize and then execute on the biggest ideas we can come up with as gamers, as avid fans of video content.”
Making it Happen
Despite this more grounded approach, there’s still a fairly large team (approximately 20–25 just on the video side) involved in creating content for the channel, but it didn’t start out that way. Initially Mari and the gang would handle all aspects of the production, from lighting to camera work to audio. As she jokes, “that’s why we had a lot of mistakes and lost footage!”
We might not be physically putting up the lights, but we’re still giving feedback.
Despite the early hiccups, however, it was a learning experience, “I truly believe it’s something that every content creator has to go through in order to ‘earn your stripes’ and understand just how grateful we all need to be for [what] we get to do. Nowadays we run our production as close to a professional set as possible. We have sound equipment and lighting, we have proper tech, we have … basically everything other than people to make us look pretty! That’s the last thing we need on the gaming channel [laughs].”
Obviously not everyone making YouTube videos are going to have an experienced team readily available. When asked about the differences between working for a larger channel like Smosh Games versus creating as an individual, Mari explained the changes aren’t drastic, “I mean the amount of energy, time and work that goes into something is as much as you want to give it. Of course when you’re working on it on your own, you’re a one man team and most of us on the channel have been there.”
“When you’re working with a larger team I think that notion switches. Even though you’re not editing, you’re still giving notes. You’re still kind of in the trenches. We might not be physically putting the lights up, but we’re still giving feedback on how a particular thing should be lit — the mood of something. We’re still in a director position, but I think it just switches into how much of that mentality you WANT to stay with it.”
“Some people will let everybody take the reigns and just have production happen. Others will continue to be involved and I think for most of [the Smosh Games team], we enjoy that grind. It’s something that drove us in the beginning and it’s hard to completely divide yourself out from it. How good [a video] is will depend on the energy you give it.”
Even with a larger team helping, there’s plenty of work to be done, and their shooting schedule can be grueling and fast-paced. Depending on the type of content, everything from concept, to script, to shooting and editing can be done as quick as a single day!
“If there’s a really hot video game we want to play, we’ll come in and play immediately as quickly as we can. In the morning [we’ll] set everything up and churn out a video by the next morning.” On a bigger channel, however, a single video isn’t enough to keep the wheels in motion and Mari discussed their typical shooting schedule, “For larger scale things, we might focus and only do one video [a day]. For a series like MariCraft, that’s been around for a few years now and we kind of understand the drill, we do as many as six in a day…But that’s quite grueling. I’d say, in general, anywhere between one and five videos a day.
“But that’s not every day! There are certainly days if we’re not filming or giving notes, we’re in creative meetings or writer’s rooms. You know, staying busy, trying to come up with the next big thing.”
At the end of the day, however, keeping the viewers in mind and retaining a relaxed and positive atmosphere is what keeps the team going. It’s a lofty goal, and Mari admits it’s one of the toughest aspects of making content for Smosh Games, “At least for me…It feels like I just stumbled into all this. It’s always a question of how can I continue to be a positive impact on the audience. It’s something that will drive me to always strive to be better. With Smosh Games, we get to put smiles on peoples faces and remind them that camaraderie is important.”
Looking Ahead and Advice
This drive to create a positive space for gamers keeps Smosh Games moving forward. Repeatedly, Mari expressed her gratitude — with a bit of disbelief — at the ability she has to play games and work as a YouTube star, but that doesn’t mean she’s stopped doing the other things in her life that matter, “I still dance when I can. I still remain very active and I’ve rounded out my dancing with aerial silks and all these other things. I keep myself moving. I still teach ballet and choreography for competitive dancers. Dancing will, and has always impacted the way I perform in front of an audience, or cameras.”
In fact, maintaining other interests separate from gaming and YouTube is something she encourages others to do as well if they want to succeed online, “I think that no matter where you are in your career, or somebody who has aspirations to be a YouTuber, it’s always important to keep hold of the things that keep your feet on the ground. Teaching and choreographing will always do that for me.”
It’s important to live your life first, before trying to become a famous YouTuber.
“I think the main reason why I had any chance of succeeding on YouTube was because I had a full and diverse background. [I] didn’t put all my eggs in one basket. I went to college, I had many careers … I’ve made mistakes and failed hard, took time to learn things. It’s important to live your life first, before trying to become a famous YouTuber.”
This easy going, optimistic attitude has served Mari well at Smosh Games all these years and continues to endear fans and viewers. Throughout our conversation, Mari’s upbeat outlook was downright infectious and despite the large following she has online with gaming, she remains humble and gracious. It’s a characteristic more YouTubers would do well to remember as they dive into the vast gaming landscape.