YouTube’s biggest gaming videos of 2020 are a little fishy

YouTube’s big end-of-year wrap-up for video games is largely the sort of thing you’d expect: Yes, Minecraft continues to dominate, Roblox is quietly trucking along, and Fortnite hasn’t slowed down one bit. Curiously, however, the blog post detailing all the 2020 highlights for video games on the platform also contains a list of the most-viewed uploads — and a couple of them raise eyebrows.

One of the top videos of the year is a straightforward one, with 197 million views going to a first-person Minecraft sketch. There’s an Among Us video in the top eight, which makes sense, as it’s the most popular game of the moment. And we know that Grand Theft Auto 5 continually breaks sales records, so of course it’s going to show up on a list of the biggest gaming videos on YouTube. So far, nothing abnormal. You might be forgiven for asking what “Parking Frenzy” is, but at the very least, it’s an upload that shows competent gameplay footage of the experience in question.

But then we arrive at a video titled “EM 3IN1 16: 9,” gibberish that precedes footage of a man repeatedly failing extremely simple puzzles. There is nothing entertaining or interesting about it; this isn’t a case of a funny fail or anything like that. But guess what? Ninety-nine million views, baby!

https://youtube.com/watch?v=jyOt-txLXZI%3Frel%3D0

Polygon asked YouTube what the deal was, and did not receive an explanation in time for press. We also attempted to contact the game developer, but many of the social channels and official webpages seem like they haven’t been touched or looked at by another human being in ages. The uploader, developer Top Games Inc., has a measly 7,000 subscribers on the platform, though mobile app tracker Sensor Tower claims that the game in question, Evony, has been downloaded at least 500,000 times. But there’s little about the video that suggests it’s been optimized for recommendation on the platform — the title doesn’t even name the game!

A different video in the top eight list is just as bewildering. “How To Loot | 230720 Angry animal” has accrued 207 million views on the platform, despite being only 15 seconds long. Like the Evony video, How To Loot shows a player somehow failing a terribly easy puzzle that results in them getting eaten by a creature. Again, nothing entertaining enough to warrant such a tremendous number of views, and yet here we are.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=DC3rsBYDLPw%3Frel%3D0

Part of what makes this suspicious and strange is that the video is unlisted. Unlisted videos on the platform cannot be viewed unless you have the link, and therefore, the platform doesn’t publicize them. Unlisted videos don’t turn up in search results or on a channel’s page. Further adding to the fishiness here is that the video has such a tremendous number of views with only three comments and barely any likes or dislikes. It’s as if nobody is actively interacting with the video at all.

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How is this possible? We asked a YouTube expert, who had no explanation. We’re stumped too. The comments below the Evony video suggest that, perhaps, these videos are advertisements that appear in free mobile games. And sure enough, reviews of Evony at least say the experience is riddled with ads, with one user on Sensor Tower writing, “2 seconds of game play then 60 seconds of commercials. 2 seconds of game play then 60 seconds of commercials. 2 seconds of game play then 60 seconds of commercials. Do you see the pattern here? F*** you guys!” But that’s just a theory, and one we can’t currently corroborate.

All this said, the official blog post detailing gaming’s year on YouTube is worth a read, as it’s full of fun facts about what flourished on the platform. Did you know that FGTeeV was the largest content creator of 2020 in terms of views? Or that the most-liked gaming video of 2020 was about free-to-play game Ninjala? If nothing else, what’s detailed by Google is a testament to how vast the YouTube ecosystem truly is, as creators and games you might have never heard of continue to do gangbusters within their own niches.

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