Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
If you tune into the Disney XD channel during the day, you’ll find what you’re probably expecting from a kids’ channel: live-action and animated series aimed at entertaining kiddos from elementary through early high school.
But if you tune in after 9 p.m., when Disney XD turns into gaming-themed Disney D-XP, you’re in time to catch Parker Plays. And that means you’re in time to see 24-year-old YouTuber Parker Coppins (aka ParkerGames) starring in his very own TV show.
Let’s rewind a little back to Coppins’ YouTube beginnings. Like many gaming YouTubers, he started gaming as a kid. And, again, like many YouTubers, he actually found the platform thanks to one of its most popular games: Minecraft.
Coppins first started making YouTube content on a shared channel entirely about the building-focused multiplayer game. When he realized just how well that content was doing, he wanted to try making it by himself — so in 2013, he opened up a Minecraft channel and dove in.
Coppins didn’t immediately start making a living off his content. But he did draw in fans. One of those was Kevin Williams, the CEO of and executive producer at Digomind Productions. Digomind had just come onboard with Disney to create a block of gaming-focused content called Disney XP-D. Williams, to Coppins’ surprise, thought he’d be a perfect fit. (We’ll let Coppins tell the rest of that story below.)
Thus, Parker Plays was born. Two seasons have aired so far, the first in 2017 and the second at the end of last year. Episodes of the show feature segments with Coppins playing various types of games, from horror to sports to virtual reality. They also occasionally put together scripted skits, since Coppins is an actor. (He starred in 70 episodes of Sugar Pine 7, a Streamy-winning YouTube web series produced by Rooster Teeth.)
Coppins is currently waiting to see if Parker Plays will get a third season, but “waiting” doesn’t mean he gets downtime. Together with his team of four part-timers, he’s able to put out at least one piece of content per day for his 536,000 subscribers — and even after all these years and a TV deal, that content is usually about Minecraft.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a bit about your background! How did you get into gaming, and what made you choose YouTube as the place to share your content?
Parker Coppins: The first game that piqued my interest was a massively multiplayer online game called RuneScape! For people that don’t know the game, I just say it’s “like World of Warcraft” and everyone goes, “Aaaahhhhh.”
RuneScape grabbed me by the childhood during my “computer” class in 4th grade. Our teacher may have been a terrible teacher for letting us play games all class period, but I certainly can type fast now because of it. So he did something right.
Fast-forward to years later. During my freshman year in high school, I was still playing the game often, and I wanted to share some funny moments to friends. So I started uploading YouTube videos of the silly things that happened in the game. After the first year of uploads, I got my first 100 subscribers, and I was hooked. A hundred subs? You kidding? I was famous, dude…!
In all seriousness, it was a blast making videos.
Tubefilter: Of course, lots of people know you from your Disney XD show. In a tweet, you described it as, “basically my YouTube channel with a bigger budget and a full team of people.” Can you go into some detail about the team you work with at Disney?
Coppins: It was certainly nerve-racking going from the one-man team of YouTube video-making to a full-blown television crew. I had never recorded a video while someone was in the same room. Ever. Then, my first day of shooting Parker Plays, I had a camera guy, a sound dude, a game tester, and literally 12 people in the other room..including two Disney executives. All watching my every move to see if I have what it takes to make a TV show. I nearly had a full-blown panic attack. I ran out of the set for a few minutes to breathe. The producer, Kevin Williams, came out to check on me, and encouraged me to push through. He believed in this little 19-year-old kid from the start, and I could never thank him enough.
A few minutes later, I walked back into the set, ready to prove myself.
All in all, I believe we had over a dozen full-time staff. While that’s pretty low for standard television staff, it certainly was a change in my normal routine.
We shot for around about 7 to 10 hours a day, three times a week. An exhausting marathon run that trained me for the necessity for the sheer quantity of YouTube content these days.
Tubefilter: Do you have a team for your personal YouTube?
Coppins: I definitely learned a lot about the efficiencies of Parker Plays for my own YouTube channel. A big YouTube mentality is “do everything yourself,” but you can create SO much more (and with more creative feedback) on projects with a team of people. With Parker Plays, not only did everyone have their respective roles in the project, but the full crew would sit down and watch the episodes together, and make notes about our favorite moments, and that would start a conversation about a section of that episode. It was so refreshing to have so many creative minds come together to create something, and most of the “best moments” from the show came from sessions like this — team brainstorms.
I’m currently running a team of four part-timers for my YouTube content. I’m so lucky to have each and every one of them. We’re able to produce one to two pieces of content a day, compared to making four to five videos a month. That’s been a huge turning point in all aspects of personal brand.
Plus, it lets me focus on one thing at a time. Lots of people can edit and make thumbnails, but only Parker can be Parker. Paying someone else to do work you don’t need to do is valuing your own time to be doing what you’re great at. At least, that’s what I tell myself!
Tubefilter: How is the creative process different with Disney versus your personal videos? Do you ever struggle to split your creative energy?
Coppins: With the Disney show, the machine ran itself, for the most part. Wonderful people were in place to handle each aspect of the show. Editing was overseen by a project manager, we had writers and producers, we had teams of people to watch cuts after they were done to make notes. All I really needed to do was to show up and hopefully make enough jokes to fill a 22-minute show.
On YouTube, the creative pressure is higher, because it’s all on the creator to lead that team rather than to sit back and watch it flourish. Every step is a choice I’m needing to make.
Strangely, I get more creatively drained creating YouTube videos on my own than creating the TV show.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
Coppins: My first check from YouTube was an INSANE $1,000 that came in December of 2014. That was certainly a lot of money for an 18-year-old kid, and especially living in the insanely inexpensive south Texas. The reason I got that check is because I was hired by a Minecraft server to make videos on their new minigames. That was during a huge spike on YouTube for Minecraft content, so the viewers grew very quickly, and with CPM being great in those days, the people running the server eventually switched from monthly salary to receiving a split of the ad revenue. Oh, 2014 ad revenue…how we miss you.
That was the big turning point in my life. I realized that this YouTube thing was real — not only financially, but the people existed. After attending my first convention, PAX Prime 2014, and meeting the people who watched my videos, I was able to put a face to the numbers. YouTube is a truly beautiful thing when it comes to making a connection to the person on the other side of the screen, and developing a personal brand that lasts.
Tubefilter: How did Parker Plays come about? Did they reach out to you? Did they find you on YouTube?
Coppins: Disney was in the final stages of acquiring Maker Studios, and Disney XD happened to be creating a summer block of TV spots for shows about gaming. I had been a part of Maker for quite some time, and for whatever reason, the production studio creating shows (Digomind) liked my videos. Kevin Williams told me in one of the meetings that what really stuck out to him was a silly character “Samantha” that I had created. He said he couldn’t get the character out of his head trying to sleep one night.
So…a little bit of luck, great timing, and Samantha?
Tubefilter: Could you chat a bit about the budget for your YouTube channel versus the budget for your Disney show?
Coppins: I can’t really get into the specifics of the show’s budget, because they wouldn’t let me see it! Plus they paid me in gum.
The one thing I can say is that the return on investment for both projects are certainly different from each other. For example, most shows are being funded by the full season of viewership. So you can get away with the three-second $3,000 VFX shot.
For YouTube, every project is case by case.
Knowing this has changed how I look at YouTube as an entertainment platform. Instead of worrying about each video breaking even or making profit, I keep an eye on the monthly/quarterly budget. This has allowed me to spend more money on bigger videos. Yes, in March I’m not going to make back the money I spent on an animated video (because my ad revenue is small), but I know that in November/December, the low-budget gaming videos will make up for it with higher CPM and merchandise sales relating to Christmas.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTuber?
Coppins: The first time I realized I was a professional YouTuber was when I went to my first convention. I met up with some YouTube friends, some of whom I’d never seen the faces of, and we invited our fans to meet us at the local park.
The amount of people we saw that day was extremely humbling. It put into perspective the true influence digital creation can have — even making silly Minecraft videos. I will never take for granted the things YouTube and social media have done for me. And the level of growth that each and every one of the viewers have collectively done to place me where I am today.
Tubefilter: You mentioned that working with Disney has changed the way you produce content for your personal channel. Can you elaborate a little more on that?
Coppins: For the amount of people I heard say “YouTube is all about consistency” in their videos — Casey Neistat, David Dobrik, Roman Atwood — I certainly should have listened. I was a 19-year-old YouTuber, so of course I didn’t have a schedule. But the show certainly turned that around for me. Working on such a rigid production schedule with a production studio has showed me the way for consistent filming and uploading. Every day, I strive to get closer and closer to the strict schedule with my personal content.
Since the show had an office with a full crew, they loved their physical corkboards with deadlines and projects.
Most of my digital team are over seas or remote, so for that reason I really love Slack and Trello. Those are my go-to’s for collaborating together to get projects done on time. Slack for group messaging, and Trello for scheduling.
Tubefilter: Has anyone supported you in your journey to being a full-time creator? Are there any fellow YouTubers—ones you’re friends with, ones you’ve worked with, or just folks you admire—who have inspired you?
Coppins: I have way too many people to thank. Two of whom are my parents. My biggest supporters since I started the dang thing. From buying my first camera when I was 12 to literally moving me out to Los Angeles when I was 15 to pursue my dreams. My mom and I lived in a garage and we ate our budget rice and beans just so we could be out there in LA. They backed me up and believed in me, when it honestly was probably “unwise.” They are 100% the reason I am where I am.
My YouTube friends, especially those in the Cube group, I could never thank enough.
And the people who have been watching since the start, or clicked on a video once, I can never truly express how much it means to me to be able to entertain for a living, and on my own terms. This era of entertainment is absolutely mindblowing.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
Coppins: I think the most vital skill I posses is being so handsome and oh so very humble.
Lol, not really.
I think it’s my passion! The love I have for making videos has gotten me into some situations that were silly. It wasn’t a great “idea” on paper to spend 12 hours editing a video that would make $50. It’s more efficient financially to work at McDonald’s.
But that video would later be seen by Kevin Williams, who would eventually make a TV show with me.
It’s those moments that you never really expect or plan. Digital creation and entertainment, for me, has been successful because of passion. You put in the work — even if it doesn’t make sense.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
Coppins: Right now I’m trying to slowly build a consistent video schedule and community around my videos. Then put every penny I have into creating a big-budget show for YouTube. It’s ambitious, especially for the ad rates these days, but I love it.
Plus, I’m trying to beat the world record for the longest livestream…but more on that later.
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