Every time Felix Kjellberg sinks into his leather swivel chair and puts on headphones to play videogames, he’s joined by friends. Tens of millions of them.
The 25-year-old Swede is known to the YouTube world as PewDiePie, a handsome, high-energy gamer who uploads Let’s Play videos that show him playing as he offers raucous, expletive-filled commentary. The genre has nearly 500 million viewers worldwide, according to research firm SuperData.
“YouTube breaks the barrier between the audience and the creator,” Kjellberg explains, in assessing the reason why he’s so popular. “They feel a connection to the one they’re watching. It’s almost like you’re hanging out.”
Indeed, on-camera, PewDiePie acts like he’s spending time with a friend. He begins each video introducing himself in a high-pitched, goofy voice, drawing out the vowels of his YouTube moniker, then delves into the videos, everything from reviewing the popular smartphone game “Flappy Bird” to testing out “Minecraft” to playing “Cards Against Humanity” with his dogs.
Kjellberg may act like the silly friend next door, but his reach is global; he gets recognized halfway around the world. “I remember the first time it really shocked me was in Singapore, where there were hundreds of people waiting in the lobby because I had tweeted a picture of me being at the hotel,” Kjellberg says. “It really caught me off guard.”
He still knows how to cause a stir. In December, he had a voice cameo as himself in an episode of “South Park” (“#Rehash”) that satirized the popularity of Let’s Play videos. And when it was revealed earlier this month that he made $7.4 million in 2014, the ensuing uproar prompted him to upload a video defending himself.
Any way you look at it, that’s not a bad payday for someone who dropped out of college five years ago, and sold hot dogs to try to earn enough money to buy a computer. Not losing sight of where he began, he tries to help aspiring YouTubers, giving shout-outs in his videos to bump their traffic.
And PewDiePie’s influence is expanding beyond YouTube. His volume “This Book Loves You,” will be released Oct. 20. The work features comical advice, such as, “Don’t be yourself. Be a pizza. Everyone loves pizza.”
For PewDiePie, it’s all about creating amusing content. “My purpose is to entertain,” Kjellberg says. “I go all out in the time that I have.”
PewDiePie by the numbers
*Data provided by Tubular Labs
Total views: 67.4 million
Total comments: 327k