In Ep. 67 of Earned, Conor sits down with a true creator economy expert, Rodrigo Velloso. A veteran of the gaming industry, Rod has served as Director of Gaming Partnerships at social media giants YouTube and Twitter, as well as Director of Influencer Marketing at fan-favorite gaming platform Roblox. Not only has Rod proven instrumental in building a robust and impactful creator ecosystem in the gaming vertical, but he’s since expanded his scope to help content creators across all domains in his most recent role—VP of Creator Success at creator commerce platform Spring.
To start the episode, we learn what attracted Rod, who built his early career in traditional media, to join the then-booming tech industry, and why he decided to move from Brazil to the Bay Area to join a little-known company called Google. Next, Conor and Rod share their predictions for how the rise in AI technology like ChatGPT will impact industries across the board. We then dive into Rod’s time at YouTube in the early 2010s, and hear why the platform’s shifting focus from views to watch time led to an increased interest in long-form gaming videos—a completely new genre of content at the time. Rod shares his learnings from his time as Director of Gaming Partnerships—the first YouTube team to partner directly with creators—including how independent creators drove over 90% of gaming content viewership, compared to a 50% rate in other verticals like Music, where traditional companies drove the lion’s share.
From there, Rod discusses his experience building creator-led marketing initiatives at interactive gaming platform Roblox, which helped fuel the company’s hyper growth to compete with big names like Minecraft and Fortnite. We learn how Roblox’s introduction of monetization for its creator community drew gamers to the platform, and Rod emphasizes how the best content lives where its creators can be properly compensated for it. To close the show, we hear what Rod has learned about the broader creator economy since joining creator commerce platform Spring, and Rod reveals what’s up next for his career.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“It was these individual creators who were driving over 90% of that viewership.”: The Rise of Independent Gaming Content on YouTube
Conor Begley: Let’s talk about your early days at YouTube. You were there during a time when it was really rising to prominence, and I also think YouTube was unique at the time in their embrace of the creator as a core component, and as the first platform to actually do revenue sharing with the creators themselves. Talk about some of your earliest learnings from that space and that period of hyper growth.
Rodrigo Velloso: I think there was a big luck factor involved in my being at the right place at the right time, which was around 2011, I want to say, when YouTube shifted its primary performance metric from views to watch time. So we were shifting from, “we want to have a billion views a day or month,” to “we want a billion hours in that same time period.”
That shift really changed our view of the business and gaming, which was an interesting vertical. It was maybe number seven or eight in terms of viewership. It really popped when we started looking in terms of hours, because the videos were long and people watched them for a long time. I was tapped to figure out what content and content partnerships should look like for that vertical, because our mission as the content team was to bring on content that would grow viewership—or in this case going forward, grow watch time—and subsequently bring in revenues through that time, whether through ads or otherwise.
As a strategy guy who's coming from the media universe, it did not take me long to realize a couple of key things about this. One, this was entirely new content. This stuff didn't really exist on TV. It didn't really exist in any traditional media. In Korea it did, but I only found out about that later. Up until that point, gaming was an entirely new content genre. That was the number one realization.
The number two realization was, “Okay, well, who's driving the viewership of this new genre?” It's not the game publishers. It's not the game media companies. It wasn't even the pro tournaments or the Esports teams. We explored all of those hypotheses and came to an understanding that it was these independent, individual creators who were driving over 90% of that viewership. That was really an amazing realization. The term “creator economy" did not exist at that point, but it's not like we weren't aware of the creator. Obviously it’s YouTube, as in you broadcast yourself. It was absolutely about giving individuals a voice or a channel for distribution of video content. We certainly understood that there were burgeoning ecosystems of independent creators in lots of different spaces from comedy to fashion and beauty. So it's not like we didn't understand that, but generally speaking in every other vertical, over 50% of the viewership was being driven not by those creators—it was being driven by traditional companies’ content.
Gaming, I think, was the first vertical where we started saying, “actually, in this vertical, our largest partners are creators. They're not traditional companies.” We, as the direct partnerships team, need to start working directly with creators. I'm not sure if that was the start of that at YouTube, but I believe it was. One of my partner managers was one of the first on the direct team to work only with creators. That, for me, was certainly the wake-up call that things are changing. Completely new genre of content, completely new class of enterprise behind it. The initiative to take that content creation and make that a livelihood and a business. That was just fascinating to me, so that put me on the path that I'm still on.
“When you look at where the best content is, it's where creators of that content can get compensated for it.”: How Roblox Built a Booming Creator Ecosystem by Introducing Monetization
Conor Begley: Talk to me about that community-building element in the context of Roblox. You joined Roblox in 2018, and over the next four years, it went public. At one point it was valued at close to a hundred billion dollars. Talk to me about how you leveraged that concept of community building in the context of Roblox, as well as what Roblox was like when you started.
Rodrigo Velloso: I started at Roblox in 2018, and it was around maybe 60 million monthly active users at the time. It had been growing really fast for a few years. I like to say I discovered Roblox [accidentally]. I found it on Google Trends. I was trying to figure out what the most popular games to create on YouTube were, and Roblox to me was like a Minecraft copycat, and when I saw it on Google Trends, it was like number six or seven out of the top 10 YouTube sources of gaming content. That was surprising to me. Minecraft had long been number one, and Fortnite was at its peak, almost bumping up against Minecraft. I was surprised to find Roblox, and I dug in, and was just astounded by it.
I understood that [Roblox] is not a game. This is a platform for creating interactive content, and it seems to already have an organic creator ecosystem, like a parallel creator ecosystem to YouTube. I’d been working in gaming content on YouTube for years, and [video] is really the only way for you to see into the interactive experience other than to go and play it, which is sometimes a higher barrier to entry than just watching a video. That’s why influencer or creator content is kind of the main marketing channel for all game content today.
So I joined with this understanding that here is an interactive content platform that already has this organic discovery or marketing engine that's growing with it. I saw that they were looking for a Director of Influencer Marketing, and I had never held any role with the “influencer marketing” title. But it was certainly the main source of awareness for Roblox, the main source of engagement. The company was already seeing that from its marketing research, and that's why it was looking to hire someone. It was really just a strong match, and I came in with a lot of understanding of the YouTube side of that equation and what drove creators, and I brought that understanding to Roblox.
Attribution was always a challenge, but it was just such a strong correlation and it makes sense to say, “Let's go experiment.” That was the pitch essentially, and we started seeing the results and seeing that it was working, or at least that we were continuing to grow at a phenomenal rate, and gaining share and rank. We went from being the seventh or eighth source of gaming content on YouTube to being the second after Minecraft, so we were gaining in share, we were gaining in volume. The company continued to grow super fast.
I think the fascinating thing about Roblox was that it started to grow really fast around 2014, 2015, when two things happened. One, it introduced monetization, which I think is the key thing. When you look at where the best content is, it's where creators of that content can get compensated for it. There is a path to building a business around that, because the more creators can dedicate themselves to making the content, the better that content becomes. The more expertise they can bring into that craft, in areas that they don't necessarily dominate even if they are a great entertainer or a great artist, the better it becomes for them. That ability is what drives growth in the long term, the ability for artists and creators to get compensated. That's what Roblox introduced in 2014, the ability for devs—it's called DevEx on Roblox—the ability for developers of content on Roblox, creators of interactive content, to convert Robux back out into cash in various currencies.
The other [factor] was Minecraft's acquisition by Microsoft, and the initial restructuring that happened around Minecraft content, which [originally] was a very open platform before Minecraft wanted to put a little bit of a wall around it, which ended up alienating some creators who then saw in Roblox the opportunity to do this fascinating thing, which is to build a multimedia content business. A lot of Minecraft creators were already doing that. There was that independent developer or that indie aspect to Minecraft, which was a little bit alienated when Mojang was acquired. That was enough to kind of kickstart the Roblox video ecosystem because a lot of those creators said, “Oh, here's another interactive content platform that has its own business model.”
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 66 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Revolve, K18, Instagram, and 2K, visit our Earned Podcast page.