In spring of 2007, 17-year old Felix is sitting in his room at home in Gothenburg. His computer is on. His character in World of Warcraft, an orc warrior, has reached 70, the maximum level. Felix has played World of Warcraft for two years now and he's very competitive. He devotes all his free time to game strategy and thinking about gaming. Given the choice between gaming and meeting up with friends, he always goes for World of Warcraft. He has almost finished his second high school year at the Social science & Economy program at Göteborgs Högre Samskola. Now that his character has reached the maximum level, he begins the process of creating a new character, to start it all over again. Suddenly the realization hits him. 

What am I doing? For real, what do I get out of this? Now that I've reached the highest level, should I start over from scratch? This whole thing is just killing my time, says Felix Kjellberg.

The gaming had had a negative effect; I had become introverted and passive.

Instead, he began focusing on his studies. In just one year, he turned his mediocre grades into top ones.

Whenever I get involved in something, I get extremely engaged. I don't quit until I reach my goals. Achieving what I want is all I think about, says Felix Kjellberg.

It's late in May. There's a light drizzle in Brighton. We're sitting in the home Felix shares with his girlfriend Marzia Bisognin. It's been seven years since he had his revelation about how gaming had changed him. Since, Felix has turned from a lonely, introverted WoW-gamer to something completely different: Pewdiepie.




Gaming press recently reported that the four years old game Skate 3 from EA had made it to the bestseller list because Pewdiepie had posted a series of clips on the game earlier this year. Since he did, demand for the game has been so high that ea has had to bring the game back into production despite the fact that it is a lousy skate game suffering from tons of problems, making it excellent comedy material for YouTube. But Felix Kjellberg has also been helpful in the success of the horror game Slender and the humor games Goat Simulator and Flappy Birds.

Nobody knew about Slender, the trailer had like 50 views when I found it two years ago. I played the game and it caused somewhat of an explosion, it was really weird to see. I played Flappy Birds too and it became really popular, but it's a game that probably would have become successful even without me. But you can look at the statistics and see that games increase to an extreme degree when I play them.

What happens to you then? After making a game big?
Nothing, ha ha … nobody thanks me! Really though, it depends, some people do get in touch but many don't. The guy who created Slender could make a full version of the game and made tons of money, but he actually didn't get in touch at all.

Do you play outside YouTube?
No, all my gaming is for YouTube. When it comes to games, my own personal taste differs a lot from the ones I play on YouTube. The games that are the best suited for YouTube are the really terrible games – if you want to be nice you could call them diamonds in the rough. One game I really wanted to play was Dark Souls, but often great games result in boring videos. That one I still managed to goof around with, which I'm really proud of. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to play it.

If you get an advance copy of a game and make a few videos, it's a jackpot for the game maker – you have a perfect and extremely large niched audience?
Yes, that's true. I don't want to sound like a diva, but yes. It's almost scary to have that kind of influence. It's almost gotten to the point that I don't want it. I just want to play the games, not influence sales.

If a game is really bad, do you say so?
No, I try to keep everything relatively positive. I don't want people to feel like shit because of me.

In your videos, you're always so happy and enthusiastic, do you never think to yourself "Man, this is such a crappy game, I really don't care about this"?
Up until a year ago I could force myself to play a game through, but it's the worst feeling so I don't do that anymore. These days, I just quit.




Why do you work alone?
If I'd use an editor or hire someone to find games for me, I'd still have to train that person. Not to sound self-important, but no one knows how to do this better than I do. I don't want to hand it over to someone else. My fans don't really care about professional high-end production videos either. The fact that people know that it's just me making the videos – with no crew – has proved to be a winning concept. The thing that has made YouTube so successful is that you can relate to the people you're watching to a much higher degree than to the people you see on TV. And that's why I keep doing it all myself, though it would save me a lot of work if I didn't.

It sounds like you're a bit of a control freak?
I don't think so? I've tried letting others do stuff for me. Disney recently sent over a bunch of people dressed as Stormtroopers to make a video together with me, for charity. First of all, they got upset when they found out that there was no specific room for them to change clothes. And then, they didn't agree to do basically anything in the video because it was not OK with "The Star Wars universe". It all turned into chaos and it took a very long time. Finally, we ended up with something that they were going to edit but it was so bad I had to do it over and edit it myself. Furthermore, I don't want Pewdiepie to be some kind of trademark that I loose control over …so well, OK. Perhaps a bit of a control freak.




When Felix first was a rising star on YouTube, he joined the network Machinima. Because of copyright problems – many gaming studios view let's play-YouTubers as attractive advertising opportunities while others are very strict when it comes to how their material is treated, for instance Nintendo are among the very restrictive. YouTube doesn't reimburse gaming YouTubers directly, instead you have to be part of a network who deal with the legal aspects and manage advertising. But since it's such a new phenomenon with a global reach and legally complex at that, it's impossible to the individual YouTuber to have any kind of insight into his or her business.

In the beginning, I simply received a payment and had no clue what it was based on or how big the next paycheck would be. I had no personal contact with them whatsoever.

The network's contract with Felix turned out to be impossible on a legal level too, as it tied him to the network for life. It took Felix hiring his own lawyer and then half a year of legal work to free himself from the network.

It was managed in such a terrible way. During the time I was a member of their network, I grew into the world's biggest YouTuber – and they didn't even know I was with them! They didn't get in touch a single time, except when I wanted to leave – then their CEO e-mailed me once.

Felix Kjellberg is currently part of the network Maker Studios, who manage 55 000 YouTube channels and which was bought by Disney last spring for $ 950 million. Pewdiepie is the studio's biggest name and he was mentioned in all trade press when the deal came through. However, Felix's contract is up in December and he doesn't seem interested in renewing it.

The fact that Disney bought Maker Studios doesn't really change anything for me. If I ask for help, they reply, but that's all the contact we have. We'll see what happens.

You've said that you'd like to start your own network together with your friends?
Yes, but I'd rather not talk too much about it. I'm in touch with a couple of people who I think would be so right for this. I'm eager to get it all up and running. So far, all the networks have been managed in such an incredibly poor way, it's embarrassing really. I'd like to help other YouTubers.




Do you feel like you have some kind of responsibility when it comes to your audience?
In a way I do. We're gaming "together" and many people see me as a friend they can chill with for 15 minutes a day. The loneliness in front of the computer screens brings us together. But I never set out to be a role model; I just want to invite them to come over to my place.

Do you pay a lot of attention to what they say to you?
Yes. Sometimes I get disappointed, if lots of people think something about me that is all wrong. For instance, I make very, very few promotions. But if I bring something up that I really love, like the band Radiohead, people write and ask how much I was paid to talk about it. Likewise, if I mention on Twitter that I find this or that Kickstarter project cool, people immediately start to ask what economical interests I might have in it. Things like that can bring me down. But it's not personal; some people just prefer to believe the worst about others at any given time.

Since you have such a huge, quite young audience, do you adjust accordingly?
I don't want to tell jokes that are too base, although I cuss quite a bit. The cussing has turned into a thing of its own. Even when I don't really feel like cussing, it just happens. Since my audience comes from all over the world, I also try to avoid issues like religion or making fun of a specific country. But there are always people who misunderstand, perhaps they're too young. At the same time – it's just videos.

Is that your take on what you're doing – that it's just videos?
I hope so! I don't want to be responsible for someone else! I never chose my audience and my objective has never been to attract young people in particular. I believe that's the parents' responsibility. It's up to them to decide if their kids should be allowed to watch YouTube. For instance, some games I play have an 18-year age limit.

When it comes to kids, what do you think the appropriate age limit for your videos should be?
12–13 years perhaps? I don't think people younger than that really get my jokes.

What issues do you steer away from and why?
Religion. I'm Swedish and so for me, religion is not a very charged issue. But once, when I called one of my characters Satan, it made many people very upset. I can't say whatever I want, not even if I personally find it completely harmless. Many people also keep asking if Marzia and I shouldn't get married soon, since we live together.

You have 30 million subscribers and several million views of each video you've posted. If you wanted to, you could fight for various political issues?
But that's not why people watch my videos. I just want to entertain, that is my main objective and what comes before everything else.

You have a lot of influence. How do you use it?
I raise money for various charities and donate personal funds as well. The first thing I did when winning The King of the web competition two years ago, was giving away the $ 10 000 prize money to WWF. Since then, I've also helped raise money for Charity Water, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Save the Children. I can't do it all the time, it won't be as beneficial. But all in all, I've helped raise a million dollars for charity, and I'm really proud of that.