When college student Bradley Colburn uploaded a video of himself playing Modern Warfare 2 back in April 2010, he could scarcely have imagined how big an online name he would become.
Less than two years on his YouTube channel has amassed more than 65 million views and nearly 180,000 subscribers, with countless gamers tuning in to watch him fistfight dragons in Skyrim, cower in the darkness during Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and battle manfully through the supposedly unbeatable Amy.
Somewhat impressively for a man who doesn’t use a face-cam in his videos, he’s even had people recognise him in the street.
“I’ve had a few encounters at restaurants and once, while out driving, I had a person recognise me in traffic,” reveals Brad.
“My initial aim was to simply get some active subscribers, so it’s crazy to think that so many people have watched my videos. But I never really sit there and think about numbers too much, because that’s where obsession begins. And obsession is a young man’s game.”
The 24-year-old, based in Atlanta in the US, is one of a number of walkthrough commentators who have become household names in recent years. And after completing his degree and building up a substantial fanbase, he is now pursuing his Let’s Play uploads as a fully-fledged career.
It’s a sign of Brad’s booming popularity that he recently came third in the King Of The Web contest, with a cool 200,000 votes. Indeed, his fans are so dedicated that he even receives inquiries about RadBrad-themed T-Shirts on a daily basis. With catchphrases such as “Take it bitch!” becoming second-nature to subscribers, he admits there are now plans afoot to launch a clothing range boasting his most quotable outbursts.
It may seem odd, given the interactive nature of the medium, that so many gamers regularly tune in to watch someone else playing through a title and commentating on it. But Brad – who was himself inspired to start uploading after viewing other peoples’ videos – believes the appeal is down to two main factors.
Capable of making bad games entertaining (as with Amy) and turning full-on horrors into full-blown comedies (as with Dead Space 2), Brad’s blind walkthroughs are full of amusing off-the-cuff quips and random asides.
He’s not simply showing the audience how to get through a game while offering up droning self-important advice and dry commentary. Instead, he’s experiencing the game for the first time and it is his unrestrained reaction, and remarks on the experience, that creates the entertainment value.
Brad has also begun roping his girlfriend into his commentary sessions to create an inspired new double-act – with frequently funny results.
“She’s easily the best part of my life and to be able to share this with someone has been amazing,” he says. “Although I’m finally out of college she’s still in for another year, but she will make appearances as often as possible. We’ve been addicted to Heavy Rain lately and she’s been with me for a majority of it. One day she’ll join me in my horror adventures too.”
Brad is not trying to be the ‘perfect gamer’, and the fact that he sometimes struggles with the titles he plays can be a source of knowing humour, as well as actually engaging the audience too. Helpful viewers frequently suggest tips, though more critical individuals do sometimes vent their anger at the way he’s doing things – a rather spectacular case of missing the point.
Indeed, despite the overwhelming volume of ‘likes’ at the bottom of Brad’s videos, some people have seen fit to criticize his playing style and take it all far too seriously – with one detractor even complaining about the order in which Brad was opening drawers in Amnesia: White Night.
“There have been times where I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, ” he says. “But I am thankful to be at the point in this crazy YouTube thing where I have fans bashing trolls. It’s rare, but the exposure method seems to be effective because people catch on about it, and I’m sure it’ll become another T-shirt design down the road.”
It was back in September last year that Brad first caught the attention of FMV, with his fantastic playthroughs of Dead Space 2 and Amnesia: The Dark Descent prompting us to post an article hailing him as the “king of the YouTube walkthrough”. It appears plenty of others gamers agreed with us too.
“It seemed like my channel doubled in size from Dead Space 2 alone,” Brad recalls. “I wasn’t sure if it was the game or me, so I tried Amnesia – an older game – and it got the same kind of feedback.
“I’d say Amnesia was probably my favourite series so far. I had to take that game one day at a time because I was so scared to play it. I think the lack of story dialogue really helped my thoughts pour into my commentary as well. I love nothing more than getting a ton of comments on a video, because regardless if it’s liked or disliked, it was obviously worth a response.”
One of Brad’s USPs is undoubtedly his focus on horror games, and it’s been undeniably fun to watch him react with high-pitched yelps, outraged profanity and the occasional complete freak-out when faced with the atmospheric scares of some of gaming’s greatest modern chillers. Brad professes to be a huge fan of horror games, and believes they suit his style perfectly.
“With any other genre you know what you are getting,” he explains. “With an action game you know it’ll be action, and even if it’s over-the-top it still has the same basic effect on your mind. But with horror you get the unknown, and most people fear what they don’t understand. Horror makes my mind race, and it pours those unusual parts of my thought-process into the commentary.
“This year I’ll definitely be playing any major releases that catch my eye, but at the same time I want to keep the horror aspect of my channel alive. I’m beyond excited about the prospect of playing Silent Hill 2 in HD, because it was my favorite horror game while growing up.”
That’s all very well and good, but surely one day he’ll get tired of scaring the absolute crap out of himself for our entertainment?
To watch Brad’s videos and hear him in action, visit his YouTube channel.