Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg’s ongoing battle to maintain the biggest channel on YouTube has been turned into a video game.
The game, Zero Deaths, places Kjellberg in a post-apocalyptic setting where he must defend his fiancée Marzia from an army of sub bots (fake YouTube subscribers) who are trying to destroy the world. It’s an obvious allusion to Kjellberg’s ongoing battle with T-Series, a popular Bollywood channel that has been accused of using sub bots to boost its subscriber count, as the two vie for the title of YouTube’s biggest channel.
This battle is happening at a very interesting time on YouTube. Independent creators who helped mold YouTube into the platform that it is today feel like they’re being pushed out by traditional movie studios, television networks, and music labels like T-Series. Zero Death’s developer said he was fascinated by that conflict and wanted to turn its David and Goliath tension into a game.
Zero Deaths is made by indie developer Thomas Brush, who based the game on details from Kjellberg’s vlogs. The game isn’t officially connected to PewDiePie, but Brush says he received permission from Kjellberg to make it. The game comes out today on the indie game publishing platform Ichi.io.
Kjellberg’s fans have rallied over the past several months to keep his subscriber count above T-Series’, but Brush told The Verge that he doesn’t have a stake in who wins or loses. “I believe companies should be able to be just as influential as individuals, and vice versa,” Brush said. His real concern is that YouTube could tip the scale toward big companies over small creators. “Now, if YouTube started showing favor to one side, then I would have concerns,” he said.
Zero Deaths tries to keep the focus on YouTube’s larger cultural shift, rather than on Kjellberg’s immediate battle with T-Series. The Bollywood channel is never mentioned by name out of concern that people would think the game is taking sides, Brush said. (Though fans will know what Brush is hinting at when they encounter menacing sub bots, and the game’s enemies and landscape are dotted with Ts, drawing on T-Series’ logo.)
“I’m just engaging in this concept of PewDiePie versus essentially what would happen to the world if the internet was suddenly manipulated, algorithms were changed, and sub bots took over, and it’s PewDiePie’s job to fight against that,” Brush said.
As someone who’s worked with many YouTube creators in the past — including top gaming names like Jacksepticeye and Kjellberg for a game called Pinstripe — Brush says he’s just a fan of YouTube culture.
Although Brush thinks the fight is a “fun little internet phenomenon,” he acknowledged that the conversation speaks to something bigger. It’s a conversation about what it means to be a creator on YouTube in 2019 when there are more than 2 billion active monthly users and more than 500 hours of content uploaded every hour.
“I think anyone would agree the democracy of YouTube is what makes it beautiful,” Brush said. “That’s why it exploded; it’s the idea that anybody, whoever you are, no matter what you do, can become the next PewDiePie or T-Series.”