How Dream Unlocked The Secret To YouTube’s Algorithm
One YouTuber unlocked the secrets of YouTube’s algorithm.
He’s generated over 2 billion views and 25 million subscribers in less than 3 years. In the process developing what The Verge described as, “a fan network stretching across the globe, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon.”
Who is he? Dream.
The 22 year old (anonymous) Minecrafter behind the fastest growing YouTube channel. In 2018 he had 1k subs. A year later, almost 2 million. Today? 25 million!
His last video has 5M more views than PewDiePie, Logan Paul, MKHB, KSI, and Trisha Paytas latest videos combined.
Dream’s success is no fluke. It’s the byproduct of careful research and planning.
Few would have looked at Dream’s channel in 2018 and assumed he was destined to be one of the most successful creators ever. He had a humble start. After several years on YouTube he only had 1000 subscribers. On YouTube he was a virtual unknown. Lost in a sea of hundreds of billions of views of Minecraft content.
He knew that if he wanted to make it big, he needed to rethink his approach.
So, one day he privated all his videos. He then spent a year reading over 200 books related to YouTube and social media. He wanted to completely master the ins and outs of the platform. Nothing would be left to chance.
Dream’s research gave him a huge pool of strategic knowledge to tap into. And, he’s been able to apply to layer strategy upon strategy, the cumulative result being a “Lollapalooza effect”. Coined by Charlie Munger, the Lollapalooza effect is when multiple strategies or behaviors are implemented at once so that the results aren’t linear, but exponential.
Outlined below are the strategies and frameworks Dream implemented in order to create the Lollapalooza Effect on his own channel and become a global phenomenon:
- Defining A Niche
- Borrowed Interest
- Social proof
- Emotional triggers
- Parasocial Bonding
- Cross Promotion
Defining A Niche
Although Minecraft was a saturated topic, Dream found a major point of differentiation.
Custom-coded MineCraft videos.
This is when you modify the game. It requires coding skills to actually make them happen. As a result, it was a much smaller pool of creators doing these videos.
Dream had the skills.
“I think something most YouTubers can’t do is develop code and I thought that’s something that can make me stand out from all the other creators. If I’m a developer, I can create certain things that other creators can’t even think about doing.”
In addition to his coding skills Dream is among the elite Minecrafters. He placed 1st twice in the 2020 Minecraft Championship, a monthly Minecraft competition among creators. This gaming acumen alongside his creative storytelling (which I’ll explore below), collaboration, and competition has allowed him to carve out a point of differentiation in an otherwise crowded space.
PewDiePie has the 6th largest channel on YouTube. He’s got 110 million subscribers and nearly 30 billion views. He’s also the most popular gamer. Ever.
In the summer of 2018, PewDiePie was trending when he made a challenge to the community to find his world’s seed (I won’t even try to explain what that means)
Dream capitalized on this.
He understood that the challenge would spark a surge of searches around PewDiePie’s Minecraft seed. Putting this insight into practical use, Dream quickly made 4 videos in a row on the topic. He put PewDiePie in the thumbnails. He took PewDiePie’s Minecraft content and added his voice over – sharing color commentary discussing his own achievements.
These videos were clickbait for legions of PewDiePie fans. Fans searching for PewDiePie and the challenge naturally clicked on Dream’s videos. All 4 went viral.
This is a strategy Dream has used time and time again.
Leveraging borrowed interest of a trending or popular topic, and using it as a hook to reel people into his channel. Once the fans arrived, he is a master at getting them to stick around to watch his own, original, content.
If you look at Dream’s channel in 2019 it looks like a random mess. He experimented with a variety of different formats. While he had a relative niche defined he experimented with formats. Attempting to zero in on what performed the very best.
Take a closer look, however, and patterns start to emerge:
Dream was testing and learning. Creating content in a variety of popular formats to see what would perform best. Examining his channel from that time, you’ll notice 7 types of content:
- Gameplay guides
- Unsolved mysteries
- What If
Gameplay guides: he explored crafting more practical content in the form of how to videos.
Unsolved Mysteries: he did videos exploring some of the craziest Minecraft rumors. For example, he did a deep dive on Herobrine, a rumored hostile creature (or player) that supposedly haunts players and messes with their games.
Compilations: Dream compiled funny videos comprised of hilarious of good and bad situations in Minecraft
What If: Dream made custom-coded scenarios to explore wild scenarios and them explore a world with some weird parameters (ie What happens when you put 50000 dogs together)
Challenges: Similar to the ‘what if’ series, he created scenarios where multiple participants vie for a prize. For example, ‘the last to leave a circle in minecraft wins a thousand dollars’
Speedrunner vs. hunter: attempting to beat the game while other players are hunting him down.
PewDiePie: as mentioned above he created PewDiePie inspired content to get his first big influx of subscribers.
Over time it became apparent what content performed best – the speedrunner vs. hunter videos. These are when Dream tries to go through the game quickly and his friend, the hunter, tries to stop him. If Dream dies once, he loses, and if he completes the game (slay the Ender Dragon), he wins. The hunter can die multiple times and has a compass to easily locate Dream.
Sounds like a simple recipe, just one of many that Dream came up with.
Then you take a look at the comment section:
The fans loved the concept, and Dream realized its potential.
He doubled down. He started creating more of these videos, all the time upping the stakes, adding more of his friends as hunters, coming up with crazier ways of evading them.
Dubbed the “MineCraft Manhunt” series, these videos did extremely well. They garnered 20-30 million views per episode. All the more surprising given they’re usually 40 minutes long. Manhunt turned out to be the most popular Minecraft content of 2020 and would be a huge part of Dream’s rapid growth.
Of course, ideas are nothing without proper execution, and these videos showcase just how much thought and effort Dream puts into his content. They weren’t just a race. As one fan put it, these were “intense”. Another described one of the series as, “straight up the best and most exciting action movie I have seen in years”.
Which is an excellent segue to our next strategy that Dream mastered and implemented.
You can see from the user comments above that watching the speed runs feels like watching a Hollywood action movie. Here are a few more examples of fans’ emotional reactions:
Why are people reacting so strongly?
According to studies done by author and professor Jonah Berger, “content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral.”
Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes-Jonah Berger
high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is
If you examine Dream’s speedruns you can see these emotions at play. Dream is a master at crafting videos which tap into the overwhelming feelings of awe, anger, and anxiety.
There’s constant Anxiety throughout his runs. How close are the hunters to Dream? What if they’re around the next corner? What if they’re preparing a trap?
In a dozen places in each video this anxiety is elevated to almost unbearable levels. When it seems like there’s no escape, when Dream’s health is low and the hunters have him surrounded it reaches its zenith. When these moments are resolved (usually by Dream using some new ingenious method), there’s massive emotional payback. The audience is in Awe of his skills and exhilarated seeing the hero outsmart his adversaries.
There’s also Anger to be found.
Viewers (most of them) root for Dream. They become frustrated every time hunters gain an advantage (there’s more of them so this happens frequently). However, nothing compares to the shock of when Dream loses. Because we’re watching everything from his perspective his death is often sudden. It came out of nowhere, just when, it seemed, he got the upper hand. Viewers get upset and angry when this happens.
Dream is a master at orchestrating these feelings of anger through manufactured conflict. As I outlined in a previous post. His biggest rivalry, with Technoblade, in particular, has “developed into the Minecraft version of wrestling”. It has resulted in thousands of fans spending, “countless hours arguing in the comment sections of who’s a better player, hating the other side’s fans.”
Dream crafts his videos to elicit these emotions in a calculated manner.
Most speedrun content was pulled from over 3 hours of footage. Dream whittles his videos down to the best 40-50 mins. Dream understands the importance of pacing, removing lulls in action, and amplifying emotions.
Additionally, emotions are amplified via dramatic background music and the reactions his friends display. There’s an almost ridiculous amount of screaming, laughter, excitement, joy, fear, rage and every other feeling in between – to get a sense, take a look at this short compilation and extrapolate these reactions over the entire 40 minutes.
The players all behave like each episode is a matter of life and death. In turn we, the audience, feel the same.
Dream is a mastermind when it comes to understanding, and capitalizing upon, social psychology. He uses social proof throughout his content in order to increase engagement and the perceived desirability of his content.
For those unfamiliar, Social Proof is a term coined by Author/Professor Robert Cialdini. At its core, it’s defined as the phenomenon wherein when you see others do something, you are far more likely to do the same.
Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.
– Robert Cialdini
Social Proof is an overwhelming force that influences much of our behavior.
For example, studies show when watching a live performance the length of time you clap has more to do with how long those around you clap than how much you liked the performance.
It influences our purchase decisions.
For example, 70% of people look at reviews and/or ratings before making a purchase. We do this, “to see what others think about a product or service. Even though these can be biased, anecdotal or even fake, we judge people ‘like us’ as more trustworthy than the companies.”
Dream has masterfully woven social proof cues into everything. His videos, to titles, tags, and even calls to actions to subscribe all tap into social proof.
For example, here’s the dialogue from Dream during the first :20 of a recent video.
This video, three of my friends hunt me down and stop me from beating minecraft. We said we would do it one final time for all the marbles if the last video got 1 million likes and it did. In a day. So here we are.
Can they stop me from beating the ender dragon? Will I survive?
No re-dos. No rematches. This. Is. It. Minecraft Manhunt.
Oh, also only a small percentage of people that watch my videos are actually subscribed. So if you end up liking this video, consider subscribing. It’s free. You can always change your mind.
Enjoy the video.
You’ll notice three key points of social proof.
- As he introduces the video he mentions three of his friends are playing with him. He reiterates this by saying ‘we’.
- He entices fans to like his videos with rewards. In this case he highlighted that over a million people wanted this video, because he said he’d do it IF the last one got 1 million likes. As a viewer you can’t help but ask yourself the question – If a million people asked for this video, it’s got to be amazing. Right?”
- Even in his call to action to subscribe he uses social proof. He highlights that although there are a lot of viewers, “only a small percentage of people that watch my videos are actually subscribed.” It highlights how popular he already is, while guilting non-subscribers into taking action.
Even Dream’s video titles and description reinforce social proof. He often references how many people he’s playing against or with. For example Minecraft Speedrunner VS 4 Hunters.
I’ve even noticed he’s begun privating older videos. Now his channel is only filled with videos that have been wildly successful. This creates the perception that everything he makes is a hit. That perception helps make it a reality.
He maximizes all the variables available to him to apply social psychology triggers in order to encourage more viewership.
Last April, a YouTube creator did his take on why Dream is so successful. He covered a fair amount of ground that we’ve explored here. However, when he asked the audience if he missed anything, this is what the comment section had to say:
Fans didn’t connect just with Dream. Rather, they were connecting with the friendship that Dream and George had. You can find numerous fan-made compilations of interactions between Dream and George such as laughing, mock-flirting, screaming…
Over time Dream incorporated two other close friends, BadBoyHalo and Sapnap. They’ve been friends for years and you feel this in videos. Watching the four of them have fun, their comfortable banter, their personalities all play off each other. It feels like you’re in a room with close friends, joining in on the fun.
Dream even speaks directly to the audience which amplifies the feeling that you are hanging out with them. In his intro’s he typically uses “you” at least twice. For example, “So if you end up liking this video, consider subscribing. It’s free. You can always change your mind.”
This reinforces an artificial feeling of closeness.
Fans feel like friends.
This sensation is known as parasocial bonding. It’s the phenomenon wherein a strong emotional bond is formed with a person who doesn’t reciprocate. Generally, this is because they don’t even know of the other person’s existence.
Dream has collaborated with a number of creators – appearing in their videos and vice versa. This has allowed him to quickly expand the audiences he gets exposure to, and in turn, grow his own audience.
Most notably, he created a private MineCraft server with almost three-dozen famous players. The Dream SMP, as it’s known, had a crew of regular participants and the occasional YouTube celebrity guests, such as Ninja, MrBeast, KSI. Stream highlights from different player perspectives were posted regularly across social media.
In January of this year Dream decided to “end” the Dream SMP Minecraft server. A testament to its popularity on its final day, streamer tommyinnit (a frequent Dream collaborator) peaked at 650,237 viewers. According to StreamHatchet, that made it the 8th most viewed stream of all time (for individual streams across both Twitch and YouTube).
Beyond the Dream SMP, Dream has taken part in content by some of the biggest YouTubers. He played Among Us with PewDiePie and is a regular guest on Mr Beast’s gaming channel (which has over 20 million subscribers). Another notable collaboration was with Notch, the creator of Minecraft, who was a guest on Dream’s primary channel.
It’s worth noting that Dream’s collaborative approach has had a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ result. With his frequent collaborators experiencing exponential growth:
In spite of being one of the most popular MineCraft creators on the planet, we actually don’t know much about Dream. He’s never revealed his face. Given some online sleuthing many fans assume his first name is ‘Clay’. However, it’s all just speculation. Dream rarely overtly discusses his personal life and very few tidbits have been gleaned from his videos.
Instead, fans know him by the name Dream and his simple, smiling green and white, avatar. As a result, this has fueled speculation amongst fans – who is he really? Dream has added fuel to the fire by teasing a ‘face reveal’ on multiple occasions.
The curiosity this anonymity sparks is a powerful tool. One that taps into our deep rooted psychology to peak interest and drive more engagement.
According to a paper by George Loewenstein, co-director of the Center for Behavioral Decision Research at Carnegie Mellon University, curiosity is, “a form of cognitively-induced deprivation”.
Because of the feeling of ‘deprivation’ induced by curiosity we are compelled to satiate ourselves with answers. Historically, the pursuit of closing gaps in knowledge was a matter of life or death. Something that evolved as a means for survival.
According to studies by Kidd & Hayden
‘We evolved in a way that makes us attracted to missing information, or to things that we do not know… knowing information is adaptive for animals’ survival… You need to know where the food is, who is reliable, etc.’ The curiosity that drives us to learn the solution to a detective story can be understood as ‘a generalization of the basic motivation to seek information’
In short, curiosity and intrigue spark us to seek out answers. In Dreams’ case, his anonymity has whipped fans up into a ravenous state. They’re constantly seeking out more information about him. They continue to watch him in order to, consciously or unconsciously, discover the answer to the question… who is Dream?
So, what can you learn from Dream?
How can you apply his strategies to your own efforts?
Munger the 97 year old billionaire investor once said, “in my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.”
The one thing underlying Dream’s approach is his voracious appetite for reading and learning. There were no shortcuts. He sat down and put in a year’s effort of reading over 200 books to truly master the ins and outs of social. He constantly seeks out knowledge and self improvement. And it paid off massively.
Dream is living his dream.
Are you willing to put in the effort to pursue yours?