How an avid fan community powers Noclip’s video production company
A filmmaker and video-game documentarian illuminates his strategies for building strong fan relationships, including community-oriented membership benefits that work.
In our Making the Leap series, creators who've turned a creative side project into a full-time business share a behind-the-scenes look at how they did it.
Danny O’Dwyer has been making videos on the internet with his friends since before YouTube was popular. It all started as a means to an end: landing a job at his favorite video game website, GameSpot UK. While the video making eventually did get Danny his dream job, it also gave him something he wasn’t expecting: his own enthusiastic fan base.
Years later, Danny’s deep relationship with his fans guided him to launch his own business called Noclip, producing video game documentaries, which allowed him full creative freedom. In 2016, Danny led his fans to Patreon, announcing that membership would allow his videos to remain ad-free with zero sponsorships from the gaming industry. Within hours of launching, Danny became one of Patreon’s highest-earning creators. Now with more than 4,000 paid members and nearly as many free members, Danny continues to build his empire as a video game journalist.
So, how did Danny get thousands of fans to become members? Here are some of his strategies for rewarding members, inviting fans to participate, and fostering community.
Fostering a vibrant community
“My fans are the only reason anything of mine exists,” Danny says. He explains that much of his career in the games press was spent making things that management didn’t think would work, but that passionate fans met with enthusiasm. “To have hundreds of thousands of people give me the thumbs up while the people around me were shaking their heads, kept me sane. Noclip was my dream, but my fans were the ones that made it a reality. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a passionate group of people around me. I don’t consider them ‘fans’ to be honest. I feel like we’re all part of a movement, and I’m just the one with the megaphone.”
Danny offers a couple rewards that support his community and bring him closer to his members. One is a space for his fans to all join in conversation with him, and with each other, through a members-only Discord server that he set up with a Patreon integration. At any paid level (starting at $5 a month), members can participate in this exclusive community.
"I don’t consider them ‘fans’ to be honest. I feel like we’re all part of a movement, and I’m just the one with the megaphone.”
“Enabling my patrons to chat with me directly via the Discord chat is an incredibly powerful tool for keeping me in contact with the people who matter the most to this project,” says Danny. “But much more than that, it encourages patrons to communicate with each other, allowing the bonds of our community to strengthen, even when I’m away somewhere on a shoot or fast asleep after a long day streaming.”
Another community reward that Danny offers? A monthly brainstorm meeting. For $20 a month, members get access to speak with Danny face-to-face during this live session, or watch the recording later. This is a meaningful way to reward higher-paying members with a very intimate experience that isn’t available to the public — and another way to build deep relationships with his community.
Offering exclusive, bonus content
Danny offers a variety of bonus content to members. Just as one would subscribe to Netflix for their favorite TV show, Danny’s members subscribe for exclusive, bonus content that provides a look into Danny’s creative process, which wouldn’t otherwise be seen by the public.
Some examples of special content Noclip members get access too:
- Exclusive making-of videos: All members get access to an archive of behind-the-scenes videos that reveal what it’s really like to be on a shoot.
- Q&A videos: Danny collects questions from members and films a video of himself answering them. This is a worthwhile reward for many creators to consider because it doesn’t take much extra work to plan and members get personalized answers to their burning questions.
- Pre-release unedited content with deleted scenes: For $10 a month members (and above), Noclip releases these videos as “early access” a week before the general public gets access, and includes unedited scenes that might be cut out for the final version. This reward option works well for film creators because, not only is it a privilege for members to receive the content before it’s released, it’s also a natural step in the creative process along the way to a final product.
“While the public enjoyed those [videos], our amazing patrons got access to much more: behind-the-scenes features showing how we produced each project, early access to all of our popular extended-cut interviews with people like Hugo Martin and Mick Gordon,” Danny explains, “not to mention all of the amazing conversations we’ve had on our Discord chat, and bunches of Q&A videos and Hangouts. We’re building a community here at Noclip, and we want you to be part of it.”
Adding members’ names to the film credits
Displaying the name of a patron on a work of art is an age-old tradition, dating all the way back to the Medici era. Now, in the world of digital media, highlighting members is still lucrative for creators.
Danny lists the names of his $30-a-month members, known as Executive Producers, near the top of the closing credits in his videos. When a member’s name appears in the credits of these videos that means it’s displayed to thousands of fans in the game community who follow Noclip on YouTube. And it’s a chance for Danny’s top fans to declare their commitment to his creative productions.
"We’re building a community here at Noclip, and we want you to be part of it.”
Inviting fans to join for free
Even when Noclip fans aren’t ready or able to pay for the exclusive content that comes with paid membership tiers, Danny still wants them to be able participate in his community and keep up to date on the latest releases. So, he welcomes his fans to join his Patreon for free. In exchange for signing up, they get access to any public posts, including his “Patron Show,” a video he has produced every month for the past seven years. In each episode, Danny details what member exclusives are on the horizon, as well as behind-the-scenes glimpses and other updates. Think of it as a “one-stop shop,” Danny says. “This is basically all you need to know for the month. It's basically the shareholder meeting of Patreon, where we like to justify what we're spending our time and their money on.”
For fans considering paying for Noclip’s membership, joining for free is a chance to get a window into the experience. And for the Noclip team, it’s a chance to bring more of their online community “into the fold” on Patreon. And for members who need to downgrade or pause their paid membership, free membership is a way to stay in close contact. In a post announcing free membership, Danny writes, “We believe that opening our doors a bit will allow more of you to stay in touch with what we're working on.”
To encourage his community to come together and take part in Noclip's journey, Danny has this message: “Let’s preserve gaming’s history. Let’s make entertaining docs about games. Let’s educate young designers and players,” he says. “I truly believe that together we can change games coverage forever.”