Cost of Admission
Edward Centeno was beaten in the face by a stranger with a metal baton in January 2017. His maxilla (the bone that holds your teeth) was fractured. He lost one tooth and another is now left crooked. Centeno didn’t know it yet, but it was the best worst thing to happen to him. The months following saw Centeno nursing a split lip that would eventually require plastic surgery. “I was just so depressed, I couldn’t do nothing.”
Centeno filled up his free time with screen time, falling down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos about arcades and carnivals. From secrets of how certain games work to tips on how to win lots of tickets, “I was also just watching lots of claw machine videos. Then I was like, why am I always watching claw machine videos?” While his lip was healing, he mentioned to his girlfriend, Nicole, that not a lot of YouTubers made videos in the arcade niche. “Only like PG-13 type people were making these videos, no punk rockers. Nobody like us. We should make these types of videos and if we cater to more adults, people will follow us.”
Centeno and Nicole started a joint YouTube channel of their own called Arcade Craniacs, for their videos consisting of mainly claw machine gameplay. “You don’t have to be a kid to play arcade games. When the carnival came to town, since there’s only really five to six different channels in the arcade community, we decided to try filming carnival game videos as well.”
Their carnival video was the first to really pull in new viewers to the channel. They added carnival videos to their niche and YouTube subscribers continued to trickle in. “It was a simple title, no one had really done it yet. Since the arcade community is quite small, we quickly began to stick out as different by catering our video toward adults who enjoyed claw machine and arcade videos.”
The couple continued to make these types of videos without much thought or schedule, posting once every three weeks or so. “I didn’t try at all in the beginning and that’s one of my biggest regrets. I wasn’t looking at numbers either. Both of us didn’t really care about analytics back then.”
Centeno didn’t have a camera, he shot and edited all of his videos on an iPhone. “I did that all the way to our first 100,000 subscribers. I always tell people, you don’t need an expensive camera. Have really good content and you’re solid.” It would take him less than 30 minutes to edit his videos, just throwing and cutting the clips up in iMovie.
Around August of 2017, Arcade Craniacs got monetized on YouTube, allowing them to start making money directly from their videos. “That’s when I kind of took it more seriously.” Two years of moderate YouTube success followed featuring lots of arcade videos that boosted Centeno and Nicole to over 200,000 subscribers in 2020.
In April 2020, with Covid-19 shutting down arcades and carnivals worldwide, the channel began to look bleak and Centeno worried for their channel’s future. “Before the pandemic, we were pulling like 40,000-50,000 views and that was really good for us. But when we ran out of finished videos to publish, we were devastated and our channel started dying.” Months prior, Arcade Craniacs was pulling in well over 30,000 subscribers a month, but by June 2020 they saw their channel fail to pull in more than 2,000 subscribers that month.
YouTube livestreams with dedicated fans began to stir up some support and gave the couple some new content ideas. Centeno had been building a following on his TikTok and began to use it to promote people back to their YouTube. They tried mystery boxes and couple challenges and had some success averaging 60,000-70,000 views on YouTube that mainly came from Centeno’s TikTok. “It was alright but I felt like it was kind of cheating, and the channel still felt really dead.”
Charles E. Cheese Is Going Broke?
One day in July of 2020, there was rumors on Twitter about Chuck. E. Cheese going bankrupt because of the pandemic. Centeno has always been a huge fan of the rodent-animatronic run pizza arcade. So much so that his family nicknamed him “Chucky”!
Centeno mentioned the rumors to Nicole who also managed a second YouTube channel featured around her. They filmed a few videos about Chuck E. Cheese and noticed a huge spike in views on her channel. It was decided that they should try and make a Chuck E. Cheese video for the main channel, and as it turned out that video started the transition to their current content.
The Ironic License
A “3 a.m.” YouTube video is known as a clickbait tactic that was popularized by infamous prank YouTubers. Lying to the viewer about the video’s true contents with a title like, “OH MY GOD – OBAMA CALLED ME AT 3 A.M.???” was a consistent enough success quality that it created a small community of 3 a.m. YouTubers who solely made content with “3 a.m.” in the YouTube video’s title.
To an outsider, it’s easy to mistake an Arcade Craniacs video as one of these serious 3 a.m. videos that is trying to convince viewers to click on the video by lying to them. But what makes their channel different is that none of their videos are technically lies. Arcade Craniacs have perfected a unique flavor of humor that can only be described as ‘ironic clickbait movies’.
Tony Zaret has a similar approach to his comedy, creating skits and sketches where the point is to make the viewer question if the video is ironic or not. Riding that fine line of ironic humor on the internet is a difficult to balance on, but Arcade Craniacs is one of the rare creators to have definitely figured it out.
The first clip from the video above where a drone camera shot catches a red imposter from Among Us skateboarding recently blew up on Instagram as popular video on repost meme accounts. The more eye-catching and unbelievable the title and thumbnail, the more this challenges the couple to be more creative and ultimately produce higher quality films.
Other platforms and viewers unaware of the psyche of these two creators often make fun of the couple, unaware of their true creative intentions. Whereas their YouTube audience is in on the joke that the title and thumbnails are as clickbait heavy as possible. The quality of acting, detailed costumes, and semi-realistic props helps create a cinematic universe that fans unironically enjoy around the publicly disliked 3 a.m. YouTube niche.
This new style of content has most importantly tremendously increased their channel’s growth, pushing the channel to over 1.3 million subscribers. Centeno says that finding a niche was the key to amassing his following. “Let’s talk about 3 a.m. videos. Is there competition? No. Can you get views? Yes. You wanna stay in something where you know there’s not much competition. Video games and makeup? Forget about it. “
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.