Minecraft has turned into a gold mine for twin brothers from Co Meath. Ryan and Scott Fitzsimons, 25, each earned €1m in 2015 from posting videos of themselves playing the computer game on their YouTube channel.
Minecraft, in which players build structures using Lego-like blocks and fight zombies and skeletons using swords and pitchforks, has sold more than 100m copies and has 40m regular users. Minecraft hosting, which means to run your own Minecraft server, allows users to play the game exactly as they wish to by growing their community and building their world free from the restrictions of the regular game. Players from all over the world can join the adventure on an indivudal’s server, and even children can administer their own Minecraft server.
The brothers have attracted 2.87m subscribers to Littlelizardgaming: Minecraft Mods, the YouTube channel they created in June 2012. Their videos, which feature amusing voiceovers by the brothers while they go on Minecraft adventures, have had more than 1.5bn views. In the Minecraft universe, Ryan’s avatar is known as Little Lizard while Scott is Tiny Turtle.
As Minecraft is an open-source game, the brothers tend to play modified versions, transplanting their characters into worlds inspired by other computer games or films, such as Jurassic Park or Pokémon. They make their money from advertising revenue, branded merchandise, and direct payments from YouTube of €2-€5 for every 1,000 monetised views. Videos become monetised when YouTube sells advertisements around them, and shares the revenue with the content creator.
Accounts filed shortly before Christmas by the brothers’ company, Little Lizard Ltd, show retained profits of €351,842 at the end of 2015 after paying out more than €2m in salaries. The previous year, the company paid out €340,000 in salaries. The brothers own 100% of Little Lizard through a holding company, while their mother, Janet, is company secretary.
Unlike tech giants such as Google, owner of YouTube, and Microsoft, which bought Minecraft’s parent company for €2.37bn in 2014, the brothers forfeited a large portion of their salaries to Revenue. The company paid €669,244 in PAYE and €34,491 in corporation tax in 2015.
The brothers, who studied game development in college but dropped out to make videos full time, produce 10 to 20 videos a week. Their 21-year-old sister Kelly now has her own YouTube channel, with more than 1.6m subscribers, and has set up a company, Kelfit Entertainment, to handle her earnings.
The brothers declined to comment last week. While company accounts list their address as Ashbourne, Co Meath, they film videos from a rented €10,000-a-month house in Malahide, Co Dublin. One of their neighbours is the writer Cecelia Ahern. The 800 sq metre home includes an indoor swimming pool, bar, games room and cinema.
The most popular Irish YouTuber is Jacksepticeye, real name Seán McLoughlin, with almost 14m subscribers. His Irish company, Boss Entertainment, reported profits of €1.15m in 2015.
YouTube says more than 3m “content creators” in Europe are making money from its site by posting videos. It claims advertising revenues are growing by 50% a year.