The EDE-model: Exploring, Developing and Established Creators


A while back, I posted a thing about “Why Grinding is bad for you” on r/youtubegaming, where I encouraged gaming creators to try different formats, instead of going for the first thing which comes to mind, which quite often is just a Let’s Play. To aid this discussion, I developed the EDE-model, which I wanted to expand on here.

The basic gist of the EDE model is that creators who just are starting out have much more freedoms on what they can do than big channels.

1. The Exploration Stage

At this first stage, a creator just made a channel with the intend to upload something, starting from 0 subscribers, 0 views and 0 videos, or something very close to this. This crucially means the following:

  • Nobody has any expectations on what this channel is going to upload. Because of this, the creator has the tough fate of complete creative freedom where they can do anything.
  • Typical channel recommendations (“upload on a schedule! stick to formats! consistency is king!”) aren’t really applicable yet, because they’re strategies which optimize for existing subscribers and thus require some degree of following to be effective.

My advice for creators at this stage would be to try anything that’s vaguely interesting to them. To not get started doing regular formats and series just yet, but just try everything they always wanted to try. To create as if view counts and subscriber counts don’t exist.

This freedom is not something which you really get later on in the process, at least not without alienating vast portions of your audience.

2. The Development Stage

At this stage, the creator probably has made a few dozen videos (depending on the type of content and effort which went into each individual video), and figured out which kinds of content they want to do more of, as well as which kinds of content they don’t like doing. With the experience they’ve gathered in the Exploration stage, they probably also have considerably better video making skills and equipment than in the very beginning, and possibly already have gotten feedback from friends and family on which videos were nice to watch and which ones didn’t work out as intended.

Based on this, the creator now can start transitioning towards doing what established channels do, namely:

  • Find a niche to be in
  • Develop formats and serial content which can be uploaded on a regular schedule
  • Start putting more care into marketing, ie SEO and good thumbnails/titles

If a developing creator and finds their initial niche to be a dead end for whatever reason – too much effort per video, copyright trouble, getting bored of it – it’s completely fine to go back to exploring other options. This is where it comes in handy to have had this exploration stage beforehand, so they already know what they’d also want to do and come up with a somewhat thought out plan on how to transition between the niches.

But, if you’ve found your idea to be sustainable and fun, you can continue on your path and eventually reach…

3. The Established Stage

At this stage, the creator has probably made hundreds of videos, and is decently well known in their niche. This also is the stage where fans start to become a significant force, be it for promotion, merch sales or patreon stuff. Micro-optimizations can become surprisingly powerful here.

Since their channel probably generates some decent amount of money one way or the other, the creator can invest into the channel much more, be it through buying better equipment, dedicating more time to the channel that they otherwise would be working on a “real” job, or getting opportunities which smaller YouTubers just don’t get. Note though that the money doesn’t come on its own, but drags a whole tail of bureaucracy behind it.

The niche they live in is pretty set in stone and difficult to escape from without losing a lot of attention from subscribers. That said, it sometimes can be very necessary to pivot even as an established creator, eg. if the niche they’re in is very small and/or shrinking, causing the channel to stagnate. Further, because the fans and subscribers have very strong expectations of the channel, it can become increasingly difficult to meet these expectations.

Which isn’t to say that an established creator has a worse fate than someone in one of the other stages; there’s a reason why all the bigger YouTubers can be found in this category. It’s just that it comes with a different set of challenges than a small one, so it’s not like the moment you become established, all your trouble will go away.

Why this model can be useful

Often, creators who start out have a fairly concrete idea of what they want to do, so they skip the exploration stage and then go straight for the development stage. And while this may work, it often times leads to this “small YouTuber mentality”, in which the creator “grinds” out videos day after day or week after week, without getting anywhere, and the advice from peers being “just keep at it, do these micro-optimizations and hope that the algorithm picks you up eventually”.

The problem I have with this mentality is that it reduces something which can be very much fulfilling – video production and the creative process in general – into a 9-5 kinda job in which the modus operandi is “preservere against the odds”, and this job doesn’t even pay well.

My hope is that this model encourages people to pursue extreme levels of creativity at first, and once they know where their creative preferences lie, start making a channel geared towards success.