In the Internet gaming world, Mark Fischbach, 24, is a bona fide celebrity. Since April 2012, the University of Cincinnati senior, who goes by the alias Markiplier, has built a YouTube subscriber base of more than 600,000 users—a number that increases by approximately 100,000 every month. Fischbach posts daily videos of himself playing computer games, typically in the horror genre. While guiding his characters through blood-spattered haunted houses and grim landscapes, he reacts to the games as the action unfolds, letting out bloodcurdling screams and an encyclopedic array of expletives.
True, it is oddly enjoyable to watch the bespectacled Fischbach shrieking in mock-mortal terror. But that’s not the only reason he’s built a large and loyal fan base: Since July 2012, Fischbach has held monthly livestreams for charities, in which he sets a fundraising goal and plays continually until that goal is met. In July 2012, with a subscriber base of 2000, he gamed for 24 hours straight before meeting his target of $1000 for Child’s Play, a charity that delivers games and toys to hospitalized children; in February 2013, it took just under 9 hours to raise $8047 for the Cancer Research Institute (CRI). Fischbach, who lost his father to lung cancer in 2008, remains dedicated to mobilizing his fans to do good, particularly in the fight against cancer for which he’s raised nearly $35,000. “Everyone wants to help, they just need an avenue to do it,” says Fischbach. “I’m hoping that other people are going to take this as an example.”
CRI: How would you describe your videos?
Mark: Complete silliness. That’s the only way to describe them. It’s just complete nonsense. I don’t even know half the stuff that comes out of my mouth—usually colorful combinations of curse words.
CRI: Why did start filming yourself gaming?
Mark: I’ve been playing games since I was a kid. I don’t remember a time when I went without it. Recently, Let’s Play—which is where people play games and make commentary and upload it to YouTube for people to watch—caught on, so I decided to give it a try in April 2012. I actually want to go into voice acting, so in the beginning, I thought if I was being loud for 45-minutes every day, I could exercise my voice. But then people started really liking the videos, so I kind of threw myself into it 100 percent and it grew into something bigger.
CRI: What kinds of games do your fans like the most?
Mark: People like horror games more than anything else. They may not want to play them because they’re too scary, but they definitely like watching someone else be scared.
CRI: When did you decide that your bloodcurdling screams could be a potent fundraising tool?
Mark: Well, at Comic-Con in San Diego in July, some fans approached me. I only had 2000 subscribers then, and I was amazed that anyone would want to meet me. So I started thinking about the sort of people who are watching it [my channel], and how I can affect them. I knew I could just do this for myself or I could make sure that other people get help, too. So I did my first charity livestream, just to test the waters. I tried to raise $1000 in 24 hours, and I barely made it. It’s rough trying to be entertaining for 24 hours straight. I was pretty grumpy at the end of it, but it worked out well.
CRI: What’s going on in your head during a 24-hour livestream?
Mark: Mostly, I’m just thinking about how badly I want to quit. It’s pretty grueling, but I haven’t had to go 24 hours in a long time. Last month, we raised $10,000 in under 6 hours, and we raised the $8000 for Cancer Research Institute in about 9 hours, so you can see how quickly this thing is growing. We’ve been raising the goal every single month.
CRI: How did you go from 2000 subscribers in July 2012 to more than 600,000 by July 2013?
Mark: It was really slow in the beginning, really slow. I think I hit about 5000 in September. In between then and October, I hit somewhere around 10,000, and then it picked up pretty quickly. Exponential growth is pretty much an apt description. It started doubling; then it started more than doubling. I hit 50,000 [subscribers] in December and then 100,000 in late January. In March, it was almost 200,000,so it’s been growing insanely fast.
CRI: The majority of your fundraising has been for cancer charities. Why is that?
Mark: My dad died of cancer on July 4 of 2008, so it [the disease has] affected me personally. He [my dad] was the guy who raised me. My parents divorced at young age, so me and my brother were with our father. He died of lung cancer. He also had some bone cancer. It [the cancer] was spreading pretty bad.
My dad’s been an inspiration for what me and my brother do. My brother has a webcomic, so he also makes his living off the Internet. My dad was an Army guy for 24 years and has always been big on technology. He taught me and my brother everything we needed to know about computers. He would build computers, and that was during the time where you actually needed to solder in components. It’s easy now because everything’s just plug-and-play, but he really knew his stuff.
CRI: Why did you choose to raise money for CRI?
Mark: I looked for reputable charities and saw the Cancer Research Institute was highly rated. I learned about what CRI is doing and a lot about immunology research that’s going on. Me personally, I think that’s the best avenue for potential cancer treatments.
CRI: Let’s say someone reads this interview and wants to follow in your footsteps. Any advice as to how he or she could use YouTube as a fundraising platform?
Mark: It’s really hard to get your channel noticed. The first few months is like learning to do a job: You’re not getting rewarded for it in any way. You don’t have that many people [following you]. I worked about 10-12 hours every single day when I was first starting. I would leap out of bed and check my YouTube. I would read every single comment and answer every single message I got. And I would try to personally thank anyone that subscribed to my channel. You’ve got to connect on a personal level to the people who believe in you. If they know that you’re a real person that really wants to do some good and isn’t out there just for himself, then that’s when they’re going to tell their friends about it, and that’s when you’re going to bring more people in. Most YouTube channels grow because of word of mouth.
CRI: You post new content daily. What role does consistency play in your success?
Mark: You have to give people a reason to come back. A lot of channels post videos weekly and that’s fine, but there are ix days out of the week where you’ve got nothing to show. It’s harder to keep people’s attention. If you do a weekly video, stick to that schedule. I’ve never missed uploading a video on a day. I’d say I now dedicate 3-4 hours to the channel every day.
CRI: Do you have any advice about how to pick a charity to fundraise for?
Mark: It’s got to be something you’re passionate about. The way cancer connects with me, that really resonates with people, because I have a personal connection to it. But at the same time, everyone has a personal connection to some cause. Use that [personal connection] to your advantage, without exploiting it. Tell your story while you’re doing livestreams. I get e-mails all the time while I’m doing [charity livestreams] from people who write long paragraphs about how they were personally affected by [cancer], and that also resonates with the people who are watching. Even if they’re not affected by it personally, they can sympathize.
CRI: As of July 2013, you have raised nearly $80,000 for charity. What is it like knowing that you have the capacity to mobilize so many people for meaningful causes?
Mark: It should feel pretty daunting, but I’ve never really been intimidated by it. I’m proud more than anything. It just proves that everyone wants to help, they just need an avenue to do it. So if I can give ‘em a link to donate a few bucks and 10,000 people donate a few bucks, that’s a lot of money for charity.
You can watch Mark's video commemorating his livestream charity event for the Cancer Research Institute here: