Mark "Markiplier" Fischbach Talks Ending Unus Annus and Letting Go of Content

Mark "Markiplier" Fischbach has been a known quantity on YouTube for the past nine years, thanks to his soothing radio-quality voice, hilarious let's plays and numerous charitable acts. To date, Fischbach has more than 27 million subscribers on his main channel, but while speaking with Newsweek over Zoom recently, he said he'd have no problem giving it up if he had to.

"I personally am OK if my channel is gone tomorrow," Fischbach said. "I personally would be OK with that because I wouldn't stop as a creative individual, but I feel like a lot of people wouldn't say the same thing."

Late last year, Fischbach put that idea to the test with the launch of a highly experimental YouTube called Unus Annus. In collaboration with Ethan "CrankGameplays" Nestor-Darling and Amy "Peebles" Nelson, he uploaded 365 daily videos on a wide range of topics, including cooking with sex toys, learning to salsa dance and even a full-fledged mini-documentary about living in the wildnessness.

But, despite the fact that Unus Annus quickly amassed well over 4 million subscribers, Fischbach created the channel with the expressed purpose of letting it all go. From the start, he made it clear that Unus Annus would exist for just 12 months before being erased for good.

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Markiplier said goodbye to Unus Annus last month,. He spoke with Newseek about what it means to let go of content in the ever-changing world of YouTube. Unus Annus/Markiplier

In November, exactly one year from the date of the channel's creation, 1.5 million viewers tuned in for a 12-hour broadcast to watch the final seconds of Unus Annus. All the content is completely gone, but the memories and laughs remain.

"I just wanted to make something that was so good and fun that it would make it as hard as possible to let go of," Fischbach said. "Because that feeling for me was important, and it was important for people to realize that that feeling is important; and having proper ends for things on YouTube, or whatever internet platform you have, is important. Because so many things end without a proper end, and it's sad to see things fade away."

In the days following the end of Unus Annus, we spoke with Fischbach to unpack what it means to let go, his philosophy to content creation and his passionate desire to have a serious role in the upcoming Five Nights at Freddy's movie. This interview has been edited and condensed for the sake of clarity and length.

Where did the idea for Unus Annus come from? Was it something you saw other channels do?

No, I'd like to think this is something that's pretty original to YouTube. I had the idea because I felt like so many people on YouTube were attached to their content and wouldn't be willing to let go of it under any circumstance. And I feel like if you exist in a world where you can never let go of what you make, you will never move on as a creator or as a creative person. I wanted to make something that had a finite end date that people knew about from the start.

So when it came down to inspiration, it was really just about what could I make that I could be willing to let go of. And that's why I had to make it with someone else, because I wanted to do it as good as possible. I don't want to take the credit away from Ethan or Amy at all, because they were a huge part of making Unus Annus what it was, and it never would have been what it was without them. I didn't want to let go of anything specifically, I just wanted other people to embrace the idea of letting go.

What made Ethan the perfect partner for this?

Anyone who's seen the videos would see that Ethan has an energy to him that really works well. When it comes down to making content on a daily basis, you don't have time to script anything. Well, we did, but we barely had time to script a lot of our videos. The vast majority of videos—like 350 out of 365—were unscripted, just turn on a camera, see what happens.

It's not that other people couldn't have done that, but we had worked together. We had taken improv classes together. He also was capable of editing on his own, he had skills as a YouTuber. He's been working YouTube just about as long as I have, so it's just a combination of skill sets where I felt like, "OK this seems like a good partner."

And given that the videos were unscripted, how long did these shoots take?

On the short end, probably around 30 minutes. Probably the quickest video we ever did was about 20. Actually, the quickest video we ever did was 10 minutes, because we did a completely unedited video with no cuts, no nothing, which actually turned out very well.

It was very funny and people loved it, which was a bit of an insult to our editors. Because they were like, "Yeah, more videos should be like this," and all the hard work that our editors do [was] getting thrown out the window. If it was something bigger that we were doing, it could span a couple days, you know, just picking up pieces of it here and there, maybe accumulating about, on the top end, eight to 12 hours for a certain shoot. That's at the extreme outlier. Longer ones would take several hours, definitely.

Were you surprised by the audience it attracted, even though you and Ethan have many followers already?

Yes and no. I had expectations, of course, because I knew that some people would follow along from my previous channels. What I didn't expect was how strongly the fan base that developed [had] developed their own personality outside of either of our channels. It came to life of its own, and everyone who was a fan of it really embraced the message. They were onboard from the very beginning. For the majority of them, at the end, it was like pulling teeth getting rid of the channel.

But having the ability to let go and say goodbye for a lot of people is very meaningful, and it really developed this personality in the way they made jokes. They were so funny in the memes that they made. I was genuinely surprised at the type of audience that came out of this, and I am honored in a lot of ways, because I wasn't expecting it at all. I was expecting it to be kind of a mishmash of our both of our audiences, but it took on a life of its own.

And where do you expect those people to go now that the channel is gone?

I think that a lot of them have come back to watch my videos or Ethan's videos. But there's this philosophy in relationships that, between two people, you create a third separate personality that exists between those two people and it's unique to those people. And when you're away from those people, you don't have that personality anymore.

I think it went that way for this particular channel. When people were a part of it, they expressed, at least as much as they could online, a different personality. So when the channel went away, that part of them and that fan base, while it still lives on in the memory of Unus Annus, it kind of died with it. And not in a tragic way, either.

If you're asking where the people went, obviously they went all the places on YouTube, back to my channel or Ethan's channel, but the community that existed when Unus Annus existed, they are kind of a shadow of who they were.

In that vein, why was it important for you to have an audience? Couldn't you have done this experiment privately?

As a creative person, I could have done it by myself and it would have been a satisfying personal journey, but I do like the part of creation that makes people feel things. A lot of my projects are built around the idea of making people feel an emotion.

For this one, I wanted that sadness that was at the end of it. It's not a full sadness of tragedy, it's bittersweet in a way, because you say goodbye to something you love. You love something so much that it's awful to say goodbye to it. But you need that closure, you need it.

It's like opening and closing a book. The beginning of it was opening it, and at the end of it you close the book and you have that satisfaction [and] closure. I wanted people to feel that, because I really do think that more people should be willing to let go of what they make online. That is actually a philosophy that I have. I feel people get too attached to what they make, and trying to hold on to it prevents them, as a person, from growing. Making it a public project is important because I want people to see it, and I want people to see that people were, indeed, affected by it and it was successful.

It was a successful channel, and more important than that, it was impactful. Tons of people embraced it. That last livestream, there were 1.5 million people there at the same time. That number is staggering, and it only existed because of all the work we put into making Unus Annus special, and the people who wanted that closure, wanted to see if we dared to do what so many people wouldn't dare do.

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For Mark "Markiplier" Fischbach, content creation is a journey of self discovery. NY Times/Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

So you're saying if you're a YouTuber that's hyper-focused on one topic or game, maybe you shouldn't do that?

Yeah, absolutely. I don't want to say that everyone should give up on what they're doing and try something new right away, definitely not. But recognizing when you're holding on too tight is an important self-reflection moment, recognizing when you're hindering your own personal growth. If you ever ask yourself, "Am I doing this for me or am I doing this for my audience?" That's when you need to identify that this is a moment for you where you need to make a decision about whether or not you're going to continue with this in the same way, or try to evolve as a person, try to evolve as a creator.

It's not a black-and-white question of yes, you need to delete everything. You don't have to delete it, you can move on from it. You can try something new at the same time, or you can dedicate yourself fully to something else. There are many different ways to take it, but just accepting the idea that you can change, that you can do something else if you want to is all I really want people to know.

How did the creative process differ, knowing that the content wasn't permanent?

Honestly, it made us care about it more. It made us care about making it good more, because we knew that once it was up that was it. That's what people were going to remember, and the memory they were left with was all they were going to have. They're never going to be able to look back on it. We had some s**t videos, don't get me wrong, we had some real stinkers. But as time went on, especially towards the end, we got paranoid about the last videos we were going to make. We kept asking each other and ourselves, what are we gonna do to make this special? How are we gonna make these last videos count?

That feeling of the deadline, the end, knowing it was coming, was so much more motivating. Even if they were gonna be deleted, I put in more effort into the last few videos I edited for Unus Annus than any video I've edited for my channel, bar a very few. I was willing to pull all-nighters—and I pulled many—just to make sure the videos got out at the right time and they were of the right quality. When you've got the clock ticking down, you stop making excuses.

So how has that experience transferred over to your main channel now?

The main thing that I took away from it, because I've done videos like Unnus Annus on my channel before, is really just the approach of try anything, do anything, make anything. Take it as a challenge to make something unique out of something ordinary. With Unus Annus, we didn't have time to make extraordinary ideas, so we had to make ordinary ideas extraordinary, like trying to evolve concepts [and] heightening them just a little bit. I'm not saying I'm making gold out of lead, but it's just trying to push a little more into avenues that I don't usually do.

I feel very, very strongly that when you try something new, you will surprise yourself, and you learn something new about yourself, even if it was crap. Just committing to something is half the entire process.

So with that mindset, do you ever give SEO or search trends a thought when you make things?

I've never given a rat's a** about SEO, legitimately. There have been times when I've tried it and there have been times when I tried to do it right, but, at the end of the day, you always need to remember that your fan base is real people. And if you can make your fan base feel something, have an emotional connection to what you're doing, that will be infinitely more valuable than search engine optimization. Forgetting that there are real people watching is the start of the end of your channel.

I have been consistent in my time on YouTube, because I'm constantly changing what I do and never forgetting that the people who are watching don't know what they want to see. But when they see it and they love it, that's the most magical moment in the world.

You mean like your recent video about the brightest flashlight?

Exactly! If people saw that video and they're like, "OK are flashlights trending or something," it doesn't matter! It doesn't matter if they're trending!

I just asked "OK, how do I test these flashlights? Well, it's got to be dark, so what do I have that's dark? A closet that can be pitch black to test flashlights, that way I can really see what they look like." These are not incredible concepts. Trying to worry about what's trending or what's gonna be the next thing that's gonna get you on top of the algorithm makes you forget you're making videos because you want to make videos. I wanted to do a video where I just test flashlights in a cave basically.

A fan base that cherishes what you make is more valuable than being number one on trending. For example, I was just in the hospital and I made an update. Those videos were number one on trending because my fans care. They legitimately cared enough. They were talking about it, they were worried about me.

I'm not saying you need to make everyone love you. This is the internet, so what can it really be, but make them care about you as a person and not so much like videos that you make. I feel like YouTube people have forgotten that "You" is in the name. That means the people that are watching it, and the people that are making it.

Do you have any favorite Unus Annus videos that you really loved?

"Cooking with Sex Toys," the very first actual video that we put out, was such a delight. It really set the tone. I loved "Hunting HeeHoo," just because I edited that one. It was 14 hours straight editing, but what a video! The voice actor, Dave Pettitt—just a beautiful voice. I want to hire him for so many more projects. It came together, and no one was expecting it. No one was expecting us to make a full-fledged mini-documentary about me naked in the woods.

You can make a video about anything. So long as you can find a way to make people care about it and it's satisfying to you, that's good content! Just make stuff!

What would you say to the fans of Unus Annus who want something back from that right now?

I would say, it's perfectly normal to miss it, but If you want to bring it back, you didn't learn the lesson.

If they want it, couldn't they also make it themselves?

That's also very true, yeah. There's nothing stopping from someone else making a year-long commitment to do a channel and doing it. They could take every video that we did and redo those videos, and if they did it, it would be different because they made it. There's nothing stopping someone from making Unus Annus again for them.

So just to double down, no compilations, no returning footage?

Nope, nothing.

What's been the biggest challenge of making this channel?

The biggest challenge has been time and how the amount of work has affected the people around me, because it was a sacrifice. A year trying to do this and another channel and my other projects, every week for the past year has been like a 90-hour work week, probably.

Being that I'm only one person, it's draining. I'm motivated to do it, but the other people around me also suffer from it. I'm grateful to have time back, I think that's really the biggest point.

And what has been the biggest reward?

The biggest reward was to kind of have—"vindication" is too strong of a word, but confirmation that I was on the right track, that I wasn't crazy with this idea. Because so many people at the beginning were like, "This is stupid" or "This is nuts," or "This is so dumb." And then at the end of it, having that many people care was just so satisfying.

Have you given any thought to other unique projects or channel concepts you'd want to try next?

That would be a spoiler. I'll tell you this. I pretty much had my next idea before Unus Annus ended. I can't ever sit still with what I do. It's just who I am. I practice what I preach.

I'm ready to move on as soon as the needle drops. I can't wait to make the next thing. The only regret I have is that I don't have enough time to do all of it.

The Five Nights at Freddy's movie starts shooting next year. Would you want to be in that?

I'm up for anything! Get me in there, Scott, please! I would love to, I would love to. The only thing is I don't want to do a cameo. I want to actually be a part of it.

What are your thoughts on the end of Unus Annus? Do you agree with Markiplier's perspective that more YouTubers should be willing to let go of what they make? Tell us in the comments section!