Today I’m going to talk about the importance of Let’s Play videos in the video game industry. For those not aware: Let’s Play videos are partial or whole playthroughs of a video game created by content creators from Youtube or other sites, which combine some variation of unique commentary, critique, interaction with the game, reactions to events, and other representations of individual experience. Popular Let’s Players often incorporate humor as well, share background about the game, or in some other fashion contribute to the overall experience considerably for those watching through their personality and expertise. Each Let’s Play represents a fundamentally unique experience which is mostly about what the content creator brings to the table. Because of this, Let’s Plays are generally considered in the United States to fall under the protection of “Fair Use” doctrine.
(DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, nor have I gone to law school. My views are based on my reading of copyright law and Fair Use, and should not in any way be construed as legal advice.)
Though they were once commonly contested through copyright claims by game developers and publishers, many companies have come around to the realization that Let’s Play videos effectively provide free advertising. The reason it took so many years for them to stop fighting these video series is that many corporations are still stuck in the old media antiquated method of advertising where you throw a ton of money at it, control the narrative strictly, and saturate the market with your “message”. Loud, repetitive, un-creative advertising used to work, though I suspect that people only accepted it begrudgingly for the most part. Young people, however, are tired of that type of marketing. This is why organic marketing is becoming more popular, because it is unobtrusive and relies on the quality of the product to be high, otherwise the person promoting it risks losing credibility with their audience.
Let’s Plays are a perfect example of that. I can watch a video of someone playing a game and get a very good idea of that game’s mechanics, style, graphics, gameplay, and everything else. I can’t experience the game directly, but I can get a good idea of what it’s like. If the game is good, I’ll be more likely to play it. If it’s bad, I’ll be less likely to play it. If you’re a game company which is okay with having your work speak for itself, this is ideal. Many indie companies have had their game massively boosted by this type of marketing without paying for any of it. If on the other hand you’re the type of game company which, traditionally, has relied on marketing to push sales rather than focusing on making sure games are finished, complete, and not plagued by bugs, then you probably aren’t fond of Let’s Plays. In the recent years, this has become apparent as more advertising money has flowed from traditional media to Youtube and other online media platforms. Many large companies are still trying to emulate the organic marketing successes of indie games which have generated tremendous sales numbers on the back of Let’s Plays, though often refuse to change their business practices while doing so.
Unfortunately, most of the game industry has developed terribly problematic behaviors. Games which are called “Triple A” are pushed out with game-breaking bugs. Games which previously would’ve cost sixty dollars are having a third of the content cut out and sold for the same price, with DLC for the other third, or cut into “episodes” and sold for much more than it would have cost in the first place. More and more content is gated behind some form of additional paywall. Advertising is often more or less unrepresentative of how the game will actually look or be. Game companies time and time again display anti-consumer tendencies. Budgets are bloated and companies expect every game to be their best seller, even when they put out a game which is buggy and bad.
Marketing should be a pretty obvious fix, at least in my opinion. Most big game companies overspend on advertising out of necessity because they utilize mostly traditional advertising methods which likely aren’t having the effect that they convince themselves is occurring. The thing about traditional advertising is you have zero reason to believe that each view correlates to someone interested in what’s being advertised to them. When it comes to organic marketing through a content creator, viewers trust the person and their expertise, and thus they are much more likely to be engaged with what’s being said. This necessitates that the content creator be sincere in their promotion, that they be allowed to speak their mind openly and honestly, and that it not be obtrusive in nature. Many big companies still don’t get that, and metaphorically shoot themselves in the foot by trying to control the creative process to the point that it becomes irritating to the content creator, which makes it even more obvious to the audience that it’s not legitimate and sincere. This is why many people who watch Youtube videos regularly are very hesitant about sponsored videos, because past examples of it have been overly controlled by the companies behind said products.
Youtube ad revenue for all but medium/large to large channels is so little that it isn’t enough to fund the production of content, so sponsored videos and other sources of revenue are often necessary for the people who create the art that we all enjoy. The simple fact is that making videos for Youtube takes time, energy, effort, and for many people it pays nothing or very very little. People, content creators included, need to eat and have a roof over their head, especially if you want them to keep making videos. Direct sponsorship, when done in a sincere and honest fashion, can be a great benefit to both content creators and game companies. Game companies could reach huge audiences simply by taking money from traditional advertising to put into online marketing through content creators and into finishing their games. Most people go to Youtube now to find out about new games. If game companies pay a large amount of Youtubers across many demographics to play their game, and it’s good, and the video isn’t constrained by companies attempting to control the message, then everyone can benefit. Content creators get paid to do what they do. Audiences get good videos and good games. And game companies save money on marketing and gain the benefit of good public relations due to people no longer hating their anti-consumer business tactics.
This goes for all organic marketing with content creators online, whether on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, or anywhere else. You don’t want to undermine the person’s trust with their audience because it’s counterproductive to the basic goal of marketing, which is to positively promote something. Word of mouth travels instantaneously now: the old adage of “No p.r. is bad p.r.” simply is not true anymore, if it ever was. Consumers are becoming more resistant to these negative practices every day, and the companies which refuse to adapt to the changing times are unlikely to be successful in the future.
Just wanted to add: everyone should know that FTC regulations state that if you are paid by a company to advertise a product, even through commission, whether on Youtube or Twitter or elsewhere, you are expected to disclose it. FTC guide here: