Thoughts on the Gaming Industry: Let's Play

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Now, as both a reviewer *and* a Let's Player, I haven't really touched upon the subject, because... well, it hasn't really occurred to me all that much. But a recent blog post, drawn to my attention recently (http://indiegamr.com/are-those-lets-play-videos-bad-for-the-gaming-indus...) has given me a bit of an incentive to talk about this subject.

For those who aren't in the know, Let's Plays are pretty much a phenomenon of the internet. Sometimes they're informative, sometimes they're just some guys or gals dicking about on their microphones while playing a game, sometimes they're a humorous take on the game, but they all have one thing in common: They're meant to showcase a game, that player's opinion of it, and, in the higher class LPs found on the internet, give you information about the game, its creators, and things like hidden references and the things the game is based on. It's even spawned a sub-phenomenon, Retsupurae, where "bad" LPers (by the standards of certain communities) are mocked, sometimes with good humour, sometimes mercilessly.

Now, despite the writer claiming that his writings are more a comment on the game industry than Let's Plays, he unfortunately makes the Let's Plays the focus of his writing, claiming that the Let's Play in question (RealistReviewer's LP of The Witcher 2) made him feel like there was no point to buying a game, because he'd seen it all already (and thus was harming the game industry). I'd like to balance this out with some other comments.

Firstly, as many have noted, a Let's Play is not the same as playing the game yourself. Unless RealistReviewer has gone through multiple playthroughs to show the multiple plot-divergences in The Witcher 2 (He has not, to my knowledge), you do not know the whole game, and, even if it were a linear game, such as Fall of Cybertron, no LPer is going to capture the whole of a game's experience (for example, I bought Fall of Cybertron based upon an LP, and found that the mouse controls weren't actually that great out of the box... still a fairly enjoyable game, though!). Even though the writer has personally found the LP to have satisfied him, this is not always the case... in fact, this is often *not* the case, from what I can tell. The other arguments are interesting, and it is only here (and in the comments) that points about the game industry are made. We'll deal with that in a moment.

Secondly, if watching a Let's Play satisfies a player, then it is pretty clear that either the game itself doesn't have enough gameplay to satisfy a player, is not suited for a Let's Play (JRPGs in Video Let's Plays often fall under this category), or the player is not suited to the game (Not everybody, for example, is going to *want* to explore multiple plot paths in The Witcher 2. Myself, I enjoy doing such things, but that's me). Is this the fault of a Let's Play? No, not really.

So, we've already established some basic points. Let's deal with the summation of the argument near the end of the blog.

"I don’t have to pay $50 for a youtube-video" - This is, on the one hand, true. On the other, you will, as established, not get everything out of a YouTube video. Horror games are a prime example of this, with many Amnesia Let's Plays ruining the atmosphere of the game with sophomoric idiots screaming their heads off. Sometimes so much, you'd believe they were acting. It changes the game experience to something else. Sometimes, commentary can change the mood while you're watching (for example, with many YouTube Let's Plays, I feel frustration, not at the game, but at the LPer faffing around for the first twenty minutes instead of SEEING THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION IN FRONT OF HIM). Let's Plays, at their best, are complementary to the game. They give you guidance, amusement, and information. Sure, there are bad Let's Plays out there (oh, boy, are there bad Let's Plays out there...), but if you're watching one of those all the way through, what the hell were you thinking in the first place?

"I get to see everything in HD, no matter how bad my system is(even on mobile)" - This is a fair point, but if amazing graphics are your main reason for buying a game, I can't really help you. Nobody can help you. If the gameplay and story aren't carrying things, it's not really much of a game, is it?

"I don’t have to go through the hassle of installing a 10GB+ game" - This is a bit of a strawman, as it happens *once*, if you finish the game before uninstalling it.

"I can fast forward boring parts or skip parts" - If there are boring parts of the game itself, this is the fault of either the player or the game (most likely the game). If you're skipping parts, again, this is either a short attention span, or bad game design. Like many RPGs, The Witcher 2 has a lot of conversation, and a lot of walking around between places. If that's not for a player, that's not for a player, and there's nothing much that can be done about it.

"It’s just as rewarding as figuring out something by playing myself" - This, I feel, is the point at which I can firmly say "Yes, you're not the type of person for this game." If you, yourself, are agreeing with this statement about a Let's Play of a game being more satisfying than the game, and this is your reasoning, then you would have been wasting your money buying any puzzle game, roleplaying game, adventure game, and even many strategy games. It's harsh, but half the fun of these genres *is* working it out for yourself.

The rest of the article is sadly a bit of a strawman, as high viewing figures in one channel without comparison between sales and play-hours of a game are held up as cause for believing "Let's Plays hurt sales". For comparison, RealistReviewer has 6,000 odd subscribers, while, on Steam alone, a little over 11,000 players recommend The Witcher 2 to their friends... both statistics being largely meaningless, because of context. We know, for example, that The Witcher 2 had over 1.7 Million sales on the 30 May 2012, two weeks after release. Even if we were to assume that each subscriber to RealistReviewer's channel did *not* buy The Witcher 2 (an unlikely proposition), and that half the recommendations on Steam failed to gain a sale of The Witcher 2 (much more likely), The Witcher 2 would have lost... 500 sales. *If* these figures were correct. And if word of mouth, reviews, trailers, and the like meant nothing at all.

Let's Plays can inform players of a game, for good or for ill. For example, one can hear about how good or bad a game is from the more educated Let's Players out there, and this can inform your buying decision. If it's a good game shown off well, it is likely to interest you in the game (for example, I purchased Assassin's Creed based on Geop's excellent Let's Play of the same game, found at http://lparchive.org/Assassins-Creed/). A good game shown poorly (naming no names here, everyone interested in LPs has seen at least one bad Let's Play) will hopefully just lead you to look for a better Let's Player. A bad game, regardless of how good or bad the LPer is, will most likely dissuade you from having made a poor buying decision, and encouraged the company in question to step up their game.

In an age where trailers don't really tell us much, where boxart can sometimes not be representative of a game at all, and some reviews can be incredibly biased... Let's Plays can help inform a decision. Done well, they can even inform a games company exactly what people thought of their games, and can point out some objectively bad design decisions (2009's Scorpion Disfigured, for example, has an inhumanly terrible IR Vision filter and a gun reticle that is almost meaningless, due to the wild inaccuracy of all weapons... this is entirely visible in any Let's Play of the game, even a bad one). In short, Let's Plays, while being a legal grey area, do the game industry good, encouraging sales of good games that otherwise don't get any PR (for whatever reason), and discouraging sales of flawed or bad games. They're not much of a deciding factor for most gamers, but they aid the main means of encouraging games to be sold... word of mouth and public opinion.

 

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