Video Games Future: They’re being played for you

>Most gamers nowadays know what a “Let’s Play” (LP) is: a video or series of screenshots of someone playing a video game, with the person commentating on the game in audio or text form. Ever since video games were invented, people have been watching other play them, which used to be as simple as looking over a friend’s shoulder while they tried out the new Mario game or whatever. Now, with the help of the internet, the “friends” looking over your shoulder could number in the millions– and game companies are starting to take notice.

A Let’s Play isn’t just about playing a game and posting a video online. The way a Let’s Player plays a game is like another show to go alongside the game itself, and their commentary is the key to their popularity. Some LPers play terrible games, taking the hit so the audience doesn’t have to suffer through playing them; some play games they’ve never played before so the audience can get their first reactions. Some give humorous commentary, others thoughtful and informative analysis, and still others form new narratives, such as giving a personality to a silent protagonist which effects their actions throughout the game. My personal favorite LPs are the ones where people simply play their favorites. You can feel their love for the game shining through their commentary, and it can introduce you to a wonderful new game or let you see an old game in a new light.

images (4)Youtube is a hotspot for Let’s Players of all sorts, ranging from some guy fooling around with an emulator and Windows Movie Maker to full-fledged professionals who actually play video games for a living (now there’s a dream job). They’re paid in ad revenue from Youtube, so the more popular their videos are, the more money they earn.

And they can get very popular. Believe it or not, the most subscribed Youtube channel isn’t a collection of cat videos. It’s a collection of guy-screaming-at-video-game videos.

PewDiePie plays survivor horror game Outlast– note how his reactions are part of the show. (Pinterest)

Known online as “PewDiePie“, this London-based Let’s Player has over 27 million subscribers, more than anyone else on Youtube. According to this article, PewDiePie makes $4 million a year with his videos. Yes, that’s “million.” With an M.

And video game companies definitely take advantage of that. PewDiePie and other famous Let’s Players get dibs on pretty much every new release, hopefully increasing sales by playing them in front of their millions of viewers. The jury’s still out on whether Let’s Playing really does make more people buy new games, but I will say that while I used to look up online reviews before deciding to buy a game, I now check to see if my favorite LPers have covered it. Getting to see the game being played by an actual person really helps my decision.

What interests me most about Let’s Play’s, though, is that they can promote games that aren’t new releases. I’ve seen some popular LPers play some Ace Attorney or Earthbound and have their videos filled with comments like, “You made this game look so great I bought it for myself!” It’s like they’re passing on these classics to a whole new audience. This can even go so far as to promote foreign games, and that brings me to the story of Danganronpa.

Danganronpa was a Japanese adventure/murder mystery game released in 2010. It passed the West quietly by, like many Japan-only games are wont to do, until one fan became saddened that he was unable to discuss the game with his English-speaking friends. Since he was a member of Something Awful, the site that popularized the internet Let’s Play in the first place, this fan, user “orenronen,” decided to make a Danganronpa LP and throw it up on the forums to see what people thought. This involved translating the entire text-heavy game to English singlehandedly, a notable accomplishment in its own right.

It was worth it.

Danganronpa promotional art.

Within the first few hours, orenronen’s thread (archived here) had drawn hundreds of replies. Word spread about this cool-looking game, and people outside of Something Awful began to trickle in. Then somehow the thread hit Tumblr and, well, everything exploded from there. Having been on Tumblr at the height of its popularity, I can attest that Danganronpa was impossible to escape.

Danganronpa had been released in 2010 without even a whisper of Western localization. And then, as the height of the LP reached its peak in 2013, both Danganronpa and its sequel were announced for a U.S. release. Coincidence?

Well, maybe. There’s no official confirmation that the LP made the developers change their minds. Still, it ensured the existence of a fanbase that was ready and willing to buy the game once it came to Western shores.

The biggest criticism of Let’s Plays nowadays is that they make people less likely to buy the games, since they can just watch them online for free. I would point to Danganronpa as a rebuttal to that. That’s the power of an LP.

And that’s why my favorites are the ones where people play their favorites. Promoting a game you love is worth more than money.