Hollow Earth

The Impact of Let’s Plays

This topic has been on my mind for a long time now. Dinnerbone wrote about it and reddit’s been discussing it. So I’m finally finishing the post I started nearly a year ago. Mother of God. Anyhow, what is the role of a fan’s Let’s Play (LP) series and what makes a series beneficial to a game? Let’s start with the results of the poll I did all-too-long-ago:

  • 40% said their interest in a game increased by watching LPs.
  • 40% said they didn’t watch LPs.
  • 15% said LPs did not increase their interest and they already knew what game they wanted.
  • 5% said they did watch and LPs showed best practices for the game
  • No one said a LP decreased their interest in a game.

I would argue that all the responses are, in practice, true. LPs have a value in showcasing the game for both new and existing players. Depending on the player’s exposure to the game, they may or may not watch a LP (for example, if you already know what game you’re buying, you may not be curious in a LP about that game).

Before we get into the responses, it’s important to discuss what a good LP involves. Here are the core traits all good LPs seem to share:

  • Engaging presenter
  • Interest in game
  • Humor
  • Dedication to game

The presenter is key. In fact, you’ll notice the traits listed are purely presenter traits. I would argue that most people watch LPs for the presenter, not the game. While viewers may watch for information on the game, they can get that information anywhere. What people look for in LPs is watching someone else playing the game. To that end, an engaging presenter is important. LP presenters like Kurtjmac and Etho keep people interested because of their engaging personality. Often, the person can be totally disconnected from the series they are known for and still garner attention because the game is not what people come for.

Notice that seriousness is not on that list. That’s important because often LPs that do not take the game so seriously are often more enjoyable to watch (compare a LP where the presenter yells and vents about his in-game death versus a LP where the presenter falls to his death laughing because he was pushed off a cliff by a chicken). Chinchilla Dave, and Star are examples of entertaining LP presenters that do not take themselves or the games they play too seriously.

Now let’s look at the effects a LP can have:

  • Increase Interest
  • Show Best Practices
  • Decrease Interest

Let’s Plays increase interest: Overall, this is how my experience has gone with Let’s Plays. Watching Coe’s Quest was a big factor in my purchase of Minecraft. The fact that it was cheap was also important, but seeing another person go through the game’s world made it a lot easier to see myself in that world too and thus become more engaged and more willing to purchase the game. Similarly, I’ve recently started watching Chinchilla Dave’s Skyrim videos. While these are not full “start to finish” Let’s Plays and more “funny videos of gameplay” it shows the game world, some of its quirks, and general mechanics (combat, puzzles, inventory space… and how cheese can fill said inventory space…). Skyrim is an interesting game when it comes to the impact of Let’s Plays and I’ll come back to it later.

Let’s Plays show best practices: Most Let’s Plays will have spoilers of some kind since a “start to finish” Let’s Play will go from the beginning to the end linearly, the viewer is expected to keep up with the story or be watching after they have completed that section of the game. Again, Coe’s Let’s Plays are a good example of this. Early videos (and later videos after important updates) served as a way to educate new players on Minecraft’s game elements, crafting recipes, and combat. Similarly, Let’s Plays of RPGs may help showcase alternate quest lines, hidden easter eggs, or tactics in combat that are useful for newer players.

Let’s Plays decrease interest: No one responded that they were actually put off from a game thanks to a Let’s Play and I wouldn’t have spent much time on this response but for one Let’s Play in particular. When Skyrim first came out, I was interested in looking up some Let’s Plays to check out the game and see if it lived up to the hype. I found a Let’s Play (whose name has been blessedly lost to me, else I’d be ranting about it all day) which seemed good enough. After several episodes, however, it devolved into this whiny kid complaining about dying to enemies clearly too strong to take on. A few more and the main quest is done and he’s complaining about how short the game is (Skyrim. Short. Mother of God.). Had I continued with that Let’s Play, there’s a good chance it would have put me off the game.

Let’s Plays are interesting things and they come in many flavors. I believe more creative games such as Minecraft are more conducive to Lets Plays because there is more than just the storyline to spend time on (when you’ve seen someone complete Skyrim’s main quest once you’ve pretty much seen them all). Still, it would be a mistake to say that Let’s Plays have to follow the same pattern. Far Lands or Bust is what I would consider a Let’s Play, but it’s not the traditional style like Etho’s Lab or Coe’s Quest. Let’s Plays are an evolving creative medium and people are always coming up with new ways to entertain.

But those are just my thoughts. What do you think of Let’s Plays?

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