I honestly don’t think I’ve watched actually-televised television in years.
“Madness!” a comically indignant interjector calls from the void, “You must watch something?”.
The answer is yes, I do – Netflix and YouTube. Now, Netflix can easily pass as an alternative to TV; it’s the same industry, with produced series that are delivered online and ad-free for a monthly subscription fee. YouTube is a bit different, particularly because most of what I watch fits into a new genre that’s come to be known as Let’s Play.
My parents had some trouble with the concept. “I just really like it,” I tried to explain, my snappy written vocabulary turning to mush in spoken word. “It shows me what a game is like before I buy it, plus there’s ones that I’d normally never think of checking out or I don’t have the console for them. The banter is also really funny, sometimes they play bad games just for a laugh.”
“Hrm, well, I guess that’s alright for people your age. If you want us, we’ll be in here watching Grand Designs. We’re getting ideas for the house in Tasmania and I want to see this woman’s face when she sees the hideous wallpaper in that fixer-upper.”
Spot the parallels?
Same construct, different subject matter
If you’re still having a hard time getting your head around Let’s Plays, consider the popularity of reality television shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, The Bachelor and even Antiques Roadshow. Television shows based on social situations, challenges, critique and commentary are nothing new; I just don’t like the subject matter in those shows. I like video games, comedy, pop culture and anecdotes, which is why I watch Game Grumps and The Yogscast instead.
I’m certainly not alone. It’s a popular genre – just look at Felix Kjellberg. His PewDiePie channel boasts a huge number of Let’s Play videos and oh, you know, just the highest number of subscribers in YouTube history. His videos are so popular that after showcasing the game Skate 3 on his channel to the tune of 12 million views, there was massive demand for the game; So much so that EA Games reprinted the title that was 4 years old and got it back into the UK top seller charts. It’s become standard fare for games (especially ones from indie developers) to be sent to YouTubers in the hope that the exposure will drive more sales.
Despite the potential benefits of getting their game showcased on a popular channel, money has been a bit of a hairy issue between game publishers and Let’s Play channels. After all, business is booming and many entertainers have made full time careers out of producing this kind of YouTube content.
The problem is that the copyright for the actual games doesn’t belong to the YouTubers, leading developers and/or publishers to push for a piece of the pie (or all of it) when it comes to advertising revenue. Some publishers wholeheartedly encourage the creation of Let’s Plays but have outlined reasonable rules to protect their Intellectual Property and the company’s reputation. A good example is Microsoft’s rules which prohibit things like hate speech and earning more money by charging viewers to access the content. Other publishers became YouTube partners and registered with the Content ID system to collect the advertising money at its source, or just get videos removed.
Early in 2015 Nintendo launched a Creators Program to allow creators to receive a small cut of the ad revenue, but it’s still not available in many countries yet. It may help to encourage entertainers who’ve been neglecting Nintendo games because they need to earn money to support themselves (some money is better than none) but many of the bigger channels could already afford to forge ahead and play Mario or Zelda on their channels without profiting from it.
Money aside (though I expect we’ll see clearer rules and policies from all publishers in the future) the driving force behind Let’s Plays and all other pop culture is that it’s enjoyable. It might not be for everyone, but neither are a lot of things. If you like video games but you’ve somehow never seen a Let’s Play, check one out.
Do you have a Let’s Play recommendation? Share it in the comments.