Magazines and gaming news sites used to be the best way to find out about new games, but watching others play video games has now become a popular part of enjoying the medium. Press isn’t just professionals; now, popular streamers have just as much sway over consumer purchases as many journalists. The popularity of Let’s Play videos and streaming is changing the way companies market their games. Marketing to consumers through consumers requires new strategies, and also creates new concerns.
The Rise and Influence of Let’s Plays
Let’s Plays have a bit of a contentious history in gaming. It’s not easy to credit the very first Let’s Play video, but they’ve exploded in popularity since then. Big names like PewDiePie, Markiplier, and RoosterTeeth have enormous sway in marketing games by playing them on their channels. There’s even a name for it—the PewDiePie bump is a recognized increase in sales thanks to being featured on the Let’s Player’s channel. By melding personality with gameplay, the Let’s Play community makes content that is both informative and entertaining. Watching others play video games gives you a sense of what a game is like without having to shell out the dollars for it yourself.
Press outlets are following the trend with series like Polygon’s Monster Factory. It’s not a game guide or strategy series; it’s all about the personality and the fun of watching people play a game against the grain, which is more aligned with Let’s Players than typical gaming news video content.
While some games, especially indie games, benefit more than others from the Let’s Play boost, reaching out to the community can be a great way to push your game regardless of genre or platform—provided you find the right player.
Marketing With Let’s Players Requires Research
Like any other marketing strategy, it’s important to do your research. Let’s Players aren’t press in the traditional sense, and you should always keep that in mind when developing a strategy. Let’s Players often specialize in certain genres or a certain style of play, so you need to know who you’re targeting before you can market your game correctly.
Because Let’s Players are often one person or a very small team, they may be inundated with tons of review copies and requests for coverage. For that reason, you should ensure your marketing plan is going to the right people, such as Let’s Players who specialize in or enjoy your game’s genre, to make sure it finds the right audience. After all, you want your game covered for the right reasons, not because a player doesn’t enjoy it.
Consider Concerns Around Let’s Play Marketing
Like any other avenue of press coverage, there have been some ethical concerns involving Let’s Player marketing. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was one of the biggest to raise awareness of the potential for Let’s Players and Twitch streamers to exchange coverage for copies without disclosure.
Some players who received advance copies of the game were told they should paint the game in a positive light and avoid showcasing any bugs. The issue for many was that, for audiences, it’s hard to discern what’s a review or endorsement and what is simply playing a game for fun and entertainment. While some of that might fall on viewers, it’s also important to be clear with Let’s Players what you’re asking for and what you’re providing. Don’t assume that what you ask won’t get around—though it might mean that the review copies stopped coming for those that brought attention to the unsavory Shadow of Mordor deal, they were still willing to break the news.
Another potential issue for developers using Let’s Players for promotion is that there’s no guarantee sales will increase. In fact, in games where gameplay takes a back seat to narrative, it may actually backfire.
That Dragon, Cancer, a short, narrative-heavy game that tells the personal story of a family who lost their son to cancer, is a popular one for Let’s Plays because of its short playtime and emotional resonance. The issue, the developers wrote in a blog on their website, is that the game has not actually made any money. People experience the emotions—the game’s main focus—through a Let’s Play and move on rather than paying for it and playing through it themselves.
That’s not to say that Let’s Plays aren’t a valuable tool and an entertaining thing in their own right. As the blog points out, the developers also believe that those making the videos deserve pay for their work as well. But it’s important to think about when considering sending review copies to Let’s Players. Will your game benefit from the increased audience, or will it give away too much? How much of your game do you want to make available? What incentive is there to purchase; what do they get out of playing that they don’t from watching?
Of course, you can’t stop Let’s Players from making videos from games they pay for themselves. You can change the monetization rules, as Nintendo did (to much backlash), but copyright law is a little murky when it comes to the transformative nature of these videos. Being the first to take Let’s Players to court over lost money is more likely to incite fury in the community than to get people to stop. When creating a marketing strategy, remember to consider the many ways that videos may impact your game’s sales, whether positively or negatively.
Let’s Plays Change Marketing, and That’s Not a Bad Thing
Let’s Plays are an increasingly popular way of experiencing games, particularly as they’re available for free online. They’re a great way of getting an idea of what a game is like without buying it first, and therefore a great way of enticing players on the fence into purchasing. But that doesn’t mean they’re foolproof. Like any other marketing strategy, it’s important to plan ahead and be sure that it’s the right strategy for you. Not every game will benefit from every form of exposure, and not every Let’s Player or streamer is right for your game.
Maximum Games is a video game publisher whose games cover a wide variety of playstyles and genres. For more of our insights on the video game industry, subscribe to our newsletter here.