The ‘Let’s Play’ Phenomenon

Any gamer fan who spends time on Youtube will be well aware of the ‘Let’s Play’ phenomenon. Let’s Play videos are usually recordings of segments of gameplay footage,  accompanied by audio commentary by the player in real time. Sometimes, they can also include video footage of the player as well, usually to capture reactions (this is used quite often with horror games such as Slender). Searching for ‘Let’s Play’ on Youtube currently brings up 21,700,000 results. So, just why are these videos so popular?

In the age of social media, fans of any medium can reach out to each other in new and exciting ways. There are dedicated forums for nearly every game or franchise out there, and game developers are easily contacted over Facebook and Twitter. The advent of Youtube and increasingly sophisticated recording technology means that gamers have a new outlet to express their love (or otherwise) of games. Originally the videos uploaded to Youtube were simple walkthroughs, helping other players who may be stuck in a certain game. This soon evolved, with players adding their own commentary and humour to their playthroughs.

Like any artform, there are plenty of people trying their hand at Let’s Play videos online, but there are a certain group of Let’s Players who stand above the rest. Indeed, there are now a select handful who are even making money from the venture. The Yogscast, founded by Simon Lane and Lewis Brindley, started out as a small venture making World of Warcraft how to videos, and now are a limited company famous for their Minecraft videos, including Minecraft update videos. Other Let’s Players have branched out into creating original content online, such as Tobuscus.

There have been controversy around this phenomena. When people are using licensed material to create new videos, there’s always a legal grey area. Technically the videos are legal under fair use laws, but this isn’t always clear. Some game developers, such as Mike Bithell of Thomas Was Alone, welcomed the attention videos brought and attributed them to the game’s success. Others, such as Nintendo, have claimed the rights to their games in order to claim ad revenue from them.

There’s no denying that for smaller developers, the Let’s Play community is a boon to their games. There’s no better publicity than a video showing somebody enjoying your game! The grey area around the fair use of copyrighted material still remains, however. With so many Let’s Players using their videos as a stepping stone to creating their own material though, they can only be considered a positive thing for the gaming industry.