Let's Play (video gaming)
A Let's Play (often abbreviated to "LP"), is a series of screenshots or, more commonly, a recorded video documenting a playthrough of a video game, always including commentary by the gamer. An LP differs from a walkthrough or strategy guide by focusing on an individual's subjective experience with the game, often with humorous, irreverent, or even critical commentary from the gamer, rather than being an objective source of information on how to progress through the game.
From the onset of computer video entertainment, video game players with access to screenshot capture software, video capture devices, and screen recording software have recorded themselves playing through games, often as part of walkthroughs, speedruns or other entertainment form. One such form these took was the addition of running commentary, typically humorous in nature, along with the screenshots or videos; video-based playthroughs would typically be presented without significant editing to maintain the raw response the players had to the game. Though others had used the same approach at the time, the forums at the website Something Awful are credited with coming up with the term "Let's Play" in 2007 to describe such playthroughs.
The term is credited to Michael Sawyer under his username alias "SlowBeef", whose screenshot playthrough of The Oregon Trail was considered the first to use the term, but Sawyer refers to an earlier playthrough by forum user "Vlaphor" for "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream for setting the format that future Something Awful users would use." Sawyer is also credited for creating the first video playthrough for the game The Immortal which he made alongside his screenshot playthrough. From there, the format was popular with other forum users and many Let's Plays were created; the forum established a process to create these and the development of a large archive of Let's Plays. With the onset of user-created video streaming websites like YouTube or Twitch, more users have been able to prepare and share such videos, making the Let's Play format widely popular.
Some of the more popular gamers that create these videos have become Internet celebrities and seen as a type of "professional fan", according to Maker Studios' Dar Nothaft; other gamers turn in to these videos as to get a different perspective on games than professional review sources. Felix Kjellberg, known by his online handle PewDiePie, has monetized his "Let's Play" videos which reach over 31 million subscribers as of October 2014, the most subscribed channel on YouTube. Some other people or groups include Achievement Hunter, The Yogscast, Smosh Games, and Machinima.com.
Such Let's Plays are monetized by ad revenue from the video hosting site. For example, standard Google affiliate programs pay approximately 55% of the price paid by advertisers to the content provider, while Google retains the rest; as such, revenue from Let's Play channel are based on the number of viewers they obtain. Providers can also join various content networks like Maker Studios, which offer promotion and advertising for content providers in exchange for a share of the ad revenue. PewDiePie's monthly revenue from his Let's Plays are estimated between $140,000 and $1.4 million, while smaller channels can still earn between $500 and $1000 a month; the Wall Street Journal reported that PewDiePie made over $4 million in 2013. Several of these individual Let's Play people have transformed this into a full-time career while learning skills such as communications and video editing that can be used for future jobs.
Let's Play videos have been considered a favorable way to market game titles, in particularly for smaller developers. In one case for Thomas Was Alone, Mike Bithell, its developer, attributed the success of the game to a Let's Play video by game commentator and critic John Bain, also known as TotalBiscuit. Similarly, Davey Wreden, the developer of The Stanley Parable developed a relationship with various Let's Play channels prior to the release to assure they could play and record his game; his team further created specialized demos for two popular channels (Rev3Games and Steam Train) that jokingly teased the specific players. Wreden believes this helped lead to the over 100,000 sales of the full game within the first three days of release. Some developers have designed their games to be favorable for Let's Play videos. The developers of Octodad: Dadliest Catch aimed to have the game covered by Let's Play videos by "creat[ing] a lot of room where there are a lot of different options for a player to create their own comedy and put their own personality into that".
The popularity of Let's Play and similar video commentaries have also led to changes in how some video games have been developed. The Let's Play approach favors games that are quirky and idiosyncratic that draw viewer attention, making some developers aim for these qualities in their games. It also helps for games in early access or beta release cycles as developers from such games can use these videos for feedback to improve their games prior to full release. The Let's Play videos also can bring in more attention to a niche title than traditional gaming press.
In at least one case, the popularity of a game featured in Let's Plays has led to further sales far after the game's typical shelf-life has expired. In 2014, Electronic Arts opted to print more copies of the 2010 title Skate 3 after its appearance on PewDiePie's and other Let's Play channels have kept sales of the game high, keeping it in the top 40 sales charts for new games in the United Kingdom and with its 2014 sales being 33% higher than 2013 sales.
The copyright nature of "Let's Play" videos remains in question; while the developer and/or publisher of games typically possess the copyright and granted exclusive distribution rights on the media assets of the game, others cite fair use claims for these works as their nature is to provide commentary on the video game. In one case, Nintendo claimed that they retain the copyright and have registered the content through YouTube's Content ID system such that they can generate ad revenue from user videos, though Nintendo would later back off of such claims, and later created its own affiliate program between themselves, Google, and proactive uploaders to split profits. Smaller developers have been more open to allowing Let's Play videos. Ubisoft has stated that it allows its games to be used in Let's Play videos and allows for those making them to monetize from any ad revenue as long they stay within certain content-appropriateness guidelines.
In early December 2013, a change in YouTube's ContentID policy caused many existing Let's Play and other video-game related material to be blocked. In response, many developers and publishers issued statements and worked with YouTube to assure such videos were not meant to be blocked, helping those whose videos were affected, and encouraging users to continue to show these; these companies included Blizzard, Ubisoft, Capcom, Paradox Interactive, and Valve. YouTube later clarified that the change in the ContentID system that caused videos to be flagged was likely a result of new tools it made available for multi-channel networks, which can cover separate video and audio copyrights. At least two known music multi-channel networks, TuneCore and INDmusic, who represent many video game music composers and artists, had automatically enabled the copyright protection for all of its clients without seeking their input, and as such, many of the Let's Play videos as well as the game developers' own promotional videos were blocked due to these actions. YouTube states they do not plan to change this system despite complaints from the original music composers. The streaming website Twitch implemented a similar copyright control approach that would mute recorded streams for up to half-hour blocks if copyrighted music was discovered in August 2014, which was found to have the same problems with blocking Let's Plays that used original game music. This prompted Twitch to alter the method to reduce false positive and provide ways for users to challenge such claims.
Another legal issue related to Let's Play is disclosure. More popular YouTube channels will sometimes receive free promotional copies of games from developers and publishers in advance of release to promote the title. According to the US Federal Trade Commission, players that review or create commentary for such games should disclose the game if they subsequently make money from the review to stay within ethical business practices. In one specific scenario, John Bain, who has previously argued for clear disclosure of paid reviews, has revealed that he and several others were approached by a marketing outlet for Warner Bros. Entertainment and offered promotional copies of the upcoming Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor in exchange for meeting very specific tasks in their presentation. Bain refused on these terms, but other commentators had taken the deal without disclosure of the deal, raising the issue of how many of these works were made through paid reviews.
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