Let's Plays are cool. At first, I wasn't really a fan for them because I just couldn't see the appeal - it seemed like one of those situations where it's fun to make the product, but not fun to use it (in this case; watch them). Lately, I've come to my senses and realized just how incredibly good these are for the gaming industry on so many different levels. Let me take you into my mind as I rant on about this and hope to make something coherent for todays blog post!
For those of you who have somehow steered clear of youtube for the past few years, allow me to enlighten you about what an LP actually is; In its basic form, a Let's Play is a video of someone playing a game. It may sound uninteresting to some, and that's because they're actually so much more than this. I'm going to try to document a few cases of what LPs actually are, and hope to make them sound a little more interesting than that bland description!
Let's Plays are... Fun to watch.
Quite simply, they just are. You're watching a funny person or persons play this game that you've likely already played before, and they're having fun and this makes you feel like you're having fun with them. They joke about the game, you laugh. They have a problem, you can actually help them for their next episode. It's like a fun TV show that allows you to talk to the presenters between the episodes; I guess that's because it actually is.
For some games, like Minecraft, you can just picture the LP being a show that just happens to be set in the game; it may not actually be about the game itself, as it's too much of a sandbox to have any strict "this is what we're going to do". They just jump in there, do what they want, talk about what they want, and that's it. They can set their own goals and it keeps things interesting because you have absolutely no clue what the next episode is going to be about - it's all new stuff, all the time.
For other games with more a real goal to them, they're fun to watch just to see how they went about solving the challenges in this game, and you also get an idea of what's going to happen next. If you've played the game they're playing now, it's really fun to compare what they're doing to what you've done previously; laugh at them as they make a big mistake, or worry if they're coming up to a part that you know is going to be hard but they foolishly haven't prepared for it yet.
Regardless of the game they're playing, LPs are always new content and no two LP will ever be the same. They can be compared to sports commentary; while you can play the sport or watch the sport and have an idea of what's going on, it's just so much more fun to listen to two professionals tell you while they joke about the situation.
Let's Plays are... The best gamedev tool since the debugger
One of the biggest issues from a game designing point of view is getting into the mindset of someone who wants to play the game for the first time. It's a critical subject, and can mean the life or death of a game. You need to know how people react to your game, what they're thinking while they're playing it, so that you can make it better for them. As a game designer, your own views can sometimes get too far away from the players perspective that it can mean chaos and undue frustration - it may be obvious to you that in order to kill that boss you need to destroy this barrel and use the gun you found on that fire extinguisher, but is it really obvious to the person who you're making this game for?
Generally, you'd bring in some individuals to play the game and watch how they do it, and ask them to tell you what's going through their mind as it happens. After that, you'd collect your feedback, make any required changes, and find a new person to test it for you. Once a person tries something and it doesn't work out the way they thought, you need a fresh new mind to try it after you change it because they're "tainted", they already have a level of expectation from your game and won't approach it like it's all new.
With Let's Plays... you have a potentially infinite pool of people who will not only gladly show you how they play the game, but they're actually going to tell you every small thing that goes through their mind as they do it. This is invaluable knowledge, and you'll have such a big insight into the players perspective which was virtually impossible to get before. Not only will you get all this great knowledge about what they expect to happen when they try stuff, but you also get a great source of bugs with evidence, steps to reproduce and an estimation on the state of the game as it happened. That too was very hard to get before!
Let's Plays are... Bloody good for the economy. No, seriously.
I'm seeing a lot of LPs from a younger crowd recently and I'm loving it. It's teaching them so many useful skills and at the same time providing future job opportunities for them; their channel could end up very successful and make more money than you'd initially believe, even at a young age.
I've seen a fair few LP authors start out so small ("Hey guys I'm going to give this a try and see anyone's interested") and later turn out so big (pumping out a new episode daily, buying lots of fancy equipment from the very same money that they're making from advertisers or donations). It surprises me that the audiences of all these many LPers are so vast and generous, that they support both the authors and the makers of the game at the same time.
I can't think of much more to say on this point, but just think about the potential that falls upon anyone who jumps in LPs. You pick up video editing skills, unlocking lots of job prospects. You pick up a big fanbase, helping secure future ventures. You build up a public library of existing works, very useful to show off on a resume or elsewhere. All in all, it's just such a great thing to do.
The best part? Anyone can do it. Regardless of how old you are, how good with computers you are, how good with the game in question you may be; anyone at all can just jump in and start working their way up.
Let's Plays are... The best reviews I can think of.
I'll be honest here; I do not trust any review site. I just don't. Whether this is for a game or a physical product, there's too many sketchy sites out there which puts me off them. However, enter Let's Plays!
You now have the ability to see people play the game that you want to play. You can see how much fun they're having, and how much you think you'll have. Do the graphics look okay to you? How about the game mechanics? See for yourself instead of trusting someone else.
It's like playing a demo, but saves time and still exist. (Sorry game demos, I love you, please come back! I didn't mean those things I said!)
Let's Plays are... A great source of advertisement. But only if you deserve it.
Consider for a moment that there's this big popular LPer who puts out a video a day. He has lots of people following him and they're all eager for his next video. Now consider what would happen if he were to do a video about a small obscure game. Assuming the game is good and the LP was not in a bad tone, sales of this game would in theory go up. People would like how fun the game looked, and try it themselves. It's a fantastic way to learn about new games for the audience too.
Of course, there's also the point of normal advertisements on videos; however, I personally feel like youtube video ads regress us back to the days of popups, so I won't talk on this too much. Suffice it to say, things are okay and stuff.
Let's Plays are... More than that!
I don't want to rant for so long, so let me finish this up here. Lets plays are awesome. So here's what I want everyone to do: Game devs: Embrace and start using them. They're an invaluable insight, even (especially?) the ones that don't look professional. LPers: Keep doing what you're doing, because you all do it so very well. Everyone else: Consider watching (more) LPs. They're just so much fun! :D