Mike Bithell discusses why Let's Play videos are great for marketing, and why developers shouldn't chase ad revenue from them

Let’s Play Nintendo!

Thomas Was Alone would not have been a hit without YouTube. Without the frequent infringement of my copyright, the astonishingly aggressive use of my intellectual property and oftentimes presumptuous use of work comprising years of my life, I wouldn’t be sat right now, at home, taking a break from my work as a full time indie developer.

Stories are circulating about Nintendo demanding the ad earnings of LP videos of their games. I wanted to write this piece to try and convince you how wrong they are, and hope, vocally, that no indie takes this approach to heart and tries to stop what might be the most important thing in getting-the-word-out-about-your-game since King Henry IV publicly stated he kind of enjoyed the odd game of chess.

For the uninitiated, Let’s Play videos are where individuals upload footage of themselves playing a game to YouTube, for others to watch. Most have commentary, chat or edits to rejig the content to the platform. Often it’s the full game (or as much as the LPer can get through before boredom or audience indifference creeps in).

Let’s Plays have been around for years, originally coming out of the speed run scene, but with the rise of Minecraft videos, and monetisation opportunities opening up, we’ve seen a big surge in creation and popularity in the last year.

Monetisation, by the way, is the manner in which advertising shown before or around a YouTube video generates revenue for LPers. It’s not an enormous amount for most people, but some individuals do live off this cash.

Nintendo seems to be taking a very literal approach to the scene. "This guy is making money from videos of Mario, that should be our money". That is phenomenally silly.

The guy in question is most likely not making much; even the big guys only get a tiny amount of money by international hardware company standards. Nintendo really, really doesn’t need their cash. By taking these sums away, they are massively dissuading them from continuing to make content from their game.

But why should they care about losing an LPer? Well, put bluntly, marketing. The audience of these videos are an excitable, tribal group that go out and spend a great deal of money on the games talked about. They are also huge. The larger Pewdie videos get 500k views. Very few of the largest game sites can boast anywhere near that audience.

Many of those viewers are casual, or there mainly because they’re fans of the broadcaster, many more will watch with no intention of buying, but that still leaves an insane number of people who want to click on a link at the end and pick up a copy. Why turn this audience away?

We all got a bit too excited about social games a couple of years ago. Marketeers started talking about people ‘evangelising’ their games. You know, asking for chickens and stuff. It didn’t work, because it was nonsense. Like velociraptors, gamers found a way. LP is one way millions of gamers are sharing their fandom, we should be doing everything we can to encourage its continuation.

It strikes me as odd. A new media for talking about games has emerged, which comprises an audience far in excess of existing channels. This media is talking about your stuff a lot. Why curb it? Why dissuade those taking part in talking about how much they love you? Would you charge a celebrity for tweeting about how much they liked your game? Would you demand ad revenue from a game site for running a review?

I presume and hope this is a cock up that will soon be fixed. And I doubly hope that no one who wants their games seen or talked about takes it to heart. Indies: Occupy the gap left by the lack of Mario and send out some Steam keys or download codes.

I’ll close with an example from Thomas Was Alone’s sale history. The game launched in July on direct sales, and in November on Steam. The following Christmas I ran a 50 per cent off sale, which was doing rather well.

And then, on January 1st, Total Biscuit did a WTF video about the game (TB isn’t a LPer, but he’s a YouTube game guy so he’s relevant). Thomas sold eight times more units than on launch day. In a matter of hours. I was outselling Assassin’s Creed 3 on Steam. And that’s not rare, every indie who’s received coverage from TB, or a Let’s Play from Pewdie or NerdCubed, has a similar story.

Nintendo. You’re doing it wrong.

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