Are those “Let’s Play …Videos” bad for the gaming industry?

I know this is a very vague thesis that I’m drawing up here, and I can only speak from my own point of view and from those of a couple people I talked to about it. My statement is, that video-series like this one: are potentially harming the video game indutry.

*Edit: This article is NOT intended to be against Let’s Play Videos – I love them! – It should more question the quality of (some) video games.

Let me start off by stating that I used to be but ain’t any more a hardcore gamer. There had been quite a few titles I kind of wanted to play and I was really interested in buying them, but here is why I didn’t buy those titles:

You usually don’t want to buy a pig in a poke. So I went to browse for ingame gameplay videos of those games on youtube and stumbled across a “Let’s play… Video” (I’m talking about on of these:, basically a screencapture of someone playing through the game together with commentary of the player. So I started by watching the first part, however at the end of the first part I thought “Well, this was fun – how does it continue?” – so I watched the next part and the next part… more and more losing the desire to buy the game and play it myself. After I was done watching all parts(not all in one session ;-)) I had completely lost the desire to play the game myself since I already had seen everything and knew how it ended, however I did NOT feel less satisfied like finishing a game myself. And this happened with not only one title, but several that I considered buying.

Meanwhile I’m at the point where I pretty much only watch Let’s Play Videos, instead of playing a game and here are my points why:

  • I don’t have to pay $50 for a youtube-video
  • I get to see everything in HD, no matter how bad my system is(even on mobile)
  • I don’t have to go through the hassle of installing a 10GB+ game
  • I can fast forward boring parts or skip parts
  • I can relax after work and don’t have to think while watching or I can choose to figure out the next steps myself and then say “Yes, I would have done it the same way”
  • It’s just as rewarding as figuring out something by playing myself

I know that there is of course a big group of people, who won’t agree with me, who would put nothing over playing a game themselves and I do get their point.
However by looking at channel-statistics of accounts like this one: or this one: you can clearly observe quite a trend towards watching games instead of playing them and this thesis was also backed by quite a few people I was talking to who told me that they didn’t buy a game because they did watch it on youtube even though they did like it.

So at this point I would be interested how many people there are, who have done this, because I think there is quite a bit of money lost by industry because of peoply like me.

Have you lost the desire to buy a game by watching a Let's Play Video?

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Another question is: Who is to blame? – Is it because games are still the same as many years ago just with slightly different content and a better graphics? Or is it because my habits as a gamer have changed, that I prefer watching a game instead of playing it?


  • Richard Lyon

    Are those “demos” bad for the gaming industry? I mean, why bother buying a game for $50 when you can just download a demo that’s 10 times smaller and see how the game ends?

    How about trailers for movies? You know, the ones which basically show you the whole movie in 2 minutes like Prometheus?

    If a game or movie can be summarised so completely in 1% of the time it’d take to view/experience it yourself, it’s probably not worth playing anyway.

    That said, I watch a lot of TotalBiscuit’s LPs (WTF is, in his parlance) and it has only ever convinced me to play a game.

    • olsn

      With demos you have about 30 minutes of fun, with watching a game you actually get to see the “whole thing”, so you get so see just as much like playing it yourself.
      With trailers it’s the same, sure you might know how it ends, but it’s not just about knowing the ending, it also how you get there and that means watching the whole movie or playing/watching the game.
      I love LPs, and I also think that a major part of the people will still buy games(like you), which is good of course!! However I also think, that there is a certain group of people that will not buy games but potentially would if not watching LPs.

    • Dmitriy

      See my reply below. The tl;dr is that some games are more like interactive movies, and you want to see what happens next, not actually grind to it.

      I played FF 13 or 14, i dont remember, for like 3 days, got meh far, then I realized that there’s no game there. Run forward. Pow Pow Pow, make me think in the middle of a movie, keep watching cutscenes. That game is not a game, its a 40 hour movie.

  • Sunlis

    I said this on HN and I’ll say it here: Let’s Plays prompt me to buy more games. I’m subscribed to a few Minecraft LP-ers on Youtube, and every now and then they’ll do a play-through of another game. I’ll watch the first episode and treat it as a sort of “free trial” for a game that may not have one. If I like it, then I’ll buy it and play through myself, then maybe come back to the videos later.

    While your scenario might be a completely valid case for an individual investigating a game, LPs have helped me discover games that I would never have even heard of otherwise.

  • angusiguess

    If you can get a fully satisfactory experience from watching someone else play a game, there’s a pretty strong argument that it is not a very good game. The strengths of games are interactivity, emergence and surprise. If a game doesn’t deliver these then it’s basically a very expensive youtube video.

    Beyond that, this argument is the equivalent to stating that watching a friend or significant other play a game is bad for the industry. It assumes too much about the watcher. Would they have been a buyer in the first place? Does knowledge about the game tell them something that marketing material didn’t?

    • olsn

      Yes, I completely agree with you, unfortunately from my subjective point of view, a lot of the video games today are just a “expensive youtube video”.

  • Lirodon

    When it comes to say, open-world games like Minecraft, there isn’t much of a problem because there are a million ways to play, and sometimes its hilarious to see the exploits these people get into.

    But when it comes to linear games; yeah there is a bit of a problem with that.

  • randrant

    Do you think piracy affects game sales?
    Just apply the same logic here.

    Personally, I don’t think anyone is losing much. If you are satisfied by a Let’s Play series, you wasn’t that serious about buying and playing the game yourself.

    And by watching them, you are actually getting publicity for the game. The number of people that LPs get interested in the games should far surpass the potential buyers that give up on the purchase.

    You are the minority. People who would really buy the game but are satisfied by watching somebody play it _have_ to be the minority. I can’t back this up, but I refuse to believe differently until proven wrong. After all, gamers hate cinematics. Gamers hate singleplayer games with a single, fixed and forced storyline. I like to think of these videos as a huge medium booster, though, bringing games to people who would have never even knew about them otherwise.

  • Stijn

    I can only meet you half way on this issue. Yes due to Let’s play video’s I didn’t buy a game because I saw that it wasn’t what I thouhgt it would be like to play the game.
    But most of the time, let’s play video are the only place where I come to learn about new games. I don’t even bother with magazines who always give triple A games 10/10 for the latest version in the series…
    I understand and regret sometimes some parts of the game will be ruined for me if I watch too long, so I stop watching when I’m bored of very excited. I have watched entire games via Let’s play and didn’t buy the game. But I wasn’t going anyways.

  • Dmitriy

    The fun part of all of this Let’s Play videos is that it weeds out the interactive movie gameplay. I want to see the latest final fantasy, but I sure as hell don’t want to play it. The same with witcher 2, they are not amazing games (ok w2 is not too shabby), they are amazing stories. And amazing stories just beg to be watched, not played.

    However take Mechwarrior Online (, that game you can watch people playing, and it makes you want to play it more. The competitive nature of it, the focus on gameplay NOT just story. Its wonderful.

  • Florian

    Perhaps if it’s just as satisfying to watch a game as to play it, it’s not really a game to begin with?

  • Rob

    I think it depends on the genre at hand. Massive AAA singleplayer titles that tend towards being more ‘interactive cinematic experiences’ would suffer from this certainly, but I’m sure (as other have posted) more free-form games such as Minecraft it can only be a boon for. With the former, a play-through potentially makes your own experience feel a bit stale, whereas with creative games it more likely than not just stimulates your own imagination about how the possibilities of the sandbox the game gives.

  • Stephen Tordoff

    On the other hand, the Roosterteeth Let’s Plays of Saints Row 3 and Trails Evo convinced to buy both games, despite the Saints Row Lets Play showing many hours of the game.

  • Pavlos

    Yeah, I often have the same thoughts as the article.

    However, I remember having these feelings about Half-Life, by all accounts an outstanding creation in the 90s when it came out. We didn’t have YouTube then but as a student I lived in a shared apartment. I thought: This game is engrossing but it’s sooo much hard work! I’d much rather watch with a group of friends as one of us tries to beat the monsters than play it myself.

    It’s ultimately a question of content vs. feel. Half-Life was all content. Arguably, Skyrim is mostly content. The Secret World MMO looks kind of like content to me. Let’s Play videos let you bypass the content for these games. You wouldn’t watch a Let’s Play and then play the game. You’d do it instead. Whether a Let’s Play harms sales is a quite different question: Are you watching a Let’s Play to avoid the price of the game? It seems pretty unlikely to me. More likely it’s the people who already decided not to buy, e.g. Skyrim, who watch the Let’s Play instead.

    A game like Magica, Tribes, PlanetSide, an RTS, or possibly an MMO with new mechanics such as GW2 is all about feel. Nobody cares about content or the story. What matters is whether the combat, main mechanics, atmosphere, art, and so on feel good. The Let’s Play will tell you that very honestly, and there’s nothing to diminish your desire to play yourself.

  • Nisa-chan666

    For me, I don’t really have time for watching Let’s Plays, as I’m currently studying. But for the most part, I watch LPs of games that I don’t have the system for, so won’t get to play anyway.

  • Ben

    Your poll is biased. Yes, I have lost the desire to play some games after watching their Let’s Plays. However, I have also gained the desire to play some games after watching them.

    You could make the same argument for reviews, LPs are the same thing but more so. LPs push the game industry forwards. Any lost business comes out of the worst games at the bottom of the market.

  • Bob

    I voted “no”, because I think that’s in the spirit of the poll. I’ve watched one game completely through on Youtube, and I then bought the game. I’ve bought many other games after seeing part of them on Youtube.

    I’ll admit that I have in a couple cases decided not to buy a game after seeing a few minutes of it on Youtube, not because I was already “satisfied”, but that was because I saw the game sucked.

    How else are we supposed to find out if a game is any good? Box art these days is just concept paintings. (20 years ago, it *always* included several gameplay screenshots. Today that’s rare.) Reviewers seem to have very specific ideas about what’s good that no longer correlate to what I like.

    Once I’ve bought it, how else am I supposed to figure out how to complete it? Games are so hard these days I might never finish a single one without video walkthroughs. (OK, I can think of *one* game in the past 10 years that I’ve finished on my own.) 20 years ago, it was a 2D screen, and I had to get from here to there, but today’s games are incredibly complex.

    For that matter, how else am I supposed to discover good games to buy? There’s no good brick-and-mortar stores for games any more. Reviewers have a strange idea of what’s good, and never seem to say “if you like X, try Y” (some review sites have this but it must be automated because their recommendations are laughably bad). Game studios make completely different kinds of games, or shut down completely, so it’s not like you can just buy the new “Accolade” game and know it’ll be good (as you could in the 1980’s). Youtube and Wikipedia are basically the only decent game discovery mechanisms left.

    In my case, at least, I would say no money was lost by people posting gameplay videos on Youtube, but a lot of money was lost by them making bad games, and some money was probably lost by making exceptionally difficult games (as I’ll not buy any more games in a series if I can’t even finish the first one), and likely more money was lost by not having decent webpages.

  • Piper Fluent

    Voted “yes,” specifically with The Walking Dead in mind. I was interested to see what the gameplay was like, and finding that it was little more than an afterthought, was perfectly happy to watch these two movie-length machinimas for free on Youtube.

  • Adam Caverhill

    I was going to answer this poll but then didn’t want to because the answer is misleading.

    Yes I have avoided buying a game due to an LP of it, but only because the game looked like shit. I’ve also bought several games because an LP has made me interested.

    Catherine is probably one game I was on the fence about but probably wouldn’t have bought, but won’t now for sure because of an LP

    • olsn

      Well, then choose ‘No’. The question of this article is, if it’s enough to watch an LP to not need to buy a game any more because one got enough pleasure by simply watching the game but that’s obviously not your case.

  • Kevin P.

    “I had completely lost the desire to play the game myself since I already had seen everything and knew how it ended”

    Way back during the time when Doom and Doom II were popular, people used to create and release WAD files, with which you could customize the game with new levels and the like. Is this kind of thing happening with modern games? (I moved on from gaming not long after I bought Quake II for Windows, so I wouldn’t know.) If so, it would alleviate the feeling that you know “everything” about a game after watching a series of demos.

  • Frank Wehrmeijer

    If anything, Let’s Plays have more often than not caused me to cave in and just freaking buy the game already. It looks fun, the gameplay has tided me over, let’s explore for myself!

    Sometimes, though, when I’m -still- on the fence, I will watch a series on, and may yet find out, hey, let’s not buy the game. It isn’t as fun as I thought it was, so let’s save on buying a game.

    If I -have- to put numbers to Let’s Plays causing me to buy or simply not buy a game, I would say it’s probably a 90% vs. 10% ratio. Let’s Plays certainly helps a lot more than most of the biased game magazine business does in my decision to pick up titles.

  • ray

    Maybe it depends on how old and busy you are. I feel it is much easier/faster to watch an LP series divided up into small bits than to actually play the game yourself (which eats up large chunks of time in one go). I’m pretty much like yourself: a former gamer, now only watching LPs instead of buying and playing games – as the latter feels like far too much bother. All your arguments are valid, and I would also add that a good LP may add some value in the commentary (you’re not just watching the game, but also watching the LPer).

  • Bluescale

    If playing your game offers no added value to watching it being played, then there is something seriously wrong with your game – namely it not being an actual game but a movie punctuated by minor annoyances such as QTEs.

    If LPs are bad for such “games” then there are good for the industry, because games meant to be watched instead of played are bad for it.

    • olsn

      Yep! That’s excactly the point that came to my mind while reflecting on the article after writing it. They’re essentially forcing companies to improve the games.

  • Bahamut Dragons

    I’m going to go in a completely different direction than everyone else. I avoid Let’s Plays of games I’m interested to play. For me, a Let’s Play is for a game I know I won’t get around to, games which would be too hard or a game I already bought and completed.

    I do think they can ruin the exploration and discovery of a game, which is why I play games in the first place. I want to be amazed, I want to see new stuff. For that same reason, regardless of gameplay, I seldom return to games. I’m also uninterested in most social aspects of games.

    I might be a dying breed, but I still enjoy JRPGs while not being a fan of western RPGs. I much prefer a single structured storyline than making choices. At the end of a playthrough, I want to have lived through most if not all of the content.

    I’m happy Lets Plays exist, but I still have to wonder the impact they have on the industry and if really only the bad games are weeded out.

  • http://none lewis

    i believe let’s plays are good for the gaming industry, it doesn’t take a person directly involved with designing and publish games to realise that there is no better way to find out if the game is what it says it is.

    to often have reviews seemed biased, personally i don’t look at reviews any more because ive played games with poor reviews that have been fantastic and popular, while other games that have had great reviews more often turn out to be not worth a 1/4 of the money they ask.

    and demos feel like movie trailers, show me the best parts and hope i buy it, that is if it even comes with a demo, unless i need ” exclusive access” or to preorder it before having the right ( seems dumb to me, buy before you try its the future :D)

    and my final point is, if a friend buys the game, you play it at your friends because you have similar taste, if you don’t but it then, its not “bad for the industry” it just means either the games bad, has led on its fans to false ideas about the game or is just not to the taste of the consumer.

    lets players are good for the industry, because they stop the gaming industry manipulating our pockets as much, because to be honest most games are about turning a profit, the last thing they care about is someone giving a honest opinion on their game, they will always want it to be biased for more sales. that i think is damaging the gaming industry.

  • Anxx CC

    They showcased all the fatalities and storylines for Mortal Kombat X in let´s plays and i´m not getting the game coz you know exatcly what to expect and that makes it boring. Just like with movies, a lot of games do not have replay value after the first time and lets plays take the first time away. Where´s the suprise anymore?

  • Issac

    I used to watch many let’s play videos before I got the games for Christmas because I was so excited and impatient to get them. After I had watched the entire game and got them for Christmas. I finally got the game, slid it into my console, played 5 minutes into each game, then realized there is this empty feeling inside of me and I realize I don’t want to play the game anymore. I hated this feeling, it was the worst thing you could ever possibly feel and it’s very hard to describe. After that day, I avoided as many reviews, comments, and let’s plays of a game as I could humanly possible. I watched the trailers and that was it. The next time I got a game I felt much happier and actually had a sense of accomplishment just by playing it. I have different friends such as ones who never have time or money to play games, they watch the game plays and still have a desire to play game badly, then I have friends who actually have the consoles, game, and e.t.c and just kind of avoid playing it. But anyways, it’s someones choice if they want to do this or not. Personally, I think it takes the fun out of everything. You can almost relate it to a surprise birthday party. If you walk into a building with no previous knowledge of what’s going on, you’re very excited when the surprise is delivered and the experience is better. However, if one of your cousins breaks wind about the surprise, it does the exact opposite.

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  • FutureFox

    I feel its a net zero effect. Likely just as many people not buying a game because of LPs have others who do based on LPs serving as a extended preview of the actual game; not just trailers or a watered down demo.

    LPs might not be as bad for AAA companies but it can be a drag for small studios (some are single digit teams barely getting by) that lose or barely break even because there little game can’t garner enough share in the market to be profitable.

    It’s a sad state of affairs, but as I alluded to above, sometimes if a game really strikes your fancy you might disciplined enough to purchase it. IF a game doesn’t quite pan out how you thought it be but don’t want to buy then LPs scratch that particular itch. I did the same for Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2. I wanted to like it but it just had too many missteps for me to drop $60 bones on it. But I liked some of the style and music so I watched the LP from beginning to end and was satisfied I did.