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Is it really fun to watch other people play video games?

By Josh Wallen
On April 23, 2014

This article is also available in video form at
Back when he was just getting started, Yahtzee, the creator of the popular "Zero Punctuation," video game review series, said that posting a video on YouTube and hoping anyone would ever find it is like throwing a message in a bottle out into a vast ocean made up of messages in bottles.
After more than seven months of work, I feel that posting a Let's Play video on YouTube to be roughly equivalent to instead tossing your message into the Bolton Strid, a fascinating and quite beautiful little brook that absolutely nobody has ever survived jumping into.
A Let's Play video is sort of like a director's commentary on DVD: gameplay footage with commentary.
Except instead of someone who was deeply involved with the production of the game and knows what they're talking about, you're listening to whatever random gamer happened to think it was a good idea to record.
Let's Plays can be informative guides showing off strategies and tips, or the commentary can be only tangentially related to the game.
They're also wildly popular. The most-subscribed channel on YouTube is "PewDiePie," a Let's Play channel.
But for every well-known and successful LPer, there are exponentially more who never get anywhere with it.
But why is this? Why is it such a challenge to get people to watch you play video games, when there are apparently millions of people out there who enjoy it?
The first and most obvious problem is that the barrier of entry is incredibly low.
When I decided to get serious about making an name for myself on YouTube, I did my research.
I bought an HD PVR to record high-quality gameplay footage. I bought a Blue Yeti microphone.
I tested my audio, researched settings and learned all I could about tagging and annotations.
I did my homework. And when it came time to produce, I meticulously watched and edited every single bit of my footage.
Is a segment too long, with nothing interesting happening and no funny dialogue? I cut it.
Is there some kind of funny visual joke I can make here? I'll spend a few minutes putting it in.
Did the sound come out all wrong? Re-record!
All this effort, time and yes, money, has resulted in some videos that I think are, at the very least, pretty gosh-darn OK!
But I didn't HAVE to do all that.
I could have just used a bootlegged, badly configured version of FRAPS recording software, or even pointed a cell phone camera at the screen.
I didn't HAVE to have good audio, I could have just used my laptop's horrible, tinny little microphone!
I didn't really NEED to edit my videos, when I could've blindly split them up into 10-minute chunks and thrown them online.
It would have been SO MUCH EASIER to be mediocre.
And that's the first problem with Let's Plays.
The barrier of entry is so low that ANYBODY with a passing interest in video games can figure out how to puke out a Let's Play.
Which leads to the second problem: Due to that low barrier of entry, the market is oversaturated.
I love Kirby. Do you love Kirby? Who doesn't love Kirby?
Y'know what the best Kirby game is? Kirby Super Star.
Say it's a rainy, lazy kind of day, and you'd like to enjoy a Let's Play of Kirby Super Star.
Y'know what happens when you search YouTube for "Let's Play Kirby Super Star?"
Assuming each one of those videos is about 10 minutes long, it would take you, oh, 445 rainy days to watch all of them.
All of this has led to a situation where, I feel, being merely GOOD won't ever be enough.
Just playing games and recording them well and having fun might gain you a bit of a following, but it's difficult enough to break through even with more unique content.
So why would you watch me play Kirby Superstar when there are 64,000 other people doing it, including some of the biggest names on YouTube?
And maybe the entire format is part of the problem. I mean, this whole situation sounds absolutely absurd.
When I was a kid, I remember how tediously, agonizingly boring it was to watch other people play video games.
A million sibling arguments would never have happened if it was more fun to just watch.
So to be here now, with people making entire careers out of playing video games? What!?
Maybe, in spite of how popular a few channels are, there just isn't all that much interest in spending copious amounts of time watching other people play video games.
All this is not meant to say that I'm quitting. I'm not even saying I'm going to stop playing games on YouTube. I've had a lot of fun, revisiting old classics, trying out new games, interacting with people and torturing my friends with old-school difficulty.
I'm just really beginning to feel like The Geek Critique should be so much more than yet another Let's Play channel.


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