Video Games: What’s the deal with Let’s Plays?

by Meredith Moore.

Video games are a hugely popular component of the gaming community. They come in all types of genres that include different story lines, characters, and methods of gaming. In February of 2005, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim created something that would greatly change the gaming community. This invention was not a gaming console, or a groundbreaking new game, or innovative technology that created stunning graphics: it was YouTube. YouTube started its life on the Internet as a place where users could upload and view videos for hours on end. While some of these videos shared at the beginning of YouTube history hold records for high user views (Sneezing Panda, Dramatic Chipmunk, Charley Bit my Finger, various cat videos, etc.). The overall process and use of YouTube has not changed much since the beginning, but a recent discovery has been made, creating a new genre of YouTube videos. Many users are now switching from watching the cliche baby and cat videos to watching people play videos games. With an entire section dedicated to gaming on the front page of the site, it is clear that YouTube is popularizing the new fad of watching “Let’s Plays” (where a person plays through a game and films themselves while providing commentary) instead of users purchasing the video game. The three main questions that come with this new popular trend: Why are gamers choosing to watch Let’s Plays instead of playing the games themselves? Who are the personalities that are making this trend so big and are they getting any benefits from their popularity? Lastly, is this actually hurting the gaming industry more than it is helping it?

Video games have been around since the late 60’s and early 70’s with the invention of the Atari console. Ever since then, consoles have done nothing but improved tremendously. With the invention of another popular console (the Xbox 360) lining up with the creation of YouTube, YouTubers started to make videos of Let’s Plays (also called LP’s), the first one surfacing around 2007 when a user by the name of “slowbeef” uploaded a LP of Super Metroid ( Ever since then, the trend of LP’s has done nothing but gain popularity and has recently skyrocketed. So why have LP’s become of the highest viewed videos on YouTube in only 8 years? After gathering several opinions from students who consider themselves “gamers” and two professionals developers in the gaming industry, the overall explanation of their popularity seems to be in unison with every person interviewed. Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier Games (a board game developing company) says, “I would propose that people who watch “let’s plays” of video games are doing so for some of those same reasons, combined with the same reasons anyone watches professional sports: We’re entertained by watching elite athletes play the games we love”.  Sarah Northway, an indie game developer of Northway games, agrees with Stegmaier on his explanation on why people watch LP’s instead of playing the games themselves. “I’ve heard it explained like people watching football: why don’t they just go out and play football? Because that’s too much work, they’d rather watch famous and/or talented people play instead. So like you’d rather watch Starcraft or DOTA played by professionals with sportscaster commentary. Or watch PewdiePie be a loveable idiot trying to figure out how to play a new game. Or watch TotalBiscuit hate on things because that’s more fun / less energy than playing them yourself”. The opinions of the professionals of the industry seem to line up perfectly, LP’s are popular because they are entertaining and take less effort than actually playing the game yourself. Drew King, a senior Management Information Systems major at the University of Alabama, has a similar opinion. King calls himself a gamer and says he plays at least 30 minutes of a video game a day, but does often venture onto YouTube to watch  LP’s and is a contributor to their popularity. “I guess the reason it is becoming so big is because it is something that everyone can relate to as “gamers” and also adds humor to the game or help them get past a difficult part of the game”. King brought up a point that many of the others interviewed did not, the reality that people may be watching LP’s to figure out how to get past a difficult part of a game. Chelsea Stone, an Elementary Education major at Auburn University, agrees with King as to why Let’s Plays are beneficial in this sense. “It’s entertaining, they show you how to complete a game, and if you were like me and didn’t have any really video games growing up, it’s like finally experiencing the game with a little added comedy”. Devin Stevens, who is an avid gamer and was ranked online in Halo 3 tournaments when he was younger, agrees with the benefits Stone listed as well. “Some benefits could be learning and as well as just for pure entertainment. I know I always watched videos of people no-scoping a headshot across a map and it takes a lot of practice and luck to actually get those. It also helps with walk through tips”. Chandler Moore, an Aerospace Engineering/Physics major at Auburn university said he watched Let’s Plays for games like, “League of Legends, Smite, and Super smash brothers. I watch these for both entertainment and to learn advanced strategies that only professional gamers can discover/teach”. Across the board, it is obvious that professionals of the gaming industry and gamers themselves support the growing popularity of Let’s Plays for its entertainment value and for the benefit of seeing how to get through difficult parts of the games.

The main reason people find Let’s Plays entertaining is because of the vibrant personalities of the YouTubers who have made this trend become such a phenomenon. The most subscribed YouTuber is also a gamer, adding more evidence to the popularity of LP’s. PewDiePie, also know as Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, is a Swedish YouTuber who launched his channel in 2009. His Let’s Plays of the horror game Amnesia and the silly PC game Happy Wheels are what ultimately started to launch his YouTube popularity. In 2012, PewDiePie’s channel reached 1 million subscribers on July 11, 2012, and 2 million subscribers in September 2012 ( After a plethora of funny Let’s Plays, outrageous reactions to horror games, and a series of funny gaming montages, PewDiePie has become the most popular YouTuber with 36 million subscribers and an overall video view count of 8.4 billion views. According to, PewDiePie has a net worth of 12 million dollars and grosses around 6 million dollars a year off of producing YouTube videos. This number is almost incomprehensible to many and some almost find it ridiculous. How can a person benefit that much from just making videos of themselves playing video games? PewDiePie even dropped out of college to focus on just his YouTube channel. Many people criticize that YouTubers that make this much money are just continuing to make videos because of the enormous benefits they are getting. King commented on his by saying, “If they are making MILLIONS a year from doing those videos then I say keep doing it. They are doing something they clearly enjoy doing and are making millions”.  Moore agrees that it is a win win situation for these YouTubers. “It’s awesome. Players get paid to play. Viewers are entertained. Websites get viewers. Advertisers get publicity. Everyone wins ”. Out of all the people interviewed, only one person objected to this overall opinion. Stone says, “I feel like it’s kinda overdone, the high demand caused a ton to do it and caused the ones who started the trend to start slowly falling flat. The comedy is really repetitive after awhile for quite a few who really were never meant for the genre. I like Grumps videos just cause they have some smart comedy and keep it fresh with new conversation and different kinds of games”. Although Stone is growing tired of the number of videos and the amount of profit they make for repetitive material, she does not have any opposition to the ones who donate part of their income to charity. PewDiePie does a campaign every year to raise money for clean water for underdeveloped nations and donated $2 million worth of his own money towards the cause. With the help of his fans, millions of dollars were raised for the Clean Water campaign. While many do criticize YouTubers for the large benefits they receive for doing their job, the fans that come along with each personality are quite impressive. PewDiePie calls his fans his “bros” and together all of the fans are his “broarmy”. He has perhaps the strongest fan base on all of YouTube. With millions of loyal fans, the task of raising a large amount of money for charity was not a far fetched task. It is not just PewDiePie that is a widely viewed Let’s Player. Moore says he watches Dunkey, SivHD, Hungrybox, Mango, and many other people. Stone says her favorites are PewDiePie, CinnamonToastKen, Cryatonic, Markiplier, and Tj Smith. King says he mostly just clicks on whatever link Google provides him when he searches for a Let’s Play, but he enjoys Tobuscus’ videos. With all these opinions in mind, it is clear that the personalities that make these Let’s Plays are one of the main reasons for their popularity.

The last and most important question to address about the phenomenon of Let’s Plays is their impact on the gaming industry. Many would suspect that because LP’s are becoming so popular that consumers are deciding not to buy games anymore and just watch online instead. Moore says, “they are causing the gaming community to grow. This growth causes the play styles to conform to those of the best streamers. This popular play style is referred to as the game “meta.” This is seen mostly in competitive game (like the ones I watch). Because of the push to follow the “meta,” a player must conform to the “meta” or be subjected to ridicule and toxicity from fellow players. Overall, esports is cool, but it hurts the gaming community by restricting play styles to the “meta”. King agrees that this is most likely helping the gaming industry. “I couldn’t imagine it hurting the gaming industry at all. Playing the game and watching the game are two completely different things. If anything I would think it would be helping the industry because it is free advertising for the game”. Stone says that talking about YouTubers influenced her boyfriend to buy some of the games she would talk to him about. “I know I’ve told Sawyer about stuff and he’s went out and bought it. A ton of LP-ers offer links to the game or explain how to get it. I know the skate game PewDiePie played (Skate 3) was a flop when it came out, but after he played it they made millions off buyers”. Even professionals Northway and Stegmaier agree that this is helping the gaming industry. Stegmaier said, “Yes, YouTube is helping the gaming industry and for the better. Board games are such a visual medium that customers and publishers benefit from video reviews, unboxings, rules explanations, and let’s play videos”. Northway agrees and even wonders how she could appeal to the crowd who love LP’s.  “As a developer I think Let’s Plays bring in more promotion and create more sales than they could possibly hurt by making players feel like they’ve already experienced it so why buy it. But I’m an indie game developer who makes roguelike games that can be played again and again. I just wish I could figure out how to appeal to let’s players”. Contrary to first impressions, it does seem like Let’s Plays are actually helping the gaming industry. PewDiePie, for example, does many LP’s of Indie video games. After he posts the video, his fans all get so excited to play the game that they end up logging into the website all at once and crash the website. It’s certainly not a bad problem for the developer of these games to be so popular, but it is an inconvenience to deal with an overactive server on a website that was mean to be small. Let’s Plays have helped some indie games become a big name in the gaming industry. Amnesia and Slender were popularized by YouTubers and are now considered some of best PC indie horror games. Overall, it seems like Let’s Play are not hurting the gaming industry at all, but are very much helping it grow for the better.

Let’s Plays are revolutionizing the gaming industry. From their first debut in 2007, to making the front page of YouTube today, they have become a fast growing trend that does not show any sign of slowing. Three major questions were answered about the effects of Let’s Plays: Why are gamers choosing to watch Let’s Plays instead of playing the games themselves, Who are the personalities that are making this trend so big and are they getting any benefits from their popularity, and is this actually hurting the gaming industry more than it is helping it? Through popular opinion, students and professionals both agree that Let’s Plays are popular due to their high entertainment value and accessibility. They also benefit gamers guiding them through a difficult part of a game that they might be stuck on. The entertaining personalities on YouTube that make LP’s so enjoyable might be benefiting financially from their videos, but as long as they are still enjoying their work and are donating some of their excessive funds to charity, all sources agreed that there is no problem benefiting from producing YouTube Let’s Plays. This trend on the Internet, contrary to belief, is not depleting the sale of video games, but rather promoting it. Let’s Plays are the future of the gaming industry, and it seems as if gamers and professionals alike are welcoming the trend with open arms, excited to see what advancements they will bring to the gaming industry.