Let's Play and Sony, were they really wrong?

A look at things from Sony's (or any other gaming company/developer's) perspective

Sony's latest stunt drew ire from gamers everywhere when the company tried to trademark the phrase "Let's Play". Over the past few days, the U.S Patent and and Trademark Office found the phrase to be "merely descriptive." They also noted that there is already a Georgia-based company holding a trademark that's a bit too similar; making it unlikely that Sony will succeed in their efforts.

Sony has until the 29th of June to make an argument against this and continue pursuing the trademark. But that's not quite what I wanted to talk about. I'm more interested in why they attempted to do this in the first place. Considering the fact that they've been playing their cards right with the current generation of consoles and even scored a major spike in dedicated consumers, I'd think they wouldn't want to do anything that could cause them to be looked on in a negative light.

Let's Plays on YouTube

We're all thinking it, and I daresay we're not wrong... this probably is the main factor behind the trademark attempt. The general consensus is that this was just a way for Sony to pull the plug on these types of videos on the internet. 

What would you do if potential consumers get the full experience your product offers without buying it for themselves? 

It's easy to point the finger at Sony for doing this, but are they wrong to try?

I'm not saying I agree with shutting down videos and channels on YouTube (or other video sharing/streaming outlets) because a company feels threatened by them. But we should look at it objectively because, like it or not, Let's Play videos are not entirely harmless to the gaming industry.

The Bad

To the general audience, a Let's Play video of any game consists of a person commentating/reacting to the game they're playing. 

But what's really happening? Viewers are getting treated to a full walk-through of the game. This is fine if the viewers have already bought the game and are playing it themselves, but what about those who haven't? 

This is the main cause of worry for gaming companies and developers everywhere. To be honest, if you look at it from their perspective you can understand why. Put yourself in their shoes: you're trying to sell the product you made to as many people out there as possible and the primary selling point is the experience you offer your customers.

What would you do if potential consumers get the full experience your product offers without buying it for themselves? 

Sure, people don't experience the game personally but watching someone play a game from beginning to end spoils the experience the game may have had in store for them, whether they're aware of it or not. 

Would you want to go out and buy a game after you just watched someone on the internet play through it entirely? Perhaps, if the gameplay was something special. But what if this is a game that places a lot of emphasis on story-telling and the main selling point is a compelling plot? 

Would you feel as excited if you were to go watch a movie that someone just got done spoiling for you? Of course not. Heck, you might not even want to watch it anymore. 

Video games are an industry. Gaming companies are running a business. They still have to make a profit. If there's anything threatening the equation, you can't blame them for trying to go fix the problem. 

The Good

That was just one side of the argument. There still are benefits Let's Play videos offer.

Most of the time you need only scroll down to the comments section of the video to find people asking what game is being played. In these cases, Let's Play videos are beneficial in that they're essentially promoting the game without the developers having to spend a single cent.

If the game primarily focused on the fun it provides via gameplay, it's perfectly fine to stream entire sessions of it.

Some Let's Play videos respectfully choose to not feature the entire game and rather just focus on one particular part or level. Others still just make a compilation of highlights from the gameplay which entertains its intended audience.

So what can be done?

Let's Play videos have been popularized by so many big name YouTubers now that it's a widely accepted phenomenon. What we can do to make peace with the gaming companies who see this as a threat is to tie up the loose ends from our side and ensure that there is no way these videos can hurt the revenue the games would generate.

If you're a person looking to make a Let's Play video, see if the game you want to play is fit for one. Ask yourself if you would still be interested in the game even after you spent hours sitting through your Let's Play session.

If the game primarily focuses on the fun it provides via gameplay, it's perfectly fine to stream entire sessions of it.

Most importantly, do not do Let's Play videos of games focused on telling a story! It's disconcerting seeing so many Let's Play videos of titles like Life is Strange. Can you really blame developers and companies for feeling threatened when you essentially offer the experience of their products for free on an online video streaming platform? 

Just find a way to balance the scales. Yes, companies like Sony along with a majority of the gaming industry generally don't like Let's Play videos, but we can demonstrate that they're not all bad by showing some respect to the games we choose to showcase online.  

Published Jan. 31st 2016
View Comments
  • dead fanboy
    I never trusted neither Sony or Nintendo in the way they run the business. Both $ony and Nintendo are the most anti consumer...,the goal for them is to monopolize the market.
  • topher339
    I still don't see a compelling reason to change the ways Let's Play videos are produced. It is indeed free advertising, even if it's a story driven game. In truth, it spoils nothing. You can't compare it to being at a movie theater and having someone spoil the film for you. Why? Because if you're watching a Let's Play you want to know what happens. If that's the case, there's a good chance you won't be playing, or buying, the game yourself anyway.

    If someone is watching a Let's Play instead of buying the game it probably means that the person was unlikely to purchase said game in the first place. There can be many reasons someone may be on the fence about a game. A Let's Play can be what tips the scale in either direction.

    I hardly watch Let's Plays, but when I do it's because I either can't afford the game or am simply unlikely to want to spend money on it. Even then I don't even like Let's Plays.

    There's a reason some, if few, YouTubers get early access to games. Sure, the viewers get to see the content but that's the extent of the damage. Any loss of sales is negligible. Specially when compared to the potential profits of free marketing.
  • Ashley SSS
    Associate Editor
    "Can you really blame developers and companies for feeling threatened when you essentially offer the experience of their products for free on an online video streaming platform?"

    And where have you ever seen any of them do this?

    Let's Plays are literally the biggest form of gaming advertisement today, with streamers lagging quite a bit behind. Have you ever actually seen a developer complain about Let's Plays outside of monetization? Probably not, it's extremely rare. LPs are free advertising and raise awareness of a title, even if they play them all the way through.

    Most people who watch LPs have no intention of playing what they're watching anyway, and the younger generation coming up now tends to watch LPs more than play the games themselves. 20-somethings that watch them are more likely to buy the games after watching a few episodes of an LP.

    Where is the negative here again?

    Don't get me wrong, I find Let's Plays to be absolutely cancerous and hate the "culture" around them. But this article is based around how developers "don't like Let's Plays" when they are in fact a boon to sales and complaints on the pub/dev side are as rare as shiny Pokemon used to be. Why do you think so many popular LPers and streamers get copies of games early? Certainly not because they do damage to sales, that would be counter-intuitive.
  • shox_reboot
    "Can you really blame developers and companies for feeling threatened when you essentially offer the experience of their products for free on an online video streaming platform?"

    There's a reason why that quote was put under story based games. LP's do score free advertising, I've acknowledged that. But at the same time it's ignorant to think that they have no negative effects if you do entire LP's of games that are just graphic novels or something along those lines. Monetization isn't something I've mentioned, but why do you think devs are even trying to do that? The reasons for that and their attitude to LPs in general aren't too far apart.

    I'm not writing about what has happened in the past or using particular scenarios, I'm trying to offer an insight to what LP's look like to gaming companies if I took a moment to put myself in their shoes..ergo, opinion.

    As for the second thing, that precisely is the problem. Most people who watch LPs have no intention of ever playing them. How is it okay from a business perspective? If you don't intend to get the game and play it, why is it okay that you get to watch the whole thing? Kinda like saying I never intended to watch the new star wars but I just ended up downloading it off a torrent and watching it.

    Keep in mind despite all this I've stated that certain games are perfectly okay for LPs...the ones that focus on gameplay primarily. Games like Mirror's Edge, Devil May Cry, Alien Isolation...they all offer something in terms of gameplay, not a well done plot (subjective...but you get the idea).

    Plus, you can't say that ALL people who watch LPs never had an intention of buying it. You're assuming too much at that point. I myself have made the mistake of watching a few LPs of games I've been interested in and that has backfired on me, dampening my interest in the game and I've just neglected to get it. I know plenty of people this has happened to and I'm pretty sure there are plenty more out there who've been in the same scenario.

    Perhaps it's a small percentage, but it still is a loss in profits. I'm not all for the 'corporate' and all that but if there's one thing I've learnt from my experience in the business world, profits are pretty much everything whether you like it or not.

    As for your last point, I honestly haven't heard of many LPers who've used review copies to play through the entire game while streaming it, but that's probably because I avoid LPers like a plague since I find them annoying. Popular streamers I've seen just do first impression videos off their early copies...maybe they stream it a bit more but it only goes so far. And none of them have done Let's Plays of games I've considered heavy on the story side sooo...yeah.

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