How Video Game Industry Money Could Change Let’s Play Videos

YouTube has seen it's share of funny Let's Play videos, but the video game industry is looking to cash in on clips as a money-making opportunity.
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YouTube has a community of video gamers that is growing due to the popularity of “Let’s Play” videos. This community of YouTube channels help promote creative and innovative content from the games that personalities choose to play. The social media site is a medium with organic roots not attached to any influence other than the viewers.

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But the video game industry is noticing the popularity of gaming videos on YouTube as a money-making opportunity.

“I’m not really aware of any games site for whom coverage of your game will result in an immediately noticeable sales spike,” Postitech Games developer Cliff Harris told Forbes. “But I have seen that with a YouTube Let’s Play.” In response, the industry is cashing in by offering chances for YouTube channels to make more money than what a YouTube Partner Program could offer.

According to Reelseo, channels that qualify for the YouTube Partner Program may earn on average between $0.30 and $2.50 per every thousand views before Youtube takes a 45 percent cut of the earnings.

Unless a channel is one of the 1,000 most popular on the website, it is hard to make a comfortable living from only YouTube. This is why the idea of taking money from developers is attractive.

Instead of making a video of a game chosen by the channel that will earn anywhere between $45 to $375 for having 150,000 views according to Reelseo’s average, the YouTube page could instead receive a lump sum anywhere in excess of $2,000 for playing a game the way it’s developer or publisher wants the personality to.

The thought that video game companies would consider paying YouTube channels regardless of their opinion is generous. It’s basic business: paying for a negative or fake Let’s Play experience only results in a loss of profits, compared to paying for a positive review which leads to video game sales.

In regards to Let’s Play videos, where gamers provide commentary of capture footage they took from playing the game, there are not many ethical questions that may be asked when YouTubers accept industry money. While the exchange of money for these videos is not problematic, viewers should be critical about how money could influence the clips they watch.

When a company pays for a Let’s Play, they not only creating a form of advertising, they buy the rights to creative licensing. The industry influences the content to raise the potential profit of video game sales from the clip. In essence, the money developers and publishers give to the channel comes with a gate, and the companies are the gatekeepers. 

This situation was a scenario Daniel Hardcastle lived. Known as NerdCubed on YouTube, he admitted to taking money only once for a Need for Speed video. His concern throughout the making of his video was not about his opinion, but whether the style of content in the video would be accepted by the company so that he would be paid.  This worry over content no longer supplies the demand for what viewers want to see. Instead, it caters to what the industry wants viewers to see, whether the content is natural to the channel or not.  According to a Gamasutra survey of 141 video game YouTube channels, publishers are going after channels with more than 5,000 subscribers. Amongst these channels, 26 percent admitted to taking money to record videos. This population could be more, as five percent of those surveyed chose not to answer.

While the survey does not say if these YouTube channels took money for a review or a Let’s Play video, 26 percent of channels with a notable following were influenced to act in some way other than their own like NerdCubed. Theoretically, if one third of the most popular video game channels on YouTube had their content influenced by video game companies, then viewers are essentially just seeing more trailers governed and controlled by the industry.

YouTube is freedom of expression by gamers for gamers. The viewers of video game channels are entertained by not only the style of commentary from the personality, but also enjoy a small taste of the game being played. If channels want to make money while creating content, then both creators and viewers should be critical about a YouTube page’s intentions and influences when making videos.

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University of South Florida radio broadcaster and newspaper correspondent. Critically consuming the mass media.