Why Buy A Video Game When You Can Just Watch It

In the ever evolving games industry, do you even need to buy a game in order to play it?

The gaming industry is now the biggest form of consumer entertainment on the planet today. This is a simple observable fact that can be seen when games like Grand Theft Auto 5 makes $800 million in one day, reaching the one billion dollar mark the day after. While this is extraordinary, it isn't the only game to earn so much in such a short time, with each new release in the ongoing Call of Duty franchise earning $500 million in similar time frames.

Gaming is such a phenomenon that more people than ever are desperate to create games, which often leads to oversaturation of the market with some good quality games falling through the cracks. Games that should be played and loved are instead outsold by games with a number two or three in their title. How do game publishers and developers compete? Many developers have now begun releasing extended game demos and trailers that often allow gamers to play a polished vertical slice of a game or show them 15 to 30 minutes of gameplay.

The era of gameplay videos by YouTubers has risen alongside the gaming industry and many publishers acknowledge this. Right now the most popular Youtuber “PewDiePie” or “Pewds” as he is also known has gameplay videos of The Evil Within on his channel, which has not even been released yet.

There are gamers who play games for gameplay that cannot be experienced through a video and there are those who play it solely for the story. Older games such as those in the Megaman series are built around quick and difficult twitch gaming that require serious gaming skills. Sure you can watch a YouTuber run through a few levels of this, but it will not be the same as playing it yourself. On the other hand, games such as the indie hit Gone Home focus more so on story, and once you’ve seen it, you’re most likely not going to return for a second stroll through the creepy house.

The point I’m trying to make is: in this new era of the gaming industry, do you even need to buy a game to play it?

That might sound like a question concerning piracy, but that is a topic for another day. What I mean is that most gamers are on a budget. These gamers have a limited wallet and limited amount of time. We can’t possibly play every game and there are too few hours in the day to do so.

Early gameplay footage and playthroughs are designed to build hype and conversation around a game, but it often does the exact opposite for me.  I am extremely excited for the release of Alien: Isolation on October 7th as I hope it can rectify the mistakes made by Aliens: Colonial Marines. In order to raise the excitement levels for this game, they have announced a slew of DLC and some gameplay videos, which I assume show off the survival horror aspects of the game. I say “assume” as I have refused to watch it. It has happened on several occasions whereby I spoil parts of the game for myself by watching every trailer and absorbing every screenshot to the point where I’m fed up of the game before it even comes out.

I have already mentioned “PewDiePie” in this article, and normally I would not watch his videos, but I couldn’t resist when I saw him upload early gameplay walkthroughs of South Park: The Stick of Truth.  I watched those videos and couldn’t contain my laughter. When the game came out, I played it and it was like watching an episode for the second time. I had already seen the jokes and heard the farts, so the beginning was almost ruined for me--through my own fault. After this, I still hadn’t learned my lesson and found myself taking in every bit of Watch_Dogs information I could find. I had repeated the process and the exact same thing happened – minus the farts and racism.

I am now taking a different approach where I try to avoid news on games I want to play because it benefited me in the case of Wolfenstein: The New Order. I knew nothing about that game and I thought it was going to be just another FPS with a generic story. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I fell in love with B.J. Blazkcowicz and his story, even though I went into the game with no clue what it was about other than “giant Nazi robot dogs” – that is not a typo.

How do you feel about this issue? Have you ever found that extended gameplay footage can ruin your experience?

Featured Contributor

From an early age I knew I was destined to not only play games in my parent's basement but to also write about them poorly. It is my sincere hope that one day I will achieve my dream and become "CEO of Games". I don't know if that position exists but it should. Please follow me on twitter @SicoShock for absolutely no reason as I am still learning how to use the "ol twitter machine".

Published Aug. 2nd 2014
  • Ashley Shankle
    Associate Editor
    I absolutely do not watch Let's Plays unless they're of older games I'm interested in, but don't have the time to go through myself.

    Really, there is no replacing the experience of actually playing a game. Aside from today's "cinematic experiences," which toss compelling gameplay to the side for story, they are developed with the whole experience in mind. Or at least, when coming from a developer who actually cares.

    In my mind, if you want to be fed a story, you can read a book or watch television/movies. If you want to be a part of it and be challenged along the way, play a game. This was the philosophy of game enthusiasts pre-2007 (before the market boom), and is still mine today. I play games, I don't watch them.

    I've been playing games since 1989, I'm not about to toss my favorite part of gaming (you know, the gameplay) just to digest more games in a short time. It's not worth it, and in the end cheapens games from both a "player" and a development/publishing standpoint.
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    I completely agree with you Ashley. When I wrote this article I was very much trying to sit on the fence and not say whether this is a good or a bad thing.

    From my own personal point of view, in order to experience something special you have to do more than just watch someone else do it. For it to really affect you, you must be the one pressing the buttons, dying and respawning, earning those achievements and beating those bosses.

    My twitter handle ends with shock from "Bioshock" (1)
    That game changed how I felt about games and what they could do to me on a deep emotional level. I shudder at the thought of my experience with that game coming from a YouTube let's play that tried to tell a few jokes over the incredible story. I still remember to this day how I struggled for a few moments to either harvest or save my first "Little Sister" and my joy when I saw her turn back into a little girl.
    When the big "Would You Kindly" twist happened it floored me and I was speechless. No movie or book has ever done that to me and I'm sure this game wouldn't have done it either through the eyes of another person. ^_^
  • topher339
    I typically try to avoid watching gameplay videos. I would much rather play though the game myself and don't like being bound to watching the choices made by other people rather than watching choices I would have made.

    Whenever I do watch videos it's only when I'm not sure whether or not to buy a game. Only when I am borderline on buying a game do I check out the videos. Otherwise the experience is ruined for me.

    For the most part I play games for the story more than anything else. So if I see any of the game before hand it tends to ruin the experience.
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    Exactly how I feel. The last game I watched to see if I should buy it was Borderlands 2 on PS Vita...I skipped that one haha.
  • Kristin Roth
    I can't afford a console atm or really many games in general so I like to watch Let's plays a lot. They allow me to experience the feel of a game without needing to own it, I think, while adding a bit of humour depending on whom I'm watching. I watch a lot of rooster teeth and runaway guys and they like to play games on systems I don't own so it helps me feel a little more connected to the gaming community. I can keep up to date on what's going on without totally playing them.
    However... when it comes to games I'm actually going to play I don't really want to watch it. Some of my fondest memories of gaming come from exploration on my own terms and you just don't get that watching someone else play. I could never watch a single player RPG let's play. Half the fun of those games is being able to make your own choices and find your own way to get past everything. Fallout 3 is quite possibly my favourite game of all time and I wouldn't have the same fondness if I had just watched someone play it, compared to the literal hundreds of hours I've spent in that game exploring and trying new things.

    TL;DR: LPs are fun to watch especially with commentary and they help you experience a game you may not be interested in buying, or not have the means to. But on the other hand you just don't get the exact same experience as doing things on your own. There's a certain charm to doing it yourself compared to watching someone else.
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    Wow Kristin, thanks for the contribution there.
    Couldn't have said it better myself and if you read the article you can clearly see that I didn't haha.

    You brought up some great points there that relate to me as well because I'm mainly a PC gamer and so I sometimes watch "Inside Gaming" videos on YouTube because I simply can't play it myself despite loving GTA. On the other hand I like to mod the Fallout and Elder Scroll games and so I watch this one guy called Gopher who does tutorials. He also has Let's Play videos but I simply find them too hard to watch. Not because of Gopher (he's great) but because of the exact reasons you said. In a certain video while walking around the Wasteland he may go right and I might say to myself "Hey, I would've gone left" and so to experience it yourself is that much more special.

    I'm pretty strapped for cash myself at the moment because I'm saving up for a PS4 and The Last of Us Remastered having never played it before. I absolutely refuse to watch any videos or trailers for it, putting myself into a black hole in order to avoid spoilers.

    p.s. If you are serious about Fallout 3 being one of your favourite games then I will digitally propose to you right now. I'm on my 8th or 9th playthrough of that game...I have a problem.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    I do it for older games, games I don't want to play, and/or games that just cost too much to play or want to preview beforehand, but otherwise I'm not that much into the LP culture. I do love that it's produced new area for the medium of games journalism to grow.
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    Ha, hello again Elijah. Yes while it's something I'm not that big into, the older games point is actually very interesting. I missed that one :P

    I've never finished Half Life 2 and so I started watching an LP but it was kind of boring so I just decided to commit the time and play it myself. While I'm probably in the minority who don't think it's one of the best (PC) games ever, I'm glad I played it myself and experienced it properly.

    And yes, the games industry is huge now and we owe that in part to this new medium and the people who play these games.
  • Froznic
    I'll never understand the point of watching someone else play a video game over playing it yourself. If I wanted to watch something it sure wouldn't be some guy playing something I want to do. I know many enjoy that sorta thing but games are meant to be played...
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    Not saying whether I agree or disagree with you but you could say the same thing about football or hockey etc. That being said, playing games yourself is obviously much more fun than watching them (for me anyway)...except when it's Thief 4 which I'm struggling to get through at the moment haha.
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    I fully understand watching gameplay to learn tips and tricks but watching a person play because they think they are entertaining me is honestly annoying.

    Some of these folks should ask themselves if they sat at a friends house and watched them play a game and never offer a turn. That's how some of the videos I've tried to watch seem. I just got jealous they weren't handing over the controller.

    There's a marketing strategy for sure with someone like Pewds playing an unreleased title. Watch him play. Get jealous. Go out and buy it. But will players worry that their favorite Youtubers will just turn into corporate hype men?
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    Ha unfortunately it's already happening. If you go on YouTube right now you can see PewDiePie advertising his new backpack for sale but on the other hand that's understandable because he is more than just a game commenter now.

    It's not so easy for other people either though because they might not have the money or the time to play these games but they don't want to be left out of the conversation in the media or just among their friends. Sure they could just go and play at a friend's house but I'm sure they might get annoyed if you refuse to leave because GTA 5 needs about 100 hours of play-time to see and do everything.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I'm not sure I even understand the question.

    This hobby is all about interaction. Without it, it's no different than watching TV or a movie. Why would anyone opt to watch someone play a game when there's plenty of other passive entertainment in the world?
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    Lets just say the title of the article posing the question was changed on my behalf haha. Anyway I would agree with you in that I would never watch a gameplay walkthrough of a game I own or intend to own one day but oftentimes many people are attracted to the personalities who play these games rather than the game itself.
  • HGbrokenCoS
    I'm completely broke, so watching let's plays is the only way I can experience games these days.
  • Simon Costelloe
    Featured Contributor
    I know exactly what you mean HG. There are some people I've spoken to who prefer watching these playthroughs as opposed to playing the games themselves. I'm guessing you're not one of those people though.

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