Have YouTubers Ruined Video Games For Everyone Else?
3 November 2016, 17:08
We dive into the deeper issues.
Something pretty significant has just happened in the wide and wonderful world of video games - an influential developer has announced that they will not be allowing anyone to play their games before general release. Sure, this might not affect the general public because launch day will stay the same, but this means that you will no longer see previews or early access playthroughs of video games such as Skyrim, Fallout or DOOM.
This could serve as a huge problem when it comes to consumer behaviour and marketing campaigns. When you take into account that nearly 50 million people subscribe to PewDiePie and that a 10-minute video on his channel could seriously bump up sale on any given game - we have to wonder why this is even a thing. But with this restriction happening to an entire industry, people are looking for someone to blame... and the finger is being solely pointed at YouTubers.
We're about to break down why, and how, this could potentially mean that YouTubers have ruined video games for everyone else - are you ready?
So, what's actually happening?
Basically, the developers of one of the most popular games of all time have decided not to release their game early for YouTubers or press outlets to play and review. Now, this wouldn't be so much of a problem if their games weren't famous for having a main campaign that lasted well over 40-50 hours. Therefore, the minute their game is made public in the future, you can expend to see a sudden influx of clickbait headlines and YouTube videos trying to cash in on the hype.
Bethesda, the company pulling the stunt, essentially want consumers to preorder their game before any reviews or Let's Plays go live because they could contain negative messages about the game before its release - or spoil the main story. Many people in the gaming industry, particularly journalists, have claimed that this is because "YouTubers have usurped their role in the cycle" - meaning that creators have pushed their way ahead of traditional reviews without any consideration that qualified writers are still trying to do things the old fashioned way.
So the argument for pre-release reviews has now become a double edged sword -
- If someone DOES get exclusive access to a Bethesda game, will it be a paid-for promotion full of bias?
- But, based on the fact that we can't see the game before release, how can we trust that we'll even like it thus put in a preorder?
But, why is YouTube to blame for this?
Many cite that the main problem with paid promotions comes from the fact that they can be perceived as less honest - playthroughs could be hyped up and reactions faked if there's a hefty cheque waiting for you if the developer is happy with your review. In fact, this is one of the main criticisms of gaming YouTubers in general, and is something which Forbes Magazine refers to as "favourable coverage", because content creators have "complicated the ethical landscape [of game criticism]" meaning that they have the unlimited freedom to create whatever the hell they want.
This is an opinion backed up by Stephen Totilo of Kotaku, who believes that publishers may be more "eager to hook up an enthusiastic YouTuber with a finished copy of the game a month before anyone else". This is mainly because "YouTubers are what the so-called 'enthusiast press' used to be: fans just thrilled to have access". It begs the question of how much a YouTuber would be willing to be paid to say something nice about a game against their better judgement... makes you think doesn't it?
Wait - when did money ever become so important when it comes to video games?!
Oh, it's massively important. In a popular Reddit thread from 2015, a game developer revealed that he had been approached by a YouTuber to play his video games on their channel - at a cost. They made it clear that for 2-3 talking points, it would cost $17,600 and if they wanted an additional link in the description, it would cost them a total of $22,000. The general response to this revelation was to "name and shame these gluttons", until a YouTuber actually joined in the conversation.
Arin Hanson, of Game Grumps, popped into the forum to share his experience as a genuine content creator. He made it clear that because of the way AAA companies such as Bethesda run their business model, some YouTubers are given up to "30k" to play their games because it's just petty cash. This means that some creators come to believe that "this is what [they're] worth" and charge other, smaller companies the same price point.
Also, influencer promotions can cost a hell of a lot of money but may not equal results - just take this JackSepticEye video below. Uploaded on the 4th of September 2015, it has a respectful 1 million views almost a year down the line. However, even though he is one of the hottest YouTubers on the platform, the developer of the game reported only 150 copies had been sold almost a week after it's exposure on Jack's channel. Now imagine sinking thousands of dollars worth of promotion into something like that. Do you think it's worth the pre-release hassle?!
Is there any way to recover the value of YouTubers in the future?
Well, it's funny you should ask because many other video game developers have spoke out about the incredibly positive effects of YouTubers/Let's Play videos - so it's not all doom and gloom. David Wreden, the creator of The Stanley Parable, wrote a blog for Gamasutra in which he did a "postmortem" of his own influencer campaign with Game Grumps and their Steam Train series.
For the demo that went live on the GG channel, it was tailored to their audience thanks to their narrator, Kevan, actually recording his own lines of dialogue and jokes into the video game build they would play through. This meant that "nothing was spoilt a week before launch" and it "built up a huge buzz that ultimately led to a hugely successful launch". Why? Because they got creators to EXPERIENCE their game, and not just UPLOAD some footage for the pay off.
The second example comes from Mike Bithell, the creator Thomas Was Alone. Now in his case, his game was already released back July 2012 to semi-decent results. The game also went into the "50% off" Christmas sale on Steam, which helped increased its overall sales. But Mike attributes its greatest success to be because of of YouTubers; "On January 1st , Total Biscuit did a WTF video about the game. Thomas sold eight times more units than on launch day. In a matter of hours. I was outselling Assassin's Creed 3 on Steam"... now that's some powerful influence right there.
To put things simply, the people who make the incredibly popular video games Skyrim and Fallout will not be releasing their game early to press outlets or YouTubers. Most people feel this is because YouTubers can overly hype a game to a more specific audience thanks to clickbait headlines, unlike traditional websites that rely on ethics - but it's important to point out that no direct reason has been stated by the company.
On the flip side, early access previews on YouTube and gaming websites could also reveal glitches, flaws and other negative points about a game - so some people feel that Bethesda have decided to cancel press copies of their games to make sure they have a trouble-free launch day. Which, TBH, would make perfect sense.
But what do YOU think? Have YouTubers ruined video games for everyone else? Let us know in the comments below.