DEBATE: Have YouTube Let's Plays Reached A Creative Peak?

26 April 2017, 14:38 | Updated: 6 November 2017, 09:40

Markiplier Games

By Charleyy Hodson

Charleyy takes a deep dive in the most popular video genre on YouTube.

Let's Plays (or "Let Us Play" videos) are such an established genre on the the Internet that it's almost impossible for the generic YouTube user to visit the platform without being offered at least one playthrough for some random game. However, whilst the genre is firmly established, it's seen relatively zero change over the past 12 years of existence... and it's possible some viewers are getting bored of it all now.

As a long-time Let's Play fan myself, I've seen seen games such as Goat Simulator and Grand Theft Auto V completely change the way people have viewed YouTube as a tool for marketing. But when it comes to watching the flood of new videos that get uploaded when a new video game comes up, I have to admit I'm bored of the same old picture-in-picture standard playthrough - but I honestly can't think of a way to revamp it all.

So, to explain why I'm dogging on one of the things I love the most in this world, here's five reasons why Let's Plays have reached their creative peak.

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The "YouTube Gaming Hierarchy" Effect.

You literally cannot talk about Let's Plays without mentioning the likes of PewDiePie, Markiplier, the Game Grumps and iJustine for the early work they did within the genre... but that's the problem. Creators on YouTube with millions of subscribers, whilst they made be excellent at what they do, have caused a huge surge of people to be inspired by their hilarious videos, which has resulted in more copycats.

When PewDiePie hit the scene back in 2006, he was rocketed to success thanks to his OTT screaming reactions to games such as Amnesia and Penumbra - and it's all people have tried to replicate since. Felix has even admitted himself that he was a completely different person once the camera was switched off and doesn't understand why everyone loves "2014 Pewds" as much as they say they do.

Unfortunately, thanks to the hugely established "YouTube Gaming Hierarchy", not only will people be unable to knock them off the top of the charts, but their styles are easy to copy because they simply did it first. There's nothing new to add to the Let's Play conversation in 2017, because everyone else before us has already said it and made their millions.

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The Distance From Its Original Purpose.

The very first mention of "Let Us Play" media came from a message board of the same name found on the website Something Awful back in 2005. People would share tips and pictures of how to play games, and the multiple endings some players would experience, but it wasn't until Michael "Slowbeef" Sawyer uploaded his first commentated video to YouTube that people realised the potential.

After this moment, a ripple effect happened in which users on the Something Awful thread realised that their content would be better hosted on YouTube and everyone migrated over there to continue their conversations. This is originally was Let's Plays stood for; people enjoying watching other people play games they couldn't play themselves or finish.

Flash forward to 2017, and whilst this basic idea is still being continued, the magic of a close knit community and narrative exploration is missing. The only channels that really dedicate themselves now to "playthroughs" are brands and companies such as Polygon or IGN - unless you're JackSepticEye and you want to make 100 episodes of Happy Wheels.

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The Format Is Basic, And Tired In 2017.

When you think of a Let's Play video, how does it form in your head? Does the game take up the majority of the screen whilst the player features in the top right or left corner? Yeah, that's basically how it's been done since day one and honestly, it won't ever evolve past this format. Even Achievement Hunter, one of the original YouTube Gaming OG's, have been criticised by fans of "forcing jokes" and feeling more "scripted".

Viewers will obviously want to see the game being played for context, and thanks to the rise of Internet personalities, the use of a face cam is basically law at this point when it comes to making YouTube videos (especially if you want to become successful). This then begs the question: How creative can you be when the rules regarding your content are so strict and important? Answer: You can't.

Felix is doing a pretty decent job of trying to further his videos at the moment, after criticisms that he never plays video games on his video gaming channel anymore. In the majority of his more recent gaming videos, the game is featured less and less whilst Felix's reactions and ad-libs become a greater focus than the game itself. Even though this makes the video less of a Let's Play and more of a sketch, it's certainly a different way of approaching the subject.

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Let's Plays Biggest Threats; Twitch and Jimmy Kimmel.

While one was a colossal fail and the other continues to creep up on YouTube's crown, in the past few years the whole idea of a YouTube Let's Play has been challenged in wider pop culture. Let's start with Jimmy Kimmel. In a now infamous bit, Jimmy tried to come for the YouTube Gaming community in what can only be described as the most "unfunny", "uncomfortable" and "unproductive" career move anyone has ever seen.

However, after clearly watching one or two videos and trying to attack them (and then calling in support from Markiplier to look cool again), he was able to represent the repetitive nature of video game creators just screaming and being awkward human beings.

And finally, we should talk about Twitch. Twitch has been around for years, but recently it's been coming for YouTube after allowing streamers to store previous streams on their channels for people to watch after they went live. In addition to seeing streamers be more real and less edited, viewers "never know what's going to happen" during a live broadcast unlike Let's Plays that can't have "dead air" and are "edited to be watchable".

With creators such as h3h3 and PewDiePie making steady moves to Twitch and other lives streaming platforms such as YouNow, YouTube's ad problems and stagnant community may be driving away their own homegrown stars.

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So, Is There A Future To YouTube Let's Plays?

The short answer: Yes, of course there is. As long as new games come out and people continue enjoying personalities such as iHasCupquake and Arin Hanson, Let's Plays will never lose popularity. However, the style that they've created for themselves is very much done, and doesn't help a) motivate people to test out new formats or b) encourage people to upload these formats as the old ones are so successful.

Honestly? Let's Plays shouldn't really continue. TV shows have been cancelled once they were critiqued for being repetitive. Game sequels have been blasted for just being a carbon copy of it's predecessor. So, with every Let's Play video of the same video game (and the same OTT reactions and jokes), is it reasonable to expect YouTube gamers to get some sort of backlash from fans? Who knows.

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