Understanding the “Let’s Play” Phenomenon

Playstation 4 controller


Ever wondered what YouTube channel has the most subscribers? Who would you guess it is? Bieber? Rhett and Link? Maybe Epic Rap Battles of History?

Give up?

It’s actually PewDiePie.

Wait, who?

Yep, with 28 million+ subscribers, a Swedish live-streamer who specializes in play-throughs (with commentary of course) of the latest video games has the most popular channel on YouTube. Now, why would millions upon millions of people want to actively watch another person play through a video game you might ask? Simple, it’s part of a growing phenomenon called “Let’s Play”.

“Let’s Play” experiences vary wildly but they tend to focus on bringing an individualized touch and “couch experience” into a community. Today’s games typically don’t offer a party type experience with few exceptions (ex. Smash Brothers). Instead, they take advantage of faster internet to provide a more detached multiplayer experience via headsets (who doesn’t love a seven year old in COD calling you a noob). This brought scale to multiplayer games, but also lost something in personality.

“Let’s Play” videos bring the “couch experience” back by providing you with a “friend” to experience your game with. Clearly, it’s caught on like crazy based on the numbers (channels like PewDiePie can make up to $1.4 million dollars a month just on simple YouTube ads). Game manufacturers are even providing betas and early access to these influencers to help them market their games to new audiences, after all a marketing message from a “friend” is more valuable then one from a company.

What’s Next?

While “Let’s Play” has brought tons of different people together it still mainly exists in a sit-back and watch type of environment. After all, asides from comments you can’t really do much to get involved with that community. However, that all changed with the introduction of Twitch. Twitch is the next stage of “Let’s Play” because it allows actual cooperative play to occur via a series of hacks. It’s known as “CrowdPlay”.  You may have heard of one such hack/event: Twitch Plays Pokémon.

Twitch Plays Pokémon was a massive event: an estimated 658,000 players and 36 million views for a gameplay stream that ran 24/7. According to a Twitch representative, the creator of Twitch Plays Pokémon could have made $100K over the 16 days it was ran, had they set up their channel to support regular ad spots.

Capturing major buzz, this Twitch event got everyone talking not just about interactive viewing experiences, but the notion of “CrowdPlay” where the audience becomes the player. One company that has stepped up to fill this CrowdPlay niche is Overwolf.

Basically, Overwolf adds overlay apps to your favorite games. Game capture, Twitch streaming, TeamSpeak overlay, in-game browser, and many more of smart apps are available as part of their ecosystem. All allowing for an easier entry into hosting your own live-streaming session as well as allowing for clever hacks to be implemented to start playing games. Like IFTTT did for APIs, it will lower the barrier for entry for consumers (and brands) that want to tap onto this CrowdPlay phenomenon.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s next for CrowdPlay – I think it’s going to turn some major heads and become a bigger part of the gaming ecosystem over the next few years.

Image Source: William Hook

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