Paying for Let´s Play videos?

Do Let´s Play videos harm indie developers? Nah. This is the internet innit? But what about paying for Let's Play Videos?


How much is a Let’s Play from a YouTube star worth?

I’ve read some speculative stuff but I can sling real data on this.

So far Markiplier’s Let’s Play of our game has 1.8 million views and that resulted in about 10,000 additional downloads of our game over a couple of days. For the month after we got an average of 120 downloads per day. The residual effect is lasting though and we get roughly 30 downloads a day now. Not just from the YouTube links. We were bumped to the front page of and that sort of becomes a self sustaining thing.

How much money did we make?

Hey it was a jam game so we never thought to add a “pay what you want” on it. And although we made no cash off that spike, the additional traffic meant we gathered a nice chunk of player feedback on the first demo of BIG Bad Spanish. And that's what we need right now.

I can give you some other financial gossip about a similar spike. In 2013 one of my apps was featured on and it lead to a direct €820 jump in 24 hours. Nice.

Paying for Let´s play videos

Apparently 25% of YouTubers with more than 5,000 subscribers ¨cut deals¨ with game publishers. It's definitely big business and you don't need me to repeat how much the big YouTubers earn.

This list of ¨Big Youtubers¨ and their stats is interesting.

It´s divisive. Are Let´s Play videos helping or harming indie game developers?

There are a few related arguments about music rights etc but the broader theory is that people will not buy a game if they can watch it online for free.

I first heard about this debate last March when the creator of the ¨worthy¨ game That Dragon Cancer wrote this.

Yes the creators of music and movies lose zillions to piracy these days but Let´s Plays are different. And it´s the age we live in. You can´t create a product without accepting that others will pirate your work and profit from it (worst case) or love and share it (best case).

My first Dr. Moku Android app was on PirateBay within 30 hours of it's release and I could only laugh.

But you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to this internet malarky. I illegally download a couple of films last weekend mostly out of laziness of not wanting to go to the cinema in Spanish.

I’ve requested takedowns of a couple of ad laden YouTube videos which purposefully showed the entire Dr. Moku learning system because that’s just taking the piss.

But we’re fully prepared to see hour long Let’s Plays videos of BIG Bad Spanish in which the entire story is shown and spoilers are blown while the maker earns money from ad views. The one compensating factor is that BIG Bad Spanish uses branching conversations so even if you “watch the full game online for free” you are watching one linear version of the game. It will be different when you play it.


The bug eyed Nigerian: paying for bad data

Around 2005 I worked in a mobile marketing company. This was before smartphones and web browsing on a mobile phone was painful. We paid a research company a whopping €15,000 to conduct user interviews for us. Eye tracking, video split screens of their confused faces, the works. It was to test how our real customers used our ‘SMS web-text’ product, a new site and one of our dopey mobile content sites.

The results were appalling! I wish I still had the videos. It was both devastating and comical to see them fumble their way through. A Nigerian girl´s eyes seemed to gradually protrude from her sockets as she frantically scanned and scrolled the page looking for the T&C´s link which we asked her to find.

And after spending all that cash the sad punchline was that nobody in the company cared or acted upon about the results. The developers dismissed the users as stupid. They knew better.

But goofs aside, the data was shaky for a number of reasons:

  • Pressure to perform is huge.
  • Using a stranger's laptop and mobile never feels right. “Where is the shift key on this?”
  • We paid each user €100 for their time so they were inclined to second guess or try please the interviewer.
  • Did we attract a narrow group? To put it delicately most of these people for various reasons were unemployed and less technically proficient than what we expected. But they were real subscribers.

Lesson Learned:
Once a tester is paid, pressured or wants to please it means you are probably missing the juicy, natural and honest feedback you need.

Using Let´s Plays for demo testing

So besides all the crying over ´lost revenue´ from Let´s Play videos, game developers can’t deny the amazing insights they give on early demos.

At the time of writing there have been two Let’s Plays of the Big Bad Spanish Demo and man oh man I am so happy with them.

This is what I learned from just one Let's Play:

What’s that symbol?
He didn’t know what a € Euro symbol was. I find that fascinating. Now I know that the concept of Spain using the Euro and not US Dollar needs to be explained. I never considered that before.
This may seem redundant but I see the BIG Bad series of games as ‘social simulators’.

I’m autistic. I need everything explained to me like I’m a child. When I was 20 I flew to Amsterdam on my own and I couldn’t figure out the basics of the airport. The choice of icons on the signs confused me. The arrow directions didn’t make sense to me. So explicitly explaining where Spain is on a world map and what currency they use should be included.

Game over
When he failed and saw the Game Over screen it was a shock to him. He didn’t seem to know how the Patience Point meter works. Maybe it needs to be directly over the text options and not fixed to top. Or actually show a the deductions as numbers too.

Our Exit Survey results and Analytics confirm that people are not using the Phrasebook and most probably not aware it exists. I added a low tech fix in the screenshots on demo page last week.


Too many choices

I wrote all of the content and I definitely messed up by making the bad choices too easy to spot. And also adding lame ‘filler’ options was a mistake too. I need to make them more visually similar by just subtly changing one or two letters like:

Tienes una pluma (YOU have a pen)
Tienen una pluma (THEY have a pen)
Tienen unas plumas (THEY have SOME pens)

So who wants to play?

Now we're in the odd position of biting our tongues and not asking or pushing for Let´s Plays of the BIG Bad Spanish demo because we want them to happen naturally.

But once we are rolling I will we be actively seeking Let’s Plays. Would I pay for them? Being honest...yes I would I have no moral qualms about paying for them but I would be more interested in gathering data than trying to rack up views.

So how can indie game developers entice Let´s Players to create videos?

Pay ‘em! Nah it's too broad to answer but reciprocal promotion is probably tops. Giving certain YouTubers and Twitch streamers a ‘first look’ also helps.

One practical thing I learned from The Bear´s Black Heart: provide all logos and images as transparent .pngs or layered files to make it easier for players to create their video thumbnails.


Bob @clamnuts

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