A few years ago, I watched a full playthrough of the first three Phoenix Wright games on Youtube. I enjoyed the story and characters a lot, hence why I pretty much binge-watched what is a series of very story-heavy games. I know it sounds stupid, but that's what happened.

As a consequence, I had no reason to buy and play any of those games. In hindsight, I realize I pretty much pirated the games without ever even playing them. It's not like I enjoyed the games because of their epic gameplay, I enjoyed them because of the story, and since I know what's going to happen, I don't have a reason to play them myself.

I still bought them in the end out of principle (even if it's Capcom...), but how many people are seriously going to do that? I doubt very many.

Now, I'm in the middle of creating my own story-heavy game, and I'm unsure because of how popular gaming channels have become on Youtube. I fear some big youtuber will play my game, a big portion of my potential playerbase will see the story and not be bothered to buy the game themselves. I mean, why should they if they've seen the story? Sure, I get some free publicity/marketing for my game, but what good is that if nobody's going to buy the game?

Is my concern valid? Or am I too pessimistic about people?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel I should note that some games I am curious about so watch a lets play and then think "This looks like a cool game" and deliberately stop watching so I can play it myself without spoilers. So sometimes viewing a lets play might stop a sale but equally other times it might create a sale. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ For me, Let's Plays have taken the place of demo versions. When I can't make up my mind if I would like to buy a game or not from just looking at screenshots (possibly manipulated), trailers (likely cut to make the game look more interesting than it actually is), media reviews (possibly bought) or user reviews (rarely objective), I watch some Let's Play footage to get an impression how the game actually plays. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may lose a sale from one person watching a video, but if they didn't like what they saw you lost nothing, if they did they may tell others and encourage them to buy. Additionally your next game will have a much larger audience if your first game was well received so you are building a future market for yourself \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Repeat after me: watching game content is not stupid. Watching game content is not stupid. Twitch streamed almost 5 billion hours of gaming content in 2016. It's not stupid. \$\endgroup\$
    – corsiKa
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 20:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth considering the potential consequences of attempting to stop people from making videos about your game. As a consumer, my knee-jerk reaction to companies like that is 'they're trying to hide how awful their game is, no buy'. I doubt I'm alone in this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 13:12

3 Answers 3


Yes, you should care about Let's Players. In fact, you should make your game as appealing to them as possible. Reach out to them and encourage them to play your game.

Let's Players have become one of the most important marketing channels for independent game developers. They are a great way to expose your game to a large and interested audience and most of the time they don't even want any money for it. And exposure is everything in a market as crowded as today's game market. Only those people who know your game exists will consider buying it. I am sure some games like Surgeon Simulator or Octodad would have never been as successful if they weren't played into the ground on Youtube and Twitch.

Regarding your fear that "a big portion of your potential playerbase will see the story and not be bothered to buy the game": Have you calculated how large your "potential playerbase" actually is? There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who regularly buy and play video games. Your "potential playerbase" is practically endless, even if your game only targets a niche demographic. But just as countless as your customer pool is your competition. That's why exposure is so crucial for games.

However, if you are afraid that watching your game is just as good as playing your game, make sure it is not. Add multiple major branches to your story and lots of minor decisions which affect later events in the game. You want the audience to constantly wonder what would have happened if the player had done something different. And do not neglect your actual gameplay. The unique strength of games as a medium is that they are interactive. If you just want to tell your story and don't want any audience interaction to interfere with it, you can just as well write a novel.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "If you don't want to make any use of audience interaction, you can just as well write a book." I suggest you emphasize this sentence. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a certain recent game that has some extra dialog for Streamers. Having one of the "villains" of the game suddenly stop talking to say "Oh, you're recording?" and then proceed to say hi to your audience is extremely creepy and one of the must fun aspects of it. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.Sar: What game is that? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 15:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trlkly That would be Doki-Doki Literature Club. It is a visual novel that was recently covered by a varied group of streamers (Including GTLive!) - it starts off as a very pink, lovey-dovey romance but then takes an abrupt left turn into absolute creepiness and meta-horror halfway through it. It is not a game for the faint of heart, by no means. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's another consideration: a person who watched your game on YouTube may or may not buy your game, but (if he likes it) he's going to spread the word to his friends. At the expense of one person who watched the game, you've expanded your audience, bringing zero, one or more paying customers. \$\endgroup\$
    – svavil
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:27

I had a similar experience to the one you describe with some other game I will not mention, and ended up thinking about it in similar terms as you do.

As Bálint says, it is a double edged sword. Yet that does not mean you cannot get ahead.

What happens when they play the game for an online audience, then that audience gets to know the game. If this were people who would not have known about the game otherwise, they are people who would not have bought the game anyway. Thus, you should not think about this as a loss, but as a missed opportunity.

To exploit that opportunity, you need to sell replay value during the gameplay. After all, most "let's players" (for lack of a better name) will rarely replay a game (most of them have to move on to something else to keep their audience interested), thus having multiple endings or stuff locked behind a complete play through will make it harder for them to present the entirety of the game.

Now, replay value is usually achieved with some variation of choice and consequence, yet that could be harder in a story heavy game as those tend to be very linear. In that case, I would suggest catering to theories. How? You avoid heavy exposition in the game. Let the explanations, backstory, setting, lore, mythology and the rest of the world building to those who want to look for it, and make it as deep as it need be.

Do that correctly and “Let's players” will complete the game and only scratch the surface of what the game has to offer. If people watching them find mysteries in the game, if you inspire curiosity, and if people would like to take the control of the game and go explore more by themselves, then most of the work to sell the game has been done.

In abstract, you want to provide joy of discovery, and if you put a lot to discover, “let’s players” will not discover it all.

I fear some big youtuber will play my game, a big portion of my potential playerbase will see the story and not be bothered to buy the game themselves. I mean, why should they if they've seen the story?

Well, it is not that they "should". Yet, they can be interested in playing the game by themselves if:

  • They have not seen the whole story because that is not necessary to complete the game. Perhaps you can replay the game with a different character and get a different point of view.
  • The story is not the only interesting thing of the game. There is a lot of world building beside the story. Then there are the game mechanics that could (and arguably should) be fun and interesting by themselves.

You might be interested in Shandification. The act of telling a story is also the act of picking what is relevant and what is not... there are multiple way to tell the same story by merely changing the point of view. If you can accommodate that in the game and let the player choose on what to focus on instead of dictating it, then you have the potential to make every play through different.

You may even make that literally. For example, the game "Revolution 1979" lets you take the role of a reporter during the eponymous 1979 Iranian Revolution. Although this means that the player is not the protagonist of the history, it allows the player to explore different parts of the history as it unfolds. This allows circumventing the problem of placing the player in command having player action result in something different that the actual history (by being a glorified spectator, you are not in position to change historical events).

See also How a Japanese Indie Studio Kicks Bethesda's Butt at World-Building

Consider also that the experience of playing the game is not the same as watching it. Of course, this is more relevant for an action games (platforming, first person shooting, etc.) - You need to know what you are making, is it a graphic novel or a video game? Consider games like Chrono Trigger, Fallout or your pick of the Final Fantasy series... they do a great job in storytelling and world building, yet they have game mechanics that are (most of them) fun to play regardless of the story.

On the other hand, if you are making something like a detective game, I suggest to find ways to mix things up, so that it does not play the same every time. Crime mystery really suffer in replay value once you know who the criminal is.

Should I look for other ways to monetize my game, just to be sure?

Yes and no.

Not all games fit all monetization schemes. Some games work best in a pay upfront model. In addition, monetization is better when you considered an integral part of the game design (because it can make or break the game).

On the other hand, thinking of ways to monetize the game (even if you end up not doing it) would be a good exercise to find aspect of the design that you could change. For example, if there is a part of the game that could be different thanks to DLS or micro-transaction, that part of the game that could be different, period. If you can make it so that it plays different every time, you have added replay value to the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is very insightful. I learned about some very plot-heavy games such as Sorcery! from Twitch, yet I felt compelled to buy and play them myself due to the copious amount of choices those games provided, despite their generally very linear structure. The more interactivity your game would have, the more likely Youtube exposure would be beneficial to its sales. \$\endgroup\$
    – undercat
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:55

Youtube let's plays are double edged swords. On one hand there's the probability, that you'll lose potential players, but there's also the probability, that you'll gain new ones, especially if you're an indie dev.

Most popular indie games become popular in the first place because of them. You can probably name a few from the top of your head; Stardew Valley, Shower with your dad, Flappy Bird, etc.

There were cases of video game companies being afraid of let's players spoiling the majority of story based games. The most recent I know of was Atlus not allowing youtubers to upload let's plays of Persona 5 after a certain point in the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And there was a lot of backlash with Atlus's policy on Persona 5. People were intentionally spoiling the story on the Persona 5 Twitter account, and someone even wrote a Persona 5 spoiler bot that posted spoilers for any tweet tagged #Persona5. So there is a potential PR issue, and bad PR for a small dev can be fatal. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Streisand strikes again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 17:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, AFAIK, Atlus has been doing this since Catherine. I don't have any idea whether it backlashed at that time though (in the end, I bought and played until the end). \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 3:59

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