Do Let’s Players hurt sales of adventure/narrative-driven games?

I got into an interesting discussion on Twitter last night — which, frankly, I probably should have been more awake for.

The debate was about how developer Atlus have effectively told Let’s Players not to play their game (at least, not any more than the beginning of the game).

The official explanation is that it’s a story-based game and Atlus doesn’t want the story spoiled for people who haven’t had a chance to play it themselves. A cynic like myself, however, might entertain the notion that it’s also an attempt to prevent people from just sitting down and watching a playthrough on YouTube or Twitch instead of going out and actually buying their own copy.

“You can just put the cash right in my hand, thank you.”

The question then becomes: do streamers or YouTubers who play games from start-to-finish — particularly games that rely heavily on an unfolding narrative, like adventure games — hurt sales of those games?

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The importance of good world building – or, how Resident Evil 7 won me over

Not so long ago, I watched some Let’s Plays of Resident Evil 7, and wanted to write about being surprised that, for the first time in my life, I found myself actually giving a shit about a Resident Evil game. I’ve also watched the DLC stuff — in fact, recently, I watched some of the second DLC package, in particular the “Daughters” segment.

You be quiet, you little demon spawn!
You be quiet, you little demon spawn!

Now I feel like I have a handle on what I actually want to talk about, which is what made me suddenly give a shit about Resident Evil. It’s not just the masterfully creepy suspense that I think almost everyone agrees is done to damn near perfection. It’s also the keen sense of world-building and history that went into crafting the story.

Because, on the surface, Resident Evil 7 sounds like any survival horror game: you’re trapped in a confined location, monsters are out to get you, and you have to survive while the game does everything in its power to dick you over. Monsters will jump out when you least expect it; you’re always running out of space in your inventory; you’ve never got enough bullets in your gun to take down even the puniest of enemies.

Even story-wise, at least on paper, it sounds kind of hokey. A rural family in Louisiana has gone batshit insane, apparently taking your wife hostage, and your first instinct is to just go in there after her, instead of doing something sensible, like call the police or, at the very least, bring a fucking gun.

Luckily, the Baker family anticipated your arrival and kindly left some out for you to kick their asses with.
Luckily, the Baker family anticipated your arrival and kindly left some out for you to kick their asses with.

There’s more going on here than what’s just at the surface, though. So I want to dive into that for a bit, but first:

Huge, dinosauric spoiler warning. If you haven’t played Resident Evil 7 yourself, and you intend to at some point in your life, you might want to find something else to read.

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Joint commentary videos – a step-by-step guide

One of the things I’ve been looking to do on my YouTube channel is more collaboration efforts. I loved doing the YouTuber Roundtable videos, but I also want to actually play more games with friends.

Inspired by the joint playthrough of Simon the Sorceror with SomeGuy (which has since been deleted, sadly), I decided I wanted to try something similar. I decided on Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity as the first game to try out joint commentary on, because my good pal Joe recently did a podcast episode on it, preceded by a video. Since it’s a game with a lot of minor branching paths, however, I invited Joe to be co-commentator on my playthrough of the game where I tried to do everything exactly right (that is, get all the pats on the back that Starfleet can give you).

“Who’s a good boy? You are! You’re a good boy!”

As opposed to a normal Let’s Play, where, aside from a bit of editing, you’re pretty much done with it when you’ve stopped recording, doing these joint commentary videos is a bit more work. The upside of it is that, at least for me, it gives me a good backlog of content that I can schedule to go out, thereby freeing up some time to work on other projects. Joe and I just did our commentary for the first half of the game this weekend — a two-hour session that will be split into four episodes.

If you want to know how to go about it, here’s a handy step-by-step guide on how to do your own joint commentary videos.

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Another fan tribute bites the dust

I shouldn’t be surprised, but it still comes as a depressing blow: Went2Play’s high-quality remake of Fate of Atlantis has been told to pack it in because “guuhhh license uggghh copyright blaaah.”

"Doctor Ubermann! Not-so-fantastic news."
“Doctor Ubermann! Not-so-fantastic news.”

It’s hardly surprising, given that the game was not just a remake of an existing game by a well-known developer (LucasArts) that Went2Play didn’t have the rights to, but that said game was also an Indiana Jones game, another license that Went2Play didn’t have the rights to. Looking back on it, I suppose a venture of this nature was doomed to fail.

It’s also incredibly disheartening, because this is another case of seeing dedicated, creative souls wanting to pay tribute to a favorite game of theirs, only to get shut down by the powers that be because it might “hurt sales” or somehow sully the brand.

Are they within their right to shut it down? Of course. No one is debating that.

Is it, as my mate Gareth says, morally right? No. Not if you ask me. These people were not out to spite the original, or claim it as their own.

The bigger question is: Would a fan tribute to a game of this kind really hurt sales of the original?

I don’t have the answer to that. My gut reaction says no. People would look at this and think, “Wow, that looks cool. I should try the original.” Shawn (of Infamous Quests), however, says people would be too cheap to spring for the original because a) the new one would be shinier, and shiny is all a modern audience cares about, and b) the original costs money, and modern audiences don’t like to spend money.

If it was an old game that had been out of circulation for a long time, perhaps even on the brink of obscurity, I would definitely disagree.

But this one is a tricky one because you’re not just dealing with an old game. You’re dealing with an old game that’s still being sold and has the goddamn Indiana Jones name on it.

And maybe Shawn is right that, should someone who’s unfamiliar with the original stumble upon this, they would have no interest in subsequently going out and paying for the original.

The counter-argument to that is, well, Fate of Atlantis sells for peanuts on GOG and Steam; it’s hardly like this is make-or-break territory. But, through the eyes of corporate thinking, lost revenue is lost revenue, even if it’s just peanuts.

As much as it pains me to see it go, maybe it was foolish to think Fate of Atlantis: Special Edition would ever actually be completed. It hurts to see an effort with this much love, affection and talent behind it get squashed — yet again — but this is the world we live in, it seems.