The Wil Wheaton Effect Is Why Video Game Makers Should Embrace Let's Play Videos

from the game-theory dept

We haven’t made a secret of our appreciation for Wil Wheaton here at Techdirt, in particular for his forward-thinking approach to digital content and intellectual property. More specifically, I’ve mentioned in the past that I am hopelessly addicted to Wheaton’s YouTube show, Table Top, on which he features a series of table top board games being played by himself and a rotating panel of guests. As I was poking around trying to figure out when the series would resume for its fourth season, after amassing tons of crowdfunded money for the previous season, I came across an interesting thread discussing what had been dubbed “The Wheaton Effect.”

This thing is big. This could do a lot for our hobby. It’s easy to think that these are existing gamers being introduced to new games, but I had at least two people who were not really gamers start conversations like “So hey, aren’t you into board games? Well I just saw this thing on the internet…” after the first episode. All of this being said, I’m getting Tsuro.

Now, we happen to know a thing or two around here about terms that get dubbed an “effect”, especially when the revolve around exposure through internet channels. The Wheaton Effect is essentially a noticeable jump in sales for games that are featured on Table Top. As the original Reddit poster implies, the exposure generated by the game being featured on the show is a boon for sales. I would think this is an intuitive idea, in which an otherwise unaware public becomes aware of the fun to be had through these games and then goes out and buys them.

So, if this is a thing, as it appears to be, why in the world do some video game makers take a different approach with “Let’s Play” videos, whether it’s attempting to claim the monetization of them, control the content within them, or outright take them down via DMCA notice or by using YouTube’s ContentID? It doesn’t make sense if these types of videos result in exposure that leads to sales.

And, to be fair, much of the gaming industry has come around to this idea. You can see the evolution not only in the stance of the publishers, who often times go so far as to work with sites to unblock Let’s Play videos that were automatically nabbed by ContentID, but also in video game hardware itself. The latest generation of consoles, specifically the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, are both designed specifically with ways for gamers to record gameplay and share those recordings. But Nintendo and some other lagging studios are more restrictive and I can’t imagine why. Sales are what’s important and exposure brings with it sales. The Wheaton Effect is an example of this, but this concept isn’t in any way limited to the realm of table top games. Give up just a little bit of control, it seems, and you spur on sales.

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Comments on “The Wil Wheaton Effect Is Why Video Game Makers Should Embrace Let's Play Videos”

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tek'a (profile) says:

I can provide anecdotal backup to the idea of the Wheaton Effect (aka The Tabletop Influence Field aka Play More Games Theory). Tabletop has introduced/encouraged my tabletop game habits and acts as a handy infection vector. Being able to point to a youtube series to show a game being played with a maximum of clarity and minimum jargon helps.

Well-produced (lighting, camera work, graphics, editing) video of games being played is a big plus as well. Where video existed before it was too often a mess. The addition of a moderately famous person showing something they are passionate about to other moderately famous people who are enthusiastic about the idea (if often not specifically familiar with the game in question) usually comes across with a strong encouraging vibe. There will always be some grognards complaining about “mainstreaming” but a rising tide indeed raises all ships.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It doesn’t have to be Wheaton himself to be the Wheaton Effect. For example, I had absolutely ZERO interest in playing any Bethesda games until I watched Gopher’s series of YouTube Let’s Play videos on Skyrim and Fallout 3. At that point, I rushed out and got Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, and Skyrim.

Ads for these games are rarely very good and do a lousy job of promoting the games, but the Let’s Play series from a number of folks stir interest much better, and keep that interest alive for years.

ryuugami says:

Control vs Profit

But Nintendo and some other lagging studios are more restrictive and I can’t imagine why.
Bullshit, Tim. You know very well why.

Give up just a little bit of control, it seems, and you spur on sales.
See? It’s all about control. Absolute control is more important than profit. Also see: MAFIAA.

Of course, the more they tighten their grip, the more people slip through their fingers…

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Control vs Profit

Give up just a little bit of control, it seems, and you spur on sales.

See? It’s all about control. Absolute control is more important than profit. Also see: MAFIAA.

Exactly what I was thinking. It’s hard to understand how they managed to grow to adulthood and go into business yet still get this simple thing so badly wrong. A corollary to this is bad PR certainly does drive business away, and this is a worst case example of bad PR. Nobody wants to have anything to do with greedy control freaks, except lawyers I suppose.

Anonymous Coward says:

I suspect its because the board games are fun to play, well made and reasonably priced – whereas computer games these days can be very hit and miss and ridiculously expensive! The last thing they want is some honest reviewer saying – yeah well it looks pretty, but plays like a dog and they use micropayments for ammo – don’t bother.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Reasonably Priced

A lot of top tier board games are in the $60-70 range these days, and can be just as hit or miss. (Machi Koro was a huge miss for my group, for instance, though I don’t mind it and think it’s a good gateway game.)

Heck, DLC for board games is called expansions. Not that different. And then you’ve got Magic: The Gathering (of money from my wallet)…

Violynne (profile) says:

pecifically the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, are both designed specifically with ways for gamers to record gameplay and share those recordings.
Okay, now that the tears have stopped flowing from laughing so hard, time to get down to business.

In what damn planet does a person reside to believe the XBox One was specifically designed to record gameplay and share those recordings?

First up, as an XBox One owner, the actual mechanism to record the video is clearly an after thought, where a bunch of brain-dead designers sat in a room and asked the question “Of all the console buttons we have, how should we make it the most annoying to record video or take a screenshot?”

For you non-owners of the 30% App Cut One, the answer is by double clicking the controller’s power button quickly, then quickly using the D-pad to select either video or screenshot.

In case you don’t understand why quickly was emphasized, the next time you play a game on any console and hit the controller’s start button and note what happens to the game. Better yet: the game pauses, as it should. Thus, if you don’t quickly make your options, your video consists of the gorram pause screen.

Moving onto the other asinine statement is the upload content provider we’re forced to deal with, and trust me when I say this, I’m not alone to say THE CONTENT PROVIDER FUCKING SUCKS.

That provider is Twitch, and the name should ring a bell to fellow Techdirt readers, because this is the same content provider who strips music from video uploads, because all that time you took to edit your finely produced and edited video (now that you can truncate the pause screen) is cut by Twitch.

In fact, the entire ability is clearly a “We hate the idea of gamers sharing” that people can’t even use their own music for their videos (though I could clearly see how this could be “abused”, despite the effect having the “Wow! Great song! Who made it?”).

I also enjoy Wil’s commentary about all things digital, but I also get the feeling behind his words is a flock of lawyers who guide him on what he can and should say.

Because you can bet your ass one day, someone will see Wil playing a board game and take the video down.

If this never happens, the next obvious remark would be “How much did you get paid for this cleverly disguised advertising”?

That’s the bullshit world we live in, and despite Techdirt’s repeated articles of how it’s clearly getting worse, Wil’s practices are now an instructional video on what NOT to do, especially on a media that can reach billions around the world.

Because lawyers still exist.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“both designed specifically with ways for gamers to record gameplay and share those recordings.”

“the actual mechanism to record the video is clearly an after thought”

He didn’t say designed well, just that it was a feature designed into the console. They redesign their console GUI completely every couple of years anyway, but incompetency in designing user interactivity doesn’t make the fact that the feature is there any less true.

Ditto the content provider. Just because you don’t like the platform that Microsoft signed an exclusive contract with, that doesn’t mean that the sharing is not designed as part of the console’s feature set.

Violynne (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Except, people tend to forget: this was NOT a feature when the XBox One launched.

And for the record, it does matter if the feature is well-implemented because if it sucks, then most people won’t use the feature (and I’m one of them).

It’s just very frustrating when these companies all push for “social interaction” but then make it damn near impossible to do it.

Worse: when they don’t even give you a choice of service to use.

Just trying to get a screenshot to my OneDrive account is such a magnanimous pain in the ass, I just stopped trying.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Except, people tend to forget: this was NOT a feature when the XBox One launched.”

Doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s a feature that’s designed as part of the OS. Whether Microsoft designed the console with it in mind from day one, or they added it in a mad scramble to compete with the PS4 (among many other changes) after they screwed up their launch announcement is neither here nor there in terms of the point being made.

“It’s just very frustrating when these companies all push for “social interaction” but then make it damn near impossible to do it.”

Microsoft are notoriously bad at adding features that require them to share with other providers, especially those that don’t depend on exclusive contracts with a single provider or which require openness. They’ve improved greatly over the years, but they still have the mindset of a monopolist.

I don’t want to be that guy, but your problem here is specifically that you bought a Microsoft product. If sharing was so important to you, you perhaps should have chosen the console with a button for that specific purpose on the controller, not the one that added it as an afterthought. (For the record, I also own an XBox One, but it’s not my only console and I made sure that the benefits outweighed the obvious downsides before I paid money)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Board games are an investment. While there are many low cost games, many start at $60 and move upwards. Not everyone, somehow, is aware of Board Game Geek and the large community there sharing information about different games.

Tabletops is a 30 minute(ish) quick game play example with “famous” people. You can see the basic concepts and see if people are enjoying themselves. You might not know all of the rules at the end of the video, but you will have a very solid understanding if the game is for you or not.

Board Game Geek is nice, but text descriptions can’t compare to seeing what is inside the box & people playing it.

If you want someone to hand you $50+ for your game, you have to give them more than 10/10 ratings from a site (which might have odd standards or payment agreements), and some best case scenario clips on a machine 5x more powerful than the basic requirements.

The more ‘Lets Play’ videos the more chances for your game to catch someones eye. The fear for many studios is someone might not give them a glowing review. They want control over the image of the game, they don’t want to hear any criticism (deserved or not). A popular “Lets Play” person panning your game means your dead in the water, sales will suffer – but the upside is a good one can drive sales.

They need to focus more on making great games, rather than micromanaging the image. If you have a good game, you have a good image.

Jim the Bear (profile) says:

On Wil Wheaton
He’s a jerk. My personal favorite example of his jerkness is him exploiting the suicide of a 12 year old girl to push to end anonymity (link below). Before you go and say but it’s only gaming, remember that A) that means giving up anonymity in all gaming activities and linking all usernames to your real name if you dare want to play with people you meet online, B) Blizzard tried this and it lead to one of their moderators being doxxed and having his, and his parents’, information plastered all over the internet permanently, and C) remember that there are plenty of people being jerks on Facebook under their real name.

On the “Wheaton” effect
Agreed wholly. I bought Way of the Samurai 4 after watching ExintheVatican play it on YouTube, whereas I didn’t know that it existed before. I currently have 5 games on my waitlist after watching them on YouTube and am actually watching Darkest Dungeon right now, which is seriously tempting me to buy it. Watching raw gameplay from someone is the single best way to judge a game, period. It’s also really fun to watch someone learn a game and can pick up some strategies yourself.

Yehuda Berlinger (profile) says:

Because video games are different from board games

Most modern board games, and all of the ones that Wil Wheaton showcases, are designed with fun and innovative mechanics, designed for replayability because of how they play. Board games that are not fun to play, but just fun to look at – such as ones that have silly cards, but after reading through all of the cards there is no more enjoyment in the game – are not featured by him.

Some video games are like the silly cards games – you want to see all of the cool graphics that they have in the game, but the gameplay is exactly like a thousand other games you have played before; the only interest is the visuals. On top of that, even for games with better gameplay, there are many people who only play games because they want to see the graphics, and not work at the gameplay in order to see them, which is not the case for board games.

Add to that that many games are about the puzzles, and once they are solved, the game is essentially done, and that explains – partially – why video game walkthroughs are different from board game walkthroughs.

Second, tens of millions of people already know about big video game titles, while only a few thousand people know about even some of the big board game titles, like Tsuro or Puerto Rico.

A YouTube video isn’t going to boost the number of people who know about a major video game by more than a fraction of a percent. A YouTube video by Wil Wheaton boosts the number of people who know about a board game five or ten-fold, and many of them may not be board game geeks.

Video game companies have large marketing departments, and their attitude is that a bad review is not better than no review; they want to control the message. They try to bully game journalism into only giving good reviews, and they are pretty successful in that regard. They are going to try to bully people who make disparaging remarks about their games on YouTube, and the way to do that is to use DMCA to take down the videos.

Lastly, video game companies, like other media companies, have large legal departments with nothing to do but worry about copyright infringement – video games can be digitally copied, while board games can’t; board game companies are small and don’t have big legal departments – Hasbro, Mattel, Jaxx, and a few others are the exceptions. You can bet that if Wil Wheaton did a negative review about Hasbro on his site and used their IP to do it then Hasbro’s lawyers would – at least – be having a conversations about it.

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