Let's Play

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Let's Play is a category of videos in which a person or group of people record themselves playing video games for the entertainment of the video's viewers, typically while providing commentary. They differ from speed runs or walkthroughs in that the emphasis is usually on the player’s commentary rather than the game itself. Many Let’s Players are able to turn their videos into a career through advertisements, merchandise, and other monetization methods. However, they differ from professional gamers in that a Let’s Player is not necessarily skilled at the video games they are playing; rather, most Let’s Players build a following due to their personality and style of commentary. Let’s Plays are most common on the websites YouTube and Twitch.


The logo for the Something Awful forums, where the term "Let's Play" originated

The term “let’s play” is believed to have originated from the Something Awful forums in the early 2000s.[1] These forums featured threads where people would post screenshots from games as they played. These posts were intended to provide entertainment for the reader, either by providing unique commentary on the game being played or due to the player's amusing reactions. It was also common for people to post updates of their games as they played them, while inviting the other forum users to make suggestions regarding which gameplay decisions should be made – essentially creating an environment where the forum would “play” a game together.

Though the term originated from these forums, Michael Sawyer is believed to be the first person to apply the term to a video recording. In 2007 he posted a video of himself playing and commenting on the game “The Immortal” under the username slowbeef. For this reason, the term “Let’s Play” is often credited to him, though Sawyer denies the connection. [1] Since the creation of this video, the term "Let's Play" has been redefined to refer specifically to this video format, with the addition of audio commentary. The format's rising popularity led to a significant rise in the number of Let's Plays being created, ultimately leading to the creation of a new subform dedicated to Let's Plays [2], over two thousand of which are maintained in the Let's Play Archive.[3] This new format of Let's Play led to its spread to various sites around the internet, particularly YouTube. It is now estimated that 95% of gamers use YouTube as their source of entertainment. [4]


Let's Plays have become one of the most popular genres of videos on YouTube. By 2014, "Minecraft" (a popular open-world video game) had become the second most-searched term on YouTube, and three of the five most popular channels were Let's Players. [5] [6] At this time, the top 100 gaming channels on YouTube collected a cumulative total of 4 billion views a month. [7] As of 2015, an estimated 97.5% of all gaming videos on YouTube can be classified as Let's Plays, and are receiving approximately 10.5 billion views per month. [8] A 2014 Google Consumer Survey found that many viewers stated that they watched these videos specifically for the "reactions" and "commentary", implying that the popularity of these videos is related to the personalities of the people who produce them, rather than being caused by the popularity of the games themselves. [5] According to Dar Nothaft, vice president of the gaming network Polaris, popular Let's Players (as they are called) have become a type of "professional fan"; people are drawn to their content because it differs from traditional reviews in that it allows the viewers to "share an 'Oh my God!' moment", essentially experiencing the game together with the Let's Player.[9]

Ethical Implications


As Let’s Plays gained popularity, a debate rose as to who owns the copyright to the material presented in the video. While the developers or publishers of the game typically own the copyright to the game itself, many Let’s Players claim that they have the right to use this material under Fair Use laws. However, there is debate as to whether Fair Use applies in this context, as it is not clear whether the addition a reactions/commentary is enough to make a work “transformative” – one of the requirements for using a work under Fair Use. As of yet, there is no precedent as to whether these claims would hold up in a court of law.

In February 2013, Nintendo partnered with YouTube to place copyright claims on all Let’s Plays of Nintendo products.[10] This gave Nintendo the ability to determine which videos could be uploaded to the site. If Nintendo approved the video, the company would insert ads into the videos in order to receive a portion of the monetization. Reception to this decision was mixed, with supporters arguing that Nintendo deserved to receive a portion of the revenue generated by the product that they created. However, many Let’s Players objected to the copyright claims, particularly because the insertion of Nintendo-owned ads reduced the amount of revenue that they received. This led to a sharp reduction in Nintendo’s popularity among Let’s Players, as the lost revenue meant that most no longer had an incentive to play the games. The drop in popularity led to Nintendo reversing the claims later that year.[11]

Effects on the Market

Let’s Plays have often been considered to be a contributing factor to a video game’s commercial success. This is particularly true of independent developers, who often don’t have a substantial marketing budget. For many developers, Let’s Plays provide free publicity that often leads to increased sales.

However, not all games benefit from increased Let’s Play views. In particular, story-driven games offer suffer reduced sales, as many viewers chose to watch the Let’s Play videos for free rather than paying for the game.

Content Control


  1. 1.0 1.1 Klepek, Patrick · (2015-05-06) · Who Invented Let's Play Videos? · work · 03-22-2017
  2. lastname, firstname · (date) · Something Awful Forums - Let's Play · work · Something Awful · 03-22-2017
  3. lastname, firstname · (date) · The History of the Let's Play Archive · work · Something Awful · 03-22-2017
  4. Getomer, James · (July 2013) · Gamers on YouTube: Evolving Video Consumption · work · Google · 03-22-2017
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ramdurai, Gautam · (December 2014) · "Think Gaming Content is a Niche? Think Again · work · Google · 03-22-2017
  6. Cohen, Joshua · (August 30, 2014) · Top 100 Most Viewed YouTube Channels Worldwide - July 2014 · work · tubefilter · 03-22-2017
  7. Cohen, Joshua · (August 29, 2014) · The 100 Most Viewed Gaming Channels Worldwide - July 2014 · work · tubefilter · 03-22-2017
  8. Brightman, James · (March 18, 2015) · Minecraft: 4.3 billion monthly YouTube views and counting · work · Gamesindustry.biz · 03-22-2017
  9. Wades, Danny · (date) · Pewdiepie and the YouTube Commentary Revolution · work · Polygon · 03-22-2017
  10. King, Ashley · (May 16, 2013) · Nintendo Filing Claims to Ad Revenue on YouTube Let's Plays · work · Nintendo Today · 03-22-2017
  11. King, Ashley · (June 24, 2014) · Nintendo Seems to be Reversing its Let's Play Copyright Claim Policy · work · Nintendo Today · 03-22-2017