The internet has given birth to a whole new type of video game reviews: Let’s Play videos. And while not all of these videos are meant to be reviews of games, viewers often take them as such, deciding whether or not to buy a game based on how their favorite YouTuber responds to a game while playing it.
“YouTube bait” refers to the trend of games that are aiming at getting picked up by popular YouTubers for exposure. Examples include Surgeon Simulator, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Goat Simulator. While most YouTube bait probably didn’t start out that way, their ability to inspire laughter or screams in YouTube personalities like PewDiePie or Markiplier have significantly contributed to their popularity.
YouTube bait raises a couple interesting issues; critics question whether popularizing games in this way contributes to an increased number of games in this style—games that prioritize bugged and half-finished gameplay or jump scares over innovation and polish. Games like these, critics argue, are little more than an attempt to cash in on YouTube popularity, and their prevalence oversaturates the gaming market with low-quality games.
It’s an interesting argument but is YouTube bait a threat to “real gaming” that should be taken seriously? Or just a fad that will blow over like any other?
Unpolished Games Attract Let’s Play Videos
Games have struggled to be taken seriously as a medium since they were created. Games like Goat Simulator, the entire premise of which is based on glitches, ragdoll physics, and limited exploration, are certainly not meant to be taken seriously; they’re meant to make players laugh rather than elicit deep and complex emotions. The unpolished nature of the game is its draw—it seems to be thrown together quickly with little attention paid to quality control, but somehow that serves to increase its appeal. An actual Goat Simulator game where players go about the daily life of a goat would hardly be appealing; instead, we’re in it for the sheer ridiculousness of flinging ourselves off of high places and sticking to cars with our tongues.
Are games like this doing anything to further the games medium as a whole? You might be able to make a case for games like Goat Simulator and I Am Bread as Dadaist takes on the video game form, but here’s an alternative approach: these games are meant to be fun and that’s it. Maybe some of them are aiming to cash in on popular Let’s Play personalities, but commercial partnerships are nothing new in the gaming industry—just look at Call of Duty with Mountain Dew and Doritos, or the existence of exclusivity deals that prioritize one console over another.
It’s all silly money-grabbing to an extent. But is it actually harming the industry?
Let’s Play Bait Is Just One Stop on a Gaming Spectrum
In some ways, YouTube bait could be harming the industry. Games like Surgeon Simulator are hardly encouraging critics to take games seriously as a medium, but they do well because players both enjoy playing them and watching others play them.
While arguments rage on over the intended purpose of games—as art forms speaking to the human condition or as entertaining diversions with no social responsibility—there’s definitely room for games to exist along a spectrum. Games like Gone Home, while excellent in a narrative sense, aren’t traditionally “fun.” And games like Super Mario Bros., while heavy on fun and crucial to the existence of the medium, don’t exactly break new intellectual ground and aren’t trying to.
Games considered to be Let’s Play videos bait are focusing on fun over deep commentary on the human condition. And while there are sure to be some particularly egregious examples of YouTube baiting (The Forgotten Ones, while free, received a lot of flack for containing outright references to PewDiePie), games like this rarely receive more attention than a bit of Steam outrage and Let’s Play videos.
Let’s Play Bait Isn’t a Sustainable Genre
Let’s Play bait is unlikely to gain a whole lot of traction as an actual, recurring genre. While PewDiePie might play a game and earn it more sales than it would have without his commentary, many people watch his videos for the personality, not to figure out what games to buy. And while games like Goat Simulator attract a good deal of initial attention, the game has slipped from over 10,000 peak players to just under 2,000 in about a year, and it’s one of the most popularly cited YouTube bait games.
People are going to play silly games because they like them. And while Goat Simulator might be one of the most infamous examples that spawned many offshoots in its wake—Grass Simulator, for instance—these games just don’t have the staying power to keep people interested in them after the initial fun has worn off.
So yes, Let’s Play videos bait will continue to seek exposure through popular YouTubers. But unless these games exert a little more effort—constant updates like Goat Simulator‘s, or the regular release of sequels, like Five Nights at Freddy’s—the fascination just doesn’t work for sustained sales, and that’s not good for the business.