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Video Reviewers' Ripple Effect
by John Ardussi on 07/12/14 03:07:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The idea that video reviewers on YouTube or TwitchTV are the future way of selling in the video game industry may be correct, but the evidence is not here yet. My argument is that these gameplay videos are more like content than commercials. While there are many reviewers are out there, most are not helping enough to make it worthwhile.

The Little Guy

There is an automatic alliance with the little guy, the underdog, the kid who just likes to play games. We root for them and hope that they can succeed. So when we first got contacted by indie people who just wanted to make a video of our game, we were already to start passing out codes. But something happened the first day that changed everything - we had at least as many requests for free copies of the game as we had buyers of the game. So I had to check them out.

Typically the prior videos most of these people had made had 30 or less views. If we could have gotten one sale for one free code, I would have done it in a heartbeat. But these numbers seemed to low. So I, having no numbers to work from, made the policy that unless a reviewer had 100,000 subscribers and typically 10,000 views of their videos, they had to buy the game to review it. But by buying the game, they automatically had permission to make a video.

The Basics of a Good Reviewer

Let's start out with the fact that many reviewers don't or just forget to put a link to your game with their video. These reviewers are useless. Why? Because when there is a link to the game with the video, we find that about 1 in 500 actually click on it. Imagine if the link is not there how that number drops. It may even be zero. It is certainly so close to zero we cannot distinguish it from background noise. Good reviewers always include the link.

Good reviewers drive people to your page whether or not they liked the game. While they may personally not be able to get past the missing “Invert Mouse” feature, their viewers may love the game and want to find out more. To assume that they are the final word on whether you should buy the game being reviewed is beyond arrogance. So they should always close with a message on how to get more information about the game.

Good reviewers should not try and break your game. We actually had one guy say that he hated games like ours and proceed to find ways of staying alive while not playing our game the way it was designed. Good reviewers should play the game as designed. We have in-game hint pages that many reviewers never read. We have puzzles that many just quit without attempting saying they don't get them (usually without reading the clues in the pages as well). You want a reviewer who has played a lot of games but not one that expects your game to be just like the one they like in the genre best.

Why Tell?

I have no idea if what we see is typical but I am going to just put it out there. Those who know me know that you can pretty much ask me any question and unless I am under an NDA or don't know the answer, I will answer the question (which is why my wife made me sign an NDA). And indie developers should all help each other. More information makes it more likely we can do the right thing.

Actual Numbers

Now that we have some numbers, the views of their past videos should be 15,000 if I want to make sure and get a sale. Anything less is unlikely to result in a sale. But I don't look at all their videos. I only look at games similar to ours. "Amnesia" is a great one. Although their game sells better than ours, we tend to get better views than them. That is likely due to the fact their game is over 6 months old and ours is still beta. Find a game comparable to yours in views as more and more reviewers post their reviews.

When page visits are high enough that we have seen a bounce, visits to purchases have been 1.5-3.4%. We are still in beta so this may change after we release. I will post an update after we go live. But for now – 150,000 views will generate 300 page visits and 4-10 sales. <- Did you see that? 150,000 views = 4-10 sales. I never would have guessed that. Even if you stretch that out to the 4-5 million views of a PewDiePie, that is 120-300ish. That is the brass ring of sales from the top guy. Not very impressive.

Bottom Line

“Let’s Play” and their like will always be an important tools to get the word out for indie developers. But there is a huge difference between getting the word out and sales. Setting your expectations up ahead of time is important. Don’t imagine that the brass ring is the goal.

If you are a “Let’s Play” reviewer, get better at helping the developer. You don’t have to change your review of the game, just make sure you give out all the information needed. I know we keep track of who did it right and don’t go back to the people who do it wrong. If you want to increase your audience, being a dev favorite will go a long way towards that.

Please if you have any more information of this type, share it. If your sales rock compared to ours, tell me so we can shoot higher.

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Greg Pryjmachuk
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Actual numbers, very insightful. Thank you for this and best of luck coming out of beta!

Michael O'Hair
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Numbers are one thing, basic math is another, but cited metrics are a completely different animal.

Christopher Landry
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Once you get out of Beta and have been released for at least a month, come back with totals. Specifically, I mean it doesn't matter what numbers you get right now, you're in Beta. It also doesn't matter what the sales per video are, especially for a Let's Play series of videos.

For that, you need to look at the total sales for all of the youtube videos and average out the number of views per video. This is especially true for the 2nd and beyond video in a series of Let's Play videos by a single YouTuber. That audience is probably 60 to 80% consistent between videos, and it may not be til the 5th or 10th video before they decide to buy it. If you go by sales per video, you're making it sound tiny, but go by sales per series or sales per YouTuber, and you may find much larger numbers.

For instance, if a YouTuber puts out 10 videos on your game, each has 10,000 views that overlap and about 2,000 unique views in addition, and each video gets you 10 sales (while you're in Beta), that comes out to 100 sales from the work of that YouTuber, not 10. I can't imagine that the number of sales would go down after release, so that total keeps climbing.

Releasing data like this, before release and on a per video basis, seems awfully misleading and a bit short-sighted.

Eric Gilbert
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I have never bought a game because of a YouTube video (and can't image I ever will). Just one data point for ya ;-)

Ian Richard
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I've actually bought quite a few because of Let's Plays. In fact, there are entire genre's I play now because of them.

But I have NOT BOUGHT at least as many because of videos. Sometimes its a game that wasn't what I expected, a game that just sucked, or the usual AAA title that rely on story and had no value other than watching. If the video satisfies my curiosity about the game, I won't be buying it.

Youtube videos are neither the godsend of "LPers are "free advertising" nor "ruining gaming". They are just another source of information that each of us use in our own way.

Kujel Selsuru
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"Youtube videos are neither the godsend of "LPers are "free advertising" nor "ruining gaming". They are just another source of information that each of us use in our own way."

This is very true.

Aaron San Filippo
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Thanks for sharing your numbers! I'm curious how this compares to your conversions for website coverage on average?

I would say that it's not the job of "let's Players" to help developers, any more than it's the job of any reviewer to do the developer any favors. Not every LP'er is going to like your game, but that's OK. For the big ones, even a lukewarm reception can result in positive sales, in my experience.

Also- keep in mind that there are lot of things that can affect your conversion rate, including the quality of the audience for the particular Youtuber. When DanNerdCube covered our game while it was on greenlight, the video had 100s of thousands of views, and thousands of them came to our page saying "Dan sent me!" It was instrumental in getting over that final hump of votes we needed. When TotalBiscuit played our game on our Steam launch day, it helped boost our day-one sales, which we believe helped us stay on the front page for a week.

Bottom line is: when someone is very enthusiastic about your game, and it has instant visual appeal and looks like a ton of fun to play - you WILL see better conversions.

Joseph Mirabello
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Hmm...I don't want to offend, but I do feel like your analysis is a bit dismissive---or at least is contrary to what I've seen myself. Alternatively, your write up is missing a few factors that might help explain the numbers you've seen. For example, You never state yourself--or provide a link to--the actual game you're talking about.

Anyway, some games simply don't resonate well with the LP or youtube community...or have too much competition within their genre...or are not available on the most accessible platforms for the buyer..or are priced or marketed in a way that messages "hold off till completion/discount/promotionals"...or perhaps are victim to yet another (potentially coming, I really don't know) seachange, as the days of Youtubers being the sole cause of a game's virality give way to other mediums (twitch, for example).

I haven't been keeping strict data, but anecdotally, with Tower of Guns, I've found very little correlation between Youtuber subscriber counts/views and resulting sales--sure there's a raw number correlation, and with the biggest channels theres a dramatically larger raw number, but the follow-through *percentages* I've seen are ALL over the place. It seems the youtuber's own community drives what sort of follow-through I've seen. HJTenchi, a twitch streamer, for example does not have huge follower numbers, however the viewership he has responds well to his endorsements (or criticism). Similarly, there are larger youtubers who, while driving a lot of attention and other youtubers my way, don't have similar follow-through percentages.

I suspect that you're right that there are a lot of smaller channels that seem to be only making videos to get free games, with only a casual desire to invest work in their channels, and that the best youtubers DO do the due diligence of providing links to storepages, regardless of whether or not they liked the game....but I think your 100k subscriber count is dismissive of many of the *most* passionate Youtubers--those who are just on or over the cusp of being able to make videos or stream full time (seems to be between 50 and 80k subs or so, though I think it's more viewer driven than sub driven. Some of those youtubers have the most involved communities I've ever seen.

Dane MacMahon
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I don't think the description link thing is anywhere near important, honestly. For one thing hardly anyone looks at that text on YouTube, that's why so many comments ask questions answered already in that text, and why so many videos beg you to read it.

Secondly I would say YouTube videos or ones like them (Giant Bomb, etc.) are my main source of game purchase assistance and yet I have never, not even once, clicked an affiliate link. Why not? Because the Steam website is largely redundant and I just flip over to the client to purchase games or wish-list them.

Awareness has to be an indie's best friend in this crowded market and YouTube videos increase awareness. I wouldn't throw free keys around like water but you seem a little overly skeptical for someone that needs as many eyes on their product as possible.

John Ardussi
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Maybe for different games it is different. Our game is a first person story based puzzle game. Once you have seen the story and how to solve the puzzles, it is like watching a movie on BitTorrent and then going to the theater to watch it again. Why pay for it after you have seen it?

We have already decided to change our genre and gameplay for the next game designed around getting attention in the new world we live in. We are much more likely to sell a game to a viewer if they are prompted by the TwitchTV host to join them live.

Our current game is single player and that may be holding us back as well.

Christian Nutt
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Sad to hear (twice in two weeks) that YouTubers are influencing developers away from creating story-based games and towards pure multiplayer-focused games, even if it is unsurprising.

Fabian Fischer
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If anything, that's a positive. It (incidentally) drives games to make true use of what makes them unique. Which is definitely NOT storytelling.

Alex Lemcovich
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I agree with all of what Dane points out. That said, I don't see the harm in adding product links to the description. It's a small detail that enables viewers to find more information if they want it, though of course most of them - myself included - will open their clients and search for it directly.

What indie developers need to take into account is that smaller reviewers still reach a significant audience. More importantly, if one dev's game isn't being featured on a reviewer's channel then another dev's is. It's a buyer's market, chaps. And that means you need to maximise your games exposure at the point when it's featured on the front pages of distribution platforms, because it will be buried under new releases (and in Steam's case, older releases, too) within the space of a few days. So what if you give away ten keys to ten smaller channels and reach an audience of a couple of thousand? It all adds up, particularly once you spread word of reviews (hopefully good ones) through social media.

John Ardussi
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The article was not meant as the end of the discussion but as the beginning. I expect that I am still a blind man discovering the nature of the elephant. But without taking a stand, it is hard to get information.

The real issue is that like "free-to-play" I am seeing many in the industry treat YouTube reviews like they are the Holy Grail. I get kids daily requesting copies of the game who truly believe that 30 views mean 30 sales. I just want this myth debunked the same way "free-to-play" needed to be debunked as the solution for all games. When I was in Sony, I had meetings where people called me "old school" because I was not behind the new trend. This new trend I just want to make sure people do not fall for and sign deals that rob them of all their profits. My data says that it is not a grail at all let alone a holy one.

Now someone made a good point about including links, so here you go:

Game -

Markiplier Playthrough (584K views) -
RaedwulfGamer (13k views with 127k subscribers) -

I know we are not doing things optimally. We are underfunded and just 2 people. we are trying to learn as we go, but there is a lot of misinformation out there. Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Joseph Mirabello
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Yeah, I hear you--I agree that the youtubers aren't the end-all and be-all of coverage. While some youtubers DO command a large fanclub and really can help bring exposure to a game, youtubers on the whole are constantly trying to justify their own existence against traditional press, which often involves marketing themselves to us as the premiere method of connecting gamers to games. It stands to reason that they would rally around success stories of youtubers really driving a game's success, which can give the impression that that is the only road to success for subsequent games.

In your case, I think you're right to be wary--you have a heavily story driven atmospheric puzzle game, which mixes fine with 10-20 minute youtube reviews, but not so much youtubers who do a full LP series. I don't know where I stand behind the LP morality, but I think games like yours have the strongest argument against it.

Regardless, I wish you the best of luck with your project !

Alex Lemcovich
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The reality is that the traditional press is changing. Print media is gradually dropping off the grid and within the next couple of decades all relevant content will be digitised - including newspapers. This means the current crop of journalists is changing, too. They have to, because otherwise they're stuffed.

Video content might not be the "end-all and be-all of coverage", but I can state with confidence that it forms an integral part of the New Media and has far greater potential to reach a wider audience. YouTube's search engine is second only to Google, and let's not forget that Google have now acquired Twitch as well. If anyone in this industry refuses to engage with those outlets, regardless of the nature of their journalistic content or gaming products, they won't last long. A key factor is in knowing how to find the right channels with the right audience.

Matt Walling
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John, I just thought I would add my 2 cents. My opinion is Youtube and Twitch are nothing more than natural progressions to written / printed video game reviews and forums dedicated to a particular game. There is also a chicken egg scenario of sorts to their existence. The games exist because people want them. Because people want them and will pay for them, other people make them. Like many other forms of entertainment, because this cycle exists, others can make money "off the side" indirectly. They can make money promoting and reviewing products. Without the products and interested people, this side product wouldn't exist.

Take printed magazines with news and reviews. People read them because they are interested in video games. The magazine is largely supported by subscribers and advertising. This really isn't any different than how YouTube or Twitch works, both functionally and financially. Landing cover of the magazine is akin to having the most popular Youtuber give a rave review of your game.

Indie games are by and large a niche of a niche of a niche. The market is very saturated, especially considering that games in Alpha and Beta (ie unfinished) are being bought and sold. So now you have various stages of competing products being sold. I can't imagine how hard it is to even get noticed at this point.

I would just ponder this as a 2 man team: Is giving away a few copies of the game, even to "small guys" not a cheap way to advertise? Convention says you pay to advertise your product. I think some standards are necessary as maybe 30 views with 5 subs doesn't cut the mustard, but someone with a few thousand viewers might be your new biggest fan. One that might buy your next game and the one after that. It might not be much, but to the little guy, every little bit counts.

Your numbers are interesting, but I wouldn't give up. You didn't get to where you are today by giving up. Youtube is not going to be a holy grail for everyone. Just like anything else, for every success story there is hundreds or thousands of stories of those that didn't make it. There is no shortcut to getting noticed and making a sale. As always, businesses succeed for many reasons, whether it be proper timing, market conditions, or quality of product. Any successful person or business will also admit there is always that element of luck involved. Just because one person strikes gold, doesn't mean everyone else will. As with fool's gold, anyone counting on Youtube to make or break their game is fool.

Thank you for starting the discussion. I take great interest in this topic and hope to see more from others soon.

John Owens
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Thank for the info John. We're all trying to figure this out so the more people who publish their facts the better. Good luck with the game.

Javier Cabrera
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