In case you’ve never seen or even heard of a “Let’s Play” video, the concept is a fairly simple one. A gamer will record his or her session of playing a particular game while providing (often humorous and ultimately instructive commentary) in the video. Not only useful for other gamers, these videos serve as a fun peek into someone else’s gaming strategy and a way to commiserate about the trials and tribulations of the game at hand.
If you’re thinking about doing your own Let’s Play video, or even devoting an entire YouTube channel to it, then Zack Scott is the man you want your tips from. The man has over 800,000 subscribers to his channel, ZackScottGames, and after we reached out to him, offered us some feedback on the Let’s Play format.
As it turns out, many of his tips apply to YouTube creators of all types, not just Let’s Players.
Beginning with the tips, Scott sticks to four simple ones: build an audience, maintain a schedule, network, and, naturally, make good content. Whether you’re a gamer or not, developing a successful channel on YouTube requires you follow all of these guidelines.
The first may be the hardest to accomplish, and thus the most discouraging. Scott warns not to feel let down when you “make a great video, only for it to get a handful of views.” He continues, “Some videos can go viral, but most Let’s Play success is due to the fact that gameplay creators cultivate their audiences over time, often for years.”
As for keeping up a schedule, Scott notes that he “gets complaints” when he’s late on his uploads. Making sure your audience stays happy is key, and creating good content is a surefire way to make this happen. Though this command may seem vague, Scott boils it down to a couple, easy questions. First off, ask yourself, “Would I watch this video? Why would someone watch this video?” He explains, “These questions give me the purpose to become more in tune with my viewers and strive to make content that is good enough for them to spend their valuable time [on].”
Collaborating with other Let’s Players is another great way for gamers and other creators alike to expand their reach. “Engage your fans on various social media sites,” Scott advises. “Work with a network like Machinima to expand your access and promotional opportunities. Before you know it, you’ll meet people who will change your life.”
Measured by number of views, this is Scott’s most popular video on his YouTube channel. Posted 10 months ago, it has accumulated more than 5.6 million views at the time of this post. It’s also 41 minutes long, a testament to the popularity and engagement that Let’s Play videos have on a site where most other content is short-form.
That said, there are some challenges Let’s Players face that remain fairly unique.
Scott calls copyright “the most daunting challenge” of his job, elaborating that he is “fortunate that networks like Machinima and platforms like Twitch are based around [the Let’s Play model].” These groups understand that a beneficial relationship exists between Let’s Players and game publishers, as the former helps to promote the games they feature on their channels.
Of course, not everyone embraces this harmony. “It…becomes discouraging when a few parties utilize YouTube’s ContentID system to take down videos or gain control of their revenue, especially if they have no obvious or legitimate claim to do so. These cases are the minority, but they nevertheless can lead to massive headaches for Let’s Players,” says Scott. He does name companies such as Ubisoft, Mojang, Valve, and more than a hundred others that permit monetizing Let’s Play videos.
Another headache can be staying up-to-date, both in the gaming world and when it comes to hardware and recording equipment. Scott has to communicate with a lot of game publishers to stay up on the latest trends.
The usual internet connection problems plague him, too. “Just this past Saturday, my upstream connection to my ISP cut out, and instead of taking 30 minutes to upload a video, it suddenly took 6 hours,” he says.
For the most part, Scott seems to embrace the positives of his job — how could he not, playing video games for a living? That being said, a lot of people play video games, so what makes people watch Scott?
“There’s no way millions of viewers would watch my videos of [Plants vs. Zombies 2, a free, fairly repetitive game with millions of videos of people playing it on YouTube] if it wasn’t for the personality behind the videos.” Liking his personality and learning from his methods keep viewers’ eyes on Scott’s Let’s Play videos. However, since so many people are good at playing the games Scott does for a living, it really is his personality that counts when it comes to mass viewership on YouTube.
This article is part of “Game On,” VideoInk’s first special issue on the relationship between the gaming industry, its fans, and online video. Come back all week as we tackle other interesting facets of this world.