That Dragon, Cancer Dev Says Let's Play Videos Hurt Sales

Numinous Games says it has "not yet seen a single dollar from sales."

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The developer behind the moving indie game That Dragon, Cancer--which chronicled a family's struggle with childhood cancer--has spoken up to say Let's Play videos for the game affected sales negatively. In a blog post, lead developer Ryan Green--the father of 5-year-old Joel Green who has since passed away--said his studio Numinous Games "has not yet seen a single dollar from sales," and Let's Play videos may be partially to blame.

"That Dragon, Cancer was created by a studio of eight, and for many of us it was a full-time effort that involved thousands of hours of work," he said. "This huge effort required taking on investment, and we decided to pay off all of our debt as soon as possible. But we underestimated how many people would be satisfied with only watching the game instead of playing it themselves. And so yes, Let's Play person, I agree with you, it does suck to have someone else making revenue off your work."

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Green cited SteamSpy data, which suggests That Dragon, Cancer has sold around 14,500 copies on Steam.

Millions of people have watched That Dragon, Cancer videos on YouTube, Green said, and this could have eaten away at game sales.

"We have seen many people post our entire game on YouTube with little to no commentary," he said. "We've seen people decompile our game and post our soundtrack on YouTube. We've also seen many, many Let's Players post entire playthroughs of our game, posting links to all of their own social channels and all of their own merchandising and leaving out a link to our site."

This isn't to say that Green takes issue with the Let's Play movement overall. "We've watched the playthrough videos and we see the value that this community is adding to our work through sharing themselves. Let's Play culture is vibrant and creative and really cool," he said.

Another issue was that video creators reported being handed copyright claims after Numious added Content IDs to for composer Jon Hillman's music. There should be no issue around this going forward.

"We have removed all of our Content IDs from Jon's music. If anybody received flags for ad revenue share, you should be able to reupload in a few days without the flag," he said. "We did not intend to make copyright claims or to force anyone to take down their videos, we simply intended for Jon to be able to draw some income from the original soundtrack to our game that he poured his heart into."

Green went on to say that, had just a fraction of viewers left a $1 tip, the situation around That Dragon, Cancer as it relates to sales could have been a different story.

"All we are asking in return is that you honor our work, the work you build your livelihood on top of, and acknowledge that when you do it, there is a real cost to developers," he explained. "For us, it costs us the ability to continue to share this game through translation into other languages and bringing it to new platforms, along with starting new projects."

Going forward, Green said he hopes people who create Let's Play videos for That Dragon, Cancer do not just rebroadcast gameplay with minimal commentary. Instead, he would like to see people use snippets of gameplay as "context to share your own stories and start conversations with your viewers." He also said he hopes Let's Play streamers add a link to the That Dragon, Cancer website and encourage viewers to donate to the studio if they can. "This small act will allow us to continue to work," he said.

Green also said in his blog post that, excluding these Let's Play issues, things have gone very well for him and the team. The response to That Dragon, Cancer has been incredible and confounding, he said.

"The last few months since we launched That Dragon, Cancer have been pretty incredible," he wrote. "The mainstream culture, the gamer culture, and others have all embraced our story and been willing to listen to our heart as we released a project that we spent more than three years on. They're talking about Joel and sharing their own stories of loss and bringing comfort to each other. In every regard, the reach of our work continues to confound us."

GameSpot's That Dragon, Cancer review scored the game a 9/10.

"It's virtually impossible to not bring one’s own biases into That Dragon, Cancer, because death and disease are universal," reviewer Justin Clark said. "Just as it's impossible to quantify whether the exploration of those two heavy topics is worth the time and considerable emotional energy, it's impossible to truly quantify the immeasurable value of being able to not just forever present the best version of a person to the world, but being able to earn his presence in every way his parents did."

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CobraSupreme

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I can't stop thinking about this. First of all, I deeply sympathize with this guy. I can't imagine how horrible it would be to lose a child. That being said, every piece of cancer artwork that I've seen has seemed completely self-serving to the artist. There's a huge mural outside of a CVS near my house that depicts the artists husband falling ill and eventually dying of cancer. It's right outside the entrance, so you have to look at it every time you walk out of the CVS. It's horribly depressing and seems far too personal to be in such a conspicuous location. Every time I see it I feel slightly ashamed, like I walked into the wrong hospital room. We're all painfully aware of cancer. Pretty much everyone has either had it or been effected by someone who has. Maybe that's the point. But why would you want to force them to relive it every time they buy deodorant? If you saw this piece in a museum it could be very moving. But 20' tall on a brick wall at the neighborhood pharmacy? It comes across as cruel. Now this video game was probably cathartic for this guy to create. It probably helped him cope with his grief, and he might have thought that even if he helped one person deal with a loss like his, then it was all worth it. That might be true. But the moment you open your mouth and complain about profits, you lose all credibility. Now it looks like you're exploiting not only your own grief, but the grief of anyone weird enough to buy this thing. You can't seriously expect to make money with something like this! Who would want to play this game? From what I've seen, it's another one of these playable movies which can barely be considered video games at all. It's really interactive art. And it's incredible that anyone buys these at all, even when they aren't completely depressing. You can't be so blatant with something like cancer. You've got to use symbolism, disguise it so the audience can make it personal. Otherwise we're just looking at a mural of someone else's dead husband. Sounds like the developer started to do this and then just said "Screw it, it's about cancer!" How could he be surprised that this didn't make him money? Who did he expect to buy it? Why would anyone pay to experience his grief, let alone to be reminded of their own? I just can't get over how crazy this is. Has anyone bought this game? I'd love to hear what made you want to.

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CobraSupreme

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God I honestly wouldn't even watch a Lets Play of this game. Maybe they should have been a little less obvious with the title.

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CobraSupreme

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Not trying to be a dick, but you can't seriously be surprised that this game wasn't a box office hit. First of all, people just don't buy products with the word "cancer" in the title. Second, why would someone pay for a game that they're basically only going to sit there and watch when they could sit there and watch it for free online? I'm sure this game has merit (it sounds too worthy for me though), but I can't imagine anyone buying it. Like seriously, who would buy this?

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Reindeer911

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It is not my intention to come across as a troll with this comment, but after reading this article, I strongly feel that the devs for this game need to seriously grow up. The reason I say this is because in life it is always easier to find someone or something to blame for the shortcomings of a product. The simple fact is that "Let's Play" type videos serve as a form of fan-based advertisement, and if the game is any good these types of videos should only HELP to build excitement and boost sales. Unfortunately if such videos are causing the game to flop financially, it's probably saying that the game itself either has some major issues that aren't drawing interest or are turning people off. Either way, banning or restricting such videos is not a solution.

Second, think of the subject material. Seriously! Not to belittle those that have lost friends and family due to cancer (I've certainly lost a few over the years), but who really wants to play a game about being sick? Doesn't that seem a little ghoulish? Using a personal example, but I'm dealing with early onset Parkinson's... the last thing in the world I would want to play is a Parkinson's simulator. Most of us play games to relax and turn off the real world for a while.

Third, the superior game should sell itself. There's a lot that goes into making a good game, such as replayability, subject matter, interesting story, feeling involved, etc. If "That Dragon" is just an interactive move like some of the other posters are suggesting, then it makes sense that people are not going to be interested in getting a copy for themselves.

Finally, I would have hoped that after all the bickering and politics over Depression Quest and related Gamergate that people would have learned their respective lessons. Sorry, but this article comes across as more of the same kind of nonsense.

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astralislux

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I disagree. This is a very emotionally-draining story that even the title suggests you better get ready to be sad for the entire game. I'll watch a let's play video of it and that's all because I don't want to play a game and only be sad, just like I avoid movies like this. People watched the videos and decided that it might be a great experience, it was probably too sad -- too much like real life -- to escape into a game.

The Walking Dead game and Life is Strange were basically movies, fantastic and fun to play and also had sad parts yet they made the devs a lot of money.

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Beagle050

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Edited By Beagle050

If that's true, then why were games like Heavy Rain very successful? If your game is glorified movie with no point of playing after watching it on YouTube, then that's more a problem with your game than YouTube content creators. These comments come across as greedy whining.

Also, if not for Let's Players, how many people would know this game existed?

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Monks-1138

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Edited By Monks-1138

With all due respect to the game developer, I didn't avoid buying "That Dragon, Cancer" because it's easily accessible on YouTube. I didn't buy "That Dragon, Cancer" because it hits too close to home for me personally. I've had to go through losing a child of my own and frankly, I want nothing to do with it right now. Gaming is my escape from reality, not where I go to face my real life hurdles.

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alpha99yodo

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Edited By alpha99yodo

Works both ways though, never would have known a game such as Dreamfall existed if not for watching a play through, then picked all three games up for myself. This guys game may be powerful and all, but maybe people just don't want to play through something that deals with such depressing matters, at least not right now.

So many games do get sold based on playthroughs. Telltale games should get it the worst by this guys logic, as every youtuber and their mother and their dog plays through those on their channels, but that just helps get the word out that the game is there, and it;s the way that telltale let you explore different options that entices people to pick it up. People have no such want with this game i would assume as it may only have one way to go (just my assumption correct me if i'm wrong). I feel that there should be some profit sharing from youtube lets players, but no more than 20% at most. However this is a very scary thing as by doing this it entices devs to create games that are fun to watch someone else play, and not so much to play yourself. So we would see broken games, like if skate 3 was intentionally, hilariously broken, that would be the kind of games we would see more frequently.

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TygerRPG

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For the developer to blame a media outlet for his game's shortcomings is just woeful. I am sorry for the tragedy that inspired said game,but he deserves any ridicule received from his,"Woe is me. You people should buy my game cuz..Cancer!" Well I never was interested in the game from the trailer itself. He just makes himself sound like any other developer now because his game tanked. Again sorry for his family's loss but this is business.

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dracuella

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@tygerrpg: Not once does he mention, "buy my game because cancer". He explains how his game, a game which is heavy in the storytelling department, was simply watched instead of purchased by a lot of people. He doesn't blame anyone, he merely states something we all know, that people consume indiscriminately and don't really think about the work behind what they're consuming. And the fact that a lot of the Let's Play videos didn't have a link to the original game just makes it that much more obvious.

I think the tip idea is good, though. "Did you like this game footage? Tip the devs here[linkToGamePage]." That way you could at least acknowledge all the effort put into it.

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Sublustris

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Sorry to hear you couldn't make money out of your grief, Ryan

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TygerRPG

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@sublustris: As cold as it may seem. I actually agree with your ight hearted,sarcastic jab! :)

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Bread_or_Decide

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Let's players are a cancer to the gaming community. If you can't post an entire movie how come you can post an entire game without commentary?

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midnightrush93

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@Bread_or_Decide: A movie isn't a transformative work, while a video game is. You can't interact or change elements within a movie, whereas in a game you can. Your experience with a movie will be the same as anyone else, while with a game someone else's experience will more often then not be personal and unique. Example: One player decides to tackle an objective this way by using that weapon, while another would often go with a different method no matter how small the difference in method it'd be.

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Bread_or_Decide

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@midnightrush93: That sounds nice on paper but most games are pretty linear and everyone experiences them mostly the same way. Most, not all.

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bobbo888

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What did this studio expect? Their game has 0 replay value and hardly any gameplay. It's literally a movie game. I can't see why anybody would ever need to purchase the game in order to experience it. Not to mention I think this game has garnered way more attention than it should have. I understand the sensitive topic of the game, and no offense, but it looks like shite to me. Games are meant for people to be able to escape their shitty life, not delve deeper into the pains of being human.

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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@bobbo888: I disagree with your opinion of what games are "meant for" but I agree with the sentiment that if games are better viewed than played, it's a failure to use the medium well.

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SavageRodent

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The downside to story driven games with hardly any gameplay. If the game has no real gameplay to it and people can get relatively the same experience by just watching someone play it, then you should expect this kind of stuff to happen. I feel like this should be a given, but maybe I'm wrong.

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dracuella

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@savagerodent: I agree, a lot of people will merely watch rather than play but I still think you should do something to acknowledge the developers, like the tip link they mention in the article or something. No matter how you look at it, you're still enjoying someone else's hard work for free.

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SavageRodent

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@dracuella: Agreed. Also if people wish to see more of these kinds of games, especially from the same developer, then they should fork over the money and support them. I think more people need to understand how business works.

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maitkarro

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Edited By maitkarro

Looking at steam, it has very positive user reviews in total, but the top 2 reviews are sort of negative, and not by a lot of people to get to even to the top, but still more than the rest. Prolly the price point should've been like 10 bucks, would've gotten more sales that way anyways. Or peeps just stayed away from it in the way of not wanting to own anything that has something to do with cancer, even if it's trying to be positive.

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ferna1234

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they're not getting the picture right. Some poeple who would'nt buy the game and instead watch a lets play, wouldn't buy the game even if there are no lets plays available. If you want sales, make games that are desirable to play.

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logicalfrank

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You have to take into account these walking sim sort of things are a special case as far as let's play videos. You are getting much closer to the full game experience than you will with most genres of games and when you see things like very low sales and yet high play counts on videos, it is hard to not feel like that's unfair to the developers. It doesn't matter if you like these games or not, the developers have produced a piece of art. People are consuming that art and the developers are not getting paid for it. That is a bad situation in any media, games included.

Also, I think That Dragon, Cancer is a special case among special cases as it seemed like it got a lot more attention from non-gaming media than a lot of these sort of things, which are really sort of a niche market in gaming at this point. (I mean, I don't recall Dear Esther being in The Guardian and The New Yorker but maybe my memory fails me...) It could be in this case, the let's play numbers were skewed by people who don't play games attracted by mainstream media attention. I don't really think the let's players are doing anything wrong. They were let's playing same as they always do and it remains a cool and positive part of gaming culture. I still think the developers deserve compensation for this sort of thing but I'm not sure how that works out in reality. I'm thinking devs could possibly work w/ the best let's players to co-promote/share revenue, etc.

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mtm2490

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Was never interested, I don't usually watch lets plays if I am not going to buy it in the first place. Very rarely does watching videos showcasing the content of the video game change my mind against purchasing it.

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maitkarro

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@mtm2490: The point is that, everybody who watched the let's play videos, consumed most of the experience of this game while watching, while it was only sold to few of the let's play video makers.
Take like Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, and Until Dawn, or any Telltale game since Walking Dead, most of the experience you get by watching it, so some peeps just use the video media to get the whole experience for free, those games are pretty much like movies, just have quick time events for scenes to happen, and the moving around freely is just a filler that doesn't add anything really, unless you got some pretty backgrounds like in Life is Strange.

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Kusann

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I've NEVER watched a complete "let's play" series of any game I'm interested in, I usually look up for let's play videos to see the actual gameplay (sometimes I'm more into no-commentary videos...some YouTubers keep screaming/talking through the whole video and I can't appreciate music or the game's sound effects), if I find it interesting I go to Steam and buy the game, if it looks boring I check out user reviews at Metacritic, ask friends, etc...

If people didn't buy the game after watching a video showcasing it, most likely it is because they didn't find it worth buying. If this game is just about "an experience" that'd be the main reason, paying for something you are only watching and have little to no real "game playing" isn't appealing to many people.

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Flyin3lvl

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first it pirates now its lets play.

Yeah pirates is bad but games still sell and haven't seen a crash in the industry......... or maybe with the lack of money coming in is why we get half a game nowadays

And other games shown on YouTube still sell.

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maitkarro

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@Flyin3lvl: Shit happens when a game is better to be watched over shoulder how someone plays it, rather than playing it yourself.

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Pawfalcon

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This is BS. Tomorrow I'm gonna buy this F***ing game and then I'm gonna send these guys a separate F***ing check because after the shit they went through to make this motherf***ing game they damn well deserve to get paid. How the **** have they not made a decent amount of cash off this thing?!

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Oopiedoopie

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I wonder if that 14.5k sales figure takes into account all the people who finished the game in under two hours and got a refund on steam?

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Thanatos2k

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Edited By Thanatos2k

"we underestimated how many people would be satisfied with only watching the game instead of playing it themselves"

Did you focus on the gameplay? Or just "the experience"? Because if someone can be completely satisfied by watching someone else run through your game, you have failed at making a game.

Good gameplay to go with your story, and people may want to play it themselves. The "message" being more important than actually playing the game? A game that's merely an hour or two long? People will just watch.

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dracuella

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@Thanatos2k: I think the problem lies in that 'interactive story' falls within the 'games' category and that is basically what this game is. But on the other hand a lot of people enjoy the interactive story sort of games and is still considered a game by them. Gameplay means something different to each person and the gaming experience from each of those is very subjective and depends on the person playing.

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SirDavidPaladin

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Edited By SirDavidPaladin

@Thanatos2k: When I watch let's plays I usually say "I have to try this out" then purchase the game when the game is great. But when it's not, I usually just finish the let's play.

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TygerRPG

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@sirdavidpaladin: I could not agree more with your statement!

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RUMADBRAH

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@Thanatos2k: Agreed

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QTMew

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Edited By QTMew

@Thanatos2k: Indeed.

Good gameplay leads a story, not the other away around. A story is integrated into the gameplay, not otherwise. For heaven's sake, it's a medium with the name: Video GAMES! Wherein GAMEPLAY is the priority.

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Silverline62

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Well not to be rude but, if people enjoy just watching the game rather than playing it, it failed as a game.

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QTMew

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@Silverline62:

Exactly!

I have watched so many gameplay walkthroughs, playthroughs, and commentaries; those that were amazing games, I bought them and played them until my hands fell off, even if they were just "narrative" games, for example, The Stanley Parable. A great game will always be played no matter how many times it was displayed to the public. If the public sees your game displayed and doesn't feel the need to "play or interact with it" then you or your product have failed to be a game.

No need to elaborate any further, to be honest. Your comment is just perfect, mate!

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Silverline62

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@qtmew: Thanks! And to further add to your comment, yes Stanley Parable is one heck of an intriguing game, still haven't got all the endings but I replayed more than 50 times.

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QTMew

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Edited By QTMew

@Silverline62: I bought The Stanley Parable once it was released fully on Steam, as I used to watch Youtube videos of it when it was just a Mod. I still didn't get far in the full game as I am busy with the hectic college life, but man once I'm free, I'll play the hell out of it. I did finish the original Mod so many timestrying to explore every secret in every nook and cranny, though! It's an amazing game in every aspect.

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Silverline62

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@qtmew: Nice. Hope you enjoy the full game as much as I did!

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QTMew

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@Silverline62: I'm sure I'll, mate!

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deactivated-57aa19ab947c7

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Playing through a game is in itself transformative- even if no vocal commentary is provided, the way the person plays the game is commentary in itself.

If the developers feel let's plays cut into their revenue then they are associating their product with the wrong medium, and would be better off selling this as an interactive visual novel that requires the same protevtions visual interactive novels are afforded.

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dracuella

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@tony_at_home: I completely agree, and I think the problem is that basically everything interactive is still considered a game. If we had a distinction, it might help the devs earn a little back of what they put into it. But then would they even receive any revenue if it wasn't labeled a 'Game'? Would they still be able to sell on Steam?

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SteadyMercury

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I can't say I entirely blame the Let's Play crowd. How does one spend thousands of hours for around 8 staff and produce a couple hour game? I get that the length is the length and all that but it seems more like they had a problem with planning and getting things done effectively and now that is really hurting them. After all, they have seen money but it's all going to development expenses at this point.

The subject matter doesn't help either. It's interesting, but definitely not for everyone.

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Fragzoon

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I've not watched any let's play playthrough vids on games that I own unless I'm stuck somewhere and need help and/or for hidden easter eggs and collectibles.

I don't normally watch a playthrough or let's play videos even on a story focused/driven game if I plan to buy it. I consider it as spoiling the experience.

In fact I went to watch let's play videos when I know I won't be playing/buying it because of personal reasons... like I don't even like/interested in the genre or game itself. So: If I don't like playing car/racing games... But I am curious as to how the story unfolds I would watch it. But to be honest... I have not got the patience/time to watch it all the way. and thus so far I've not ever completed any let's play videos. But I never feel like it makes me want to buy after watching NOR does it make me dislike it more...

Because I watch let's plays videos to see what elements I want to see and not for the whole actual gaming experience. If I don't care enough or are being selective (for example just want to know the story - which I said earlier in reality even if I am super interested I've never actually watch the let's play completely for that story) that means other elements of the game... e.g. the gameplay or mechanics are not well made to my liking. So I am not motivated enough to buy ... and If I want to know the story I'd probably just go read about it somewhere as it is more time efficient... otherwise I would have already own and played that game.

TBH watching let's play videos takes as much time as watching and entire TV series sometime... and usually for a good story I can just go watch a 90 min blockbuster movie.

I'd watch proper and honest gameplay videos most of the time though... and those do affect my purchasing decision. Coz yeah... demos are called betas these days... and sometimes those "betas" are invite only etc.

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oroelf

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Can't be that great of a game in the first place if only 15,000 people bought it. You can't blame it on streamers for others not buying it. This is the closest thing gamers have to a "try before you buy" thing since demos has more or less gone the way of the dodo.

It's a bit unfair of game developers to expect people to just throw money blindly at a game if there are avenues to see it being played to see if it's something they'd want to buy or not. I'd be willing to say many people have shelled out for games they've seen in Let's Plays, that is, if it's a good game.

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Bahamut50

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I feel bad saying this but i would never have bought your game. I don't enjoy being depressed. It's already a staple part of my, and many other people's lives. Having it be thrust in to my face is something i can only watch, not play.

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