“Why would anyone buy it if they can just stream it?”
Streaming games and sharing Let’s Plays on YouTube is an interesting question on game ownership that pops up time and time again. Companies like Atlus and Nintendo have often tried to claim that streaming a game or sharing it on YouTube is a fundamental violation of their authorship of the game and its contents, while other companies embrace it as a facet of the social media era. In fact, every modern console, including the Switch itself, allows people to share videos of their gameplay.
However, there is an argument to be made that for single player cinematic style games especially- games that are particularly endangered in the present AAA climate- watching game streams can act as an adequate replacement for playing games for many. That’s what Amy Hennig, the creator of Uncharted, has also expressed in an excellent piece that I encourage everyone to read over on Polygon.
“There is also this trend now that, as much as people protest and say, ‘Why are you canceling a linear, story-based game? This is the kind of game we want,’ people aren’t necessarily buying them,” Hennig says in the piece. “They’re watching somebody else play them online.
“When you’re spending millions on a story-based game that may not be perceived to have long-term value beyond that one playthrough, the question is, ‘Well, why would anybody buy this if they can just watch somebody play it?”
I think she does have a point to a certain degree- though on the whole, I want to argue that the effect of streams and let’s plays is additive, not negative. People who watch a stream that they like end up going out and buying the game themselves- that was, in fact, how Persona 4 got so big in the west (thanks to Giant Bomb’s “endurance run” let’s play of the game). But from the game developers’ perspective, I can at least see where they are coming from.
It’s an uncomfortable question that will need to be answered eventually.