I want to start off this open letter by getting something out of the way, and that is that I understand. Trends are what they are and there's little to nothing that can be done. An audience wants to see what it wants to see. What is popular is what is popular.
I also understand that, with a few exceptions, your audience retention hinges on you keeping a viewer engaged with your video, and that means showcasing the latest game to come out, be it Triple-A or indie, be it PC, console or both.
I'm simply making this request as someone that, in a year of everyone on the platform addressing the same issues over and over again more so than before, wants to see more variety come out of the big names on the platform, and hopes that the shift in the paradigm of video content will usher forth a change. Before I get to that, however, let me address my point of view before I tackle the bigger issue of what I think of as a stagnation of content on YouTube.
I'm in my early twenties, living in the United States. Since the age of two, video gaming has been my life, and despite less than bountiful finances, I've done my best to keep current with the game trends (Just got a PS4 this year thanks to my loving fiance). I also love games of all genres, from Western RPGs like Witcher or Skyrim to JRPGs like Persona to First-Person-Shooters such as COD, even dabbling in strategy games like Civilization and XCOM. Gaming has given me an outlet to help cope with my anxiety and depression, and allow my mind to wander and look at issues through a different lens.
My story is by far not unique, but I felt in necessary to help frame the request I'm about to make to the Lets-Players of YouTube; from the smaller names like Vash to the more well-known ones like Markiplier and Pewdiepie.
Since my teenage years, YouTube has been an endless source of joy and entertainment for me, even helping me learn and enrich myself. Naturally, I'm drawn to channels discussing video games and the culture, but I find myself less interested because of something that I've started to notice over the last year and a half; a stagnation of content on the platform. Allow me to explain with probably one of the more notable series of recent history; Five Nights at Freddy's.
When the franchise first made it's debut months ago, it exploded onto the scene. People praised it for it's ability to drive up anxiety in a minimalistic, spartan format that had a low barrier of entry. But at the same time, it caused an issue in the gaming community of YouTube; everyone was talking about Five Nights at Freddy's. The gaming community became less of a Gaming hub and more of a Five Nights at Freddy's hub. Using a more recent example, everyone was abuzz with the subpar performance of No Man's Sky, but meanwhile I was left rather parched for content about the game I had enjoyed the most that had been released recently, XCOM2. Pokemon dominates the JRPG subset of Youtube Gaming, while I remain parched for news or insight into Persona 5, a game that I can easily say nothing can rival in terms of my anticipation for it.
I realize that I'm a rather unique case in one aspect; I use YouTube as my main source of viewed entertainment. I rarely use Netflix or Hulu due to being overwhelmed by choice to the point of not wanting to bother, and my computer lurches under the power it has to muster to watch streaming sites like Twitch. Thus, I'll work through more content than the average individual, but I feel my point still holds some water.
What should they do, I'm sure you're asking.
I've thought about it. Gaming has become such a popular thing in recent years that, in my opinion, personalities in the business of Lets Plays may feel the need to pare down their choices to what's trending or what's being talked about the most. Were I in their shoes, I'd likely make the same decision were it up to me. But in this tendency, we ignore some of the gems that were made before the hobby flourished.
One of my favorite game series of all time, without question, is the .Hack//G.U. Trilogy for the PS2. I was introduced to the games less than ten years ago and they absolutely captivated me. The meta-comedic potential about a video game centered around playing an MMORPG provided plenty of laughs, and the story was suspenseful to keep me playing for an entire day at a time. The combat system was near-flawless and,rather than promoting button-mashing, encouraged players to keep an eye on their HUD while fighting so they could unleash more powerful 'Rengeki' moves to demolish foes. And the game wasn't just from the perspective of the main character's avatar; you could log out and interact with people in the game's universe about goings-on in their real world; from the launching of a new shuttle to the introduction of their equivalent of Apple Pay to the booming phenomenon of people playing their VR games in public to even a plot-critical world issue that, in a rare move on my part, I refuse to spoil for those wanting to play the game. You could customize your computer's background, follow up on rumors concerning the game, e-mail friends you made playing 'online,' even see artwork made my people you can talk to while traversing the game within the game, all the while pursuing the entity that left your best friend comatose, as well as dozens of other players. It was more than just another story, it was like an adventure, a legitimate adventure that you conquered while experiencing a world that, in retrospect, isn't unlike the one we live in now.
So why isn't this game ever discussed on YouTube's Gaming community? One barrier is that, when I bought the trilogy, it would set you back a couple hundred US dollars just to buy due to it's rarity, and the price has likely increased since then. But I feel that a smaller reason why, and a bigger reason for games with less of a fiscal barrier, is that they were released before the juggernaut that was YouTube Lets Plays really took off. The first volume of G.U was released a year after YouTube had launched. There was next to no community for gaming back on those days, so much so that corporations didn't have nearly as much of an issue with their content being used on the platform until Ad Revenue was introduced. Even with the last volume being released on 2007, Pewdiepie wouldn't be on YouTube for three more years, Markiplier for five. Not to mention what little of a community there was focused on games like Kaizo Mario and I Wanna Be The Guy; games that had cult followings for being absurdly difficult and, in the case of the latter, a chaotic love letter to gaming that was written, I like to imagine, in blood that the writer drew from smashing their head against their table. Other spotlights were games like Touhou and Mugen, which had more Asiatic backgrounds, and this movement was due to the explosion of popularity of anime and manga at the time.
Okay, you made your point, you're no doubt saying. But if it's that important to you, why don't you make your own channel and do just that?
I'd by lying if I said it hadn't crossed my mind. I'll even narrate and banter to nobody in particular while playing games (you have every right to ridicule me for this). But that won't fix the problem. My problem isn't that nobody talks about old games anymore necessarily; my issue is that everyone with a substantial audience tends to play the same games at the same time and flood the community with that particular game, be it Five Nights at Freddy's or Clustertruck or Undertale or even Minecraft, and I think that going back in our library of games and drawing from older gems is a way to help alleviate this problem. But the problem is a systemic one, an issue that can't really be addressed simply by having one person start a channel based around the idea that they're not going to play popular games. It's something that needs to change with the overall mindset of Youtube; not just it's creators, but it's viewers.
Am I calling for a complete cessation of trending game coverage? Absolutely not. I could never experience any Five Nights at Freddy's game if someone else wasn't playing it, and Undertale is one of the few rare cases where I think it deserves all the attention it gets. But focusing solely on what's trending is like only eating something that's in view. Sure, you might have some fruit lying around that'll tide you over, but the substantial bulk of your groceries are in your fridge and cupboards.
In closing, I'd like to say that I still love YouTube and it's content creators; if not for the platform and it's creative juggernauts, I'd be bored out of my wits between gaming sessions. But addressing a popular game only right as it starts to trend with other creators only serves to flood our recommendations with different people playing the same game, which is rather like watching different people interview the same actor for the same movie.
I do hope what I've said is to be taken into consideration, though I understand the chances of this catching the eye of anyone of influence is negligible at best. If you're a content creator, I hope you take strives to help diversify YouTube's offerings. If you're a viewer, all I ask is that, if you feel the way I do, that you spread this letter around. If you're anything like me, you tend to not deal with issues like this, but I feel strongly enough about this community that I want to see this change happen. Though I know it's unlikely, I hope this open letter brings the issue I see to the forefront of the community, and loosens the tongues of those more reserved in their opinion.