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YouTube, Agar.io and the Indie Let's Play Takeover

The appeal of the let's play is still somewhat baffling to many people, and on the face of it there's no one presiding reason why people seem to enjoy them so much. It could simply be down to the charisma of the practitioner(s), the gameplay approach or discussion being had outside of the actual game, placing it in the same purview as a podcast. Some would suggest that the main draw is getting to see some hands-on experience with a game that you're interested in, but not enough to fork out the retail price.

If this latest trend is anything to go by, that's not a big factor at all. Currently, the game that's gaining the most ground on YouTube is Agar.io, a game which you can play for free in your browser. It's simple, but fiendishly addictive, and kind of fascinating from a psychological standpoint. You play as a cell, and you move around the map, a giant grid, absorbing coloured pellets. 

The more you eat, the larger you get, but you're far from alone in this world. There are hundreds of other players in each game, and if they're bigger than you, they're going to try and eat you, as much as you can eat smaller players. You can also split in half, either as a means of escape or attack, and shoot off small portions of matter to bait or feed other players. The larger you get, the more slowly you move, which provides an interesting trade off, especially since the largest players attract the most attention. 

I can understand the appeal of watching other people play this game, to some degree, since you can freely observe how players behave without having to worry about your own progress, but I never would have expected it to take off in the way it has. Recently it hit a significant milestone - 2 billion views for all videos featuring it. Only 21 video games have ever achieved that, and most of them are triple A titles. One of its key practitioners, Jumbo, reached 1 million users in around 7 months, which is almost record breaking-ly fast, Smosh Games did it in 3 months a few years back, which was the record at the time, but they post a wide variety of content, whereas Jumbo posts almost nothing but Agar.io videos. He's now sitting at just under 1.3 million subs.

The difference between Agar.io and the other games which sport the 2 billion badge is that they were popular before the let's play community got ahold of them, but Agar.io actually owes a lot of its success to their interest in it, especially Jumbo. It's not secret that let's plays can be an effective promotional tool, but it's reaching the point now where even less well known channels can be instrumental in the promotion of indie games. If a game is interesting to watch when it's being played by someone else, but also free to play online and easy to dip into for 5 minutes, it would be utterly bizarre if you didn't at least give a go after watching the videos.

Of course, developers can't exactly plan for their games to attract the attention of let's players. The big publishers can pay people like PewDiePie to endorse their material, sure, but when you're working with a limited budget, you just have to hope that somebody will pick it up and run with it. The best way to ensure that is to make the game quirky, and open-ended enough that people will approach it in different ways. That's why games like Goat Simulator have done so well in this way, things that act like playgrounds, and draw entertainment from the imagination of the player, so it's always going to be appealing to see what other people are doing with it. 

It's a trend that's likely to continue gaining ground, acting as a parallel to the triple A let's play scene, rather than a competitor. Indie gaming trends tend to catch on pretty quick though, so it'll be interesting to see if other developers try and capture the same lightning in a different bottle by making let's play appeal a core part of their game design. Oh, and if you want any further measure of how big of a deal Agar.io is now, it even turned up on House of Cards.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum

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YouTube, Agar.io and the Indie Let's Play Takeover Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, March 09, 2016 Rating: 5

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