Plug & Play is a game by Michael Frei and Mario von Rickenbach, based off of a short film the former did that can be watched here. “Based off of” might be the wrong phrase, though, as the game is essentially an interactive version of the film.
Plug & Play is about connections, whether they’re created or severed. Humanoid creatures with plugs and sockets for heads interact, trying to find love sometimes, other times acting hostile to each other. The interactive nature adds a layer to the game’s themes that the animation lacks, with you acting as a facilitator, a matchmaker in a weird world.
…After playing this, I realized that I’d have a hard time writing about this. This is mainly because the game is pretty much 10 minutes long. To go in-depth would ruin your own experience playing it. In fact, by linking the short film, I fear that you’d be turned away from the game to watch the film, since you’re essentially getting the same takeaways.
But that line of thinking led me to thinking about people watching other people play this and YouTube in general.
Plug & Play, even if it wasn’t intended to be, is YouTube let’s player bait. It’s got the bizarre imagery for people to react to, it has that subtle horror atmosphere for them to be comically scared by. Look the game up on YouTube and you’re guaranteed to get a bunch of thumbnails of let’s players in full “what the hell is this” mode (as well as videos for plug and play consoles).
Let’s plays normally act as advertisements for games to a let’s player’s audience, but, when it comes to linear narrative games, it might be a different story. With games focused entirely on narrative and nothing else to engage with, potential players might instead turn to watch a playthrough. This became a sore point for the developers of That Dragon, Cancer, who felt that let’s plays hurt the game’s profitability, believing that many are satisfied merely watching a let’s play than getting the game and experiencing it for themselves. Looking Plug & Play up on YouTube, you can see videos on that game having millions of views (like Markiplier, above) – but you can probably guess that actual sales are less than one percent of the views for a single video.
Another thing that I feel works against games like Plug & Play is Steam’s refund policy. The policy, if you don’t already know, allows people to refund games if they’ve played for less than 2 hours. While this policy lets people demo big games, the policy gets abused when it comes to shorter games. This sort of thing infamously cropped up with the narrative game Firewatch, with people abusing the game’s short length to finish it and get refunds – even if they enjoyed it. Of course, with Plug & Play being about ten minutes long, it’s easily suspect to being refunded, another potential victim of the value of games being cheapened.
Reading through this, you might be wondering: is the game worth it, do I think it’s worth it? Well, Plug & Play is inexpensive and I do think it’s interesting. However, ignoring the let’s plays that easily show off the entire game, there’s the fact that simply watching the original short movie cheapens your personal experience with the game.
But that led me to thinking: has the original animator seen money for the original Plug & Play animation? It was acclaimed, yes, but did he ever get financial gain from it? Surely, he could put the short film up on YouTube and rake in views from crowds interested in this kind of stuff.
However, back on the subject of YouTube screwing people over, there’s little appreciation for animators. The Algorithm(TM) favors videos with long watch times, which puts animators at a disadvantage, as long videos mean way more work for them. Changes in YouTube monetization at the beginning of the year didn’t help things either, only allowing channels to be monetized if a collective of 4000 hours was watched within 12 months. Chances are, the only animators that can see success in this system were already successful to begin with.
The way I see it, the game adaptation provides an avenue for the animation to be supported, exposing it to new audiences that might otherwise not have seen it. According to Steam Spy statistics, Plug & Play is owned by 100,000 – 200,000 users, which is still respectable, even if there’s a huge disparity between that and YouTube views on videos of Plug & Play. Of course, it helps that it was previously part of a Humble Bundle and it is still pretty cheap – and come on, you’d have to be pretty stingy to refund $3.
To summarize: playing Plug & Play somehow led me to thinking about how these big content platforms suck ass for small creatives. The game’s interesting, yeah, but I think Plug & Play‘s place in this online culture that can easily devalue it is also interesting. Ultimately, I feel that people should support interesting animation/games any way they can in a brutal web hellscape filled with gamers that flip their shit over puddles.