Game Publishers vs Let’s Players: Who Deserves the Ad Revenue?
Let’s Play videos–playthroughs of games, often featuring colorful or informative commentary–are a growing industry on YouTube. But who should the money they’re making go to?
Just so we’re clear: video game publishers often have Let’s Play videos removed from YouTube, if they see that content as an infringement of their copyright. Frequently, it happens if said video is breaking embargo or spoiling a game’s ending, or even if the publisher just doesn’t want it up there. Game publishers have all sorts of control over what happens to videos of their games on YouTube, thanks to tools YouTube gives to copyright holders. They can pull them down, force their ads on them, or block them in certain countries. After all, at least according to YouTube’s rules, game footage is copyrighted by the publisher–not the player. Rockstar in particular is notorious for enthusiastically removing videos of their games from YouTube, at least within the first few weeks of launch.
Enter Nintendo. They are late to the LP party, as far as game publishers go, but they made up for it by making a splash. Earlier this week, they issued a wave of “Content ID Match” claims on videos of several of their games, which allows them to collect ad revenue from views of those videos…instead of the Let’s Play video creators, who would have otherwise been able to do so through YouTube’s “Partner” program. This, of course, caused an uproar in the Let’s Play community. The whole mess isn’t new, necessarily, but it has raised questions about the legality of Let’s Play videos, and more specifically the question of who should get to monetize them.
On one hand, games are owned by the publisher, so footage of said game is obviously theirs. On the other hand, Let’s Plays are unique playthroughs, and often include commentary by the producer.
Also, understand this: YouTube monetizes these videos regardless of whether or not a publisher or Let’s Player does. All monetizing a video on YouTube does for the end user is afford them a cut of YouTube’s profit.
So, who should get the money from ads running on those videos?
What Do People Think?
A number of indie luminaries spoke up regarding the controversy. Notch (Minecraft) stated on Twitter: “We had a meeting you YouTube and got told we could get a cut of all Minecraft video ad revenue. It was tempting.” He later stated that he decided against it, and even if he hadn’t, he would have gone back on his decision after the backlash against Nintendo. Minecraft has a strong connection to the LP community, as Minecraft LPs were what got the word out about Notch’s relatively small (at that point) title.
Tyler Glaiel (Closure) had a stronger opinion when we contacted him directly, stating that “it’s legal but f-ing stupid.” He noted that LPs are generally considered free advertisement, and that every time a major LP video went up for his game, he received a large spike in sales. In his opinion, the biggest issue was for “awful games where watching the game confirms that it’s awful.” He finished his thoughts off with: “If watching someone play your game is a replacement for playing the game, make a better game.”
Konjak (Noitu Love 2, Iconoclasts) was a little closer to the side of the publishers, but not by much. “I really don’t find it weird that a company doesn’t like videos that straight-up stream their games for profit without edit,” he said on Twitter. “I do like watching videos like that and would like it think those people continue doing it. I just don’t think [publishers taking monetization] is unexpected/unfair.”
These are just a few voices added to the chorus of indie developers coming out in support of LPers. The general consensus seemed to be one of supporting LPs and those who create them. Thomas Was Alone developer Bithell went so far as to say that TotalBiscuit’s “WTF Is?” made his game a success when it would have been a failure.
Old-school LPers – those from the birth of Let’s Play on the SomethingAwful forums – had much harsher criticisms of the LPers themselves than of the corporations. The people I talked to asked to remain anonymous. Generally speaking, the LPers I talked to were sympathetic towards game publishers, stating that it was within their right to claim monetization on footage of their games. Furthermore, they were fiercely critical of YouTube LPers, ranging from comments on their lack of skill to outright slamming YTLPs for their monetization. The thread tying it all together was simple: “Let’s Plays should be made for enjoyment, not profit.” However, everyone agreed that LPs should not be legally forbidden, just that monetization of them is not especially ethical.
But what about ‘fair use?’