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?’

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35 Comments on Game Publishers vs Let’s Players: Who Deserves the Ad Revenue?


On May 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Uhh publisher? lol. You pay for the RIGHT to play the game, you don’t OWN the game.

Back of every game manual, should read it sometimes.


On May 17, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Don’t mean to feed the troll but you pay to own a license of the game. You OWN a copy of that game, so that copy is your property.


On May 17, 2013 at 8:11 pm

@lol -You’re sick lol, get help.


On May 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm

As I said on the Article announcing Nintendo was shooting itself in the foot, Nintendo’s actions are those of a company losing out in an industry it used to be enormous in, mere grabs for control becuase they can’t get anything else (not from the 3DS and WiiU anyway). But lpers are ALSO wrong for thinking they can take that much from a content creator (ANY content creator) and not pay them a cent. The people who make superman cups and superman underwear pay a license fee, why shouldn’t lpers? Everyone wins! Videos pay real money to lpers, Nintendo gets a cut FROM THEIR ADVERTISING ITSELF, Nintendo sells more stuff, watchers are happy. No one screws the pooch and it all just works exactly as it does in every other industry. Well, are we all going to get along now?


On May 17, 2013 at 9:50 pm


What you say makes a lot of sense, unfortunately the AAA industry seems to have turned into a minefield of suits and executives that see games as nothing more than a money press. There is no respect for good ideas and everything is pumped out ad-nauseam to earn the quickest dollar possible.

No one wants to think in the long term when they set all their goals of “success” by monthly [or even weekly] sales.

The industry as a whole needs to come to terms that it will more than likely never see the return of the 2007 bubble [economically and commercially].

Troll Slayer

On May 18, 2013 at 2:32 am

lol is really scraping the bottom of the barrel now. It’s actually kind of sad to witness just how desperate he is for attention.


On May 18, 2013 at 4:33 am

I just recently started making Let’s Play’s, and the monetization aspect is a mess. for example one play list is a LP of one game, all the video’s in that play list are of the same style; me playing the game and giving commentary while I play, giving hints and tips and all that. I edit out long stretches of gameplay where there is no commentary, don’t giveaway the plot or ending or other spoilers. etc. For every video I get a email from YT a day later asking me about the commercial rights and I tell them it’s a Let’s play which should fall under the elusive ‘Fair use’. Now the funny thing is, although all the video’s in the play list are of the same nature, some video’s get monetized right away, while others get rejected or stay on ‘monitoring for possible review” or “Under Review”. It feels totally random.
Of course the game publisher owns the rights to the game, but the creator of the LP put’s ALOT of time into making the video’s and personalizing it, making it a unique experience for each individual LP creator.
For someone like me who just started out, I don’t make a dime, which is fine, I do it for the love of the games and trying to find like-minded gamers and encourage other people to go out and buy the game.
To me the solution would be to share the revenue, amongst the three parties involved being the game publisher/creator, the LP maker and the medium it is shared on (in my case YT). The game gets more advertising and all parties get’s their share of the money.


On May 18, 2013 at 6:48 am

Glad you do not run the world `lol´ it would be a horrendous place if you did.

Also, we own the games we buy, hence being legally allowed to sell it on as second hand games after purchase. Anyway, stop trolling the topics, you do it all the time, enough is enough.

As for Lets Plays, it is a form of free advertising that reaches a great many people it may not normally reach and a publisher/developer is handicapping themselves by stopping such videos. Nintendo is not going to win any fans with their actions, but they are only one company and few are stupid enough to follow their example.

Murs 'Nine

On May 18, 2013 at 7:24 am

Why does it have to be in the extremes of either-or. Yes the developer/publisher owns the game, and the LP’s border on the line of fair use / alteration when showing off said game. But Couldn’t a 50/50 or so split put into place?


On May 18, 2013 at 8:26 am

Here is a little example of the effect a LP can have; A friend of mine is a casual game, maybe even lower then casual. I talked about a game to her a lot and how much I like it, that didn’t make her buy the game. However when she started watching my LP she told me she is going to pickup the game as she liked it so much when she saw it in action and wants to play it for herself. So yeah, split the revenue amongst the related parties and in my opinion it’s win-win.


On May 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Just pulled out a random game manual, lets see;

“Unauthorized copying, reverse engineering, transmission, public performance, rental, pay for play or circumvention of copy protection is strictly prohibited”

“public performance”

Remember kiddies, they started adding this line into every game manual after 2005 – 06 because of the invention of

DUN DUN DUN Youtube.


Here ya go buddy;

(Publisher here) grants you a personal, limited, non-exclusive license to use the Product for your non-commercial use. To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, this license granted to use the Product is non-transferable. You may not rent, lease, lend, sell, redistribute or sublicense the Product. You may not copy (except as expressly permitted by this license and any other applicable terms, conditions, or usage rules), decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, attempt to derive the source code of, modify, or create derivative works of the Product, any updates, or any part thereof (except as and only to the extent any foregoing restriction is prohibited by applicable law or to the extent as may be permitted by the licensing terms governing use of any open sourced components included with the licensed application). You may not remove or alter (publisher here) or its licensors’ trademarks or logos, or legal notices included in the Product or related assets. Any attempt to use the Product in breach of the terms of this Agreementis a violation of the rights ofActivision and its licensors. If you breach the terms of this Agreement, you may be subject to prosecution and damages. The terms of this Agreement will govern any upgrades provided by (publisher here) that replace and/or supplement the Product, unless such upgrade is accompanied by a separate (and/or updated) agreementin which case the terms of that agreement will govern.

So yeah, you don’t own .

Getting So Tired of This

On May 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm

@lol – look, junior. You know damn well you’re comparing chalk with cheese here. At no point was the issue of ‘unauthorised copying’ brought up. If that’s what you interpreted from this story then that proves conclusively what we all already knew about you, that you are nothing more than a blinkered fantard sucking the balls of the corporatocracy and spouting utter crap on here in order to get noticed. You support proven liars in the senate who claim gamers shouldn’t have a say on their own industry, you support CISPA of all things, and you defend EA at every opportunity. The link between the lot? They directly oppose both the consensus of users on this site, gamers in general, common sense and ethics.

You are the lowest of the low, and we are all thoroughly fed up of reading your uninformed, immature drivel on every sodding article posted on this site. Trudge back to IGN or one of the other safe, identikit mainstream sites that will allow you to wallow in your ignorance.

I must also criticise Gamefront moderators, we all know full well that you have the potential to remove comments yet this idiot continues to be allowed to draw unlimited amounts of attention to himself and his vapid comments at a rate that exceeds even the most venomous parody. He is a complete liability to the site’s image and should have his posted removed from now on. I don’t advocate censorship and oppression but considering he himself advocates it simply because it makes him look different, I would have no sympathy for this little turd.

Do us and yourselves a favour and get rid of him now, before it starts to push potential new users away from the site.


On May 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Dear lol,

. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . ,.-‘”. . . . . . . . . .“~.,
. . . . . . . .. . . . . .,.-”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .“-.,
. . . . .. . . . . . ..,/. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ”:,
. . . . . . . .. .,?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .\,
. . . . . . . . . /. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ,}
. . . . . . . . ./. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ,:`^`.}
. . . . . . . ./. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ,:”. . . ./
. . . . . . .?. . . __. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . :`. . . ./
. . . . . . . /__.(. . .“~-,_. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ,:`. . . .. ./
. . . . . . /(_. . ”~,_. . . ..“~,_. . . . . . . . . .,:`. . . . _/
. . . .. .{.._$;_. . .”=,_. . . .“-,_. . . ,.-~-,}, .~”; /. .. .}
. . .. . .((. . .*~_. . . .”=-._. . .“;,,./`. . /” . . . ./. .. ../
. . . .. . .\`~,. . ..“~.,. . . . . . . . . ..`. . .}. . . . . . ../
. . . . . .(. ..`=-,,. . . .`. . . . . . . . . . . ..(. . . ;_,,-”
. . . . . ../.`~,. . ..`-.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..\. . /\
. . . . . . \`~.*-,. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..|,./…..\,__
,,_. . . . . }.>-._\. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|. . . . . . ..`=~-,
. .. `=~-,_\_. . . `\,. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .\
. . . . . . . . . .`=~-,,.\,. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .\
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . `:,, . . . . . . . . . . . . . `\. . . . . . ..__
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .`=-,. . . . . . . . . .,%`>–==“
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . _\. . . . . ._,-%. . . ..`

Please stop. It’s embarrassing now.


James Murff

On May 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm

To note, I never made the assertion that the player owns the game. However, the player DOES own the footage they take of the game. Whether they have the rights to broadcast or (more importantly) monetize said footage is what this article is about.


On May 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Please, stop embarrassing yourself `lol´.


On May 19, 2013 at 1:53 am

As a viewer of some LPs (usually before I decide, whether I buy a game or not) I strongly prefer the “amateur” LPs. Because as soon as somebody tries to make money off it, I can’t be sure, the player isn’t taking money from the publisher/studio too. And in that case a good LP might be able to smooth over some rough edges in a game, which might tip the scale towards “no buy” for me. If you do a LP for fun however, the reaction to these rough spots is natural and usually not very favourable.

I guess, I’m with the old school LPers on this one.


On May 19, 2013 at 3:33 am

To follow up on others’ dismantling of ‘lol’, I’d like to also point out that he

- defends EA Origin but doesn’t bother explaining why
- believes only children and adult virgins play Call of Duty for the single player (which is, in fact, an unintentional criticism of the game for not having an engaging story, although obviously it’s not true as everyone I know played single player and enjoyed it and none of them fit his sloppy generalisations)
- said that Infinity Ward provided a courtesy to gamers by pulling the “24/7 365 days a year” Nuketown preorder DLC less than a week after Black Ops 2 went on sale then reinstating it after the backlash became unmanageable without apologising for their obvious deception
- CONSTANTLY plays to the appeal to the majority to handwave genuine complaints, even when those complaining are proven to be the majority or at the very least a majority large enough that they can’t or shouldn’t be ignored (e.g. Nuketown again, and of course the ending to Mass Effect 3)
- thinks that EA created Star Wars: The Old Republic, which speaks volumes for his lack of industry knowledge
- uses the name ‘lol’, which in itself should be grounds for instantly being banned from any site on the internet
- actually uses the acronym ‘lol’ in his comments as well, which means he’s stating his own name

Honestly, it’s so relentlessly childish that it’s not even worth getting that worked up about. He’s obviously either very, very young or just very lonely. All you can do is feel a bit sorry for him.


On May 19, 2013 at 4:49 am

*Obviously I meant Treyarch in my last comment, not Infinity Ward. Though considering who we’re talking about here, I doubt the self-correction is necessary. I might as well have said it was Sega who developed Black Ops and he wouldn’t have noticed the error. After all, he isn’t really a gamer.


On May 19, 2013 at 5:25 am

First let us make one thing clear, Law and Right/Wrong/Morals/Ethics have NOTHING to do with one another. Law is a matter of FINANCIAL CLAIMS. As for the situation, I say at most nintendo deserves 25% at most. Let’s Play stuff is like any magazine or community based thing. It’s self serving. By them doing what they do, they increase the market for what nintendo does. They create, or expand, the current base. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but people because fans of shows like Let’s Play or X Play or whatever and then when those shows display content or make recommends to people who like the show they then go out and buy it. of course they’d have no show without the original IP from nintendo so as I said, at most 25%. I know the big companies want to exterminate the little guys and prove how powerful they are, end the indie scene (unless they can buy it and profit whore it like everything else) and really begin the economic destruction that only mega corporate greed can achieve… but f**k ‘em. Just because they want to burn the world down doesn’t mean let them.


On May 19, 2013 at 5:31 am

I made another mistake in my original post. ‘lol’ actually said EA made Knights of the Old Republic, which was of course released many years before EA bought BioWare. Star Wars: The Old Republic was later published by EA. I confused myself because his comment was on an article about EA getting exclusive licensing right for Star Wars from Disney.

However, don’t mistake that for a simple typing error, as ‘lol’ also believes EA was the original publisher for the first Mass Effect. I don’t even need to explain how many ways that fails as a thought process.


On May 19, 2013 at 7:59 pm

You know I tried to make let’s plays. Bought a capture device, even recorded a video of it, put it out up on youtube and got 3 views, I didnt add commentary to it because I didnt have any software to do it.

Then you have to buy filemarker pro, learn how to use it, actual record the video, edit it, then add in your commentary, build up a subscriber base of people who actually like your content, and then after a year or so you might make some money. Personally I stopped after the first video because it was just too much work, the idea that you shouldnt get paid for your work seems absurd.

The Penguin

On May 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm

If someone who actually worked on the game were to LP it,they wouldn’t point out the bad things about it,being afraid people wouldn’t buy it,but a commentator who is in no way affiliated with the company will talk about both the good and bad sides of said game.
Also,going back to what I said about people from the company LP’ing the game,if people see only the good side of the game,they’ll be tempted to buy it,get home and decide it sucks ass then complain on the internet.

mr mittens

On May 20, 2013 at 10:17 pm

@lol, sometimes things on manuals are adhesion contracts

you have full right to your use of the item you bought, they will try to say its a license, but you own the software. Courts will typically look at what average consumers expect without reading the fineprint in a wall of text. What did you pay? $60… thats pretty solid cash for a game in most cases, and you can resell it, etc.

Also, regarding lets play, it depends largely on how much commentary and effect the viewer has on it for fair use.

1) the companies have no right to profit – its either the LPer, or nobody. Its at least a derivative work that the company has no rights to. They can maybe shut it down, but they cant get $.

2)at best, its fair use, and the LPer has 100% rights to use it. THe more commentary, parody, criticism involved, the better, but I have a feeling that in court, some of the LP community would lose. But but but, the actual gameplay is probably fine. THe larger issue is cutscenes, which do not depend or turn on the player.


On May 21, 2013 at 8:51 am


So I suppose if a game’s manual tells me I have to open wide and swallow a healthy helping of turd in order to have access to a game, that’s totally legit right?

Ever heard of Illegal clauses kid? Not everything written on that piece of paper OR EULA is exactly constitutional. It’s just fool’s bait (which you happens to fall right into at an alarming frequency).

Alan Taylor

On August 4, 2013 at 6:58 am

I believe both the Game Publishers and Lets Play Video Content Creators should receive a percentage of the revenue equally alongside Google’s Youtube. I think this would work because the game publishers can gain free publicity for their games receiving revenue for the hard earned property they’ve worked on while the content creators are paid for their efforts in creating the videos which help promote games. the average video must take about ten hours to create when taking into account recording voiceover, rendering and uploading. I think the content creators will appreciate the revenue which will only encourage users to create more content. I’m wanting to start making lets play videos but haven’t yet while I’m going around all of the gaming publishers. I’ve found about half are happy for lets play videos while the other half including most of the big players aren’t offering fans to create these videos for earning revenue though I’m sure in all cases, every company has said that they are happy for fans to create videos as long as they don’t monetise.

I don’t feel it’s fair for companies to claim 100% of the revenue where content creators have spent quite some time producing content if it’s well constructed and not just a recording of the game without commentary etc. The other thing to keep in mind for example is that I’ve probably spent about 400 – 500 pounds on EA Games (as an example) in the past decade which is more than what I’m likely to earn from Youtube ads.

I don’t buy that many games anymore, not because I don’t want to but because I just can’t afford it. A good example I’ve seen is Activision Blizzard. They have a clear section on their website called Video Policy. Whether or not a game publisher wishes to offer revenue sharing, no video creation or simply offer users the right to make videos but not earn money from them, I think it would be good to see many of the big players have a much clearer statement of what they allow.

Oddly, I’ve not seen a single video from any video game publisher stating what they allow? Perhaps a video to their fans explaining their rules would be an excellent suggestion for a game publisher to follow up. Moreover, what about fans sending game publishers video responses with a ‘pitch’ of what they would like to do. I’m sure that would be appreciated by the game publishers.


On October 30, 2013 at 3:09 am

if they’re going to take our revenue they better give us a salary for working for them.


On May 10, 2014 at 6:15 am

i don’t see the big deal anyway. Everyone from Nintendo is a got anyway. Also noone buys there anyway so yeah.

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