So the other day, as I was reading my BBC app on the phone (yet another thing to do while I am bored at work), I saw the news that Nintendo intends to claim ad revenue on Let's Plays of their games posted on YouTube. The reaction on the internet seems to have been overwhelmingly negative, with most people considering Nintendo to be legally in their right but morally in their wrong to do this. And I agree that my first reaction also was something along the lines of "wait, what?!", when I first read it, thinking about my friend who does Let's Plays of old Nintendo games, wondering if he too would be affected (which would've annoyed me greatly, since I dislike YouTube ads overall). I decided to find out more about this issue, and what it really means. And especially; are Nintendo really so wrong in doing this?
The first thing I understood about this whole issue is that it really is two different questions being debated -
1. Are Nintendo right in doing this?
2. Will Nintendo really gain anything by doing this?
I don't think anyone will question Nintendos legal rights to do this, and that's not what I mean when I say "are Nintendo right to do this". I mean, "are Nintendo really, although no one seems to think so, morally right to do this? Are we getting angry over nothing?". Overall this isn't an easy thing to figure out, since there are so many aspects about this issue that we simply are not clear on and therefor don't agree on.
Are Let's Plays copyrightable?
One of the first things people will mention is that a Let's Play, which is a playthrough of a game basically, for anyone who didn't know, of a Nintendo game isn't necessarily Nintendo property. Unlike a movie or a picture for instance, the game can be experienced in many different ways, and I agree with what most people say that any Let's Play won't be exactly like whatever I end up playing in the end. Another good argument is that if you watch a pirated movie, because piracy is what this has been compared to, you'll probably be done with that movie - meaning you won't feel any need to buy aka pay for it. A Let's Play for a game on the other hand might instead encourage or persuade you to actually buy/pay for it. In fact, one of the issues the gaming industry faced a while ago was that there was no good way for gamers, unlike movie goers, to really find out if they liked a game before buying it. This meant possibly spending a whole lot of money on something that you ended up never playing. This was partially solved with letting people try demos of games, something that is still around to some part, but far from every game has a demo.
I am one of those people who, if I am unsure about a game, will check out Gameplay and Review videos of that game on YouTube to make up my mind, just as I would check out a trailer to a movie to see if it seemed like something I want to pay 10 euro (swedish movie ticket price) to watch. So there is no doubt that Let's Plays, and similar videos of gameplay, hold an interesting value to the game creator. If someone is unsure about a game, it is unlikely they'll dish out 30-50 euro for it on a hunch (at least in my poor ass case). The few times I have done this I have been more sorry than happy for it. And if watching a Let's Play makes me decide the game is not for me, the creator hasn't really lost a potential customer, because without the Let's Play I probably wouldn't have bought the game anyway. If gameplay videos didn't exist in any way, I would still try and find out about the game the old school way, asking friends, trying it out in game stores etc. I think a method a lot of people have been using is to pirate the game to "test it" and then just never end up paying for it because they technically already have the game. So personally I think game creators can only mostly gain from the existance of gameplay videos.
This still doesn't answer the question to whether the material is really copyrightable or not, and each side of the issue has thrown out more or less accurate examples and analogies to prove their point.
|Who owns this?|
Thruth is there are plenty of game creators out there that encourage their fans own creations of their games, Minecraft is often given as an example of this. There is however a massive difference between a sandbox game like Minecraft and a more linear game like Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. Because games are so different in their nature, it's difficult to compare them straight off - the experience will always be personal to be sure, but there is a big difference in degree here. Overall however, most games seem to benefit from having an active community, and regardless of game type I think that goes for just about any game. Correct me if I am wrong.
In the end, this makes the question of copyright very difficult to answer however. Personally I think that anything created within a game is still somehow owned by that game. But if you think of similar instances or half-silly analogies it is clear that it's not that simple. A painting is owned by the painter, not by the manufacturer of paint - eventhough technically it is the manufacturer that allows the painter to create that painting, just as a game creator allows a gamer to create a gaming experience. Banksy is in fact another half-good example, since the art is on public property - who does it belong to? The creator or the owner of the material used? Who has the bigger claim - the tool provider or the intellectual provider? And how much of which is a game? If I create a copy of a painting in Minecraft, do I own it, the owner of the panting or the owners of Minecraft? These are questions I can't answer unfortunately, but they are definitely very interesting questions.
So who gets to earn money from it?
Without knowing, or deciding on, who has the bigger contribution in a creation, this is equally difficult to answer. When I first read about this whole thing, I was worried that Nintendo were going to put ads on just about any Nintendo-content-video. That doesn't seem to be so, and that's how I learned that there actually are people out there that make money off of their Nintendo game Let's Plays. Of course there are! But it really hadn't crossed my mind. Personally, I would avoid watching any video with an ad in it, and it does make me feel iffy that you'd try to make money off Let's Plays. Don't ask me why, I just think it's wrong somehow but yet again this has got to do with the very difficult question as to who really owns the material. Regardless of my personal opinions however, it is obvious that there are Let's Play channels on Youtube that are very popular, and that make their owners some money (how much is another question I'll discuss further down). And like I said, I do believe these videos are doing more good than harm to the game creators in the end. So what harm really if the people putting the videos up there earn some money from it, right?
What I don't understand however is the argument that putting ads in videos will scare viewers away. If there were already ads on there, I can't see how it coming from Nintendo rather than the channel owner would make any difference to the average viewer? The fact that there is an ad there at all is the annoying part, not who the sender is, or at least that is what I thought. This makes it all seem like the people this change really would bother are the channel owners, which is kind of obvious. They might, and have also in some part said they will, stop playing Nintendo games until Nintendo change their minds. This makes it a question as to whether people watch those videos and channels because of the creator or because of the game? If I can't find the game I want on some certain channel, I'll just move on to the next one. It's not like I have to watch that exact person play that game, or nothing - but I could be the minority on this.
Do Nintendo need to do this?
Regardless of whether I agree with people earning money on playing games on Youtube, I still don't agree with Nintendo making this move either. Like Game Scoop on ign.com was saying, they can't possibly be doing it for the money, so what for? I can't see it being for them to get some advertisement in there either, since the entire Let's Play video of their game basically is an advertisement, as discussed above. Some people have been saying Nintendo simply do this to show everyone that they do consider this their property, and they just want us to know. Unless they have some bigger idea behind it though, that would make it seem like a move to make just for the principle of it, and is that really worth it?
It reminds me of the fan made version of Streets of Rage. A couple of guys sat down for years and re-created, from scratch, every pixel of the game, not using a single line of the original game code. They made 100 all new levels, redesigned every character, recorded 83 new songs themselves for the game and then released it, completely free for anyone to play, on the internet. It had taken them something like 8 years to complete and they had only done it out of love for the game, they didn't ask anything in return. A couple of days later Sega told them to remove everything or they would sue. This on a game that used nothing of the original data and that Sega had basically no interest in at that point either, except for selling cheap digital versions of the original. Eventhough they had asked Sega for permission, it turned out a verbal agreement wasn't much worth in Segas eyes, or obviously the dedication of their fans either for that matter.
The difference between this horrible story and the Nintendo ad one is obviously that Nintendo wants the money that someone is making off of their games, which is understandable in a way, but from a PR point of view it is silly. Many game creators have already realized how incredibly valuable goodwill can be, I think this is the mistake Nintendo are making right now. Looking back into the 80s, Nintendo wasn't exactly famous for its goodwill-policies, running any licensee of their games with an iron fist. This feels like a whiff of those times, but today Nintendo no longer has the power to behave this way and needs to realize that the potential goodwill damage can in no way be replaced by the tiny amount of money they might make off of these ads, regardless of whether they are in the right, morally and legally, to do this. The world doesn't always work that way.
What's the consuequence of this?
What could happen if Nintendo go through with this? I think most viewers will just shrug, or are oblivious to the change anyway, because an ad is an ad regardless of where it comes from. They'll notice if the channel owners suddenly stop doing Nintendo games, and this is where we'll see who ends up to be the "smart guy" in this whole thing. Either Nintendo will be right and the viewers will just look up their games elsewhere, or the channel owners will be right and Nintendo games will suddenly get a lot less attention. I honestly can't predict what could happen, but I am leaning towards the first option. I could be completely wrong, but personally I watch a certain channel more because of the games being played, than because of the personality of that particular channel owner. For instance, I am a pretty big fan of James Rolfes AVGN channel, to a big part because of how he does his videos - but to an even bigger part because of the games he uses in his videos. If he were to make a video of a game I have no interest in, I would probably not watch that video. Yet again, I could be the minority here. It is of course equally possible that most people watch games they have no interest in just because their favorite presenter is playing it - this is where Nintendo could make a big doozy. It makes me think of Two and a Half Men, a show I believe most people watched because of Charlie Sheen and trying to replace him just doesn't work. Unfortunately it turns out Charlie Sheen wasn't much without Two and a Half Men either.
Maybe this will turn out the same way? People will either continue to watch the show, or they will all root for the "Charlie Sheen" and move on to wherever he goes, only to find out that he's nothing without his Nintendo games or that he's perfectly fine without them.
If I could decide, no one would make money off of youtube videos with ads. Just remove them all together - the game creators get their game exposure, and the channel owners get their attention, everyone is happy? If you want to make money on your videos, do it cleverly instead, sell merchandise or something!