Nintendo grabs money, control from fans promoting its games on Youtube
In what's sure to be one of its most unpopular moves in recent memory, Nintendo has decided to claim ownership over many popular YouTube videos featuring its games. Specifically, they've targeted “Let's Play” videos, where online personalities play games and offer running commentary.
These videos serve as a sort of mega-hybrid between a livestream, a game review, and a walkthrough. Nintendo has decided that because the videos lean so heavily on their products for the visual element that they fall under their copyright. As of now, the advertising revenue from these videos will go to Nintendo instead of the YouTube creator.
Nintendo sent Gamefront the following statement:
As part of our on-going push to ensure Nintendo content is shared across social media channels in an appropriate and safe way, we became a YouTube partner and as such in February 2013 we registered our copyright content in the YouTube database. For most fan videos this will not result in any changes, however, for those videos featuring Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length, adverts will now appear at the beginning, next to or at the end of the clips. We continually want our fans to enjoy sharing Nintendo content on YouTube, and that is why, unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property.
Nintendo is using Youtube's Content ID system to make this happen. The service searches Youtube for video or audio that matches a company's content, and then gives them control over that Youtube submission. “Identify user-uploaded videos comprised entirely OR partially of their content, and choose, in advance, what they want to happen when those videos are found,” the official page states. “Make money from them. Get stats on them. Or block them from YouTube altogether.”
So if you're creating a walkthrough or a Let's Play video of a Nintendo game, that video will now be monetized by Nintendo. They make the money from it, not you.
That money can make a difference for online personalities. Zack Scott, who blew the whistle on Nintendo's actions has numerous LP videos of Nintendo games that top 100,000 views and many that top 300,000. That revenue isn't likely to be of much use to a major corporation like Nintendo, but it can be mean much to the creators of Let's Play videos.
“Since I started my gaming channel, I've played a lot of games,” said Zack Scott in a Facebook post. “I love Nintendo, so I've included their games in my line-up. But until their claims are straightened out, I won't be playing their games. I won't because it jeopardizes my channel's copyright standing and the livelihood of all LPers.”
The controversial move has already sparked shows of support from within the game development community. Developers who feel they've actually benefitted from the exposure they gained from LPers have reached out to offer some support: Nathan Vella of Capybara Games posted an official YouTube permission announcement on the company blog assuring LPers that they have every right to use their games.
“Capybara Games Inc (also known as Capy) hereby grants permission for the use of in-game audio & video for 'Let’s Play,' 'Preview,' 'Review' and/or 'Commentary'-style videos on Youtube, including ad-supported channels/videos,” the post reads. “The creator of the video may use in-game audio & video for as many videos as desired.”
Thomas was Alone, until…
Others have gone even further. Mike Bithell, creator of indie hit Thomas Was Alone penned an op-ed denouncing Nintendo and shared his experience with LPers.
“Thomas Was Alone would not have been a hit without YouTube,” reads his post. “Without the frequent infringement of my copyright, the astonishingly aggressive use of my intellectual property and oftentimes presumptuous use of work comprising years of my life, I wouldn't be sat right now, at home, taking a break from my work as a full time indie developer.”
Bithell says that YouTube was actually directly related to the success of Thomas Was Alone, and he knows several other indies who have similar tales. “Total Biscuit did a WTF video about the game (TB isn't a LPer, but he's a YouTube game guy so he's relevant). Thomas sold eight times more units than on launch day. In a matter of hours. I was outselling Assassin's Creed 3 on Steam.”
For his part, Zack Scott actually partially disagrees with Bithell as he doesn't seem to think that calling LP videos “copyright infringement” is exactly accurate.
“I think filing claims against LPers is backwards,” he wrote. “Video games aren't like movies or TV. Each play-through is a unique audiovisual experience. When I see a film that someone else is also watching, I don't need to see it again. When I see a game that someone else is playing, I want to play that game for myself! Sure, there may be some people who watch games rather than play them, but are those people even gamers?”
The real question that nobody seems able to answer right now is why Nintendo is bothering to legally pursue fans who are spreading the word about their games. YouTube ad revenue is famously low, and the earnings from Nintendo videos are virtually nil by the standards of an international corporation.
Moreover, we're talking about literally millions of people being exposed to Nintendo's games. If even a quarter of a percent of those people turned around and bought a Nintendo game, or better, a Nintendo console, because of a video, Nintendo would likely walk away with vastly more cash than what's gained from these ads. Instead they're sending a message: Don't talk about our games on Youtube.