Nintendo has now claimed ad revenue on YouTube videos containing its content. Could this lead other publishers to do the same?
It’s a showdown! A battle for the ages! At the risk of this not sounding like a pay-per-view wrestling event, Nintendo enacting its right to collect a share of advertising fees run on videos from ‘LPers’, the crowd who post gameplay portions and sometimes entire game campaigns with commentary on YouTube, is an issue. Not a fight, though, with Nintendo executives and notable YouTubers bringing weapons to an abandoned parking lot, churning a subtle rage and eager to entertain the idea of bloodsport as some have portrayed this. Quite the opposite.
The stir began when several prominent YouTube users (after thousands upon thousands of retweets) reported Nintendo issued notices to remove videos of recently released titles. Responding later, the company then backtracked by permitting playthroughs be posted, but eliminating the chance to monetize. Nintendo would place ads at the beginning and end of each video with no room for others. Needless to say, this caused a fit of anger.
Any game developed and published by Nintendo is that company’s property. If you purchase a game legally, from GameStop let’s say, you own that copy. Therefore, under American law, you have the right to sell it as you so choose. But that transaction involves a physical unit. And this is where Let’s Play videos enter a legal grey area: if someone claims ownership of a game and decides to film themselves playing, likely adding commentary, does he or she violate copyright?
In a way, yes. Any use of game footage without permission infringes on copyright, especially when that footage aids in someone profiting. But the publishers profit too, and not just by desiring ad money; they also get free advertising. They know this, yet still Nintendo says it’s owed something–advertising working in reverse. Instead of paying for commercials and ad space, customers produce what act as commercials for an assembly of fans actively retaining the information. They say, “Oh man, I wanna try this!” and rush out to purchase the game themselves. And Nintendo makes even more.
The company may have just alienated a large minority of its base, and accordingly, hurt any future prospects with the legions of Nintendo faithful. Other publishers have noticed YouTube as a gold mine for fan interaction, casting the legal quandaries aside, meaning the big N has either set a terrible precedent or isolated itself. The only other notable publisher to punish LPers is Sega, demanding that anyone mentioning or making use of its Shining Force series remove the videos or be threatened with a channel shutdown. That news famously led TotalBiscuit to outright abandon Sega’s games, even though his videos reach over a million people.
A game that could credit its success wholly to its widespread play on YouTube is Minecraft. Notch tweeted recently he had met with YouTube executives and seriously considered taking ad revenue. He didn’t, and now the game has flourished. Word-of-mouth brought that game up from the thick of the indie scene, and a huge list of successful channels benefited. From that came a fortune and the gaming industry bowing at his feet. Nintendo had the same reputation, even going so far as to be called the saviour of games back in 1985. But the company may be stuck in that era.
Gaming is in a new age. The growth of ‘Let’s Play’ videos is a step in the evolution of a modern games industry, where regular individuals can gain spectacularly massive fanbases just by cutting footage up and talking over it. Nintendo’s claim is nearly a response to changing times, albeit wrongheadedly. Companies want to protect their property. No legal questions there. But the ‘LPer’ is culturally significant just as Nintendo is, with a base of admirers to spoil.
A floundering console and now this, Nintendo’s usually lackadaisical approach to adaptation might be catching up with it. Just embracing DLC was gargantuan, even when Microsoft and Sony have provided it for years. Heck, as the day comes that Microsoft announces its next console, everyone is finally anticipating the arrival of a new generation, even though Nintendo had begun things last year. Nintendo isn’t just out-of-date, it’s the next Segaesque boondoggle.
Legalities aside, the ‘Let’s Play’ premise should be celebrated. It’s unquestionably copyright, but it’s not as straightforward as a movie. Players tackle challenges differently. Dissimilar play-styles. A game is invariably about choice whereas films are static. Regardless, resolving this situation is a great discussion and shows how games are moving into greater arenas. Nintendo may have just conceded.
To the readers: Is the ‘Let’s Play’ move a sign of trying times ahead for Nintendo? And where do you stand on the company claiming ownership?
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