A debate on YouTubers, let's play videos, and how they affect developers has been raised by one of the developers of That Dragon, Cancer, and while I think there's cogent arguments for developers negatively affected by the current status quo, I don't think they're strong enough to change the current, albeit chaotic system.

This all started after some YouTubers received content ID strikes on That Dragon, Cancer's soundtrack on their videos, who then contacted developer Numinous Games, which led their Ryan Green to respond, removing the content ID strikes but remarking about how the game wasn't selling well, and suspected that perhaps Let's Play videos of the game, especially ones that featured minimal or no commentary, were affecting the game's sales because the game could be experienced primarily through just passive watching. That, and it seems unfair that a developer can have their game uploaded to YouTube with no recompense to the developer.

Mr. Green makes some fair points, and I can't fault him at all for his response. This project is very near and dear to him since it's inspired by the circumstances he went through with his son dying from cancer. Making a game based on it is a healthier reaction than the events of Breaking Bad. And I think this game is a tough sell – talk to someone outside the core gamer community about the concept of this game and you'll see why it might not be a mass market hit, especially after the game was a Kickstarter project. It's not an unfair question to ask whether video creators should be kicking anything back to developers. And even Green says that "We’ve watched the playthrough videos and we see the value that this community is adding to our work through sharing themselves. Let’s Play culture is vibrant and creative and really cool." And we should ask how the status quo involving games and videos based on them affects all parties.

The thing is this – even if the worst-case commentary-free videos of That Dragon, Cancer are affecting the game's sales, I'm not sold on the idea that the drawbacks that the let's play culture has on some games is enough for us to shake up the status quo.

There's an element of truth in the idea that some games suffer greater negative effects from the video-sharing generation we're in. Games that are story-driven, linear, and feature limited interactivity are likely to suffer from being on video. Yet, there's certainly something being lost even in narrative games and so-called 'walking simulators' when the player isn't in control. The interactivity matters, and not having that is still a layer of abstraction between the video-watcher and the game that affects their experience. That layer of abstraction exists with all games and videos, but it's a thinner layer with something like That Dragon, Cancer than say, Wayward Souls [$6.99] where a video is a document of one particular experience out of countless variations. So, if I was a creator of a game that had few possible variations, I probably wouldn't be a huge fan of the let's play culture on how it was affecting me. Again, I fully empathize with Ryan Green here, and just distilling his argument, and similar ones, down to "they're hurting our sales" does a disservice to the topic and everyone involved. Regardless, it's not a convincing enough argument to change the status quo.

First is that the circumstances of open digital distribution and the democratization of creation technology across all forms of media are the ones that allow That Dragon, Cancer and other narrative-focused/"walking simulator" games to exist. Gatekeepers play little to no role any more, and that means that a studio can not only make and sell a game like That Dragon, Cancer, they can raise funds to do so. That opportunity doesn't exist a decade ago – heck, even five years ago it'd be tough. These same circumstances allow for people to make video content that they can share with ease, too. And sometimes that video content is just simple low or no commentary let's play content. I think the two phenomena go part and parcel with each other. And in these changing circumstances, some receive more benefit from the exposure and attention of video content than others. That's just the reality of any changing system.

Also, the idea that game developers deserve a cut of seemingly low-effort video creators discounts the work that goes into let's play videos. Video capture has a tendency to have glitches and bugs. YouTube uploads take a lot of time and bandwidth to make. And there's a risk in making a video for a game early on, when it might not be worth the time and effort for a professional video content creator. There's even a certain value to the editorial selection that a video creator has in choosing what to make videos about. In fact, that's part of why I'm kind of uncomfortable still with them so willingly taking money for sponsored videos. Do some video creators put in a greater effort than others? There is no denying that.

Perhaps it's better to have commentary, but I think there's value in no-commentary let's play videos. They help to document and provide a historical record for games, even showing how some people choose to play a game. And I don't necessarily believe that the developers whose games are being featured necessarily deserve a cut in the same way that they don't deserve a cut of TouchArcade's revenue when we write about their games. The layer of abstraction between the content creator and the game developer can be thin at times, but it's a key one that I would rather not see broken if possible.

And there's also a societal benefit to video content creation, even seemingly low-effort ones. Not everyone has the disposable income or physical ability to play games. The great thing about the internet is that it has democratized access to art and culture. This isn't beneficial to everyone who creates art and culture, but it does mean that the public doesn't have to have money to experience and take part in culture. This is an amazing thing for society, even if it has detriments for some artists. Culture is no longer restricted to the wealthy. People are getting to experience the story and message of That Dragon, Cancer and games in similar vein to it that they never would have had access to even a few short years ago.

And if you say that game developers deserve a cut of videos based on games, is that a Pandora's Box worth opening? Existing content ID systems and their enforcers are not exactly known for their subtlety or understanding of what is fair use and what isn't. There's not a lot of people happy about Nintendo's policies on video content. There are occasionally issues with trailers that get uploaded – outlets run into issues occasionally with copyright claims on trailers that a publisher gave them to publish. Also consider that it may behoove some developers to allow for free sharing of content about their games. If you're a video content creator picking from the large mass of games to create videos for, you're going to be biased toward the ones that will give you a greater return on investment for your time, and won't be a risk to run afoul of content ID systems. Developers could easily find their demands for their fair share finding that there's less to share with them, and the secondhand benefits of exposure and the sales driven from it less than it was before. The risk of backfire is there.

The current system is admittedly chaotic and perhaps a net detriment to some content creators, sure. But videos of games, with their interactive component, being posted on YouTube is a fundamentally different beast than posting unaltered music, movies, etc. I think that allowing video creators to make content unfettered is the superior reality to one where flawed Big Brother content identification systems are watching and striking for whatever issues may arise. Developers of games that don't lose much of the experience through passive viewing might just need to accept that if they're not taking advantage of games' interactivity, the status quo of video sharing may have a detriment to them. And I'm willing to have that be the case instead of one where video content creators are impeded from creating content.

  • Grant Delmore

    I 100% disagree. And before i start ill say i enjoy lets plays & guides etc.
    However you are using someones work to gain interest in yourself.
    I don't know why you all feel so entitled as to tell developers to vacate their rights in protecting their games.
    Your are using their imagery, sound, and content to promote yourself. Even if what your doing is bringing in more interest to their games its not your decision to make even if it is helping.

    • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

      It might help the developer a lot... it might hurt them a lot! Either way, I agree, it's not properly the decision of the video-maker (nor, for that matter, an automated system).

    • madreviewer

      To me this free promo- I know for sure that certain lets player influenced my save more than reviewers judgement.
      Iets players got me to
      Infinity blade
      Xcom
      Monster hunter
      And even
      The wolf among us
      Not age really, but an interactive movie media
      .
      If I got a game- I have nothing to hide- I want the big you tubers to praise it
      To play it in front of millions of future buyers.

  • BTA

    I don't necessarily disagree with this article, but reading it was confusing because I feel like you're responding to something that Ryan Green wasn't saying. That post he wrote doesn't ever suggest that he thinks getting a cut of YouTubers' ad money is a good, so connecting this article to that post feels really disjointed and misrepresents the issue. Instead, he mainly seems to be concerned by low-commentary LPs that show most/all of the game but never suggest that viewers buy the game (or even link to it) or else donate a few dollars to the developer. This is perhaps not a long term solution, but it would help a lot of people could be convinced to do it. This article doesn't seem to address that at all, which is unfortunate because I feel like that's a concept we don't talk about as much and is worth examining, especially as there might be a comparison to App Store's race to the bottom pricing regarding what people feel comfortable donating.

  • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

    I leave it up to the individual developer. Allow it or don't, as you see fit!

  • Tallgeese

    Well done, I think this is another one of your better articles.
    .
    .I think a lot of this bumps up
    into the territory of Copyright Law and the legal right to Fair Use, as do your written reviews, which are obviously not the same thing as Let's Plays, because reviews talk about something with maybe a few pictures (being nearly all commentary) and a Let's Play is practically an exact copy of the thing often with little to no commentary, something you certainly could not do without a movie.
    .
    .Rifftrax uses movies in their entirety but only in brilliantly separately monetizing the Rifftrax commentary so you have to buy the actual product and then combine their audio with the actual movie. An ingenious way of actually adding additional value to the original product.
    .
    . There exists a large desire for unofficial media based on a copyrighted source material. This materia (when not sufficiently remixed) exists in violation of copyright law but is allowable because the effect of expiating things like fanfiction, fanart, doujinshi (fan comics), etsy/homemade products, etc. would hurt the overly aggressive right's holder's image within their own fan communities (made up of perhaps their most reliable patrons).

    • Tallgeese

      It is possible we may see something like this related to video game commentaries in court one day (following excerpt from Wikipedia's article on "Fair use; US fair use factors"):
      .
      ."The four factors of analysis for fair use set forth above derive from the opinion of Joseph Story in Folsom v. Marsh,[1] in which the defendant had copied 353 pages from the plaintiff's 12-volume biography of George Washington in order to produce a separate two-volume work of his own.[4] The court rejected the defendant's fair use defense with the following explanation:
      .
      .[A] reviewer may fairly cite largely from the original work, if his design be really and truly to use the passages for the purposes of fair and reasonable criticism. On the other hand, it is as clear, that if he thus cites the most important parts of the work, with a view, not to criticize, but to supersede the use of the original work, and substitute the review for it, such a use will be deemed in law a piracy ...
      .
      .In short, we must often ... look to the nature and objects of the selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used, and the degree in which the use may prejudice the sale, or diminish the profits, or supersede the objects, of the original work."

      • madreviewer

        And it will alaways fail to stick to the youtubers
        Because video games are not marketed as media simply
        But
        INTERACTIVE media.
        Unless they can proove that the youtubers held the controller and was mind control by millions of player- play the game- IT WOULD BE POINTLESS.
        Let's players can't be stopped, and YouTube drop them- they will create there won platform

  • madreviewer

    I remember seeing a let's player playing mhfu.
    In his cool armor, fighting a rat halos.
    I remember telling myself " this game looks cool"
    Next thing I know I was climbing the ranks in the tavern.
    I think lets players are the besteay to get an idea of what a game is

  • MrAlbum321

    On one hand, you have a huge audience millions strong hungry for Let's Play content, so video creators oblige them and try to profit as a result.

    On the other hand, you have content owners using the tools the law says they have (and forces them to use lest they lose their copyright altogether) in order to try and control how their product is shown.

    On the third hand, you have a subset of video content creators who are critics or reviewers, who try to stay within fair use guidelines so that they can exercise their right to free speech while still using the original media as part of their analysis.

    On yet another hand, you have groups of people pirating movies, TV shows, and games due to economics (games being too expensive), questionable morals (desire to deprive certain creators of their money while still enjoying their work), greed (not ever wanting to pay for creators' hard work), and insert-your-own-justification.

    On a last but most certainly not least hand, you have platforms like YouTube that, while offering a service that millions of people on video creation and video consumption sides use, are driven not by their customers but by their profits, and will gladly screw over their audience to stay in business.

    These plus several other minor players make the entire topic of debate a massive hot mess that has no easy answer, will have no easy answer for years, and will dig itself into a massive Gordian knot of legal ramifications far more so than it has at this point in time. What makes matters worse is that people use the online video medium anyway, regardless of the risks and potential legal troubles, meaning the platforms either fail miserably because no sane group of human beings can reasonably adapt to the lightning-fast challenges the platform throws at them, or they become literally "too big to fail", in that the sheer volume of users ensures that whatever challenges platform providers screw up completely is a small enough ratio to the challenges that they do deal with to the platform's satisfaction (Be honest folks, you all use YouTube because the technology works, they attracted lots of appealing content creators that brought in massive audiences including yourself, and they constantly adapt the platform to the technology of the time, even though ContentID screwed over innocents as well as legit offenders, and there is no real competitor despite other companies' efforts (RIP blip.tv)).

    Either the YouTube bubble bursts and sets the medium back decades, or competitors offer no-nonsense platforms that outperform YouTube, or the U.S. straightens out their legal system with regards to copyright, or YouTube gets their stuff together and straightens out the flaws in their current system (or at least actually HELPS THEIR USERS NAVIGATE THE BYZANTINE CRAP THAT THEIR SYSTEM PUTS THEM THROUGH), or some kind of Frankensteinian combination of all these outcomes (and others I didn't think about when I wrote this).

    No matter what happens, it's gonna be rough, and it's not gonna magically solve itself overnight. Ideally, everyone from customers to big corporations to YouTube would contribute to finding and implementing a solution, but that's a hard ask in a culture and environment that discourages that kind of inter-entity cooperation.

    Personally, there's no way for me to contribute to a better way of doing things, and all the words I write or ideas I express just add to the chaos of words that is the Internet. So I just sit back and pray that things somehow work out.

    Sincerely,

    Mr. Album

    • Tallgeese

      Well hopefully the right words can still reach the right people. All is not lost. There are worse alternatives to our current position, not to say that we should be complacent, but I agree that not having the ability to directly effect the change we want to see can be stressing.

  • fabell

    Preposterous. If I decide to not buy the game after I watch the video then I probably would not have enjoyed it in the first place. 10 years ago I would have read the walkthrough or strategy guide before buying, and 20 years ago I would have just gone to my friend's house and watched him play the game (there were only a handful of games then) or the local game store and played it myself (you could actually make personal requests at most stores). There are so many games today, if we had strategy guides for all of them or friends who owned all of them the world would be very very strange.

    • fabell

      Legally however, there are issues. You shouldn't be able to stream a whole game, and given that YouTube is making a dime off these videos they should appropriately give back to the developers for the content watched. For big developers it might not be much but for indie developers, a well-watched Let's Play video should provide a nice burst of income. This is Youtube's responsibility though, not the streamers themselves. The streamers shouldn't have to pay for this, it should come out of the cut YouTube takes if they are making money off copywritten work, since it is their service and their advertisements. Of course YouTube had a choice whether to allow or cut certain videos (they do it all the time), so forcing streamers to pay would be just criminal.

      • Tallgeese

        I think that would be a good idea, on Youtube's end it would probably mean the inclusion of ads (I think the article mentioned that this is a system they have now, but viewers don't typically like to deal with interstitial ads). Google/Youtube probably won't wish to part with their earnings but it would keep some of these small devs who make "slightly more interactive movies" alive.

      • MrAlbum321

        That also depends on the revenue you get per view. The Music industry is struggling to figure out what is equitable to pay artists for allowing their work on streaming services while keeping said streaming services in business. The revenue generation is something like $0.007 per view, maybe even less. I can only imagine what ad revenue via YouTube is like, especially because AdBlock is a thing. Based on that $0.007 per view, to get any amount of half-decent revenue (in amounts that would make splitting the earnings reasonable), you'd need something like 42,000 legit views in order to get $300 or so revenue from one video, and that is difficult for young or niche channels to earn. If, say, 80 percent of the audience is using AdBlock, then that's closer to 210,000 views needed for that same revenue per video. And, of course, you don't get that money all at once. Let's say a video on average makes 80 percent of its revenue on the first day and the rest over the course of it being uploaded. That's a volatile and unpredictable $240 after one day, and $60 for the rest of the time the video is uploaded, complicating the split. And, of course, there's no guarantee that a video will pull these numbers in; it all depends on the audience. Yikes.

        What makes money on YouTube is the volume of views and clicks, and it gets absurd how much you need to earn to make a half-decent living. YouTubers have pretty much stated that they had to devote their energies to YouTube all the time for months before they began to make headway, and that's if they got lucky and got popular.

        Just some perspective on the revenue-sharing idea. After all, before YouTube got bought out by Google, they were broke, in debt and up to their ears in lawsuits. Google leveraged their advertising companies and straightened out their revenue streams. I doubt that they would consider a change to their revenue, especially one prone to lawsuits (imagine if Rick Astley sued YouTube because he felt that he wasn't paid his fair share for the ad revenue from all the Rick Rolls).

        Anyway, make of my thoughts what you will.

        Sincerely,

        Mr. Album

  • Michal Hochmajer

    I am ok with let's play videos as long as creators aren't making profit out of it. - They are fans, thats great and I appreciate it! Also saves my time and money as sometimes it is easier to check video rather then buying game blindly or install demo. Yeah, I burnt my fingers many times.

    I am even ok with Aholes/comedians like PewDiePie who obtain their fame through youtube. - He could start his career as well as comedian in the streets of Paris, let say. He didn't build Paris, not even fame of it, but one "can" become famous there.

    We live in digital age, where some particular things are much easier and faster then before, thats good. Sadly some things, even obvious, are ignored by mainstream. Thats the point where conflict starts.

    For me, gaming was always about exploring new worlds. And nothing changed since I was a kid. What changed is environment (pretty long story as in my country, development of the game industry was...interesting). I am realllyyyyy glad, that I can support awesome indie games and devs by buying their products and play them!

    Sadly, some gamers/devs/publishers ignore most basic manners, like to be constructive, respect ownership, pay their bills. Don't get me wrong, I love mobile development. It's closest to the anarchy. With all its benefits and drawbacks. It's just... tough. I can't even call it business, it is open war out there. 🙂

    Really long topic to talk about, even longer then Shaun Musgraves awesome articles, so I will rather stop here! For sake of all.

    As for the "That Dragon, Cancer". It is very hard to judge this game and developer as there is not enough information.
    To see Your kid or other family member dying is hardest thing in human live in my humble opinion (as far as my knowledge and experience goes). Tell Your story to other people should sometimes help a lot.

    Game development is extremely risky job/hobby, if you expect some return. Even in situation, where we have sooo cheap and accessible technologies, making games costs quiet a few bucks (Hardware/software/Dev accounts/expenses for living etc.). I am not sure if making "That Dragon, Cancer" was good "business" decision. Well, I know it wasn't, but it was great effort which should be indeed prised as an art rather then the game. Is there something bad about paying for an art? No! Is there enough space for such an art on the saturated market? Maybe if some big company make enough fuss or use their business techniques (do we really want this)? Or some big names. 19 hours ago, PewDiePie uploaded vid about this game. I have no idea, if it was his own effort, but it will definitely help dev.
    If it was PewDiePies own effort, wow, then you have Your answer. And it is positive one!
    Rest of Us can pay PewDiePie to show our games, thats business. 🙂

    Don't forget, it is important to hear other people stories! I personally prefer to read about them or see them on my own and help. Gaming means something different for me. And DO NOT forget: "6 billion died before, 6 billion will die after Us". Yes I know 7 bill, but I've created this quote plenty years ago. So many stories…

    Thx, Carter.
    Nice to read other opinions too, guys. Thx.