For those not familiar with "Let's Play" videos, they are simply a recorded version of a player's gameplay as they advance through a game, usually with commentary by the video creator. They've grown in popularity over the last few years with several popular youtube channels devoted to LP, and it's become a money-making business with some youtubers making enough money to do it as a full time job. But make no mistake, it is a job and does take work to produce videos millions of others will want to watch, videos that will stand out from the rest.
Nintendo has stirred up the community this week by filing copyright claims on Let's Play videos from their company, ensuring that any money made from them will go to Nintendo instead of to the video creator.
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.
Legally, most would say they are in the right to do what they are doing. Despite arguments that Let's Plays are deriviative works, it's not a fight gamers seem likely to win in court, especially considering it goes against YouTube's terms of service.
Without the appropriate license from the publisher, use of video game or software user interface must be minimal. Video game content may be monetized if the associated step-by-step commentary is strictly tied to the live action being shown and provides instructional or educational value.
Videos simply showing a user playing a videogame or the use of software for extended periods of time may not be accepted for monetization.
But it's the court of public opinion Nintendo should worry about. Even major game titles like EA's Battlefield have courted LPers recently, hoping to get in on the action that is probably responsible for keeping Call Of Duty multiplayer among the most popular. Sega even caused a small uproar earlier this year when they issued copyright strikes on LPers for one of their games: Shining Force, eventually reversing their decision.
Popular YouTuber Zack Scott posted this open letter to Nintendo on his Facebook:
I just want to express my feelings on the matter of Nintendo claiming not just my YouTube videos, but from several LPers as well.
I’m a Nintendo fan. I waited in the cold overnight to get a Wii. I’m a 3DS ambassador. I got a Wii U at midnight when I already had one in the mail. I’ve been a Nintendo fan since the NES, and I’ve owned all of their systems.
With that said, I think filing claims against LPers is backwards. 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?
My viewers watch my gameplay videos for three main reasons:
1. To hear my commentary/review.
2. To learn about the game and how to play certain parts.
3. To see how I handle and react to certain parts of the game.
Since I started my gaming channel, I’ve played a lot of games. 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.
Whether or not his statement on the reasons players watch videos is accurate is up for debate. Personally, both myself and my sons follow various LPers and do so for different reasons. I've watched Let's Play for Skyrim despite seeing other LP's before and despite playing the game countless times myself, but this is due to the fact that, by using mods, one gameplay can be vastly different from another. My oldest son tends to watch them just to get an idea for whether he will like a game, then he moves on. Same for my youngest, although he does have a Minecraft addiction to equal my Skyrim one, and much like Skyrim, videos end up vastly different. Either way, we can assure you that the maker of the video plays a major role in whether or not we will watch it, as it's not all about the game's assets.
I also have a smidgen of experience putting videos together for youtube and I can assure you, even putting up a short bit of gameplay takes quite a bit of work, as well as hundreds and thousands of dollars invested it hardware and software. Nothing I've done is even on the level of what the most popular channels can do, so I can only imagine the amount of work they put into it.
But in the end, it's not about who is legally in the right or about whether you think what they are doing is worth the money they make, what matters is that this will essentially kill LP for Nintendo games. Creators are not going to spend hours working on something they will make nothing for, so they will just move on to other games. There is no shortage of publishers not only willing to allow their games to be used in this manner, but even desiring it. Hopefully Nintendo will see the light here and reverse their decision.