Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Nintendo Wants Its Cut

Shamus Young | 21 May 2013 12:00
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Can someone call Nintendo for me? We've been out of touch for a few years, and I've lost Nintendo's number. Also I don't speak Japanese. But someone really needs to let Nintendo know how this internet thing works.

See, last week Nintendo announced that they will be making copyright infringement claims against people who do let's plays of Nintendo games. If you upload footage of yourself playing through a Nintendo game, advertisements will will be added to your video. If you already have ads, they'll just take the revenue and leave you with nothing. Basically, if you play Nintendo games on YouTube then Nintendo expects to get paid. Instead of you.

Now, we can argue about the legality of this all day. You can argue fair use. You can point out that gameplay is a unique audio visual experience each time and so shouldn't be subject to copyright in the same way that a movie is. We can haggle over the particulars of international copyright law. It doesn't matter. Nintendo might have the right to do this. They certainly have the power to do this. But either way, it's an asinine and foolhardy move.

Disclosure: I'm a host on a Let's Play series called Spoiler Warning. We're a small, niche show focused on PC games. Typical Let's Play shows are comedy or product review, while we focus on analysis of game design and storytelling. We've got a small audience - most videos get about 2,500 views. We never run ads, we've never covered a Nintendo game, and we've never made money from the show. I'm just pointing this out to make it clear that while this move doesn't affect us at all, I do know my way around the LP scene and I do have an interest in discouraging other companies from behaving this way.

While my show is small, the Let's Play genre can be big business. People can and do make a living producing videos of themselves playing videogames. Sometimes they play through an entire game, sometimes they just sample parts of a game. Others will do a review and simply talk over game footage, or just do a highlight reel of the game. I'm not going to run the numbers on all the different channels, but some of these people have millions of subscribers. Some people make a bit of beer money, some pay the bills, and others get rich. There's real money at stake here. The problem is, Nintendo isn't going to get any of it.

People like Total Biscuit, Game Grumps, Tobuscus, and Two Best Friends now have a really good reason to avoid talking about Nintendo games. Yes, talking. When you're discussing a game you need some video to go with it. If you're not allowed to use game footage, then what are you supposed to use?

Imagine you're a content creator who pays the bills by playing videogames. When you talk about a videogame, hundreds of thousands of people see it. You've got more reach than all but the largest AAA marketing campaigns. But now if you cover a Nintendo game, then Nintendo will come in and take all of your revenue. All of it. Not split it, not take a cut. They will pocket everything and walk away. It takes time to produce and edit these shows. They have music, animated intros, they write material, and they edit hours of footage. There's no way you're going to do all that work just so Nintendo can keep the proceeds. Which means you'll simply do some other game.

The argument in defense of this is that by playing through an entire game, these producers are spoiling the game, which would supposedly make people not want to buy it. Except, this isn't how people behave. One thing that sells games more than anything else is having those games be part of our cultural conversation. If everyone is talking about a movie, a TV show, a book, or a game, other people want to check it out and see what the fuss is about. They will do this even if the plot points are spoiled, because people hate being left out. Note how Aliens: Colonial Marines sold over a million copies, even though it's been universally panned by consumers and critics alike. The game was so hilariously awful and its development so horribly dysfunctional that the story made for juicy gossip, and pretty soon tons of people decided they just had to see the train wreck for themselves.

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