I hate it when people give me free advertising.
I sometimes think that developers don’t understand anything outside of their own bubble. That they exist in a preserve of self-indulgence where the only voices they hear are the ones that tell them how awesome they are. And then I see something like the argument over people posting videos of games on Youtube and I know I’m right. Thanks guys!
The growth of Let’s Play videos, where the user posts a video of their time with a game, should be a boon for developers. Afterall, the developer’s biggest fans are playing their game in front of an audience while showing said audience exactly why that game is worth playing. This serves to show perspective buyers what they’re missing and all the fun they could have if only they’d buy Call of Manliness: Wolfwrestler. To be sure, some of these videos are negative. Some gamers, particularly reviewers, may post uncomplimentary reviews about a game and use the visual medium as a way to more accurately show the described faults. As I will discuss, going after the video makes no sense, yet this is what some companies are doing. They demand Youtube pull down videos with their content or insist on getting a cut of the profit. In short, developers are demanding people pay to advertise the developer’s games. It’s ridiculous.
The most extreme version of this argument is articulated by Phil Fish of Fez fame who claims that Youtubers making money off of a game is stealing from the developer. The assets used, be they images, music, or narrative, belong to the artist that created them. That artist deserves a slice of any profits derived from their work. The problem with this argument is that it fails to recognize both a) the contribution of the Youtuber and b) the value of a game. To address the first point, Youtubers add value through their play and commentary. They build up fanbases by cultivating online personas and creating slick productions that people want to see. They provide unique content beyond the simple act of uploading a game. Don’t believe me? Compare two videos: one with a likeable personality and one that just shows gameplay. See how many views each has. Chances are, the Let’s Play video with the Youtube celebrity not only has more views, but it has substantially more views. The mere showing of game footage is not enough to generate the massive views that a popular Youtuber can. People want more than just a play through of a given game. They want the content added by a dedicated personality.
For point b, the answer is even more obvious: video games are far more than a given Youtube video can convey. The greatest strength of the medium, interactivity, is completely absent no matter the production values of the video or the charm of the Youtuber. Gamers cannot interact with a movie. It’s why the medium is so effective for advertising. It shows the player all that they could be doing, but denies them the chance to do it. The best way to acquire that experience is to go forth and purchase the game.
As mentioned earlier, some videos contain critiques of the games being played. Unsurprisingly, some developers pull these negative reviews in hopes of preventing others from being dissuade in purchasing the developer’s game. Unfortunately for such souls, the internet is a big place. Attempting to pull all negative reviews from one area (Youtube) does nothing to stop negative reviews in another (the rest of the internet). Furthermore, reviewing sites can undeniably rate a game negatively without a threat of credible legal action. In short, word will get out about how terrible your game is. Word will also get out about your attempts to stifle the negative reviews which, in turn, further poisons your potential audience against you. Developers need their fans to give them feedback to improve their games. Attacking dissent doesn’t actually stop dissent, but it does encourage fans to focus on a game where their thoughts are appreciated.
Youtube is an incredible tool. Arrogance and entitlement are incredible hindrances. Developers like Fish need to back away from the belief that everything associated with their game is theirs and appreciate the great advantage of enthusiastic fans who are providing free advertising. If not, then I imagine Youtubers will find someone who does.