Quest Log: Should Vloggers Pay Devs?

quest-logQuest Log is a feature in which I set out on adventure to learn how something works. This might be game mechanics, social issues, or technology. The goal is to gain a greater understanding of the topic and spread awareness.


Ever the controversy pot, Phil Fish has once again opened his mouth and revealed he’s a very moody and mean man! His remarks? Youtubers should pay game creators a portion of their ad revenue. Most of it.

As a gamer, as someone who doesn’t create games, I disagree. If I buy a car and record myself driving it, I don’t owe the manufacturer money from ad revenue of my videos. His comments even call into question writing reviews. I use screenshots all the time of my games when I write about them. If my blog were generating money, is he saying that for those specific reviews, I should pay the company money for the use of the screenshots?

At what point are my game experiences my own? I think this ties in with the question I posed the other day of player rights when it comes to games. At current, the industry is solidly using the traditional software model, where players simply license the use of the game. It’s like buying a subscription to Netflix, rather than buying the DVD. I don’t own Mad Men. I’m allowed to rent it’s use each month.

To be clear, let’s look at a single EULA for Square Enix (they aren’t all that unique or special, most game EULAs look exactly like this). The first thing it states (after the introduction) is that purchase of their game is simply the purchase of a license. The player owns nothing, not even their avatar, not even items they purchase in an item shop. We technically don’t even own the screenshots we take.

Square Enix grants to you the non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to install and use one (1) copy of the Game Software on one (1) computer hard drive at any given time solely for your personal use (the “License”). All rights not specifically granted under this License are hereby reserved by Square Enix and, as applicable, by its licensors. The Game Software is licensed to you, not sold.

This quote speaks for itself.

In Fish’s view, gamers don’t even own the experiences they share with other gamers. If I decide to record myself playing a game, even after I bought it, even though the camera is mine and the controllers and the TV — of all companies to owe, I owe the game developer because the content of my show is considered to be theirs in Fish’s view. I think this approach isn’t just unreasonable, but irresponsible. If developers aren’t making games so that players can share their experiences with other players, then they ought not release them to the public. His reasoning ignores that developers enter into convenants with players foremost in the specific hopes that those players will help them sell their games. This doesn’t just count for streamers and vloggers. Anyone who purchases a game anywhere does so with the developer expectation that you will tell your friends about it and those friends will then buy it. Ignoring the unspoken bargain that developers strike with players is dishonesty at best about how game proliferation actually works.

I think this example goes to show that we do need a player’s rights document, because left to developers like Fish, players would not own the energy and time we spend playing games for audiences. I own my labor, no? I can sell it to advertisers in turn for playing my game for other players. According to the EULA, I can install my game on my computer and play it even if friends are around, even if the neighborhood is looking at my screen. Besides that, consumer law allows me to do what I want, short of selling copies or infringing copyright, with what I purchase. Aside from legal implications, it’s just kinda mean spirited to feel like your players owe you money because their friends watched them play and another company paid you for it.

What do you think? Should you have to pay game developers when you make money from sharing your gaming sessions?

13 thoughts on “Quest Log: Should Vloggers Pay Devs?

  1. Youch. I’d need to rethink my approach to blogging if it went to the extreme. To be fair though, a video of a walkthrough might actually lose them sales. For example the first Walking Dead game can be entirely played via Youtube. This lessens revenue for the devs as people won’t really need to buy the game. You could probably watch the entire gameplay of a whole number of other games too. If you did, why would you actually buy the game for yourself?

    Then if those channels also generate revenue who should profit from the content? It certainly is harder to make a game than it is to play through it so I would also agree that the developer should get a bigger cut.

    I originally started this post (now edited) going full offensive against the guy but he does have a good point. A text walkthrough still forces people to experience the game for themselves, where as a video one negates that.

    Tricky topic Doone. Good one to generate discussion! 😛

    • I don’t know if I think this is tricky at all , but really glad to have you join the discussion 🙂

      You make some points, but here’s the question I pose to you: Why do I owe a developer money if 100 of my friends watch me play MY game and pay me to do it? I’m pretty sure I’m the owner of me and the owner of my time and of my energy.

      I’d also counter that whatever sales they lose from disinterest is money they don’t deserve. That is the reason to not buy a game and that’s the players right. If a player isn’t interested in buying your game, devs don’t get to blame Youtubers. Chances are, that player wasn’t interested in buying in the first place. Even more to the point, game reviewers would need to start paying up for lost sales as well. How far do you take that?

      I think there’s plenty of questions, but I don’t see how players owe developers more than the cost of the game. The implications of that go against everything we already do in the world of products and consumers.

      • I guess my counter question is why do you have 100 friends watching you play a game instead of actually playing the game themselves? 😛 Upon thinking about it – no, you should not owe the developer money for playing the game but if they feel that their game is of a type that can lose revenue through playthrough videos they should just up the price of the base game (like, a lot).

        “Disinterest is money they don’t deserve” is not entirely true. So again with the Walking Dead, I know someone who was keen to play it. So they did. On youtube. Game for free. Interest was there, but still revenue lost.

        You can probably watch The Last of Us from beginning to end on internet videos. That game is more like a movie anyway. If you did, would you still be inclined to buy it and then play through it?

        Do you download movies or tv shows? People that do often don’t then follow up by going, “oh that was so cool I’ll go purchase all those seasons now”. A couple might, but the vast majority – narp! Piracy ahoy! Where’s me parrot?

        squaaaak!

        Ok that’s going off topic. Umm…

        Easiest solution is for games to specifically state in the EULAs on these sort of matters. Games that provide an arena for players to showcase their skill like say… Hearthstone or GunZ the Duel would probably benefit most from the extra exposure. Railroaded games on the other hand have the same problem as TV shows I imagine. ^_^

        • Ok youre at least keeping it interesting 🙂 But on a fundamental level I’m failing to see how anyone is owed a cut of money people pay me to watch me play a game. It doenst account for my time and energy, my production. At the end of the day, we’re talking about someone playing a game in front of an audience. No one is owed money aside from internet host service (Youtube) and the producer. By your reasoning, Streamers have to pay up, as well as bloggers who use screenshots, and reviewers who discourage people from buying games. Did you mean to include those groups?

          EDIT: And yes I have downloaded movies. I had no intention of ever buying them in the first place. Seeing them online means I got to appreciate the show if it was good, and could look forward to purchasing from them in the future. If someone doesnt want to buy your game, a video isnt the thing that dissuades them. No one is owed money on the potential that someone could buy it.

      • Hehe Doone, read the first paragraph of my second post again – I had already conceded the money thing (the player shouldn’t need to pay the game guys again, after the cost of the game), so I went after the “disinterest” part instead. 😛

        Also, I’ve been swayed by many a video to not even try out some games so… there’s that. Not sure if that goes in my favour or yours though! I’m not good at this argument stuff and have lost track! ^_^

        Ultimately I agree that there needs to be a “player rights” or whatever, but that has to be clearly defined in each games EULA. Square Enix’s sample there I think is just a defence against defamation. They need to spell out every thing you can and can’t do. If they put “Thou shalt not post screenshots taken from the game,” well damn – you’d better not do that then, or if the rule is “you do not talk about Fight Club,” and then you go talk about Fight cl…

        gets beaten up

      • I misread you. My bad. I thought you were implying that devs are still owed something extra for players vlogging their videos (whether in a priced hike or cut of the revenue).

        The thing is …I do think theres an argument for devs being compensated in some cases by vloggers. But I think it just gets into terribly gray and unethical territory because once we cross that line then where do we draw it? At vloggers? At bloggers who quote and use screenshots? Everyone in the games community advertises the games they play – for better or worse.

        I think if we can get devs to start talking about and taking player rights seriously, then we’ll get better at forming creative rights for devs. Right now though the industry is going the way of the RIAA (the grinches who stole music christmas over a decade ago). I dont think the games industry should model that. I’d still love to hear more of your thoughts on the rights of devs to get a cut. I do think theres a lot to say for it!

  2. I think many developers do deserve a small cut. Your car analogy doesn’t compare at all. The appeal/value of a car isn’t tied directly to visually experiencing it, at least not enough that it outweighs the ‘actually driving/actually owning a mode of transportation’ aspects.

    I agree it is your time, your energy, and your own experience, but what does that have to do with compensation for publicly displaying copywritten material? Would you go as far as allowing with zero compensation the posting of Mystery Science Theater 3000-style movie watching videos? What if my friends and I did book readings where we read a new book word-for-word and kinda/sort of acted it out? In both cases people are putting forth a lot of their time and effort. They are likely drumming up sales for the media they are sharing too.

    “Besides that, consumer law allows me to do what I want, short of selling copies or infringing copyright, with what I purchase.”

    Showing off a DVD to the public in a for-profit situation is most definitely a copyright law violation. That’s an easy law to skip given the difficulty in catching and prosecuting violators, but it isn’t when you are on the internet.

    Now, do I think there is a solution? No, not really. This sort of content is good for both gamers, gaming, and often the developers themselves. I personally love it. Some games likely do suffer when they lack replay value/multiplayer/etc. and can be experienced primarily by watching a single playthrough. While I do believe it is a violation and that content creators are deserving of recompense in the eyes of the law as it stands, I don’t see this sort of stuff going away anytime soon.

    A Player’s Rights movement would be nice, though it’s a bit too narrow. It should be a subset of Consumer’s Rights as a whole, which are in desperate need of an update in the US for the modern post-Internet era.

    • Your reasons are precisely why the car analogy works: the value of games is also not in their visual display, but in their interaction with the player – just as a car. A game is not even a game without this. This is why the time and energy of the player is central to the question of whether devs get paid for player videos.

      Games are not music or movies and we’d be good not to continue defending the industry by trying to be more like them. We love to talk about how different games are …except when it comes to money. When it comes to money, we want it done like movies and music. As everyone well knows, games are nothing like movies and music. Can you guys tell me what we should do about the other players mentioned above that use dev material as well? or do you think they don’t fit?

      I think youre right that there may need to be a subset of consumer rights, but I also think there should be a separate bill of rights for players because of virtual worlds, which are unique to games.

  3. Pingback: Vlogging: There Is a Balance to Copyright | Mabrick's Mumblings

  4. I do think that devs should be compensated for people broadcasting their games on youtube or streaming. The reason Fish falls into the whiner category is that he is being greedy: compensation already exists. Every video or stream that players put up is advertising or marketing the developers didn’t have to pay for. It’s really the only way that smaller indie studios or independent devs can compete with the AAA studios – if they had to pay for as much traditional advertising as the big studios choose to do, they’d never get published. Steam/bundle sites/indie sites are only a small percentage of how games get exposure. The vloggers and playthroughs and streamers provide, I would guess, the majority of advertising for smaller games. And especially for the smaller games, “word-of-mouth” via these channels is what makes or breaks them, I would dare to say. I think the Minecraft phenomenon was built entirely on the back of youtube gameplay videos going viral.

    I think up to this point devs have silently acknowledged this co-dependence, and at least accept it, even if they aren’t all that happy with it. Fish is just being egomaniacal and I like to believe is not representative of developers in general.

    • To be honest, I think Fish’s biggest problem is his inability to sit down with his ideas and flesh them out. Twitter is not for people like him. Polytron could do a lot by publishing their ethos in blog articles from their site, which would make it far more difficult to dismiss him and paint him as a bad guy. But he won’t do that because he’s a yuppie idealist. He thinks to himself “I dont have to explain myself, it’s just true” and people will never respect that.

      • To add to the main topic of the post, I think another analogy would be TV rights to a sporting event like, say, the World Cup. FIFA sells broadcasters the right to record and transmit the games, but as far as I know they don’t also demand a cut of the advertising revenue that said broadcasters get during those games.

      • You’re right. And I think thats because Soccer is already getting revenue from advertising – something game developers haven’t even explored. What’s stopping SOE or Phil Fish from streaming their own channel and getting paid from advertisers like vloggers? NOTHING. They’re just crying foul because someone else is doing it.

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