It has been discussed time and time again that one of the biggest things that can help your game in terms of exposure is to have a popular Youtuber feature the game on their channel. Studies from places such as SteamSpy have shown games such as HuniePop getting huge boosts from players like Markiplier. But like everything in life: things aren’t always so simple in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, the experience in question could be hurt thanks to a Let’s Player playing through the entire game, especially if it’s a story based experience that relies on emotion in particular. And in the case of a touchy subject like cancer, that could be taken to the next level.
That’s the conundrum that faced Ryan Green and Numinous Games, the team behind That Dragon, Cancer. On a blog post, they started with some tweets regarding Youtubers making inquiries regarding people making claims on their videos. This sets the stage for what will be a detailed blog post, which I recommend everyone to read to get the full context on.
Basically, Mr. Green discusses how the studio of eight has not seen a single dollar of sales on the game. Most of the profit for the game went to cancer charities, as the game was an effort of love to tell a story about how cancer could effect a family. But with that said, Mr. Green is aware that someone making revenue off another work sucks for a Let’s Player, but makes it clear that there’s a line that needs to be discussed. He indicates that Let’s Play culture adds a lot of value into today’s modern gaming world, in particular with games with replayable gameplay, and more expansive ones that connect to a unique experience specific to the player.
He specifically indicates that he underestimated how many people would be satisfied with just watching the game as opposed to playing it themselves, specifically citing the problems with linear games such as That Dragon, Cancer. He specifically indicates that he has no problem making content about the game, but encourages people to leave a tip to allow them to continue to work, and to honor the work that these developers have done. The claims in question specifically had to do with Jon, the music director of the game, and their feeling that he should be compensated for the work that he did. He in particular calls out games that play through the entire game with little or no commentary, those who decompiled the game and posted the soundtrack on Youtube, and those who attempt to put their merchandise and themselves over the game in question. If you search Youtube, you can find full playthroughs from popular YouTubers such as RabidRetrospectGames and CinnamonToastKen. In some cases, the game isn’t even linked to, with no credit given into the description or where to purchase the game. While this could easily be an oversite, it still poses a problem regarding the original creators.
He finishes off the post by indicating that he hopes that you use the content “as a context to share your own stories and start conversations with your viewers.” And hopes that you will consider donating in that case as well.
I’m a YouTuber myself, but I do reviews and first impressions (critical commentary specifically) myself. And I see a lot of similarities of what Mr. Green has to point out with his game to the Reaction trend on youtube.
While yes, part of those videos is seeing the reaction of who’s playing the game and how they react, there is a line that needs to be drawn. It opens up the Fair Use question again: what is fair use for a video game? The argument that’s base to Fair Use is the transformative nature of it, but there’s always a question of how transformative a work has to be. If you just put a mustache on a guy in the game, is that transformative enough to be Fair Use? Case Law says: No, it’s not.
If you play through a game entirely with no commentary, is that transformative enough? I’d argue no. Even with a little commentary, I’d argue no, as the majority of the work is still the base work in question. And that’s what it gets down to: What is the base work’s purpose: is it to replace the work in question, or there to supplement it? That’s part of the argument regarding Fair Use. Take Weird Al’s work for example: you know that the audience, while appreciating the original work, is there to buy that specific work as something separate from the original experience. But when the work is taking the place of the original….that’s when things get complicated.
That’s the discussion that needs to be considered here, and why every case can’t come down to “Let’s Plays are good for gaming as a whole!” For a majority of cases, I agree. But there’s always a case where it’s not necessarily cut and dry. There has been the other side of the spectrum as well, where content creators make something that adds something tangible to the game that get hit by companies, taking away hard earned profit for a piece of transformative work. It’s never going to be hard and fast rule, but a general idea of effort and value added in terms of an idea of what’s fair use and what’s not goes a long way to understanding where the problems lie.