Searching “Let’s Play” and the name of your favorite retro or current game on YouTube will likely yield several results showcasing hardcore players doing playthroughs of said title. The captured footage that is often accompanied by player or group commentary has the potential to snag thousands of hits on a given video, and some Let’s Play-ers (LPers) have even gained devoted followings.
Today, however, it was revealed that Nintendo will begin claiming ad revenue from videos such as these, meaning that the devoted followings that these LPers have built will be unprofitable for the players going forward.
“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.”
– Nintendo statement to GameFront
The initial claim is sound; Nintendo owns the likenesses of Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Samus, and Link, so why should people be able to profit off of playthroughs of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Metroid, or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? Clearly, if someone posts all of the tracks from a Foo Fighters’ album, they shouldn’t be allowed to collect ad revenue from the hits it gets on YouTube, so how is posting gameplay footage any different?
The difference lies in what a “Let’s Play” video accomplishes when compared to a simple fan-posted music video, or a full-length episode of a television show. Unlike a music video that simply regurgitates officially released content, “Let’s Play” and other gameplay videos usually contain special commentary that make it so that they are almost like a podcast that is accompanying gameplay. With that original content being the main draw of the video, the justification for monetization by the uploader is clearly established.
Even without the commentary, gameplay videos differ from music videos and television shows in that they are unscripted and interactive, meaning that the player/uploader is driving the experience as much as the game itself is. Watching how one of the top players in the world approaches a dungeon in A Link to the Past is much more interesting than watching a Nintendo representative play through it. Learning tips and tricks from the pros and hardcore players is the main draw. It’s why sites like GameFAQs.com have sustained popularity for so long, even without videos. People want to learn from the best. By taking the ad revenue from the players posting on YouTube, Nintendo discourages the community that has formed around learning from the best.
In addition to greatly hindering growth within that community, Nintendo is also running a serious risk of alienating the most hardcore evangelists of its games. It’s no secret that Nintendo hasn’t been as dominant in the industry as it has been in the past, but the devoted fans that do back the company through thick and thin are a rabidly supportive group. These fans travel to New York City to buy the latest console from Reggie Fils-Aime and rebuy the same games over and over again on various platforms as each iteration of the Virtual Console launches, but, most of all, they’re a group of players that form a tight-knit community. This community houses the majority of these individuals that upload these videos to YouTube. By taking that revenue from these Nintendo faithfuls, Nintendo runs the risk of giving the fans of the company one less reason to vehemently defend and support it — something it simply cannot afford at this juncture.
The bewildering part of this move is that Nintendo is seemingly willing to destroy the free publicity that it’s receiving on YouTube. With millions of people seeking out and eagerly viewing these videos each day, Nintendo receives far more quality impressions through this medium than any paid advertising campaign could ever provide. It would seem from the move that Nintendo is heavily focused on the short-term payout that will come from existing videos, with no focus on the long-term effects that could come with fewer videos featuring its games uploaded to YouTube.
Nintendo has every right to collect ad revenue from videos of its games posted on YouTube, but this drastic implementation of that power looks as though it could do more harm than good. While the short-term gains will look good on paper, the long-term damage could potentially plunder the company into further trouble. As fewer and fewer LPers post what essentially amounts to free commercials for Nintendo on YouTube, the publicity and alienation that it’s currently risking could have a very real effect on sales numbers, as well as its public image among the most hardcore gamers that support the legendary gaming company. With the Wii U still failing to carve a strong following, Nintendo needs to get entertaining gameplay footage of Wii U games in front of as many eyes as possible. Cutting down on the free publicity found on YouTube is not the way to accomplish that goal.