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Why Game Developers Need YouTubers

Add Comment! By David Rosen on December 23rd, 2013

YouTube Copyright Crackdown

Recently, many prominent YouTubers were hit by a flurry of copyright notices from YouTube's automated copyright enforcement system (called "Content ID"[1]), which prevented their videos from being monetized [2]. YouTube issued a response saying that they have increased the scope of Contend ID to even include affiliate partners, and announced no plans to change it [3].

This kind of system is perfectly fine in theory, but it has proven to be problematic in practice, as it has a tendency to flag perfectly legitimate content. For example, indie developers like Jonathan Blow[4] and Terry Cavanagh[5] have received copyright flags for footage of their own games! YouTubers are even receiving copyright claims from companies like Valve that actually have blanket policies to allow videos. When contacted, Valve claims that they did not issue any such claims; it was either an imposter, or just a glitch in the YouTube system[6].

Why Developers Need YouTubers

Clearly this is bad for YouTubers, because when their videos are being flagged, they can no longer collect revenue from them. If they can no longer collect revenue from them, they can no longer afford to make new ones full-time, and that is bad for their fans as well. It doesn't end there, however, this is also really bad for gamers and game developers Here is a very concrete example. Check out this graph of our Overgrowth preorders before and after NerdCubed's Overgrowth Let's Play video.

The numbers are night and day: even after the initial spike fell away, daily sales were still several times what they were before. That video has been viewed more than 2.3 million times, which is ten times more than our own most popular videos. NerdCubed has many similar videos, but now his career is threatened by this new crackdown, as he describes in this Reddit AMA. It's entirely possible that new breakthrough videos would have been made for other indie developers in the last two weeks, but because of this content ID fiasco, they were not made, and those developers will continue to struggle to find their audience.

Raw sales are certainly not the only reason why game developers rely on YouTubers, they fill other vital roles as well. What if you want to see what an Overgrowth mod is like before taking the time to install it and figure it out? You can find more than 150 mod videos on iDubbbzTV's channel. What if a player is stuck on the "three wolves" level in Lugaru, and can't figure out how to beat it? There are all sorts of video strategy guides, like this short demonstration. YouTube playthroughs also work as a sort of "pre-demo" -- it's much less investment to watch a playthrough of the beginning of a game than to download a demo and figure out how to play, and many games don't even have demos anymore. In that situation, Let's Plays are the only ways for players to try before they buy.

YouTube videos are also a valuable tool for game criticism. Someone once said that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture", and I often feel the same way about games writing. It's much easier to just visually demonstrate what you're talking about. A few years ago I did a series of "Design Tour" videos demonstrating what I liked about some of my favorite games, and more recently I've just been streaming them, like this Marathon 1 playthrough. Full walkthroughs of other games are also really useful when I want to share a specific moment. If I want to talk about the scene in God of War 3 where a man begs for help as he escapes a burning building, and when you press 'o' to help him, you smash his face into the wall and throw him to his death, I can just link here.

Anyway, those are some of the reasons why we like YouTube playthroughs, and will never upload any footage to the Content ID system. For whatever help it might be, we would like to post our official policy: in short, you are free to create and monetize any video using footage of our games, unless it is being used to commit fraud or something like that.

We also have a longer version for the lawyers, which you can find here, including an automatic generator if you need a letter that specifically includes your name. Here is the text we used, in case you would like to use similar language for your own game:

Wolfire Games LLC Video Policy

Wolfire Games LLC, hereafter referred to as “the Developer,” grants the following rights to the community, hereafter referred to as "the Players":

The Developer grants permission for the Players to make videos (including, but not limited to: walkthroughs, tutorials, mod demonstrations, and reviews) of the Developer's game content and/or game soundtracks, and to publish them to YouTube, Twitch.TV, or any other such distribution service.

The Players are free to monetize videos via partner programs whereby a website may compensate them with revenue from advertisements or other means.

The Developer retains all ownership and rights of its produced content, and may terminate or change the terms of this agreement at its sole discretion, or make exceptions for videos or Players that the Developer finds objectionable for any reason.

Please email the Developer at contact@wolfire.com if you have any questions about this policy.