Should streamers pay for a license?

A Creative Director at Google Stadia (yes, THAT massively successful product), as his Twitter profile initially stated (more on this later), voiced his opinion that streamers should be paying developers and publishers for the privilege of streaming their games. Boy did that cause a reaction! Instead of cramming this into tweets, I figured why not add another post here, my take is just what everyone was waiting for after all!

Thinking back, this topic seems to almost regularly come up time and time again in variations. Sometimes it’s a discussion about Let’s Plays / Youtube Walkthrough or similar gaming videos, this time it’s about live-streaming again. As usual, a lot of people voiced their opinions on it, as seen by the more than 23k replies and additional 23k quote tweets the original 2 tweets from Alex Hutchinson got. I am sure a lot of these are just voicing general sentiments, be it agreement or disagreement, but I have seen some that seem to think they have the clear facts on the matter, when in actuality I’d say this is a rather complex issue. Sure, the basic stances/sides seem to be pretty simple: either games profit from the exposure they get when people stream them, make LPs etc. or they don’t and it might even hurt their sales (main example here being short story-focused titles). Which one is true though? Well, we can’t really rule out either, especially on a case-by-case basis (this is where the complexity comes into play).

As far as I am aware, there is no solid data available on this in any meaningful amounts. It’s usually anecdotal examples, speculation, conjecture… that sort of thing. Which is a shame, because this would be extremely interesting to wade through and have some solid grounds for further results and examinations. But I can also understand why there isn’t, since there are a lot of factors that influence this, including (but not limited to) the type/length of a game, the streamer / Let’s Player, the audience, how old the game is, what platform it’s on… and so on and so forth.

In general, it seems like a rather short-sighted idea to me that after someone bought a product, that person should continue paying the developer/publisher for using it to potentially make money. Bundled with the comparison of streaming music or movies, this whole train of thought just seems a bit baffling to me. For one this completely disregards anything the streamer/content creator has put into this, since the music/movie example is just a simple 1:1 reproduction without any input from the content creator themselves. This guy must not think very highly of content creators. I would say that a “Longplay” on Youtube for example is on a much lower level in terms of creative effort (though the skill needed to play the game is still a factor here, to varying degrees depending on the game), but the streamers/content creators that get really big don’t get there because of the games. They gain their audience through their personality, commentary etc. The games are what initially may attract people, it’s not what gets them to stay. The hundreds/thousands of viewers will not suddenly change their mind and collectively not buy the games being streamed (or the other way around, for that matter), for some it might increase the probability of buying it, for others it may decrease it. Then there’s the additional factor that these viewers might tell other people about the games, spreading the word further. Not to mention all the time the content creator puts into building his brand, audience, contacts, etc., actually playing the games is just one of many factors.

On the other hand, this train of thought runs counter to one of the big things that makes games different from music and movies: the interactivity. Just watching a game is no substitute to playing it as far as the overwhelming majority (90+% I’d say) of games is concerned. So, if you are a game developer and you make this argument, aren’t you rather looking down on the very thing you are making? You don’t seem to be having a high opinion of your games, at least that’s the impression I’m getting.

This sort of revenue sharing model seems rather backwards / old fashioned at this point, when you consider what has been going on in the past several years. Examples like Nintendo actually trying a revenue sharing model for content creators but shutting it down in 2018, 3 years after its creation. In the complete opposite direction, there have also been publishers that actually paid content creators for advertising their games, for example Guns of Icarus, where TotalBiscuit and several other popular folks made sponsored videos in 2013.

To make a note of the aftermath of this, the Creative Director seems to have chosen to update his profile bio by removing the “Stadia” part and replacing it with a game studio he works at (might have been after Google decided to distance itself from his views publicly, bit of an achievement to get them to react like this I suppose). There’s also a bit of hypocrisy that became apparent when Jacksepticeye replied to him and mentioned his Twitter banner, which is fan-art of Jack from his “Journey to the Savage Planet” stream by another artist with the watermark of the art conspicuously missing and no credit to the artist being made anywhere. Not a good look.

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