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Imagine you’re watching a review of a video game you’ve always thought about playing – the host is funny, bright and charismatic and gives you a detailed view at every aspect of the game. Now imagine that the review has more than ten hours of recorded gameplay (in most cases, the entire game), who do you think should profit from that video’s YouTube views: the fan who made the video, or the brand that made it all happen?

Last Wednesday, Wired magazine published an article describing the fractured relationship between “Let’s Play” videographers and Nintendo – now that the company wants a piece of their fan’s profits.

Let’s Play videos are made by fans who record themselves playing a videogame (can be for the first time, as part of a speedrun, for nostalgia, and so on) with commentary for entertainment or added hilarity. They are different than walkthroughs, which provide full footage from the game and commentary but are more explanatory in nature.  Let’s Play videos have been around since gamers have had access to screen-capture technology, with such a massive following that popular channel hosts have been known to make millions.

In 2013, Nintendo became a YouTube partner and began weeding out uploaded videos that had ‘Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length.’ If the video is found to have infringed content, Nintendo then has the option to monetize (collect some or all revenue generated from the video’s advertisements), mute the audio, or take it down entirely.

Channel hosts can spend hours playing the games, adding creative commentary, and editing footage only to forfeit all profits that will ever accumulate from the video. Let’s Play videos typically have several hours of content taken directly from recorded Nintendo games broken into shorter episodes, but channel hosts are still defending their right to own them under fair use laws.

However, according to Copyright.gov:

‘The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined.’

Let’s Play hosts draw in an audience with their charisma and talent, letting their personality shine through in the commentary as the driving force behind their following. But without the original game content, it’d be impossible to make a Let’s Play video. Consequently, most videos that are turned over to YouTube for copyright infringement are deemed the intellectual property of Nintendo.

PewDiePie, a YouTube channel host known to make millions from his videos of the same genre, called Nintendo’s YouTube program a ‘slap in the face.’ A Forbes article from January pulled a quote from his blog explaining his position:

“First of all, they have every right to do this and any other developer / publisher have as well. There’d be no “let’s play” without the game to play. And we (YouTubers) are humble to this fact….But what they are missing out on completely is the free exposure and publicity that they get from YouTube / YouTubers. What better way to sell / market a game, than from watching someone else (that you like) playing it and enjoying themselves?”

PewDiePie noted in his blog that he will continue to play whatever game he wants and split the profit with Nintendo, but lesser-known Let’s Play channel hosts may suffer from the video takedowns and loss of revenue. The channel hosts claim they serve as advocates for video game publishers by offering free publicity, but the legality of the genre is still muddled and copyright claims continue to take them down one by one.

A user on the forum Indiegamr.com posed the question in 2012 and 28 percent of respondents said they have lost the desire to buy a videogame after watching a Let’s Play video. They also raise some great theories as to why the Let’s Play genre could be detrimental to the game industry. Here are just a few:

  • I don’t have to pay $50 for a YouTube video
  • I get to see everything in HD, no matter how bad my system is
  • I can fast-forward or skip boring parts 

The poll had an array of comments supporting either side, but the overwhelming majority said that Let’s Play videos actually give them the final push they need to buy the game. Most gamers find Let’s Play videos by searching for a videogame that they have some reservations about such as price, gameplay, or graphics quality. Let’s Play videos show the viewer exactly what they’ll be getting, but with the added influence of another person enjoying the game as well.


So we want to know – who do you think should profit from Let’s Play videos, Nintendo or the fans who made them? Leave a comment with which side you would support!