Let’s think about videos of gameplay

Recently, people decided that a new way to justify their absurd hatred of Phil Fish was to say it was wrong of him to call out youtubers who display game content and call it stealing.

If you generate money from putting my content on your channel, you owe me money. Simple as that”

Now OF COURSE this is totally wrong because… actually, wait a minute… maybe there’s something to this? Something we ought to look into? You know, maybe let’s think about stuff before we do our best to make someone miserable?

YouTube and Video Games:

It’s probably news to nobody that you can make money by recording gameplay of a videogame and throwing it on youtube. YouTube throws up adverts next to your video and sends you some cut of the money from that. But whose work are you profiting from? Is it your own? Is it the game developers’? Perhaps some muddy mix of the two?

If we removed the “game” aspect from the equation, it would certainly be problematic for youtubers to do. Very few people would have a good time trying to justify taking artwork/music/animations/etc someone else made, putting it online and making money from them without having something worked out with the creator. There is plenty of criticism for sites that steal artwork/comics from artists’ own websites and earn money without the artist seeing a penny, doing that is an easy way to get recognised as an asshole.

But the same isn’t true for games, sure if it was just artwork, or music that was being taken and profited from there would be problems, but people seem fine with it when that stuff comes from a game. If we remove the ability for people to play a game and put the rest in a video, do all of the game’s non-interactive elements become worthless? Is it OK to use my textures, my 3D models, my audio work, my writing, etc as you please just because you can’t “play” with them anymore?

I’ve seen plenty of people argue that sprite-ripping and the like is bad, especially for commercial work… but somehow that argument disappears if instead of putting those game assets in another game, you put them in a video. At least sprite-rippers usually try to mix things up a bit, but in these youtube videos the content is copied direct from the game. Content which doesn’t materialise out of thin air and attach itself to gameplay – it takes real work to build every aspect of a game. I’d like to think all the effort that goes into writing dialogue, designing characters, building models, setting up lighting, painting textures, animating monsters, mixing audio, recording foley, authoring particle effects, and so on (and on and on and on…) does not become worthless the moment it isn’t attached to one other aspect of a game (the “gameplay” in this case). How much of this stuff does the youtuber have the “right” to make money from, without a thought for the people who did the work of making it in the first place?

It’s certainly not absurd to think that the people who do this work, might react much the same way as any non-game creator would react if their novel/comics/art/music/whatever was taken by someone else and used for profit without any consideration.

But gameplay videos are different right? The person playing the game is doing some creative thing that sets the recording apart and makes it unique… right?

I say no. Here’s a thing many people don’t know about gameplay; the game developer designs that too. To an extent that might surprise a lot of players in fact. Every action a player can do in a game is enabled and afforded by the game’s developers. No less crafted than character portraits, the old castle level’s architecture, the way footsteps echo when you walk through that one bit of the map. It’s a popular perspective that what exists as the “game” is a thing created through the combination of a player and the game, but in reality this is no different to a reader and a book, a viewer and a movie. A player’s actions are within our scope of crafting because they are largely reactions; We decide when you are surprised, we decide when you are inclined to push on, we point you down the paths you follow, we decide when you find things more difficult, we decide when you die (in the game that is, I’m not making a threat :P). And this isn’t just ‘grand’ actions, it comes down to each and every frame – we decide how things move from one moment to the next, we account for every possible input and decision a player can make in a game and tell the game what to do under those conditions.

Certainly, some games are great mediums for a player to express their creativity, a quick and simple example would be players making their own structures in minecraft. And there are things we can go and have a discussion about like finding the optimal playset in a game so complex a developer must constantly re-balance as new plays are discovered, or we could talk about things like exploiting bugs and so on.

But all the same, those systems used were crafted by someone. Crafted in a way requiring no less skill, effort and dedication than learning to paint or compose or sculpt or whatever.

Even if you want to discount that (though I’d rather you didn’t), and argue the gameplay “belongs” solely to the person playing the game at the time of recording – the entire rest of the game is still most certainly the valuable work of someone else. And they ought to have some say in how it is used, and most certainly ought to have some say in how it’s monetised.

But where is the harm?

When I brought some of this up on twitter, plenty of folk felt the very strong need to tell me youtube videos of games is good for games. It’s “free exposure!”, and it “leads to more sales!” after all. But this is certainly not true in even the vast majority of cases, and the youtubers this is said to be true of, tend to make far more money than the game developers whose work they use, but most importantly, it’s beside the fucking point.

The point being that a person who does some work on a thing ought to get a say in how it is used. It’s about respecting the people who craft games (including everything that makes up a game) and the things they craft themselves.

And let’s not forget that “free marketing” is not always something that is desired. Plenty of us have a hell of a lot of dislike for various aspects of marketing, sometimes even the concept of marketing itself. Assuming everyone is a fan of the exact same model of capitalism that you love is inconsiderate to say the least, and not letting people have a say in how their own work is “marketed” is bullshit.

But hey, let’s assume that developers don’t deserve a say in any of it. Let’s assume that taking their work and putting it in videos is valuable marketing that any developer would want. We can do as we please so long as we can argue that what we do will send some money to the developers, right?

It’s a shame you can’t really argue that though, since the draw of a lot of games are the story, of experiencing something for the first time, of the artwork, of the music, of how the game explores a theme. A gameplay video spoils almost every aspect of a game besides the part where you are the one pressing buttons, which is very often not the most valuable part of a game. Plenty of people can watch a gameplay video, appreciate the work that has gone into the game, but have no need to play it having taken everything of value already.

But hey, fuck all this stuff! Fair use right? FAIR USE!

Yep, this is about when we get to the legal discussions, if we can’t argue that youtubers are right in using other people’s work without consideration the next step is arguing “hey, maybe it’s wrong, but if it’s legal than they should do it.” or at the least, that if it’s “legal” it can’t be wrong (I shouldn’t have to explain why that is a bullshit perspective).

I am not a lawyer… but hey, neither were the people making these arguments to me so let’s continue shall we?

First up, fair use is something many people bring up, but what they think it is and what it actually is tend to be quite different things. It’s not a license to profit from someone else’s work so long as you can put up some seemingly reasonable justifications for it – it’s a set of considerations to take into account when there is a copyright dispute. It’s also strictly a U.S. legal issue, sure there are various equivalents in various places, but we are an international community so don’t act so surprised that some people will call bullshit on your own so-called “fair use”. In general though, if you reproduce large portions of a work without any consideration/licence and make money from that you’re going to have a tough time arguing fair use.

So what’s next? Derivative work of course!

People talk over the top of these game recordings, and sometimes bookend them with branding for their particular youtube channel too. So these videos are original work belonging to the youtuber, right? It doesn’t matter what the original developer says and the youtuber can do as they please!

Except that’s not quite the purpose recognition of derivative works is supposed to serve, as best as I can tell it’s meant to protect both the original author and the author of the newer work, it doesn’t look much to be about stripping the original author of their rights.

In truth, I don’t understand this level of copyright law all that well, since this stuff is not straightforward and intersects with a bunch of other copyright issues and if you’re not well read in all of it, you’d probably do best not arguing what is and isn’t a derivative work, and certainly not what that means you can do with it, if you don’t want to look like a fool.

Regardless of legal stuff though…

It’s certainly common for game developers to be fine with people uploading and monetising videos of their games, and I am no different myself. But that attitude is not something that should be expected (and certainly not demanded) of the people who make games that we enjoy; their work deserves respect and if they object to how their work is taken and used then they have every fucking right to voice that objection.

If you have a problem with that, fuck you.

If you are a youtuber and have a problem with that, let me know so I can download all your videos, put them in a game environment with minimal peripheral changes and charge money for it. I need the money myself after all.

(comments are still disabled because I know what you fucks are like :P)