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Nintendo and Let's Plays: What's the Real Issue?

As I'm sure most of you already know, Nintendo decided last week to have a bit of a crackdown on Let's Plays. Upon entering the comments section of some of my favourite gaming outlets (mistake number one), I was surprised to see how divisive this issue was. I know, shock horror, divisiveness and online shouting matches in the comments section of a gaming website, you say? Never! Seriously though, I was pretty sure this was one issue that gamers would generally agree on and, just to make it clear, I thought we'd mostly be on the side of the LP'ers, but apparently not.

The first thing that shocked me was the number of people that didn't even realise it was possible to make money, let alone a living, from Youtube videos. Even more infuriating were the people that thought it was somehow morally repugnant to do this, "get a real job," they cried. As someone who works in the media industry, I thought creating videos for peoples entertainment was a real job, if it's not then I sure as hell wasted a lot of time and money learning the skills you need to be able do this. Maybe these comments were coming from a position of ignorance? Maybe jealousy? Whatever the reason, a lot of commenters weren't too happy that there were people out there making a living doing something they loved.

As I was poised with hands hovering over the keyboard, ready to type my lengthy, chastising rebuttal to the ignoramus' inhabiting the comments thread, I had a thought. First of all there were a lot of people already doing this, and doing it pretty well, and secondly, maybe I should look at this issue a bit more carefully. After all, this has clearly raised tempers and brought on more heated debate than I expected, so why not dig a little deeper?

First things first, let's define our terms, or rather Nintendo's terms. Now it's not entirely clear from the wording of the statement, but it seems that Nintendo are going after the traditional long-format Let's Plays. In other words the lengthy series of videos, broken down into 30-40 minute chunks, that portray a game from beginning to end. Specifically, Nintendo state that adverts will only be placed on "videos featuring Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length". This would mean that anyone creating reviews - especially the 'cult of personality' kind that focus a lot of screen time on the reviewer - news, previews, guides, tips, tricks and any other kind of short form content should be fine. The only real grey area would be the extended looks / mega reviews that drift over the 30 minute mark.

The actual effect this will have very much depends on the size of the individual LP'ers following and what they hope to get out of their videos. It's important to note that Nintendo aren't banning these videos; instead they're funnelling all of the money made from adverts appearing on or next to the video directly to their own pockets, as opposed to those of the video's creator. Any LP'er who doesn't monetize their content, and/or is just doing it for fun, won't really be effected. On the other hand, the really big guys, who make most or all of their living from doing this, may be in a bit of a pickle. Or will they?

They already have huge followings, vast game libraries, and they trade very much on their personalities, meaning that they'll just stop posting any videos of recent Nintendo games. There's plenty of other gaming content out there to cover, and for most LP'ers Nintendo games only make up a small percentage of their total output. Also of note, so far Nintendo are only making claims against videos that contain footage of very recent Nintendo games. This narrows the field even further and leaves many popular LP'ers - Game Grumps, for example - relatively safe, as a lot of their videos focus on classic or retro games.

Going even further than that, a lot of the biggest Youtube personalities in gaming don't really feature Nintendo games very often, if at all. Take a look at the recent uploads for PewDiePie, Tobuscus or Yogscast and you'll see that there's very little Nintendo to be found. In fact, the only Youtuber I could find with a sizeable subscriber base who features almost exclusively Nintendo games is Chuggaaconroy, and even then he's got a good mix of old and new.

So if the LP'ers themselves aren't going to be immediately effected in a big way, what about Nintendo?

Honestly, I don't see it having a particularly positive effect on Nintendo (shocking!). Sure, they'll make a little bit of money on advertising revenue, but in the grand scheme of things it really will be just a little bit. Beyond that there's really no positive for them. In the short term they get a lot of bad press and piss off some of their most dedicated fans, and in the long term they risk alienating these same fans from promoting their games online. It really seems like they did it because they could, it was their legal right, but they were very much obeying the letter of the law and not the intent. In other words, to stop people pirating their games, not to stop fans giving them free advertising.

So if Nintendo lose and most LP'ers either win or remain relatively unaffected, what's the real issue? Unfortunately this all comes down to the slippery slope argument. If Nintendo get away with this, other large publishers and developers may well follow suit and, if enough of them do, that absolutely will have an effect on the Let's Play community. I wouldn't go so far as to say it will kill it off completely, after all, many popular LP'ers are focusing more and more on indie games, and the indie devs love it, but damage will most certainly be done.

I'm a proponent of the Internet as an end goal for content creation and distribution. If you can no longer make a living on sites like Youtube the quality of content will drop dramatically. Burnie Burns - of Roosterteeth fame - has often espoused the value of the internet as a genuine career path rather than just a stop on the way to more established areas of media, a stop that the vast majority of people will never get out of. On the internet there's nobody to tell you that you can't make something "because it won't sell," "because it doesn't have mainstream appeal," "because they don't want to hire someone with no experience." On the internet you can create whatever you want, and if you can build an audience you've proved that that creation has value and you should be rewarded for it. Who are we to judge the validity of someone's chosen career path?

Yes, Let's Plays are tied up in a legal grey area, but they're doing no harm, and may in fact be doing some good in the form of advertising and promotion. If companies like Nintendo want to survive in the modern age maybe they should try embracing these passionate fans; share in their success, embrace them in a symbiotic relationship, find out why they love your games so much and help them help you. C'mon Nintendo, let's all get in a big hot tub and have a huge hippie love-in. Too far? Yeah, I've probably gone a bit over the top there, but you get the point. It's all about collaboration.

Not to mention that video is supposedly the future of gamz jarnalizm.
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About Marcunioone of us since 5:15 PM on 10.31.2012

I'm a time traveler! But I can only go forwards... And only at normal speed... But I'm still traveling through time, damn it!

On a vaguely more serious note, my name's Marcus and Ive been playing video games for more time than I care to admit. By day I work for a popular movie streaming website, which veers between fun and boring on a near constant basis. When that's not happening I can usually be found procrastinating over doing more stimulating things.

As you may be able to tell, I like to write about games, but I also have a background in film, so occasionally I write about that too. If you like what you see here then check out my personal blog for ramblings about things other than games.

Random facts about me:

1. I'm Cornish (and mildly proud of it)
2. I've worked on a number of short films
3. Sometimes I forget how old I am (25... I think)
4. I know quite a lot about very little
5. I once played chess for my county
6. I bloody love the Simpsons
7. I'm a friendly drunk