So both Jim Sterling and Totalbiscuit have talked about their perspectives on That Dragon, Cancer’s developers blog post. The devs who talked about how they were (and no longer are) content IDing the music that was created for That Dragon, Cancer. I am not going to tl;dr what the devs said or what TB/Jim said. But I am going to add my own perspective to this debate. A perspective who does this as a side hobby.
The devs statement: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/thatdragoncancer/
Jim Sterling’s statement: http://www.thejimquisition.com/2016/03/that-dragon-lets-plays/
This is a really tricky issue. ContentID, copyright claims and YouTube’s automated systems are contentious subjects for content creators, developers and viewers. I myself can get into quite a rant over the current state of affairs with the whole copyright system and how it currently functions. Or doesn’t. After all, I did go on about “Where’s the Fair Use?” here recently. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about certain subjects within it. Such as today’s topic about how Let’s Players affect short, story-driven titles like That Dragon, Cancer.
My personal opinion mirrors both TB’s and Jim’s in a lot of ways. I don’t think that LPing the game was automatically harmful/helpful to the game’s sales. Playing a game about a kid suffering/dying from Cancer isn’t fun. It’s a niche experience. It’s not something I want to do when I sit down to play videogames. I personally didn’t watch an LP of this game. The three reviews I saw of it were enough to give me an idea of what it was about and it wasn’t an experience I thought I would enjoy, for personal reasons and obvious reasons.
But plenty of people did. The views on YouTube far outweigh what the game sold. In a lot of cases, I think it was personality driven. People would have watched the video about the game because of who was showcasing it. And unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee sales. I’ve heard the common complaint that if TB doesn’t cover a video, you’re screwed. While this can be true in some cases, I’m sure there’s more than one developer who got featured by TB in a positive light that didn’t see as good a return on sales. Developers can’t just automatically assume that because a game gets featured by a reviewer or personality that they’ll see a huge increase in sales. Especially if that game doesn’t resonate with the personality’s audience. I’ve seen this time and again on some of my reviews where I had a pretty good feeling that my audience wasn’t going to be interested. And generally, I was right. Views and conversation were low for them. I’m still going to make those reviews because I have something I want to say. But I’m also realistic that not everyone is going to be interested.
In some cases, videos are created without any commentary or editing and I tend to have a pretty negative opinion of them. They are billed as “walkthroughs” and those can be fine, depending on the game in question, but I don’t think we really need a walkthrough of a single player narrative game, do we? I mean, there could potentially be a case made against them that it’s piracy/theft. After all, you’re just uploading the full game without any creative input and people can see it for free (with ads). I mean, if you do the same thing with music its automatically labeled as piracy and rightfully so. But, it’s not always clear cut with games and some games do justify the existence of walkthroughs.
That’s not to say that I create the best content for Let’s Play either. I’d say the only series I’ve been really happy with are my dual LPs of System Shock 2 and Portal 2. And even those could have been better. It’s why I’m being careful with the next couple of solo LPs I have planned and will probably be doing more work on them than I have in the past with each episode.
So what are we left with? A murky legal situation essentially. We’ve all known that this has been in a legal grey area and we should be having a conversation about how this affects the smaller indie studios just as much as the larger ones. I personally believe that you should respect each game that you do make videos of. Links back to the game’s website, Steam or GOG link, asking permission of any musician’s music that you might use for intros/outros, putting in at least a decent effort to do something original with the footage, the works. Because let’s face it, the work we do on these videos is paltry compared to the years of effort the developers did to make the games we love to play. And the least that we can do is show them that respect back in our actions.
I really do feel for the devs and the musician’s work they were trying to protect. There are people who will flat out upload game soundtracks on YouTube without asking for permission. So them trying to protect their artist in this case wasn’t wrong even if it did have the consequence of flagging Let’s Players. It would be nice if we could figure out a system that didn’t take all monetization rights when it came to YouTube’s system. I also have to give the developers kudos. They clearly realize the awkward situation they find themselves in and are trying to navigate the best that they can. It’s just unfortunate that people are being dicks about it on the Internet.
Really, the tl;dr to all of this is: “Don’t Be A Dick”. And the developers are clearly trying to avoid being that. Even if others aren’t. But even then, we should be having a conversation about what impact LPers are having on games and what we should be doing to make this fair for all parties. And please remember that your dickish actions are making the rest of us look bad.
Thanks for reading. If you have anything you’d like to add, feel free to share below.