By Sahil Patel
“Community is really important for any business,” says Jeremy Azevedo, senior director of original programming at Machinima. “Everyone wants to feel like they’re part of something.”
The Let’s Play format taps into that desire; the creator-fans are able to share with their audience how much they enjoy playing a certain game. If that then leads to a viewer buying a game that he or she originally had no interest in, that’s a return on something that costs the publisher nothing.
And the potential reach is huge. Sites like YouTube and Twitch enable Let’s Play videos to find a large audience, and really fast. So if a publisher has just released a major title, why wouldn’t it want to increase fandom (and in doing so, the desire to purchase that title) by allowing online personalities to broadcast their gameplay?
Certainly, a creator can blast a game that he or she is playing, but that’s a risk anyone in a creative medium has to deal with. With the rise of social media, people are going to talk. The question is, how you adapt to it.
Copyright and YouTube’s Content ID system is another challenge for the gaming industry and its relationship with creators, as evidenced by the kerfuffle in the winter of 2013 when many Let’s Players saw their videos flagged for copyright infringement.
Not all of these were from game publishers, though.
“We are lucky that game developers and publishers have embraced the Let’s Play model,” says Zack Scott of the ZackScottGames channel, which has more than 830,000 subscribers. “Companies like Ubisoft, Mojang, Valve, and over a hundred others explicitly allow monetization of Let’s Play videos. Many work directly with us.”
Those that seek to utilize Content ID to remove videos or gain control of revenue are “the minority,” Scott says.
According to Matt Cohen, director of business development at Machinima, there’s no “blanket way” that the gaming industry deals with the Let’s Play community. “Some are hands on, some are hands off, though I don’t think there is a publisher out there that has a negative opinion on it — they all see the value.”
Same goes for the “machinima” community. (Machinima videos are when creators use a game’s CGI engine to create animated and cinematic narratives.)
Cohen says that some publishers go as far as to offer “builds” to Machinima’s talent partners early, in order spur talent on to create videos and generate early hype for a game. Others, meanwhile, are simply happy to see creators make videos, and ask Machinima to notify them if there’s “anything cool” they should be aware of.
“One of the policies that’s particularly helpful — Riot has a page that outlines everything you can do with their game. It’s all spelled out on the website,” Cohen continues. “People can go [to the site] and know exactly what the parameters are.”
It’s understandable that a developer or publisher would want to maintain some ownership of its IP. But as Cohen suggests, there are ways to strike a balance that pleases all parties. Because while Let’s Play and machinimas are new media formats, made possibly by and unique to digital video, the data indicates that they are here to stay.